Saturday, May 29, 2004

A Cajun Perspective ...

So, I’m writing this in gator country. No, not Florida, the OTHER gator country, home of Creole cooking and the Cajun culture: New Orleans, Louisiana.

As one of my research papers was submitted to this summer’s International Communication Association’s summer conference, I found myself headed for the Bayou.

As I prepared my travel plans, I weighed my travel options. It was a 45 minute flight from Austin to Dallas, and about an hour flight from Dallas to New Orleans. Or, I could embark on an 8-hour drive through southeast Texas and southern Louisiana. At first the cost of each route seemed rather comparable. Then, my girlfriend managed to free up her schedule enough to come with me, which tipped the financial equation in favor of the road trip.

So we embarked on a long road trip.

I do believe that driving to a location, particularly over long distances, gives you a better sense of a place. As the terrain slowly shifts to resemble an alien climate (where the air is moister, the division between solid ground and freestanding water seems less distinct than one thought possible), I find I gain a deeper appreciation for cultural differences of those who live there.

When we first entered Louisiana, we stopped at a nearby park. We walked around and found a small lake, with a rather interesting warning sign that I had never seen in my home state.

But what we saw in the tourist locations and along the road was nothing compared to what we experienced on the road. Apparently, Louisianans do not require as much cushion in their road design as Texas. Not only were the driving lanes noticeably shorter in places, but the lack of a shoulder along much of the highway was downright disturbing. I was amazed at how much … nothing … there is between major cities. Texas is littered with small towns and convenience stores. During several stretches, we drove for dozens miles without seeing any sign of civilization off the roadway.

The stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was the most disturbing, for we drove 50 miles without seeing so much as a convenience store. I was shocked. Surely they should post warnings for us out-of-staters not used to budgeting our gas usage over such long distances.

I believe that it’s because of this distance between major cultural centers that Louisianans drive the way they do.


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