Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 71: Goodbye to the Mississippi

Bridge City to Vallier. 18.8 miles/1261 total

Friday, January 22, 2010

I am leaving from the foot of the Huey P. Long Bridge, heading down U.S. 90 through Boutte and Paradis, to a little place along Louisiana 631 the map calls Vallier.

It's another cloudless day, with temperatures in the 60s already, expected to hit about 70.

Bridge City, which isn't very large and which I'm leaving now, calls itself the Gumbo Capital of the World. It has a Gumbo Festival in November. I can't tell you much more about Bridge City, except that it's a community of over 8,000 that was established in the 1930s during the construction of the Huey P. Long Bridge. The bridge was opened in December 1935, a few months after Huey Long was assassinated. I don't know if they were planning to name it after him anyway, but I guess his death sort of settled the issue. The width of the traffic lanes on the bridge (two in each direction for now, but being increased) is nine feet, which I'm pretty sure is not as wide as the motor home. It was not a comfortable crossing.

I'm now west of the Mississippi, for the second time. The crossing at Cairo, Illinois was memorable, as was the recrossing at Memphis. Neither of those bridges was pedestrian friendly, although the Memphis bridge probably was once, before they built two or three miles of expressway leading up to it. But the Huey P. Long wasn't even tempting as a foot bridge. Now it's west all the way. I'm leaving the Mississippi behind for good.

U.S. 90 is surrounded by bayou. The towns are narrow--only a few blocks deep on either side of the highway. I'm heading into a part of Louisiana that should be more French than was the Florida Parishes region north of Lake Ponchartrain. Maybe people will even speak French, or what passes for it down here.

After a place called Avondale, which is a collection of fast food joints and gas stations and not much else, there's a stretch of maybe eight miles of little or nothing. Just the highway, which is extremely busy and noisy. Fortunately it has a good wide shoulder.

I spot the first live armadillo I've seen, rooting around in the vegetation alongside a swamp, just down the slope from where I'm walking. Its head seems impossibly small compared to its body, with just a pair of large ears and a long nose and not much else. When I make a noise to get its attention it sort of jumps up about half an inch. A hundred yards or so later I see another one. They seem to be digging around for grubs and other insects. Nice to know that they're not all dead on the road.

After a couple of hours of eating road construction dust and seeing nothing but the occasional armadillo, I round a bend and come to the outskirts of Boutte. a town of about 2,200. I am in St. Charles Parish now. Despite its rather low reported population, Boutte must be part of a larger and perhaps growing regional area, because it has a Walmart, where I'll be staying tonight, and quite a few other amenities, all right on Highway 90. Perhaps it is centrally located to a number of little oil and gas towns in this area.

St. Charles and a few surrounding parishes had a number of German settlers, who came as early as the 1720s, from the Rhineland, Alsace, and Switzerland. Within a few generations they had mixed with the locals and were speaking French. It is said that the Germans introduced the accordion into Cajun music.

Once again I am impressed by how heedless of pedestrians (me, in particular) the drivers of Louisiana are. I had to slap the hood of a car I was crossing in front of just now to get the driver's attention as she inched toward me. She was looking to the left for a break in traffic while talking on her cell phone. Never once did she look right as I began to cross in front of her. I've been through enough other states and have walked enough miles now that I can say with some authority that Louisiana drivers are the worst I've seen on my trip. The concept of "look both ways," which most of us learn as children, and the idea of yielding to pedestrians, are both foreign to them. In fact, sometimes they see me as I approach the intersection and shoot out in front of me anyway because they can't be bothered to wait.

I hasten to add that I am not influenced in this criticism by the fact that I have only been offered one ride since I got into the state (and that by a transplanted ex-Amish man from Ohio). The ride offers are more a function of the rural versus the urban mentality. Urban people simply don't offer rides. So I will reserve judgment on this issue until I have had a chance to travel through some of the more rural parts of the state, which will happen soon.

At the west end of Boutte there is a historical marker about the Skirmish of Boutte Station, in which Confederates ambushed a Union train in September 1862, killing 14 Union soldiers and wounding 22. I suppose when you're a loser, you have to brag about your little victories when and where you can. Today, right here at or near the site of the skirmish, there is a Domino's Pizza store.

Out past Boutte a few miles is another small collection of stores, restaurants, and gas stations that comprise the village of Paradis, about half the size of Boutte. A little southwest of Paradis, past the Chinese restaurant, I take a right onto Louisiana 306, across from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. Suddenly the noise of the highway is behind me and it is peaceful and shady. After a few hundred yards I turn left onto Route 631, where I am parked alongside the railroad tracks near the entrance to the Paradis Oil and Gas Field.


judyb said...

You may cross thru Thibodaux on your trip west. My daughter goes to school at Nichols State University there. Lots of cajun accents in that area.

Anonymous said...

Lucinda Williams wrote and sang a haunting tune called Lake Charles. One verse goes "We used to drive--Thru Lafayette and Baton Rouge--in a yellow El Camino--Listening to Howlin Wolf--He liked to stop in Lake Charles--Cause thats the place that he loved"
I wonder if driver politeness toward pedestrians has a positive correlation with education?--Art