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Chapter Twenty-nine: Fax Machines and Plantations in Baton Rouge

 

When I woke up in the morning of Friday, March 5th, television was still on my mind. With the possible exception of the Times-Picayune, it was too late to seek any more newspaper coverage. I would have two separate ads running for three consecutive days in five big-city newspapers and a single ad appearing on Sunday in Shreveport. I thought I could catch voters’ attention by delivering a clear message on trade.

The new opportunities at this point lay with television. Hopefully, the stations’ news departments might conclude, with the primary date drawing near, that the viewers would want more political coverage. An appearance on television so close to the election would do me much good. On the negative side, political pundits had decided that the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination was over now that John Edwards had withdrawn from the race.

My first order of business Friday morning was to prepare press releases that I could fax to television stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans announcing that, as a presidential candidate, I would be out on the street shaking handing with voters that weekend. How to identify me? First, I would tell the news reporters where and when I would be making appearances. Second, I would be wearing a distinctive hat. This was not the large purple sombrero worn during Mardi Gras but a white cowboy hat purchased recently at a gas station in Port Allen. Nowadays such hats may seem unpresidential but I was not a conventional candidate. I thought this hat might have regional appeal - more so the closer one came to the Texas border. It might work in a place like Shreveport.

Several times I had tried to contact Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press Baton Rouge bureau. She was on assignment in New Orleans. I left cell phone messages which were never returned. This did not bode well for my “local event” in Baton Rouge. Also, there had been no response from the economics department at Louisiana State University. I had left a telephone message for the chairman of the department and not heard from him. Friday morning, I was still hoping for last-minute miracles.

I thought my press releases should be typed rather than be handwritten. The Kinko’s shop in downtown Baton Rouge rented computers with printers. I wrote out what I wanted to say and drove to this place. It cost about $10 to produce and print the press releases going to newspapers and television stations in four different cities.

The fax machine was out of service at the Kinko’s in downtown Baton Rouge. I also knew that the one at the Motel 6 in Port Allen had malfunctioned. Was there another Kinko’s nearby which had a fax machine? Yes, the clerk suggested the one on Airline Highway. I drove to that store and was directed to the self-service fax machine. The faxes sent to Baton Rouge phone numbers could be sent inexpensively but those to out-of-town numbers would cost me $2.00 per page. I had twenty-two pages to send. What a rip-off!

I stormed out of the Kinko’s unsure of my next move. By chance, I noticed that another Motel 6 was located on Airline Highway on the other side of a car dealership. Perhaps if I told the desk clerk that I was staying at a sister facility in Port Allen and its fax machine was broken, I could get my faxes done here at a reasonable rate. The ploy worked. A pleasant young woman behind the counter named Heidi agreed to send my faxes. We did not discuss price. First she had to take care of other business. That lasted for ten minutes or so while I read through tourist brochures in the office.

This motel was having to evict a non-paying tenant. Heidi’s job was to call the police for assistance in removing the person. The Baton Rouge police dispatchers had made it clear that they did not appreciate such calls. As a landlord, I was familiar with that attitude. A sign on the wall said that Motel 6’s allowed “well-behaved pets” in the rooms. How could they determine which pets were “well-behaved”, I wondered. Actually, Heidi said, it was “one, small well-behaved pet.” Someone had once tried to bring a horse into the room. That wasn’t allowed.

This type of conversation went on while Heidi was faxing my twenty-two pages. At the end, she charged me only $4.00 for the lot. Like the Kinko’s two doors down, she was supposed to charge me $2.00 a page. (I hope Heidi’s generosity doesn’t get her in trouble if some Motel 6 executive reads this book.)

The stop here changed my plans in another way. Several of the tourist brochures had caught my eye. One was about touring an alligator-infested bayou in a motor boat. Several advertised tours of antebellum homes or plantations in the area. The tourist instinct overcame me. I would be leaving Louisiana in the middle of next week and still had not done much sightseeing. There was a brochure for a place called BREC’s Magnolia Mound Plantation not far from downtown Baton Rouge. Tours for $8.00 per adult were available on weekdays during certain hours. It was 2 p.m. and the day‘s work was done. I decided to spend the remaining hours of the day enjoying myself as a tourist at the Magnolia Mound Plantation. It was located on Nicholson road.

A family from France pulled into the parking lot ahead of me. The woman in charge of the office and gift shop found a French-speaking tour guide for them. She assigned to me a young woman named Cheryl who was dressed in period costume. I would be the only person on her tour. We visited the main house, built in the last decade of the 18th century. This house, the oldest in Baton Rouge, was built of cypress wood. It was an example of Louisiana’s creole culture. Cheryl told me about several of the early owners. One was a close friend of Lafayette. In the early 20th century, a mayor of Baton Rouge lived there. Later, a developer wanted to tear the building down to build a large apartment but historic preservationists saved it.

We went through the various rooms of this mansion as Cheryl explained the antique furnishings. One could see the differences between the boys’ and girls’ rooms. Bibles on tables in all the rooms showed the importance of Christianity to these people. Admittedly, some of their religious zeal reflected the fact that, under Spain, only Christians enjoyed the rights of citizenship. Cheryl also took me outside to see the kitchen garden. The slave quarters were across the lawn. She herself was dying to put on her regular clothes. The costume was hard to keep in place.

Besides information given as part of the tour, I was interested in what Cheryl had to say about herself and her people. She was a Cajun girl from Houma, studying psychology at LSU. After graduation, she wanted to attend seminary and then become a social worker who worked with troubled women - battered women, single mothers, etc. Her father and uncles were big sports fans who rooted for LSU. Cheryl told me that Huey Long was quite popular among LSU students and faculty because he had provided the funds to build the sports stadium. When the legislature would not go for such a frivolous project, Long told them that he was building dormitories. He arranged the dormitories in a circle and put the stadium inside.

Also, did I know that right before the Civil War William Tecumseh Sherman had been the president of LSU? He had warned people in Louisiana not to secede from the union. It would have been better if they had listened to him. Cheryl explained the strategy of the northern forces during the Civil War: (1) gain control of the Mississippi river and cut off Texas, (2) blockade the South from the ocean, (3) let Sherman’s armies devastate Georgia, thus isolating the southern forces further. I learned a lot from Cheryl.

I did not know then that, while I was having these interesting conversations in Baton Rouge, John Kerry was making his first and only campaign appearance in New Orleans. He held a noon-time rally Friday along the Mississippi waterfront near Woldenberg park and, of course, received much television and newspaper coverage. Kerry later had lunch with Louisiana’s U.S. Senator, Mary Landrieu, rumored to be on his list for a running mate.

Not only was I toiling in relative obscurity; I was also beginning to relax my campaign effort and have a little fun before I left the state. As far as the media was concerned, Kerry was the only candidate fit to be covered in this race. The primary was effectively over. It was a waste of money even to hold an election. I was committed to carrying on the fight to the bitter end.

Tomorrow would be my big play for television coverage in New Orleans and then, in Baton Rouge, on the following day. But I was already feeling the fatigue and, like a distance runner short of breath, slackening my pace.

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