20 November 02

Down South

I think I should admit that I feel a little bad about the amount of joy I felt in listening to southerners.

I find it fascinating that the people on earth that I think have the most unique or interesting lifestyle are in my own back yard. I have heard many stereotypes about southerners and back-woods hicks from the bayou, but was quite alarmed to speak with and listen to them. I found that thought the stereotypes from movies are exaggerated and in some ways quite derogatory they seem to actually be based on fact. Now I can't say anything here is absolute, nor even representative only it is what I witnessed.

As I was on watch - we were anchored in the upper 12 mi. anchorage - I was monitoring several VHF channels and heard quite a lot of traffic, a lot for someone from San Francisco, but what I am told is normal for the river, well after hearing on conversation I quick produced pen and paper to be able to recall it exactly.

It speaks for its self and with one liberty it appears exactly as I heard it, below:

Earl: Hey Guss is that you?

Guss: Uh yaeh its me here.

Earl: I didn't recognize you, you sound all sophisticated and stuff. You need to give that stuff up,

you is forgetting wheres you from.

Guss: Yeah they say you can cut a tree down but you cant pull up its roots.

Earl: And the acorn don't fall too far from the tree. - How's that house of yours goin'?

Guss: Aw, we got the downstairs just 'bout done 'n startin' on the up stairs.

Earl: People buy houses but they don't realize hoe much work they is.

Guss: Yeah.

Earl: That's why I say you to get an a-partment with lots of ce-ement.

Now only after reading the dialog will I let you know what the one liberty I took was; Guss was clearly named in the conversation, I named Earl.

The next morning we picked up the hood, moved up stream several miles and set the anchor again.

Launch service was arranged and after watch I went ashore. From the ship you can't see much over the trees on the levee so I had no idea what the area was like.

The launch dropped myself and the AB from my watch, Dooley, at a barge, which I shall revisit, in a town called Reserve Louisiana. The town was not much just a small American town and I didn't really get to look around much though a discussion of the town does not quite fit here it is as good a time as any to mention it.

Not quite a metropolis, but they came with one good sized grocery store with a butcher who knew his customers and from what little I over heard, knew his meat. I heard him giving advise to one woman that she should return the next day when a fresh supply would be in with choice cuts, he was also discussing cuts and cooking with other shoppers. Something you don't find at any grocery store in San Francisco.

Reserve had a few churches, a couple gas stations, a discount store selling everything from bicycles to night gowns. I don't remember what we were looking for but the store owner said he would be happy to call another store to help us find whatever it was, but there was one problem: his phone didn't work correctly. I gathered that this had been a persistent problem but one that didn't seem to bother him too much.

We asked at the discount store for somewhere to get some "good eats" and were directed up the road to "Connie's" a sort order gill, the only place to go for food other than one of the gas stations. To Connie's we went.

Connie's was in a gray cement building with a large roof over the ordering window that wrapped around two sides of the building. To the right was a red picnic table which looked as though it had about twenty five coats of paint on it.

None of the order signs had prices, though they once did.

After I ordered the cashier was calling out orders that were up by name. I think Doolie and I were the only customers who didn't know her by name.

Our orders came up and we headed for the picnic table but opted instead for the levee across the street. I ate my fried shrimp salad with French dressing, sat in the grass above a tug nosed up to the bank and watched the ships pass by. Though I have never read anything by Mark Twain I felt like Huck Finn.

The shrimp was delicious fried with spices, I don't know what they used, but it seemed very Cajun or southern to me. It was a little spicy and not over cooked but certainly well cooked. The shrimp sat on a bed of lettuce with a few pieces of tomato and was covered with a layer of cheddar cheese that was melted enough to stick the shrimp together. At each of the four corners of the tray were wedges of hard boiled egg. A little plastic dish of French dressing and some soup crackers finished if off. I am going to try to recreate this recipe when I get home. I will have to call it Connie's fried shrimp salad or something similar.

After finishing our lunches we walked along the top of the levee back to the launch scheduled for 1420. We were about 20 minutes early, and when we arrived it turned out that the launch was moved back to 1530. Rather than heading back into town we waited in the waiting room. The office for the launch service was in what looked to be a mobile home on a barge. the interior was paneled in faux wood with clear Plexiglas behind the benches to protect the paneling. The cushions on the benches were made of slabs of foam rubber. Opposite me there was an old bed pillow rolled up and stuck under the foam. Its purpose was revealed when one of the crew of a launch came in and reclined on the bench to watch TV.

The TV was set on an upended red milk crate. It was a white TV or it was white before the years of cigarette smoke had permanently made it a cream yellow dinge. We were watching some soap, and later a court TV show.

I am being 100% truthful when I say that only one of the workers in the room had all of his front teeth, the one that appeared to have all remaining looked to be about 25, the next youngest was probably 10 years his senior.

They all spoke with southern backwoods accents.

The room filled with an excitement when someone came in with a bag of oysters. "Oysters!" was called out and the guy reclining across from me got up and followed the oysters to the back of the office where a pot was sitting on an electric hot plate. Then he left the office to return a few minutes later with a look of pride and anticipation, he had brought with him some cauliflower. He went to the back of to office and set to work.

I was distracted from the cooking when Dooley mentioned that we were looking for bikes. One of the boat drivers got excited because he had an old bike and was short on cash. We went out and looked at his bike. It was a little rusty and the foam was being held on the seat by means of electrical tape. His price was $50. I tired, successfully, to step back so that I would not actually have to retract my offer to buy. When it was determined that no sale was to be made we went back in to the office.

I relate this next part out of posterity. I want to remember all of this story and so I am putting it to paper. the fact that I am not censoring anything is purely journalistic.

In the office we were still talking about buying used and particularly cheap bikes. Dooley said (and at this I was a little disappointed) that we needed to find a "negro" and we could probably get a new bike chain and all for $20. There seemed to be a general agreement in the room. The 25 year old with all his teeth said sort of in passing that "They could steal the sweetness out of gingerbread just walking by." Now after exploring all the options so far as purchase of inexpensive bikes in reserve was concerned we left that conversation behind.

The oyster pot was filling the air with a very light and almost indictable smell.

The court TV show was now the center of attention.

A conversation picked up about what there is to do on Fat Tuesday around here. Apparently Meadville is the place to go. When asked about what the women are like in Meadville, the 25 year old with all his teeth drew his lips in a circle and looked up obliquely in a half trance like state, arms at his side he said "Lord have mercy they have some fine women" with all the inflections of a southern Baptist pastor. Then he began to tell us about the mall they have with "all kinds of shops" and they have "air-con-dish-in-in" you can go there and walk around all day and he added "you don't even have to buy anything, just look at all the women" Apparently he has done this on several occasions.

What happened next was not particularly noteworthy but at one point the proud man with the cauliflower resumed his reclined posture on the bench and began complaining of burns on his arm from water splashing from the roux that he was fixing in the back.

One more offer was made to sell us the bike and it was time to return to the ship.

I really wish I had more to relate about people in Reserve LA but with only a few hours ashore it was difficult to meet very many people.