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Chapter Twenty-One: On the Road from Baton Rouge to Thibodaux

 

It was Wednesday, February 18th, and I was back in Baton Rouge. The Mardi Gras period was fast approaching. It would end abruptly at midnight next Tuesday when the police would chase all the party goers away. This would not be a time when I could do normal campaigning. Tuesday, February 24th, would be a holiday - “Fat Tuesday”. That day would be as dead for my campaign as any weekend day. Even Monday was a question mark. So, I had to make the most of the next three days before this long holiday began.

I called George Harrel. No, Moon Griffon had not yet responded to his emails. Therefore, I called Griffon myself and left a message. I also called Bernadette Cahill, the woman in Monroe who had a radio program on KEDM-FM about musical memories. My memory from the 1960s was of walking down a street in Princeton, New Jersey, while a song by Manfried Mann blared in the background. It reminded me of an unsettled time in my life, when I had dropped out of college, but otherwise I did not know its significance. Cahill knew the tune - she hummed it - and said that type of experience was what she wanted. She would put something together based on my story and play it on the morning of the primary election.

Another item on my list was to visit the press room again in the Louisiana state capitol. Neither Ed Anderson nor Marsha Shuler were in the office. I talked with Shuler’s colleague with the Baton Rouge paper. Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press was again at her desk. She said only to keep her informed as the campaign progressed. In a cell phone conversation, Brittany Shay of radio station WJBO-AM in Baton Rouge said to call her again closer to the election.

Another task remaining to be done in downtown Baton Rouge was to place an order for the one-inch ad in The Advocate. Its office was located several blocks from the state capitol on Lafayette street. I met with Karen Marchand, the national advertising representative. She suggested putting a star border around the text and placing this ad in the “A” section near the news makers section.

I asked her about Mardi Gras events in Baton Rouge. The main event, she said, would be the parade through “Spanish town” next Saturday. The parade would go down North Street and by the newspaper office, too. With that information, I drove around the downtown area scouting locations. The intersection of North and St. Louis streets seemed a good place for me to stand. Later I put that location in a press release.

I returned to the Democratic state party headquarters on Government street. As I pulled up in the car, I could see some men talking in a parking area behind the building. One of the men was standing near the front door when, having parked my car, I approached to enter the building. I asked him if he was with the state Democratic party. He was. Inside, this man said he had to finish a few items of business but then could talk with me for a few minutes before driving to Lafayette for an afternoon meeting. This was Mike Skinner, the state party chairman. I gave him my packet of campaign literature. He gave me his business card.

I mentioned that my name had been removed from the South Carolina ballot and I appreciated the opportunity to participate in the primary here. He responded that there was no interest in taking my name off the Louisiana ballot. It was good that I had stopped by since the state party sometimes receives requests for contact information for the different candidates. I pointed out that my cell phone number was on several pieces of literature. I also said that, regardless of the primary’s outcome, I was personally committed to a Democratic victory in November. Skinner said he appreciated that comment. If anyone wants to “steal” my campaign issues, I said, they’re welcome to do so.

It was noon and time to leave town again. The rest of the day I would try to cover the newspapers south of Baton Rouge towards Houma. Houma itself was not on my itinerary. The editor of The Courier, Keith Magill, had discouraged a visit at this time. He asked me to mail him copies of my campaign literature and then call on Monday after he had had a chance to look over this material.

My first stop, then, was at the office of the Gonzales Weekly. A person at the office said that I should take the “Tanger Mall” exit from I-10, drive a mile to the DePlessy car dealership, turn left, and go another mile to Worthy street and turn left again. This was one of those places where, instead of an interview, candidates were invited to write short statements of their candidacy and submit a photo. I composed my statement at the counter as editor Arlene Bishop worked quietly at a nearby desk.

The next place to visit was Donaldsonville, twenty miles distant by a circuitous route. I had to take the Route 70 exit from I-10, drive about ten miles on this country road until I crossed the Mississippi river on one of those old steel bridges. Highway 70 intersected with another highway two miles later. I then had to turn right toward Donaldsonville while route 70 went on toward Thibodaux. The offices of the Donaldsonville Chief were in the heart of town on Railroad Avenue.

Two women in the office talked with me. One was named Monica. The jobs issue seemed to resonate with them. This was a big sugar-growing area. A woman, not Monica, said she lived in a house in the center of a large sugar field. The sugar industry there was under severe pressure from foreign competition which, people believed, was subsidized by the government. Louisiana Congressmen favored protecting sugar producers. I left this office pumped up. On the way out of town, I stopped at a dime store to buy a large manila envelope to mail my campaign literature to the editor of the Houma paper.

Now I had to drive back to the junction with highway 70 and, this time, take the Thibodaux turn. Seven miles down the road, I would cross Louisiana highway 1 or perhaps highway 308 - they looked the same on the map - and follow it to Thibodaux. Because my instructions had been to stay on highway 308, I stuck to it religiously. This was a narrow, winding country road, admittedly scenic but also potentially dangerous. Built on wet soil, Louisiana highways are elevated well above the ground with ditches on either side. Frequent crosses mark the spot where cars have run off the road killing passengers. So it was here.

On my way to Thibodaux, I went through a small town where school buses blocked the highway for several minutes, putting me behind schedule. I drove as far as Lafourche on highway 308. Something was wrong. The map told me that I had gone too far. Thibodaux was several miles back in the other direction. Later I noticed that highway 1, then close by, paralleled highway 308. This was a faster, straighter road. Eventually, I made my way into Thibodaux on highway 1 and found the offices of the Daily Comet.

This arduous trip was worthwhile. The managing editor, Jeffrey Zeringue, assigned an intelligent young reporter named Emilie Bahr to interview me. She gave me two cups of ice water before we began. Seated at a conference table, Bahr spent half an hour with me asking questions about my campaign and about me. She wanted to know how shortening work time would help employment. Would trade protection be beneficial? In the course of the interview, she asked me about books that I had written, especially Five Epochs of Civilization. I went through some of the concepts with her. Since she seemed interested, I promised to send her a copy of the book when I returned home. Bahr herself had grown up in Texas and, in fact, had attended school with President Bush’s two daughters in Dallas.

I also talked with city editor, Mike Gorman, and with Zeringue. The Daily Comet was the sister paper of Houma’s Courier. This was Cajun country. It was also a center of Louisiana’s sugar-growing industry. If I drove through nearby Raceland, they said, I could not escape the peculiar odor of a sugar refinery in that town.

Before leaving Thibodaux, I tried to mail my literature to the Houma Courier. However, I was a few minutes too late. The post office had closed at 4:30 p.m. A decision had to be made. Should I return to Port Allen or should I - looking at the map - instead go to Lafayette, one hundred miles to the west? I chose Lafayette because that set me up for visits to cities along I-49 in the extreme southern part of the state.

The roads out of Thibodaux were confusing. A gas station clerk gave me directions to I-49 near the Chacahoula exit, ten miles away. Under the cloak of darkness, I drove west on the interstate all the way to Lafayette and to the Motel 6 on the north edge of town, passing places that I would visit on the next day.

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