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Chapter Twenty-six: Finishing up the Week in the South

 

The town of Larose is located toward the southern end of Louisiana highway 1 in Lafourche Parish - bayou country. The Lafourche Gazette in Larose has a weekly circulation of 14,000. This was too large to ignore. I like to plan daily itineraries which allow me to travel in a circle visiting different cities along each stretch of road. In this case, I would have to drive forty miles to Larose down highway 1 and then return by the same highway. The dead time did not matter so much if it was after hours - or if it was before. Therefore, my strategy for Thursday, February 26th, was to be up well before dawn, drive from Baton Rouge to Larose, and arrive close to the time when the newspaper office opened for the day.

The editor of the Lafourche Gazette, Vicki Chaisson, had told me Wednesday afternoon that, while her newspaper probably would not do much about my campaign, the office opened at 8:00 a.m. In fact, I was there around 8:30. There was not much conversation. I left a photo and some literature. I then returned north on highway 1, passing through Raceland, and then joined interstate 49 headng west. My next stop was Morgan City which I had planned to visit a week earlier. The office of the Daily Review was on Front street, across town from the interstate exit. I was told to look for a green awning. Ted McManus, the editor, greeted me when I arrived and conducted an interview.

It was another one of those educational experiences which, as I said, made campaigning so worthwhile. Morgan City was the center of the off-shore oil drilling industry. I had seen some evidence of that in Lafourche Parish but here, in St. Mary Parish, there was more. Factories in the area fabricated sections of platform. Other facilities trained the deep-sea divers who worked on platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The world’s first offshore oil rig stood in a park near the highway in the center of town. Morgan City was also a center of boat fabrication and shrimp fishing. A problem, said McManus (echoing Alan Von Werder in nearby Franklin), was finding enough skilled labor to work in these jobs.

McManus encouraged me to talk with economic-development people at City Hall. He also invited me to talk with others in the office. I had a lively conversation with two women at a table in the other room who were counting money from subscription receipts as a photographer snapped pictures. One had a husband who was a diver.

This was an invitation to be more active and outgoing than I usually was during these visits. I located Morgan City’s municipal offices which were across the street from the post office. ( I needed to mail an envelope with my campaign literature to Tommy Comeaux, editor of the Pointe Coupee Banner, in New Roads.) The mayor was not in but I did meet with the city’s chief administrative officer, Michael Loupe. He said that a number of businesses were interested in locating in Morgan City if the right facilities were available. There was a Chinese trading company, for instance. It needed a 30-foot channel and a larger dock. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer was legally obligated to maintain a 20-foot channel but did not always comply because of competing priorities.

Leapfrogging past Franklin on I-49, I next visited the office of the Jeanerette Enterprise which had been closed a week earlier. This time, the editor was in. She was Karma Champagne (pronounced sham-PINE). She had looked at my campaign leaflet slid under the door and was interested. Trade-related job loss had hit the area hard - “emptied out main street” was the way she put it. She gave several examples of this. Champagne suggested that I visit Jeanerette’s mayor, just a few blocks away. The mayor, an older man, was in a meeting but he came out to talk with me for a few minutes. Presidential candidates did not come to town that often. Following the discussion I bought food items in a small supermarket across the street, including bananas and tangerines.

I rejoined interstate 49 after driving half a mile down the smaller road which met highway 182 near the Jeanerette Enterprise office (and T-Bob’s restaurant). Next, I wanted to give the Daily Advertiser another try. Lafayette was thirty miles farther to the west. I had left messages with Arnessa Garrett but she had not returned the calls. The managing editor, Mark Gilbert, with whom I had spoken ten days earlier, introduced himself at the front counter. Gilbert said he had assigned reporter Lou Rom to interview me. It could not be done today; Rom would call me next week. While at the office, I also met once more with Mary Abrams in the advertising department and then with Judy Johnson, editor of The Times of Acadia. Next week, when I returned to Lafayette for the interview, I noticed that an announcement of my candidacy along with a photograph were in Johnson’s free-circulation weekly.

A number of smaller newspapers west of Lafayette remained unvisited. The most efficient use of my time, I felt, would be to drive west on I-10 to Rayne, visit the remaining newspaper there, and then head north to Church Point, Eunice, and Basile. The editor of the Acadian Tribune in Rayne was out of the office when I approached that town. He was expected to return in an hour. In the meanwhile, I drove north on Louisiana highway 35 to Church Point and talked with two women at the Church Point News. They were somewhat ambivalent about my candidacy but I left literature and a photo. Eunice would have been my next destination except that a woman in that city’s newspaper office said it was not a good day to visit. I turned around and drove back toward Rayne on highway 35. At that point, I received a cell phone call from Juan Carlos of La Prensa in New Orleans. I explained that I was a presidential candidate who wanted to visit their office. Carlos said he would make some inquiries and get back to me.

