Saturday, 20 June 2015

New Orleans... We're Here! [03/04/14]

So where were we? Oh that's right; awesome night out, meeting NXT Superstars, Prad is wasted and Rihan ended up at the wrong hotel. Now that we're up to speed, let's continue...

SO the next morning, I decided to check out the gym at the hotel. I'd been training the weeks building up to Mania, and wanted to do at least a little bit of training while we were on holiday. At least enough to burn off the alcohol from the night before. Prad came along with me, and since he'd had considerably more to drink than the rest of us - he had a fair bit more to burn off than I did. The next time you have a hangover, try hit the gym first thing the next morning and see if that helps. I know it sounds like torture but it's always been a surefire way for me to get over it a lot faster. Also I noticed when I train regularly, the chances of a hangover are very slim. It's as true as the saying goes, "Look after your body, and your body will look after you".

It was a REALLY basic gym by the way. It was like a small box room, with a window facing a garden outside that was in the middle of all the buildings. Two running machines, some weight sets and a broken water fountain. I cannot train without keeping hydrated. Hell, I can't do anything without keeping hydrated! I LOVE my fruit juices of all kind, and water is a must!

I went back to the lobby to get us some Gatorade. Prad would keep mentioning that he didn't understand what had happened with him last night, as we warmed up on the treadmills. He said it wasn't like him to get as smashed as he did, and this was probably a sign of things that were still to come. After some weight training, under the hot New Orleans sun, it was time to head back up and meet the others. I found training in that heat a lot more challenging, but like after most workouts you'll feel pretty good.

Oh did I say that Prad had drank considerably more than the rest of us? I mean if that was the case, then the casualties were mounting! Shanks wasn't exactly having the best morning either, but then again it wouldn't be a holiday if everything always went to plan.

After grabbing some tea from the hotel lobby, Rihan, Pradeep and I set out to get some food in. One of the great things about WrestleMania being hosted by the city of New Orleans was the fact that it wasn't the largest city - which made bumping into people a frequent occurrence. Our first encounter would be with a wrestler whom we'd previously seen wrestle not more than a few months back at York Hall, UK - Ricochet! We literally had only been out of our hotel for a few minutes, and he was right at the end corner of the street we had been staying at. He was cool enough to stop and have a pretty good conversation with us while at the same time handing out flyers promoting a show he was working.

One of the events Rihan and I had debated attending or not was the 'Kaiju Big Battel' (my apologies if I've spelt that wrong). From what I understood it was a wrestling show with costumed monster characters. Turns out that Ricochet had once been in one of those costume suits for Kaiju Big Battel and highly recommended the show. He also mentioned during this conversation that he was considering checking out the WWE PC. I assume in terms of joining the 'E it was a case of making more money on the Indy circuit or choosing to join NXT and accepting a little less cash, but I could be wrong. He also mentioned that the other half of the Inner City Machine Guns was around somewhere; Rich Swann was getting a Subway down the street. All in all I have nothing but good things to say about Ricochet, always entertains in the ring and a very down to Earth individual outside. He's always made time for us, no matter where we've bumped into him.

Starbucks buddies

(from left to right) Me, Ricochet, Rihan

The journey continued.. but we didn't have to wait too long for our very first taste of New Orleans's traditional cuisine that we'd heard so much about. Lucky for us, we were about to eat in one of the best restaurants in New Orleans! If you're ever in downtown New Orleans, make sure you check out: Mulates

This was a great place where we learned that Southern Hospitality was a real thing, customer service was awesome and the food was even better! I'd heard people say before that they'd travel all the way to Nola just for the food, and I have to admit: that's just something I didn't understand. That is until I got my chicken jambalaya. I was in love! What a dish! I'm sure Rihan had ordered the same thing and Prad had gotten himself some gumbo soup.

Rihan and his Jambalaya
Aside from the great tasting cuisine, I was really impressed by the little things. Like the portions, which were in fact, not so little compared to what we are used to. The New Orleans theme inside also set a pretty sweet ambiance. As I'd started watching the NFL in recent years, I could really appreciate the New Orleans Saints memorabilia around the restaurant walls.

Again, another upside to the town's size was that the convention center where Axxess would be held was fairly close by. I'd say less than 15 minutes walk away from the hotel. It was all starting to sink in as we approached the pillars outside the Ernest N. Morial convention center which were plastered with superstars such as John Cena and Daniel Bryan, and legends such as Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker. You just know we had to stop and pose :)

The word "exciting" would be the understatement of the century if it was to be used to describe what the feeling in the air was at this moment. I'd never seen so much WWEness (I know it's not a word, but you know what I mean) in one place - from the billboards and posters on the streets, to the huge pillars outside the convention center wrapped with superstars.

Rob Schamberger

One of the first things we noticed upon arrival in the lobby was the awesome artwork by Rob Schamberger. There were so many interesting pieces and I ended up buying 2 poster prints of his work; one of the Ultimate Warrior, and one of Hulk Hogan.

There was also a booth right near where Rob Schamberger was painting away where we could have some professional pictures taken with WWE championships. Who could say no to that?

