Notes from flyover country.

Tuesday was Fat Tuesday, the culmination of the Mardi Gras celebrations, and I was in Louisiana to witness it. This is flyover country. The town that I am in could best be described as a small big town. It’s obviously a town of importance for the surrounding area but it’s still at heart a small community with a small town vibe. As regards to the architecture and the general condition of the dwellings and businesses, I do not think that I have seen a poorer town of this size outside of Africa. The large businesses and hotels are as spick and span as you would expect them to be, but the houses look as if they were put up only so far as to provide a roof until the next hurricane blows it down.

However, if you judge a town’s wealth by its automobiles then this is possibly one of the wealthiest towns per capita that I have ever seen. Outside the same dilapidated houses are parked pristine and expensive examples of the fruits of American pickup and muscle car production. To drive a crappy car in this town you really have to be at the bottom of the pile. The lowest point is reserved for people who walk because they have no choice in the matter. In this town at least, it appears that you are defined by what you drive. There are a lot of car dealerships.

My arrival in the USA coincided with a final blast of winter air that enveloped almost the entire country. In Louisiana it has been colder than the Netherlands. I hadn’t really prepared for this seeing as I assumed I was heading for a sub-tropical climate, but I managed to scrape together enough layers so as to not freeze to the sidewalk.

The main parade took place just behind my hotel, and my colleague and I walked over to see the sights. I have been to many places and I have seen a great many strange and wondrous things and been a party to equally strange events, but this parade was like nothing that I had experienced before. The road was lined with people sitting on chairs and the tailgates of pickup trucks which had been reversed against the side of the road. It appeared that the road and sidewalk width had been specifically designed for this purpose. We needed some food and a beer to wash it down but after walking for over half an hour we realised that this combination was not going to eventuate. We settled on a burger at a greasy hole in the wall run by characters that would have been tired clichés in a movie set on a bayou.

Back on the street we spotted a takeaway liquor store and my Dutch colleague’s eyes lit up.

“We can grab some beers there and then drink them on the street,” he said.

I laughed at him and then when I saw his confusion I pointed to the crowds that surrounded us, all primed with anticipation at the sound of the arriving parade.

“Do you see anyone here drinking alcohol?” I said, and sure enough after a really looking at what was happening around him my colleague was faced with the awful truth.

In the Netherlands this type of public event would include alcohol as a matter of course, which is due to the fact that the Dutch can handle their drink. And even if they do get drunk it’s a happy and celebratory drunk. I told him that Anglo-Saxons don’t do happy and celebratory drunk. They’re more inclined to partake in angry and punch your face in for looking at me drunk.

So no beer.

We witnessed the first hour of the parade. There were lots of police vehicles filled with what I assume were officers of the law. There was a district attorney vehicle as well with a man whom I presume to be the DA sitting alone at the wheel. Based on the number of advertisements for legal help in the town I presume that he is a very busy man. The rest of a parade consisted of a school band and then a large float. The school bands were of a similar nature, but some were much better or much worse than the others, depending on your point of view. We were at the beginning of the parade but most of the band members already looked rather exhausted. I felt some degree of pity for the tuba players in particular. A man in late middle age standing beside us informed me that the kids had another seven miles to go.

The floats had various themes. A batman float had a large batman figure at the front, a spiderman the same. As far as the theme went that was about it. The rest of the float which consisted of at least two levels, was filled with mostly men dressed in garish costumes who threw various trinkets into the crowd with furious energy. The floats paralysed their immediate surroundings with very loud rock music. The crowd which had been silent and subdued at the passing of the school band then came to life with great enthusiasm. It was a contest to see who could receive the most trinkets. My colleague and I stood in the middle of the tempest in a state of some bemusement. He remarked to me that the people on the float threw large bags onto the street after they had been emptied of their trinket contents. The small children in the crowd then retrieved the bags and filled them back up with the same trinkets thrown from the floats.

After the passing of the float there would be another school band and the crowd would fall silent once more.

We lasted an hour and then wandered back to the hotel. I later discovered that this was one of several parades that day. We walked back through the dilapidated streets as the sounds of mayhem receded behind us. A man was mowing his lawn. His house was in better condition than most. I had a sudden feeling of dislocation that I had not experienced for a long time. Back at the hotel we finally got that much needed beer.

11 thoughts on “Notes from flyover country.

  1. Lexet Blog

    Welcome to the states. We are defined by our vehicles here.

    Also, Louisiana doesn’t factor in vehicle value for food stamps/state assistance. “Hood Rich” is the term.

