The Trans-Louisiana express: Unearthing friendliness in the Pelican State

Wednesday saw me take what might be called a “whirlwind trip” to Louisiana. I had to do safety inspections in Lafayette and Alexandria, then drive back home to Beaumont in the same day. It has been awhile since I covered that much ground. My best guess is that I drove about 300 miles. I’ve not had time to study the odometer readings I had to write down for my work vehicle.

The sun was rising above all the huge petrochemical pipe towers when I neared Lake Charles. A perfectly clear morning. It was even more a spectacular sight when summiting the Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River.

It was on that same trek to Lafayette that I found myself being serenaded by the fiddles and accordion as well as the soulful sounds of Cajun French lyrics. Although I live in what is called “Cajun Texas” this area I found myself in is the real Boudreaux. The station, KBON 101.1 FM in Eunice, La., is a channel I have listened to many times on the internet and somehow just forgot about it.

The two-step Cajun music, as well as a little Clifton Chenier zydeco thrown in, recalled my younger days when I would drive from my Navy base in Gulfport, Miss., maybe once a month or every couple of months to my Texas hometown near Louisiana border. Rather than from this side of Lafayette, I would pick up a station after traveling through Baton Rouge and the long bridges on I-10 of the Atchafalya Basin. I don’t know if it was the same station or call letters. Back then I only had an AM radio in my car. Not only would I heard the music of Acadien but some of the lesser-known songs of “hippy” music, the kind of B-sides or album cuts you hear when someone puts the record on, but aren’t the more popular tunes. Either way: “Looka!” I done found myself in the land of Ca-juns!

I made my first trip to downtown Alexandria. It was pretty underwhelming from the area in which I saw it. It’s not as bleak as our county neighbor Port Ar-ture (Port Arthur, Texas), but at least from the view presented from I-49 Alexandria definitely lacked curb appeal.

The trip home was a bit confusing to say the least. I intended to take U.S. Hwy. 165, which would bring me back to I-10 in Iowa (La.) and not a long trip from Iowa back to Lake Charles and the Texas line. But I didn’t see any signs, for some reason, for Hwy. 165. I did see ones for U.S. 167, so that was the road I took. I eventually came to this nice-sized eatery and grocery store that had the look of the famous Buc-ee’s with the cleanest restrooms in Texas. Or so they say. I figured, why not stop, especially since the name of the place is “Y-Not Stop.”

This place was more like Buc-ees than I had imagined. It even had clean restrooms and a couple of terminals in the restaurant from which you could place your order, extract a ticket and sit down. They would call your name and you could pay or you could pay and they would still call your name. That’s not to say it was a knock-off of Buc-ee’s. It just had some similarities.

While waiting I looked at the map function on both smart phones I had with me — a Blackberry from work and an iPhone that is my personal cell — for a road to take me home. My preference was finding Hwy. 165. Both phones proved useless, mainly because the hair-trigger screens are a nightmare for a person with tremors in his hand.

I finally resorted to the old-fashioned way of navigation. I asked for directions.

First I asked a guy sitting across from me. He wasn’t from the area but he did his best. By then I had received a catfish sandwich with a fried filet halved and placed on a wheat bun with the dressings I ordered. I knew I shouldn’t but I also ordered their onion rings. Oh my, they were lightly crusted with a light-brown look and it felt like eating, well, a ring of onion, only one with a light crust of corn meal, flour and whatever secret seasoning that was concocted for this delight.

Before finishing, this big ol,’ good ol’ boy came walking undoubtedly on his way out.

“You need directions to Highway 167? I grew up around here.”

I told him I did. He told me to go down “this road take a right, go over the bridge, you’ll cross under I-49 and you’ll come to¬† 167 in Woodworth.”

Woodworth rang a bell. I had asked directions of the people I met in both Alex and Lafayette. They told me about Woodworth and told me to watch my speed because the place was a speed trap.

“And,” said the good ol’ boy, “Watch your speed when you come to Woodworth.”

I was doubtful about the directions because it put me on a narrow, paved road. The road crossed a wood bridge and it snaked around what looked like a river or bayou that mirrors the larger Red River nearby. This was a reddish-clay type water body and that same redness coated leaves lying about the previously flooded areas. It reminded me of the area around Nacogdoches, TX, where I spent many younger and semi-younger days. Eventually, I crossed under I-49 and came to the town of Woodworth. I saw the speed limit of 35 mph, so I set my cruise control to 30. I finally got out on Hwy. 165, still going 30 for quiet a ways. Good thing, because I saw a couple of police cars had someone pulled over. After awhile I came through the casino town of Kinder, home to the Coushatta Indian casino, then knew I had only an hour or so before getting home.

It was quite an interesting day, despite having a continued bout with a bum knee. I have no idea what’s wrong with it. I am waiting to hear from a specialist about an appointment. I thought about how Texas had the motto: “Friendship.” It was apparently from the days the Caddo roamed the then-virgin pine forests of East Texas. I always liked to think Texas had the friendliest people in the country. It might not seem so these days with our opportunistic Gov. Good Hair, folks like the jackass freshman Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and the assortment of nuts that make up the Tea Party arm of the GOP in the Texas and U.S. legislatures.

But I had to say, for today at least, our neighbors to the east can be pretty worthy of that “friendship” motto. Thanks to my Louisiana friends.