Notice that we entitled this photo shoot "The Shield & Evolution" since we had all gone as Evolution. Now that you think about it, I guess we called it right, because it would only be a matter of time after WrestleMania that Evolution would indeed re-unite. But that's another story ;)

Right after this photo shoot, we met one of Rihan's friends from the last trip he had made to Mania. A friend he met in Atlanta, Georgia during WrestleMania 27 - Anthony. Now this guy had a crazy assortment of championship belts and he was kind enough for us to take a few more pictures with them.

Rihan had always mentioned Anthony to me, but now I could finally put a face to the name and was glad to make a new friend! Especially since he let me take some snaps as the Unified United States and Intercontinental Champion :)

The first time entering the WWE Superstore was an overwhelming experience. Not to mention that Summer Rae and Fandango were sitting at the table just outside the Superstar, and getting pictures taken with fans who had received the appropriate wrist bands.

As I said, walking into the WWE Superstore was an overwhelming experience. For those of you who are reading I want you to understand that this was the first time I'd ever seen a store like this. It's like the old saying goes, "I was like a kid in a candy store." Rihan said he felt like he'd died and gone to heaven.

They had all kinds of merchandise from T-shirts, to mugs, Encyclopedias, replica title belts, bobble heads, posters - You name it and they probably had it! For those reading from the UK, it was like a giant WWE Primark when it came to the t-shirts.

One of the most interesting things I saw right off the bat was this limited (to 750) edition Undertaker statue figure encased in a glass box. This was something that would truly make any WWE collector salivate. It made my wallet cringe however, but I'm sure if I could afford to spend that much on a single thing I would get it! (Either that or a replica championship)

A collector's dream
We couldn't help but pick up a few bits and pieces from this WWE wonderland of goodies. Rihan picked up a few posters (3 of which he luckily got for free as they were mistaken for the free ones) as did I. Pradeep picked up an Erick Rowan sheep mask and we all got the one thing which was a must have for this trip. The Official WrestleMania XXX program! I must say, it was HUGE and beautifully made. All the artwork and pictures within were 'WrestleMania worthy' and definitely some great eye candy.

On the way back to the hotel, we totally marked out for this yellow school bus we seen parked up. It was just like in the movies! And I'd never seen one of them before in real life. This is what it must be like for people who comes to London and have never seen a red phone booth or London buses.

We made a quick stop to the hotel to drop off our WWE Shopping bags, and to freshen up (and to tell Shanks, who was still in bed, how amazingly good the WWE Superstore was) before heading out again and catching a cab to go to The House of Blues for 'Ringside: An Evening with Jim Ross'.

The architecture in New Orleans was always fascinating to me. The House of Blues was one of those very interesting looking buildings. It had that Southern saloon feel to it. At least the bar area did. It was comfortable theater style venue, which not only allowed people to view from the ground level but also had an upper floor from which people could look over the balcony. I wasn't looking to have any alcoholic beverages at the time, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could have a large, monster sized cranberry juice for $3. The reason I said 'pleasantly surprised' is because at the bar I used to work at, it cost about £2.50 for a mixer (such as cranberry) for about 160ml (which is practically nothing). So far, the Dirty South was doing amazing for portion sizes for food and drink.

The show itself was a spoken word tour where Jim Ross would tell stories of his travels down the roads of professional wrestling, and to our surprise was joined about half way through by a good personal friend of his: Jim Cornette. One of the most memorable quotes from Jim Ross' spoken tour was that in the professional wrestling business, as in life: "Comfort zones are the kiss of death". Also learned was, don't try and take a picture of Andre the Giant when he's in the shower. The outcome will not be good for you.

Ross had hinted at Stone Cold Steve Austin being in the building for his second show in the evening, but we were running on a schedule and had to leave slightly before the show ended in order to make it to the haunted tour on time. I was skeptical at first, but the intrigue tipped the scales and I decided to go with the others.

Shanks and Pradeep would meet us, right outside the House of Blues before we all caught a cab to the meeting point of the haunted tour. There was a large group of people that had come to take the tour and the 2 tour leaders decided to split the teams in half. I'm pretty sure that 90% of the people taking the tours were wrestling fans.

The walk throughout the most haunted parts of New Orleans was actually pretty entertaining! Truth be told, even though we didn't see any ghosts, ghouls or vampires (actually I'm pretty sure I saw one modern-day vampire) we still got to learn some of the walking routes around town as well as getting somewhat of a history lesson about the origins (or history) of Nola. Put it this way, before this - I thought that Cajun was only the type of a spice condiment. Now I know that they are a type of people. I am better off for having taken the tour.

The lady who was giving us the tour also explained what the differences between Voodoo & Hoodoo were, as well as telling us stories along the way of strange occurrences that had previously taken place in spots of New Orleans. We even got to go past Marie Laveau's Voodoo shop. At the end of the tour she even pointed out a bar where all these modern day vampires hang out. It was around 9:50pm when the tour ended and Rihan and I decided to go down Bourbon street as opposed to having a drink with these vamps. Prad and Shanks would split from us to go hunt for some food. Bourbon Street was as buzzing as always!