    Southerners in the Deep South will have differing attitudes based off wealth and their family history. Keep in mind that much of The aristocratic nature of the south stood until the 1950s. For most of its history, a hyper majority of those living in the south would have been dirt poor.

    Economically, these same areas were hit hard during the depression, and then farm mechanization reduced the need for farmhands.

    Appalachia is worse.

    Taking pride in making your property look nice is for the rich/ carpetbaggers out of state.

    https://www.snap-step1.usda.gov/fns/tool/tutorial/vehicle_states_chart/states_chart.html

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  2. It is a shame. I’ve ridden through much of the country and seen what appeared to be once beautiful towns in decay. I often wondered how someone could let their property look like that, even if they didn’t have much money. Cleaning up the trash, a coat of cheap paint on the weekend, mow the lawn, etc. I have been pretty poor at times but it was always on the way to better things. I have no idea what it is like to be poor and assume that is what life is.

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  3. TechieDude

    Hahahaha…

    Just hearing hotels, car dealers, and parade route, I can pinpoint exactly where you are in Lafayette. The hood, that’s where. If you are staying there, head south to River Ranch/Settlers trace. That’s where team white built a new defacto downtown.

    Lafayette is different than most small college towns. And there are three big reasons for seeing what you are seeing, where you are seeing it. First, Katrina hit, which didn’t affect Lafayette all that much. But they were one of the places, along with Baton Rouge that got a fat injection of diversity from the 9th ward. Some of my friends up north called me at the time to see how my wife’s family fared – “Did they get anything from Katrina?” – Why yes. Yes they did. Vibrant gangsta types trying to buy guns with their FEMA cards. They never left.

    About that time the second thing opened up – they extended Camillia Blvd over the Vermillion river, connecting the north part of town with the south. So you didn’t have to travel through downtown, or way down Ambassador Cafferey to get from one end to the other. Where it hits Kaliste Saloom rd, is where the new town center popped up.

    So Lafayette didn’t get the gentrification of the college campus / downtown area (as a matter of fact, the college is probably part of the problem). Everyone that would have gentrified the area packed up, including businesses, who went where all the monied customers went.

    So there’s literally no reason to be where you are unless you have some sort of industrial need, or can’t afford to live elsewhere. Earlier this year when I was there, the Marriott there was like $74/night, on the north end it was more towards $100. This effects what I can get with my points. I still spend more points to stay in the other part of town. No one I know or am related to lives anywhere near there.

    The third thing, and is why you are seeing those dilapidated shotgun shacks along Evangeline Thruway (i49), is that I49 was supposed to continue through that area to Morgan City, And every one of them should have been bulldozed. But they’ve been squabbling about it for decades and it never happened. I doubt many have owners occupying them.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. TechieDude

        Oh…. I thought you were going to start out in Lafayette (You said that on the podast)

        In that case..

        BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA….

        That’s far, far south of flyover country. Deep, deep Cajun country right there. I suggest watching the movie “Southern Comfort”.

        Let us know if you encounter any women less than 20lbs overweight that don’t smell of fryer grease. We all live vicariously, after all.

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  4. TechieDude

    Who said you can’t drink outside in Lafayette?

    Next time you are at a bar there, look around the hostess station and see if you don’t notice a stack of to-go cups. It’s the only state I’ve been in where you can pour your beer into a plastic cup and take it with you. Although they may have changed it, but I’ve seen that within the last year there.

    It was probably the cold more than anything else.

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    1. Apex Predator

      Me too. I was a bit shocked that this wasn’t mentioned. I am in the DC area so interact with foreigners much more often than your average American. Almost to a man (or woman) the first thing they cannot wrap their mind around is the girth and weight of these waddling blobs called Americans.

      It is a shell shock syndrome especially for people from Eastern Europe or Asian countries where women are still thin and feminine and men aren’t disgusting piles of lard. The fact that this wasn’t mentioned is odd maybe because the Netherlands is starting to ‘pork out’ in the way that the UK is now full of fat bodied Brit slags? Not sure, but it was a ‘glaring omission’ from the normal shock & awe that foreigners experience at first contact with the Blob Army.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lexet Blog

        My favorite interaction was introducing an Eastern European to country music. Their opinion was that all our love songs involve tractors.

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  5. Klaus

    I had to smile at one comment – my Mum said the same thing, living in an Arizona mining town. People living in run-down shacks…but with big, shiny trucks outside.
    Take notes, Adam! After a while you don’t notice the new things…this could be a lot of fun for your readers…

    Keep up the good work!

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