Approaching I-10, I had a sudden thought. It was around 3:45 p.m. If I hurried, I might have enough time to reach Sulphur in the western part of the state before the offices of the Southwest Daily News closed at 5:00 p.m. This could be my last opportunity to visit that newspaper before the primary. I raced west along interstate 10 past Lake Charles to Sulphur. Then I made a big mistake. From a previous visit, I remembered that the Southwest Daily News was located on a major east-west highway. Not paying attention, I assumed it was this one. However, the newspaper office was actually on U.S. highway 90 which paralleled I-10 two miles north. The problem now was that, having failed to exit I-10 at Sulphur, I had to drive to the next exit which was fifteen miles down the road, eight miles from the Texas border. There were dirt roads along the way where authorized vehicles might turn around but I dared not use them. This mistake ate up all the time that I expected to have at the Southwest Daily News.

I called the editor, Diane Regan, to explain the situation. Her response was chilling. She explained that the Southwest Daily News, a small local newspaper, did not do much coverage of national politics. They already had my campaign sheet and a photo and would go with that. Even so, I decided to drop by the office to talk with anyone still there. It was two minutes before 5:00 p.m. when I arrived. Regan herself had left for the day but another woman accepted some of my other materials.

Deflated, I turned around toward Baton Rouge, a good two hours’ drive east. Like so many others feeling down on their luck, I stopped at Harrah’s casino in Lake Charles for emotional solace. After dropping my usual $2.00 at the electronic slot machines, I sat down at a cocktail bar in the lobby and ordered a dish of fresh oysters. The man next to me was finishing a huge plate of crawfish.

We struck up a conversation. I was running for President and he was on his way to Florida to seek construction work at a military base. He had done that kind of work in California. However, California was an economic basket case. Businesses were leaving in droves because of taxes, workers compensation, and many other problems. The main beneficiaries were its neighboring states. This man was enjoying the trip as he drove across the wide-open spaces of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana toward Florida. I told him of the Motel 6 in Port Allen where I would be spending the night. I continued driving to Port Allen and did bunk there.

Early the next morning, Friday, February 27, I had a bright idea. Melinda Deslatte had asked me to inform her of campaign events in Baton Rouge. What campaign events did I have planned in the capital city? As yet, there were none. My idea was to see if I might arrange a discussion of trade policy with faculty or students at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. My advocacy of tariffs to combat job loss should be of interest to persons teaching or studying economics. I would approach the department of economics at LSU to suggest a public event.

A secretary talked with me in the departmental office. She said she would pass my literature (including copies of my articles in Synthesis/ Regeneration) to the department chair. The students had a monthly economic forum which sometimes brought in outside speakers. That was a possibility. I thanked her and went on my way. The day’s mission was to complete my visits to newspaper offices in New Orleans or adjoining communities. La Place and Boutte were on the west side of the metro area, La Prensa was on the north (Metairie), Arabi was on the east, and the New Orleans Data News Weekly was near downtown.

I had a pleasant and engaging conversation with the editor of L’Observateur in La Place, Leonard Gray. My trade proposals were of interest. He introduced me to Ellen, another editor. After leaving LaPlace, I crossed the Huey Long bridge to Boutte where I had been a week earlier, passing through that community on my way to New Orleans. Blake Petit, editor of the St. Charles Herald-Guide, did not have much time to talk but he took my literature and a photo.

Around lunch time, I drove to Metairie and the offices of La Prensa. Even though Juan Carlos had not yet called me back, his call on the previous day had given me a contact person. Street parking was hard. I parked on a side street blocks away and walked to the multistory office building at 111 Veterans Memorial Boulevard. La Prensa’s offices were on the 18th floor, along with a Hispanic radio station. The receptionist located Juan Carlos. He took my literature but gave no promises.

The day’s only scheduled appointment was at the office of the New Orleans Data News Weekly at 3:00 p.m. Katrice called to remind me that Mr. Jones, the publisher, would see me then. I had time for perhaps one more newspaper visit. I chose the St. Bernard Voice in Arabi.

This decision precipitated a time squeeze and a mid-afternoon panic. From the map it appeared that, to reach Arabi, I had to take I-10 east toward Slidell and then head south on I-510 which turns into highway 47, and finally turn right on Judge Perez Drive. I might cut some time off by taking U.S. highway 90 through the city and then joining I-510. In any event, it was a trip of perhaps 25 miles through a congested urban area. I had to call several times for directions but finally located the office.

