The Motoring Life: 777 miles in a Cadillac ATS

THE Cadillac. A part of running an event such as the Dustball Rally means upholding the most valuable part of our business — the routes. Countless priorities go into route design, and being one of our most closely guarded trade secrets, we aren’t divulging how we come up with “the perfect routes.”

With an upcoming event, we have the task of completing a final pre-drive trip for one Dustball Rally 777. With very little vacation time left from my job that pays the bills, I am forced to condense these setup trips as much as possible. This means flying into a departing city, renting a car and driving a route (fixing anything that isn’t right while we are out there) and flying back home.

This means CAR RENTAL!THE Cadillac. After having learned a valuable lesson of renting a compact with no cruise control, my search was for something more comfortable.

In planning our rental experiences, I often use Kayak as it compares prices of all companies and gives me a better focus of where I want to rent from. It sometimes leads to a rental, and sometimes just gets me in the right direction.

When it comes to renting cars, there’s only so many preferences you can get — but like Spec’s motto is “every meal is a choice” I’d like to coin the term “Every car rental is a choice.”

Despite searching for a meager full-size (for plenty of elbow room), performance wasn’t a big issue since we were only at our own pace. A vehicle that had s some off-road potential is always nice (trade secret as to why). As it turns out, the best deal was once again with Hertz, for a premium no less. This meant a Chrysler 300 or something else with a bit better comfort than a standard full size.

Wednesday, I go to work as usual and leave a few hours early with everything all ready to go at home (we’ve done this a few times). We hop in the car, drop the kids off at school with grandma’s instructions, drive to the airport long-term parking, take the shuttle, check baggage, 20151014_194636have a cancer-causing porn shoot for the TSA, redress, hop on a plane and fly to San Antonio.

Once landing, I head to the rental counter to finalize details and my lovely wife picks up our luggage, rolling it over to us. The process is a bit longer than usual — but we are reassured they have a car that they can give us.

The verdict is a Cadillac ATS with unusually dark tinted windows.

We hop on the shuttle to the rental facility and are told which stall to head to. Keys in the car, we load it up and begin the inspection. No personnel on duty to assist in said inspection, but there were no damages and all the glass was in good condition so we hopped in and headed to check-in to the hotel.

"You can't miss it."
“You can’t miss it.”

The vehicle is incredibly loaded with full leather, classy lighting, a great display. backup camera, moon roof and more. After adjusting the seats — and the passenger side even had lumbar — we were very excited to see this thing go on the drive.

We hit the highway towards the hotel and it had plenty of get up and go, without feeling out of control. The power it had felt just the right amount for the handling it could provide. But then I found the sport button…

The car woke up, but I couldn’t do much on the small section of interstate, so I saved the excitement for the following day, when we hit the fun roads. After checking into our room, we cruised our cool little caddy up to the local Pappacito’s for dinner, parking under a light, and snapped a few photos.

The next morning, we packed the car up — despite a large trunk, packing wasn’t as “toss it in and go” as one would think — it was a little 20151015_123010compact, but it fit the style of the car without being ridiculous. We got our navigational and road-going equipment setup, set our timers and off we went.

While there’s many ways to get to new Orleans from San Antonio, or first stop was to be at The Golden Nugget in Lake Charles.

Our final route design had us first heading in a northeastern direction out of San Antonio, seemingly counter-intuitive, but this was the best route for our purposes.

20151015_102341After a short stint on the interstate, we exited into the fun roads. But the exit didn’t get us to where we needed to be, and the fun road turned out to be fun for about 100 other locals, so we searched for a viable option.

Now off to the fun roads, sport mode engaged we were turnin’ and burnin’ all teh way down the highway, not breaking any speed limits, too badly.

After all we will surely be paying some road taxes when we come back in our Porsche.

The car handled great, the roads we found were amazing and plenty of fun. Lots of turns and a few wrong turns as our in-vehicle discussions were often more interesting than following our pre-pregrammed routes. But what can I say, my wife/navigator/life partner is the most interesting person I know without a beard.

20151015_13075120151015_102909 20151015_105046After about five hours, we were only 2-3 hours from our destination, but decided to stop at a newly remodeled little spot called Backwoods Saloon and Grill.

It used to and still is, a big gathering for bikers. On this particular day there were only a few, and they were ok with us parking our Cadillac out front, among the road hogs.

Having previously bad reviews, the establishment was advertised as under new ownership and management, and it shows — the drinks and food were great, as was the service. We asked them if we could bring 30 of our friends back in a month and they were quite happy to oblige.


The remainder of the trip was quite scenic, having explored the northern areas above Houston, but it was time to drop down and travel a few short miles on I-10 to get to the resort. Parking was a breeze, as it follows the typical Vegas style of valet or self park — uh valet please, we have much to cover tonight.

20151015_183834Checking in to the Golden Nugget wasn’t very efficient as one would think, largely due to 20151016_095058despite having six check-in desks, only one was manned by an employee.

15 minutes later we were heading to the room. The hallways full of a large variety of displaced college kids mixed with senior citizens spending their retirement on gambling, booze and more gambling.

