This is the first of my hypothetical harshly worded letters. It seems more than apt that Louisiana would occupy the first slot in this department, because my history with the state is thick with rancid details and run-ins with traffic cops, thunderstorms, merging lanes, so-called construction, and really bad rest areas. Did I just say traffic cops? What year IS it anyway? This is a story of unrequited love. Louisiana has tried, in its abusive and demented way, to love me. I unrequite. In fact, I reject to the fullest extent of rejection. And furthermore, I write harshly worded letters. If you are from Louisiana, love someone from Louisiana, are obsessed with Harry Connick Jr. or his wife, Jill Connick Jr., or just enjoy suffering to the point of hospitalization, then you should just forgo this post entirely. You won’t be happy here today. Also, should you have a really strong reaction I will give you a chance to email me an “I love Louisiana” rebuttal and if you do a good job with it, I will post it, with my therapist’s number at the bottom of the post. You obviously need him more than I do.
I call this my BKHM period. I pronounce that like David Beckham’s last name, in case you want to do this right and not read the entire first Harry Potter book reciting the name Hermione as Her-mee-OWN, like I did, or reading Wicked with the name El-FAH-ba in your head, instead of the correct EL-fuh-buh. I won’t even say who messed up that Wicked one. He’d make me pay. Bad.
So anyway. I was a BKHM, which stands for Before-Kids-Have-Money. The Informinator tried to correct me, saying I was a DINK. That sounds a little too easy, doesn’t it? No thanks. Freedom was something I also had. Todd and I were young professionals. I have never understood what he does. It’s highly technical. Probably he’s actually a government sniper, but the cover-up seems to have something to do with computers and networks and stuff like that. I was a tech writer, writing the software manuals that brought people sweating and cursing into managers’ offices because they couldn’t understand a word of it.
We had vacation time. We used it. And at least three times, we made the unfortunate decision to drive through Louisiana on our way to Texas. We could afford to fly. But we were choosing to save money. We just had no idea how high the price was to drive allllllll the way through L-O-U-I-S-I-A-N-A.
The very first memory I have of driving through that state was when I was about to turn 21 and Todd was 20. We had just secured the worst car ever from a seedy car dealer at a seedy car auction. On the way back from that auction, the dealer hit something in the road and said, “What was THAT? That sounded like a human head or something.” I’m not making that up. I wondered how exactly he knew what a human head sounds like when hit by a Toyota Corolla. We didn’t ask any questions. This same 2-tone, vinyl-topped Toyota Corolla is the car we chose for that first trek. We were engaged to be married. We wanted to hang with his folks for Christmas break. It was supposed to be a 12 hour trip from Tallahassee to Houston.
Two things happened in Louisiana. The first one happened as we were entering the state. In a very hard rain storm, the driver’s side windshield wiper flew off. Just flew off. It was gone. Well that’s precarious, now isn’t it? Just beautiful. A driver’s side wiper is not a luxury. You pretty much have to have that. So we found an exit with a Pep Boys and we wasted 45 minutes solving this problem. The trip was now closer to 13 hours. And then there was a long, long stretch of darkness and swamp. There were no restaurants and no gas stations. There was nothing. And we had no gas. Because we were not accustomed to the Corolla Crown of Shame, we didn’t realize the gas gauge would fall from 1/4 tank to empty in an eye-blink and that in that eye-blink the situation would go from “maybe start looking for gas” to “YOU JUST RAN OUT OF GAS!!!” We also didn’t realize that the state of Louisiana has entire exits that are just there for scientists that are studying swamp behavior and looking for the Yeti. We took at least two exits without a single sign of life. And those two exits used up the last of our gas. And the car started popping and skipping and hiccuping and then it just puttered to a stop. Right in front of a long bridge. In the dark. In the rain. Oh, and it was 1991, so no one had cell phones.
We had no other option but to get out and start walking. So Todd got in front, up on a concrete border that spanned the entire bridge, and I walked in back holding on to his belt loop. And quite stressfully we walked, single file, at least a mile on that teeny little concrete thingie, in the rain, while cars zipped past us with full tanks of gas. And then, not too far past that horrible, horrible bridge, we saw the exit for a rest area. And we walked down that ramp and sat down by the pay phones to figure things out. When we’d talked it out, we called Todd’s parents, who were expecting us by 11 that night and told them we had hit some snags and to go to bed. We didn’t tell them the story. We were talking collect on a pay phone. Go to bed, Mom and Dad. We are in Louisiana. We’re in GOOD HANDS!
Then we hung up that phone, still with absolutely no idea where a gas station was or how we’d get there. That’s when two people walked up that had seen us walking and had even overheard our phone conversation. They sheepishly admitted to stalking us with the best of intentions and offered to take us up the road until we found some gas. We could not get our “yes” out fast enough. So they walked us to their vehicle, which I became thoroughly convinced was going to be my tomb. It was a VW van from the 70s. The front had two seats. The back was gutted and spread out with sleeping bags. They lived in this van. They were civil rights activists. I was sitting on their bed as we looked for gas. 5 miles later, we found some. That would have been quite a walk. So as frightened as I was to be in a gutted van with slightly crazy people, I was more grateful than frightened. And as it turns out, I too became a civil rights activist and live in an old van by the river. Not really. But it sorta sounds nice.
2 hours later, we were back on the road. And at 5 a.m., we pulled into Todd’s driveway and found his worried parents sitting at the kitchen table waiting for us. At that point, we told the story. And then we went to bed. Separately. For a very long time.
When I woke up I still hated Louisiana.
The trip home did not have any car issues. But because it was a holiday weekend, Louisiana decided to merge 3 lanes into 1, just to scientifically test how long this would delay a weary traveler. It delayed us precisely 6 hours. That’s right. S-I-X H-O-U-R-S. That’s like a thousand billion years when you are stuck in a Toyota Corolla with only a cassingle of Annie Lennox, “Walking on Broken Glass”, Curtis Stigers, “I never saw a miracle”, and Jude Cole, “Start the Car.” How many times can you play “I’m thinking of an animal”? A 12 hour trip home took 18 hours. Just that math alone could cause me to write a harshly worded letter. And I will, LA. You haven’t heard the half of it yet.
Someday soon we’ll do Volume Two: The Louisiana Lawman.
Until then, I’m going to go meditate on Mississippi and try to get some sleep.