Greetings from Old People Camp

Give me the crawfish and hold the tobacco juice, please

February 17, 2013 

Suzanne Davis

My husband and I recently returned from a cross-country trip that included Louisiana, and just in case you’ve been dreaming in Cajun, I thought I’d pass along these tourist tips.

Louisiana wouldn’t let me go until I saw a gator and ate some crawfish. Mick had flown home from New Orleans to return to rockin’ and rollin,’ but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the nomadic life. I bid him adieu at the Louis Armstrong Airport and promised to see him by the next nationally recognized holiday.

Lance the travel trailer and I were on our own! There was a bit of trepidation on Lance’s part with the thought of me going solo, but with my best anthropomorphic communication skills I said, “Get over it, Bucko! One doesn’t need man parts to drive this rig.” He acquiesced . But really, it’s not always easy dealing with a male trailer.

We blew out of NOLA and set off toward Lafayette and Cajun country. Frenchman’s Wilderness Camp in the Atchafalaya Basin was our next stop. The name absolutely screamed authentic Cajun. I was not disappointed — it was right on the bayou next to a levee, and there was a Mumbailike density to the mosquito population. I watched for deadly wildlife as I stepped out of the truck.

The next morning, I agonized over which swamp tour to choose, wanting to strike a balance between the one where the alligators sit up for marshmallows and the one where I disappear into the mist with a toothless Cajun guy. Butch was my man! Articulate, locally born and witty.

However, Butch and I were not alone in the boat. I’m here to tell you that there was one degree of separation between me and tobacco-spitting dude with questionable aim. Like clockwork, the juice would fly over the side of the small swamp craft and kerplunk into the water — a mere 36 inches from my right elbow. I survived unsullied, but no doubt the English tourist directly in front of me returned to his car with a damp shirtsleeve and the feeling that he’d had a uniquely American experience. In defense of Louisiana, the expectorator was from Texas.

Alligators, herons and turtles (oh my). Huge cypress trees dressed in moss — spit, spit — anhingas — kerplunk — tupelo trees — spit, spit — snakes — kerplunk. Chaw juice and swamp water, a tour made in Cajun heaven. It’s a good thing I always start off my swamp tours with a Xanax, or I might have been incredibly grossed out. (Not really , all of you pharmacists out there!)

At the end of the tour, a foreign couple asked Mr. Butch where to go for fabulous Cajun food and I, of course, listened in. He made a couple of suggestions that sounded vaguely French, and since I got a D in that particular subject in high school, I latched onto names that had to do with whiskey, bayous and landings. Butch also mentioned a spot where he and all of the “levee rats go,” but I thought that might be a bit too authentic.

My GPS lady and I set off in search of a crawfish bisque. The two of us drove through the quaint little town of Breaux Bridge, but of course she wouldn’t let me stop to sightsee. After a time, Ms. GPS announced, “Your destination is on the right.” Hmmmm … I saw nothing and kept inching forward. “Recalculating. Make a U turn. Your destination is on the left.” I followed orders and stopped before she yelled out, “recalculating!” once again. Really, she can get quite cranky. You’d think she’d be a little more understanding with all the traveling she does.

I saw a small sign that read, “Whiskey River Landing Dance Hall” and a narrow dirt road that headed up the levee. The thing about levees is, you can’t see what’s on the other side until you are at the top. As I crested the summit, it was obvious that I’d gotten the levee rats and the old lady crawfish spots confused. I hate it when that happens.

In the interest of journalistic research, I considered proceeding and communing with the “rats,” but I spotted an empty Budweiser along the road and several sweet young things garbed in dippedon jeans. Because I like my beer on draft and I had on my grandma pants, I opted to turn the truck around and head back up the road to a slightly less “colorful” establishment.

I had a fabulous crawfish étouffée, and such a satisfying day that I felt a little guilty about making Lance stay at the campground all alone. But upon reflection, I’d made the right choice. One might have needed man parts to turn a trailer around on top of that levee.

Suzanne Davis is happily retired and living in the South County with her husband and their three dogs. Email her at suzdavis489@ yahoo.com .

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