Another day, another city, and another regretful farewell to a town tempting us to stay and dawdle.
We were even sorrier to turn down the many kind offers from Austin’s friendly locals.
These ranged from borrowing our host's beautiful E-Type Jaguar and cruising the backroads to ‘going out to the ray-aanch' with another local 'getting loaded n’ going hun’in armadillos with my AK-47 and crazeee shee-eet. ‘
Now we found ourselves in the company of another friendly local, a jovial local journalist called Kate, heading for the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans and even more excitable than us.
We zipped along a quiet country road, past pecan plantations and water towers, their spindly shapes sticking out of the earth like grounded sputniks. Large hawks on sat brooding on fenceposts and the smell of skunk hung in the air.
We headed east, past ranches studded with oak trees, their bare branches silhouetted against the pale early morning sky. It was strange to be back in a world of seasons; oddly familiar and comforting.
We stopped at a roadside café, filling up on kolaches, Czech pastries, and 24 oz buckets of coffee, before hitting the road once more. The freeway rose up ahead of us and we ascended the flyover, its pillars baring the lone star insignia.
Back to the billboards:
“Get the trucking job you deserve”
“18 wheeler wreck? 1-800 Lawsuit”
“Cowboy. Your all -American dealer”
A couple of hours later Houston hove into view, its skyscrapers glistening in the sunshine, greased in Texan oil. The fourth largest city in the US, it took a good hour to pass through, and still Texas stretched on and on.
The scenery had changed by now into one dominated by petrochemicals, a land of oil refineries and chemical plants, powering the economy and poisoning the residents.
Flames shot from the top of tall chimneys; others billowed plumes of white smoke. We kept the windows wound up and grimly considered the fact that not for nothing is this region nicknamed ‘cancer alley.’
Finally the border came up and our first sight of a confederate flag, flying proudly from a house. Solong Texas, hello Deep South. Or rather, so Kate reliably informed ’Where Y’at?’
I was eagerly anticipating visiting Louisiana; it's a state with a distinctive identity all of its own, quite seperate from its neighbours and the US in general.
Food is always a good indication of such changes and, round these parts, the menu had turned distinctly fishy.
It was ‘Bubba this’ and ‘bubba that’, just like Forrest Gump had told us, before we pulled into Steamboat Bills for lunch.
Shrimp gumbo, crawfish pistolets, po-boys and drinks with more ice than a Greenland glacier. The accent was different too, with a liberal peppering of ’y’all’ in every sentence. This was cajun country.
Suitably sated, we picked up our first beads for mardi gras, the cherished souvenirs thrown out by floats and begged for by the crowds (purple for justice, yellow for power, green for faith) and headed on.
Lake Charles offered more refineries, along with rusty train trucks at sidings carrying ‘high grade octanes’ and the odd 'nodding donkey' pumpjack sucking up oil beneath the swampy surface.
Above them stood adverts for ‘www.myhurricaneikeclaim.com’ and 888-IKE-CLAIM-4U’. Burning carbon and unnatural weather events: was the irony lost on them?
The freeway turned into a huge elevated section, soaring over swamps and bayous, Foot-thumping cajun music blasted over the radio and I started to mentally revise my French vocabulary. How do they pronounce the French words around these parts?
We soon sped over the Mississippi, a large bridge affording us views of state capital Baton Rouge, the capitol building in the foreground, flaring gas behind.
Lara changed the frequency and a preacherman came across the airwaves, mellow Hammond organ in the background.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a bottle of Jack Daniels in your hand” he smoothly purred, his speech speeding up as he continued, “it doesn’t matter if you’re about to snort a line of cocaine. Jeeeeeeesurrzz’ll save yer!’
He had worked himself up into a frenzy by now.
‘Hallelujah! Hot dang he luuuves yer!’
We left these reassuring words hanging in the swampy air behind us and headed on to New Orleans, ‘The Big Easy’.
Another raised freeway, this time water all around us. A cluster of tall buildings rose up out of it some way ahead: New Orleans.
We swept down off the flyover, their posts now bearing French-style fleur-de-lys and into the French Quarter.
Already the party was in full swing, and the parades were up and running. Time to gather a few more beads and, somehow, find a bed for the night.
“My friend can put you up”, Kate offered “We’ll put you in the bordello room“.
Welcome to New Orleans. Happy Mardi Gras!