The room was actually quite fantastic, with a studio feel, it was very large and had both a shower and a tub, boasted even a cafe area for eating breakfast or a late night snack. They even gave us a room with a view of the sunset and the pool area below.

 20151016_094856  20151016_095240 Exploring the venue, it was just like your typical Vegas-style casino hotel, but just a tad smaller. A large casino in the middle, with
restaurants, bars and shops surrounding it. No nightclub, but a vast pool area that played the latest party music over large speakers throughout.

There was a stage, but no performance on a Thursday night. 20151016_095245Seems like this area doubled as a club scene, similar to the pools of The Cosmopolitan and Hard Rock, to name a few.

Drinks were actually quite decently priced, by far comparison — but he shops were on par with Vegas with a bathing suit “on sale” for $75.

20151016_103031Leandra discovered that since the hotel was lakeside, there was a small boardwalk and even a beach with sand that we had access to. There was a bar and grill also setup outside, despite it closing by 10pm that night.

We still walked the beach and of course she had to put her feet in the water. I think she was a dolphin in a previous life. Later, we relaxed in the pool area over a couple drinks and a disgruntled bartender (because the Dodgers just lost to the Mets). I didn’t mention being a Mets fan, to keep the drink prices accurate.

We headed to the room, to get some sleep and an earlier start for Friday’s drive. The Cadillac provided plenty of comfort, so it wasn’t a dreaded proposal to drive another 350 miles the next day.

The valet seemed surprised that we were the Cadillac drivers. After loading our luggage, I tipped him and told him it was a rental after he
20151016_143510complimented the car. He smiled and nodded as if that made sense. Being a venue known for 20 somethings and retired people, he was probably expecting Ben Matlock to hobble to the car.

All set up and ready to go, we hit some of the most interesting areas of Louisiana. Immediately hitting the back roads, we traversed the bayou, cane fields and several old plantations.

There was a sizable Hollywood production going on at one of them, as this was a popular area for movie shoots, such as Django, 12 years a slave and many, many more. Seeing the beautiful homes and the slave’s homes still intact but still appearing quite defunct.

20151016_135515Plantation after plantation, the conversation in the car started about the inhumanity of slavery. I teared up a bit and could almost feel the sadness and oppression of the ghosts of slavery’s ugly past.

It was refreshing to see and later research that so many movies were made here, to remind us of how awful slavery was, albeit in the eyes of only a few — I’ll avoid political diversions — but for the sake of humanity, humans on all continents should be ashamed for enslaving other humans. Slavery still goes on today, all over the world.

Cruising plantation road was quite the emotional experience, it was now about getting into New Orleans, and to our amazing hotel for the night, The Ritz Carlton. After the GPS route had us scrambling around, we went based on past experience, and my navigator’s expertise to make short work of the French Quarter’s traffic situation.

We pulled into the valet and were greeted very professionally by the expert valets, whom seemed confused about the fact that 20151016_103013MmmBop came on the satellite radio station we happened to be on. I was more concerned about getting the car unloaded and didn’t change the station, but there it was in full Bose definition.

A small hiccup was quickly resolved at the reservation desk, and we were up into our well-appointed and quiet room for the night. But we weren’t staying in — we had plenty of things to do and people to meet with because Dustball doesn’t stop with the amazing roads. We quickly get cleaned up and head down to the old tourist trap of Bourbon Street.

After meetings and confirming our party location for the Dustball crew in a few weeks, we head to our favorite foodie spot and immediately engorge ourselves on delicious french quarter fixings. The seafood is simply amazing, and it is everywhere.

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After a great dinner, we try out a quite expensive way to get around in a small carriage for two. But like skydiving, that bucket item can be checked off — $45 dollars later for 11 blocks.

We send a few hours in the oldest bar in the US, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar. Very low light, tasteful music and  horrendous karaoke pouring from different sides of the establishment.

We made our way back to the center of the action, hit a few shops, made a pit stop at the hotel before walking out to the famous Cafe Du Monde for some fresh Baguettes. All I can say its powdered sugar overload and delicious coffee. And lots of drunk people — kind of like the Chicos Tacos of New Orleans, but dessert instead of whatever they give you at Chico’s.

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We turned in for the night, as we wanted to get up early and visit some spots before heading to airport. I’ll skip past the touristy stuff we did and get right to the car rental return. Similar to large cities, in which rental return is in a vast parking garage with various signs and a person that waves you in. Other than that, we didn’t get a look-over on the vehicle as all employees seemed to vanish — so we walked away.

We head to the exit and suprised to see no shuttle, just a long, 500 yard walk to the airport terminal.

A bored golf cart driver asked if we wanted a ride, so we took it. Good thing because the check-in desk for southwest was another 400 yards across the terminal. Of course everything went smoothly and we were soon on our way back to home sweet home: El Paso.

By the time you are reading this, we will be waking up Saturday morning back in New Orleans — completing yet another successful Dustball Rally.

Wait a week and you will be able to read all about how it went here, complete with pictures of the amazing cars that came out to experience what we set up for them.


Hertz Premium Vehicle

Pick up – Wednesday 7pm in San Antonio, TX

Drop off – Saturday 11am in New Orleans, LA

Price quoted (and honored) by $254.29