This newspaper in Arabi was run by an elderly brother and sister. The brother, Edwin Roy, was the editor. The sister, Mazie Roy Doody, was the advertising sales manager, doubling as receptionist. They were nice people. We talked for awhile about several things. The Roys believed that personal visits were important to political candidates. The father of the state’s current secretary of state had been elected Governor of Louisiana by traveling the state just as I was doing. They were not sure about my economic proposals but agreed the times were troubled.

Meanwhile, I was fidgeting about the time. I was due at another newspaper in half an hour and it had taken me the better part of an hour to get here. Not to worry. My hosts assured me that I could be in downtown New Orleans in less than twenty minutes. Just drive to the end of the street, turn left on Chalmette which becomes St. Claude Avenue and crosses the river. St. Claude Avenue becomes Rampart Street near downtown. Mazie sketched the route for me on a sheet of paper. And they were right. Despite city traffic, I did reach downtown in less than twenty minutes and was at my next appointment right on time.

This was incredible. It was the stuff of dreams.

The office of the New Orleans Data Weekly News is located in a converted mansion on Napoleon Avenue just off the downtown loop. I finally met Katrice. She took me into the private office of Terry Jones, the publisher, who appeared after several minutes. We spoke mainly about employment and the need for more leisure in the economy. Jones did not disagree with my prescriptions but, being an entrepreneur, he also had doubts that workers would meet their work requirements in such an undisciplined environment. He had been vice president of the national black newspapers association and knew Al McFarland, editor of Insight News, in the Twin Cities. I spoke with Jones for almost half an hour. He said he would think about what coverage might be given to my campaign.

The newspaper in Belle Chase, south of New Orleans, was also on my list for today. Calling its office from New Orleans, I was told that this was a bad day to visit. Try next week. It appeared, then, that my appointments were done for the week. It had been a three-day week cut short by Mardi Gras. Speaking of which, I had not yet visited the French Quarter or done any late-night partying. This would be a good time to experience some of New Orleans’ fabled night life. Could I leave Louisiana having ignored this part of its culture? Luckily, I found a parking space on St. Philip street and walked down Royal looking at window displays.

A fine arts shop had a box of large prints. Two caught my attention: portraits of Stonewall Jackson and of Robert E. Lee. The Lee portrait would make a good souvenir. While in Milford two months earlier, I had come across a letter from a now deceased aunt, my father’s sister, disclosing that we were related to Robert E. Lee. Lee, she wrote, had been my father’s maternal grandmother’s first cousin. I therefore wanted to buy the Lee print. On the other hand, this night was reserved for partying. The print could wait. I did, however, buy my wife a cute feathered Mardi Gras mask with a bird-like beak at another shop.

A block over, on Bourbon Street, near Bienville, there was a place called Red Rhino bar. Not many people were in the bar at this time of the day. An attractive young woman was talking with two men at a small table in the middle of the room. At one point, she did a solo dance, erotically running her fingers through her long hair. Beers cost $6.00 here but, during happy hour, customers received three bottles for that price. I’m not a heavy beer drinker. I offered to give one of my bottles to the dancer when she came over to the bar. She accepted and struck up a conversation.

The woman told me that she was from Wisconsin, and had been in Louisiana for several months. She was living with her boy friend, also from Wisconsin. She was not happy about his apparent lack of interest in finding a job. She herself worked as a stripper at a club down the street. This may have been a result of low self-esteem brought on by feelings that her father ignored her. We also talked about religion. She belonged to the religion of Wicca. It was hard for me to hear much of what she was saying because of the noise in the room. We danced a rock ‘n roll number together. I was proud of my ability to keep up with her lithe motions. Several minutes afterwards, she excused herself and walked out the door. I finished my beer and also exited the Red Rhino.

A block down Bourbon street, another woman came up to me on the street and asked if I would like to have a drink. Originally from New York, she had recently lost her job as a bartender in one of the French Quarter’s many drinking establishments. We went into the “Famous Door” bar where I bought drinks for her and myself. I think she was looking for a relationship more than drinks because she groaned when I said I was married and then again even more loudly when I said I had been married for only four years. I did not tell her why I was in Louisiana.

After drinking and dancing for awhile, this lady said she would call it a night. She would take a cab home. I was ready to leave myself and drive back to Baton Rouge. I offered to drop her off on my way out of town. She was not up to walking the eight to ten blocks to where my car was parked, so I agreed to meet her at the “Mango Daiquiri” bar across the street.

The woman was nowhere to be seen when I returned with the car. Having had enough post-Mardi Gras excitement for one evening, I returned to Baton Rouge. The alcohol content in my blood, reduced over time, did not seem to affect my driving.

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