I owe you an apology.
Yes, it’s true that your drinking water is yellow. And most people would agree that your roads are generally terrible, owing to the state requirement that any highway be poured with inferior concrete in ten-foot segments specifically designed not to match up, thus providing the methodical thump-thump-thump we all have come to know and expect.
But for the better part of 35 years none of my travels ever went below Interstate 10 and for this I apologize. In fact, I retract my previous declarations that Louisiana is just a state you drive through to reach a destination. I will actually MAKE the coastal area a destination in the future!
On a recent trip back to South Carolina from Texas, Jenni and I decided to explore a new area of Louisiana. We exited I-10 in Winnie, TX, traveled through Port Arthur, and crossed into Louisiana on Highway 82. Initially, it was hard to tell the difference between the two states because of all the chemical operations on each side but then we reached Holly Beach and the highway was right beside the beach. In fact, we pulled over onto the shoulder of the road and watched the wind-driven mist from crashing waves blow across the highway in front of us. This was a beautiful drive.
Our next excitement was taking a short ferry ride across the Calcasieu Ship Channel. Our GPS actually panicked as we approached the ferry ship and kept screaming at us to abort and make a U-Turn! Annie (our Chihuahua) was very calm and enjoyed the boat ride. Eventually the GPS chilled out as well.
Our hearts broke for the people living in those parishes as we saw slab after slab where homes had once stood but been destroyed by forceful hurricanes. That night we had Rutherford Beach near Creole, LA to ourselves. The winds were fierce and Wanda the van was covered in sand the next morning, but we had a great time there. Before we left the next morning, we walked a few hundred yards of beach and collected a large bag of trash and a small bag of whelk shells. It was an even swap in my books.
A hometown friend knew we were way down on the coast and had suggested we try a restaurant in Abbeville, LA called Shucks! THE Louisiana Seafood House. We set our GPS coordinates and headed out. But we quickly got distracted by the alligators. First one I saw was a 4-foot roadkill. That’s when it dawned on me that there might be others. Soon, we started spotting them in the waterways beside the highway. An occasional one every quarter mile quickly turned to one every 20 yards. Finally we had to just pull over (safely on concrete) and take a few pictures. Annie was NOT allowed out of the vehicle!
We pulled into the Shucks! restaurant parking lot just as the lunch crowd was starting to gather. Our server was Jillian and she was a joy. When we ordered our usual drink of choice (water) she came back in a couple minutes and asked if we WERE SURE that’s what we wanted. She indicated it would probably have a little tinge of color to it and taste like it looked. LOL. She brought us complimentary bottled water instead! We ordered four different appetizers to share and ended up with the most incredible seafood gumbo, shrimp and grits, crawfish etouffee, and alligator bites. The latter really made me appreciate the sacrifice made by the cousins of the gators on Hwy 82.
Jillian then wanted us to have dessert and insisted on bread pudding. After telling her we “hadn’t learned to like it yet”, she said she would get a serving for us on the house because we just HAD to try it.
In the meantime, David Bertrand (the owner) came to our table to visit. He was a walking history book on Cajun culture with himself being a first-generation in his family to use English as his first language! In ten minutes we had a crash course on the history of the Cajun people (a people from Northern France via Nova Scotia) and hospitality. He claimed there were three types of hospitality: 1) the simple hospitality you read in a dictionary (hey, you ya doing?), 2) Southern Hospitality (Bless your heart. How’s your momma and dem?) and 3) Cajun Hospitality (Nice to meet you. Why don’t you follow me to my house for some crawfish?) We talked a lot about Cajun food and he insisted we sample his Rice Dressing he was preparing for Easter. Of course, it was incredible. While we delighted over it, he reheated our Bread Pudding and then gave us instructions on how to eat it. But you don’t just “eat it”; you experience it. And OH MY GOSH, Jillian was right in persuading us to have a piece. As my mother-in-law would say: “It’s so good it could make you slap your mammy and kiss your pappy!”
Jillian was envious of our van travels and suggested we take Highway 90 to ‘New Or-lins’ instead of the interstate. (I admitted to Jenni later that I was having trouble understanding her Cajun accent so she may have told us an entirely different route.) But, she hadn’t steered us wrong yet, and the GPS agreed it was a faster route, so we did take Hwy 90. Some parts of the highway resembled washboards but we did get to see thousands of acres of sugar cane fields. Eventually we had to join the rest of the Louisiana population on the interstate in New Orleans but our time ‘below I-10’ was certainly memorable and pleasurable.
So Louisiana, I apologize again for judging you harshly.
If only you had billboards about bread pudding instead of that one attorney whose face we see all the way across the state.