Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 74: Butch World

Humphreys to Morgan City. 20.4 miles/1322.6 total

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

9:20 a.m. Leaving from the parking lot of the Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church in Humphreys, headed down Louisiana 182 through Gibson and on to Morgan City.

It's another cloudless day. The temperature is about 55, expected to get up into the low 60s here in the bayou.

I'm on the north side of Bayou Black, which I mentioned yesterday is the slummier side, at least on this stretch. In the space between the road and the water someone is burning, for no apparent reason, a couple of those huge wooden spools the utility companies use for wire and cable. The fire is small and slow, just at the bottom of one of them. It'll be a long process, like burning a stump. Burning garbage in this space by the bayou seems to be a regular pastime in Humphreys.

At the next bridge I cross over to the south side, where the shoulder on the road is wider. The walk will just get me to the edge of Morgan City. I pass a sign that says Hilltop Energy Company. In the background there are a number of tanks and pipes and apparatuses. As with the cotton and sugar cane industries, I don't know a lot about the oil business, and I'd like to know more. So I stop in at the shack in front of this Hilltop property to ask someone exactly what they're doing. A friendly guy tells me that they have an oil well in the back and when they pump from it they separate the natural gas from the oil and store both of them. There's a pipeline from their place over to a Shell facility just down the road. The huge oil storage tanks belong to some other company. They do no refining there. Well, that's a little more than I knew before. Shell probably loads the crude into tankers that take it by water to refineries, maybe inland.

Here's a sign that says Live Oak Cemetery, but there are no graves. Maybe it's a brand new cemetery, with no one planted there yet. [Later I checked the internet and learned that this cemetery is very old, possibly a slave cemetery, and is located behind the two huge Shell storage tanks, accessible only by a road with a locked gate controlled by Shell.]

One of the things I've been meaning to mention is the plenitude of liquor sellers in Louisiana. In most states you can buy beer and maybe wine at a convenience store, but the liquor license is harder to get. Here practically everyone can sell liquor, including the tiniest gas station. They all have it, usually in a small area behind the counter. It makes some sense that Louisiana, with its French population, would have resisted the more puritanical approach to alcoholic beverages that the English and Protestant dominated parts of the country adopted.

I take the fork off of 182 into the village of Gibson, past the Triumph Baptist Church and the St. James Baptist Church, which has a nice little cemetery, where I go to eat my lunch sitting on the grave of Namon Pharr, which sits next to those of Theophilus and Zenobia Pharr. Cool names.

Next to this church is another old one, dating from about the mid-19th century, a one-room affair of white clapboards and green shutters, shut tight. According to the sign this was the Gibson Methodist Episcopal Church, erected in 1849. During the Civil War it was used as a hospital.

Another hundred yards down the road is the municipal cemetery, filled with French people, many of its tombs resplendently white in the midday sunshine. The Heberts, the LeBlancs, the Duvals.

Gibson boasts another two or three churches, not to mention a post office, a school, and a little branch library. There was a time on this journey when I would have gone into the library to check on local history, but I haven't felt the urge to do that in quite awhile. I probably should, because whoever feeds information to Wikipedia about these little Louisiana towns doesn't do a very good job.

On the way out of town I pass an old house and overhear three people on the front porch speaking French. To paraphrase William Jennings Bryan, "Imagine! Rednecks speaking French!" Down past the houses the roadside along the bayou once more is littered with garbage--a couch, some old computers, some old tube television sets. The least they can do is throw these things into the water, so the heavy metals can go into the food chain faster.

Here at Gibson, Bayou Black widens to at least twice its previous size, and appears to be navigable by commercial vessels.

I have seen an unusual number of dead owls today--four, as far as I remember. They probably swoop in low in the night and misjudge the height of those semis and whopp! on the windshield. Maybe they have brain damage from eating the mercury-poisoned mice.

I leave Terrebonne Parish and enter Assumption Parish. Then at 15 miles I'm out of Assumption and into St. Mary Parish, which calls itself "Cajun Heartland USA." I cross Bayou Boeuf on the Earl "Tuttem" Bergeron and Janet Marcel Memorial Bridge. Bayou Boeuf is a wide and very busy commercial shipping channel. It also has a riverboat-type casino, permanently docked. The Atchafalaya River is near here, too.

Your Humble Narrator is a person of many moods. Sometimes somber, and sometimes desolate for days at a time. And occasionally buoyant. Today the mood is relatively upbeat, as I come down off the bridge with only four miles to go, listening to the iPod, playing air guitar to the instrumental bridge of "Dude Looks Like a Lady." These moments, when they come, must be seized. On another day I might be in more of the frame of mind that Matthew Arnold must have been in when he wrote, in "Dover Beach,"

...the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

For today, with Whitman, I sing the body electric, and play the air guitar electric. But the baggage is always there, very much like Meriwether Lewis's wolf in Frances Hunter's To the Ends of the Earth.

I am now in an area called Tiger Island, which was once the name for Morgan City. It was called this because of wild cats in the area. This end of the island contains the town of Amelia. Route 182 now becomes very busy with shipping and oil related businesses. There's a company that makes what looks like drilling platforms, and a place called Conrad Aluminum, that makes and repairs vessels, and the Caterpillar Marine Equipment Yard. Everywhere big guys walk around in hard hats or drive trucks containing big things, or sail ships, or move scrap metal around, all looking very tough. For their recreation stripper bars dot the roadside between these manly places. They should package a tour of the area for gay couples and call it Butch World. They could bring their children. So much testosterone.

I go by another cemetery, tucked in between the businesses. Then I pass the Yellow Rose Gentleman's Club, Judy's Lounge, and Blondie's Lounge. One last bridge, over the railroad tracks and the scrapyards, and I'm at the motor home.


Anonymous said...

Hello Cheerful Walker, I really enjoyed this blog and not just because of the snippet from "Dover Beach". Your narrative painted some vived pictures in what passes for my imagination these days. But it raised some questions. Many persons would be depressed by burning trash, pollution and graveyords, but it seemed to have no effect on your mood. Why? Does the mention of music indicate an upbeat mood?

I have known some of the tough guys you saw. I advise that you avoid them. Some men fight out of desperation to rob, some to defend and some out of anger, but some fight out of the pure pleasure of beating the crap out of a weaker person. These are predators beyond your control. Anguish

Peter Teeuwissen said...

What do you think you know that I don't?

Anonymous said...

Way too much to list. But for starters: My identity and the circumstances under which I came to know these deadly predators. How did you come across them? I hope I am correct in assuming that you are not one of them. Anguish

Anonymous said...

A nice read--its good to read about your mood, however transient, in addition to your informative and descriptive style. Can't help but think it must be wistful walking over bridges so far away. Art

Anonymous said...

Hey Walker,

I unintentionally stumbled across your page and enjoyed your blog....what's interestibg is that you were indeed sitting on the grave of my great grandfather Namon Pharr and many of his children.....he was very well know in Gipson as was the name Pharr. Interestingly enough, the rest of the Pharr/Johnson family was buried across the street at the other church....the story behind that is even more interesting...thanks for the trip down memory lane

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Hey Anonymous, great to get your comment, so many months after the walk. It took me back to that long trek through Louisiana, where the graves are so much more interesting than elsewhere. I always like to mention a name or two when I visit cemeteries, to honor some of the otherwise perhaps forgotten folks. Turns out when I was in Arizona much later I happened to sit on or across from the grave of a woman who had a great niece in Australia who later contacted me because she was doing some genealogical research, and I've exchanged a few emails with here since. Anyway, hats off to the Pharr family and thanks for reading.