I’m Southern by adventurous inoculation. I left college in Chicago the first week of January as a White Seattleite with Mardi Gras on the brain. My friend and I got a lift from Farrell Haney in a rumbling Camaro convertible with Texas plates, and spent the first night away in a hotel in Kentucky. Pool was closed and covered with a thatch of brown leaves that stuck to us like fish scales: baptized as we swam a celebrating-being-free lap.
When Farrell disappeared with all our stuff in New Orleans, we tracked him to Homa, Not the Other Homer, where we got to look into the flashlights and down the barrels of the Sheriffs’ guns, in the process of getting our gear back. With over a month to go before Fat Tuesday, we turned up at the local manpower barracks for roustabouts. Swede was the foreman and had just tossed a couple of guys out with a couple of smacks of his 2×4 and needed some fresh meat. Welcome to the Company Store… After 5 weeks of dwindling funds, with the pay from a 23 hour stint of throwing bags of drilling sand as a grubstake, we broke out of servitude and went to stay with the Brothers of the Little Lamb in the City. Fifty cents a night; grits, gravy and okra for breakfast. With luck, we’d be picked each morning for dish washing and room service prep at the alley entrance of the Roosevelt. We finally got to see her, and she was worth it. We sneaked below the chains and rode under the captain’s window on the river ferry crossing, bringing our boyhoods into synch with our surroundings. We manpowered at the Picayune and at the airstrip. Eight of us descaled the inside bilge compartment of a river tug with welding hammers that rang like a waterfall of ball bearings on a tin roof. We lived on red beans and rice, with sometimes tea, and slept under azaleas in the park when Brother Joseph smelled the wine on our breath. Yeah, we got in on the party, too.
My buddy and I separated in March, he for the Smokies and me for Austin. I left town on a one speed cruiser towing an upside down Pirogue. Never made Austin. Seems that all the traffic on the southern route to Texas puts bikes onto the shoulders; since there’s not a stone to be found for highway work, tiny shells are packed down instead and wait to suck in big fat paperboy bike tires. I hitched home with $2.67 in my pocket, and left my gear on purpose, this time, with a note for whichever bayou-comber found the bike and boat: “All yours. Hope they do you better than me.”
That was forty years ago and I’ve been selling hardware on the West Coast since then. But if the Real Estate agent or the Seller had dropped their commission or asking price even another $5K three years ago, I’d be selling screws out of Shelbyville, Kentucky, today and loving it.
By the way, if you are reading this and happen to have found the blue bike and pirogue with wheels, let me know! I’ve got yourall owner’s manual.
Published with School of Dad, here