People could be seen throwing beads from balconys above to the passers by in the streets down below. Many dressed in costume as dogs, pigs, mascaraed masks and feathers. Along with live bands playing in bars and clubs on Bourbon street, truly embodying the spirit of the Mardi Gras Town of New Orleans, Louisiana. They know how to party, and have a good time, all night long!

After our stroll down Bourbon Street, Rihan and I soon caught a cab to Prytania Theater as we had tickets to the premiere screening of 'Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies'

Matt Hardy along with Reby Sky were advertised to be there, but by the time we arrived (which wasn't too late mind you) they had already left. We did however get to meet 'The Franchise' Shane Douglas, whom we had a long conversation with about many things including his time with Vince McMahon and traveling.. and how small the seats must be for wrestlers who are flying around the world. All casual conversations :)

I'm pretty sure that Rihan and I were a little worn out by the time the film started, as it had already been a long day. I hate being even slightly tired when watching movies, because you blink and you just might miss it. And then wake up several minutes later. This was one of those occasions where we blinked a little here and there but again, I'm pretty sure that between us we caught the whole film. *SPOILER ALERT* for anyone who plans on watching the film - my most memorable scenes from the movie are when the pencil gets used to lock a door (inside wrestling joke) and when Shane Douglas turns heel on Hacksaw Jim Duggan. This was also the first time in my life I had tried an ICEE - the American equivalent of Slush Puppy. T'was good.

After the film, we were talking to the film's director, Cody Knotts and Shane Douglas for about an hour after as Rihan marked out and asked question after question. They were cool enough to spend a good amount of time with us answering them.

The dude that was working at the theater was kind enough to call us a cab back to the hotel. This was probably the first time in my life I'd been to a one-screen theater, and it was great. It had a very homely feel to it, and the staff were friendly.

We would soon be back at the hotel, and it was pretty late but would be needing to make one more trip out to get some food. iHop would be our savior on Canal Street.

This would once again be another first for me. I had never tried food at an IHop but it was amazing! Maybe because at the time I was starving (which normally puts me in a pretty bad mood), but I ordered everything and then desert - it hit the spot! In a time like that it really hit the spot. Let me just explain, that I can't go very long being hungry. When I get hungry, if I don't eat, I get angry! #FEEDMEMORE

Rihan met a friend of his at the IHOP, who was with his group and were also out at 2:45am getting something to eat. He gave us some information that we were unaware of: Stone Cold Steve Austin had mentioned Rihan on his podcast! We had to confirm this when we got back to the hotel but it was true! After going to the Evening with the Stinger @ Camden Town in London, Steve Austin had mentioned Rihan's name and then went on to read parts of the article I had written. That was a very cool moment indeed. However, at the time we were actually in the IHOP, lack of sleep and no food makes me a grumpy dude indeed, and my social skills were taking a back seat. Tired and hungry is not the best combination.

Especially when Rihan is dragging you to the Roosevelt hotel to see if there would be any WWE Superstars coming in and out of their hotel at 3am in the morning. At one point he got excited and wanted to take a picture on the red carpet where he had heard John Cena had come out on, just outside the Roosevelt. It sounds like one thing on paper, but when I was actually there, I thought that he had marked out so much that he had actually lost his mind. He was getting excited over a carpet at 3am. Need I say more.

Rihan - Marked Out Mode
As expected, we didn't meet any WWE Superstars coming in and out of their hotel at that time of night, but Rihan did get his wish outside Walgreens. So we had just popped into Walgreens on the way back to our hotel and I saw a crate of water bottles. As much as I was exhausted, I love water. I can't go without it. Plus they didn't have mineral water coming out of the taps at the hotel so to me, this crate was a must. There must have been about 24 bottles in that crate, but I was willing to lug it back to the hotel with us. In the long run, I'm glad I did because it near enough lasted us till the end of the trip.

Anyway, as we were leaving this Walgreens on Canal Street, Trent Baretta was walking out of there too with some friends of his and was cool enough to stop for a quick picture and conversation with us.

After this I lugged the water crate back to our hotel which was around 20 minutes walk away, and we would reach the hotel past 4am for the final time that night. It had been a long day. One thing after the other and we got a fair amount done. Definitely more than our counterparts. However they did bump into a legend on their travels too, which made me say 'DAMN!' when I received the picture.

Ron Simmons & Sivashanmugam Sivashanker
Right before going up to hit the hay, I decided to go to the lobby to use the  restroom and then chill out in the lobby and catch up on some e-mails and track what the rest of the world was up to. I believe this was around the time that the only thing on the news was the Oscar Pistorius trial.

Now I don't know if I already mentioned this, but the bathroom mirror had a cool feature which I didn't believe at first..

..There was a TV in the mirror! :D Brilliant! After a long day it was time to catch some sleep. I'd have to be up early the next morning if I was going to catch Captain Charisma at Axxess...

Thanks for taking the time to read,
Sorry it's taking so long!
Mau (19/06/15) 16:45