There is an idealism out here in the Gulf towns. It's an American belief that is wordlessly shared by actions and place. Springsteen knew it. The blue collared bard sang an opus of our fellow man. Driving out here, Southern Louisiana, South Texas, on the blues highways, and on, we see the words illustrated. Working towns. Working folk. Schools made of bricks colored by the earth of the region. Quiet streets on Sundays. Eye contact and a conversation while the cashier breaks that 20 dollar bill for regular unleaded. Outnumbered by pick-up trucks 7 to 1. Fishing rods and hunting rifles are common tools. Roughnecks and trawlers and oil and sugarcane, long horns and pine trees. All laying across the drawbridges, tree lined back roads, and along flat bayou shores where gators and snapping turtles watch with wary eye. Country songs and creole preachers still broadcast on the AM/FM under the stars at night. Now this storm is passing, and when it's done these towns will pick up and carry on. I have faith in that idealism and am thinking of these fine Americans in this time.
Just past the bridge down the road from Morgan City I pulled over. Across the road giant nets hung from tall frames unmoving. The street was busy, the town was not. Big trucks and old sedans moved on down the cracked and patched asphalt . The opaque sky did little to minimize the heat. Even without a visible Southern sun the heat was everywhere. "I sure could go for an ice cold Mellow Yellow about now." I muttered to myself while looking through the front of the mouldering Shop-A-Lot. Shelves empty, aisles in disarray, humidity resting on the once cool, air conditioned walls. The draw bridge sounded its alarm, slowly splitting itself, tilting skyward. Returning to the car, I edged out between the slow traffic onto highway 90, turned on the AC, and pointed myself towards Texas.
At this point I was staying about 5 minutes ahead of the lightning. The road through the pines began to mist, the air condensing with the sun low in the trees now. Bayou Corne was behind me. The road swung me towards Lufkin, and Dallas beyond that. Each time I'd stop and look in my rear view mirror I could see the lightning and black clouds creep towards me from the gulf. Brined air coming off the estuaries while tide waters drifted away as the currents settled in for the night. The thick air, refreshingly cool, becoming almost opaque, a veil. I roll up the window as the heavy drops patter against the sheet metal of the rental car warning me that the storm has no concern for my well being and that I should be moving along.
The afternoon grew overcast but the heat maintained. I'm behind Main Street. This farm supply store sits there too. Raspy pops and scrapes as the corrugated skin shifts uncomfortably, almost echoing my sentiments in the 98 degree humidity. "Swift's", it reads on the siding, almost matching the tone of the sky behind as it sits. A couple drives by in an old Ford Explorer, looking my way. I lift my hand to them, the road travelers sign of "I'm friendly.". They wave back, "We are friendly too.". A small acknowledgment but it carries weight out here among citizen strangers. I turn and make my way back to the car, looking forward to the next leg of the trip. I turn one last time towards the old building and the mill languishing beside. I raise my hand to them, "I'm friendly.". The storm moves closer.
At a quiet crossroads I pulled over. The warm gravel lane laid out along the boundary of an old homestead. The ground, still damp from the earlier rain, seemed fresh. To my right the old asphalt continued. Carrying commerce, strangers,and travelers from places I haven't been yet, going to places I don't know exist. These crossroads out here on the trail are powerful. Fateful deals can be made here. Unspoken contracts signed. Whispers of the pacts made echo on still nights. Murmurs in empty bars, on quiet porches, as skies grow dark and the air becomes still. Under the high sun or the shade of night on these intersecting roads, choices come to call. Some have found their way here by virtue. Some compelled by fear. As they step onto the soil they need to remember, the long road behind them holds the deed and that record is bound. No matter. These places care less about why you're standing here and more about which way you'll go. Take stock before the ink is writ as the road gives no quarter.
Crossing the bridge into Belle River in Pierre Part headed South from Bayou Corne. On the left behind the trees is Graveyard Island, on the right is a big grass covered levee that rises, a slope, up about 60-70 feet. Down on the level of Hwy 70 tucked under green branches across tall grass fields are the places where these river folk stay. Mossy covered trees and modest houses , often times a trailer or a shack assembled with a variety of seemingly found materials plunked down towards the water. Avoca Island Cutoff is the liquid highway for this area. Boats pulled up at the docks of the Belle River stores , familiar greetings at S&D bait as gas cans are filled, cold, cold soda is pulled out of the fridge. The day passes on slowly. Little Tensas Bayou runs high in the levee, above the old river, above the road, above the homes. A viper on the map as it lays towards Morgan City, perhaps languishing as it moves muddy water South. It's a resting beast now, aware of its place above a fragile town on an old river in the old forest of the old bayou. As the ripples and wake play along Belle River shores , fish tales are told, and the sound of old cottage screen doors as they swing closed swim in the summer air. There is a presence behind the slope, over the wall of the levee but I look towards the river as I head on towards the Gulf.