The first time I had crawfish was in a restaurant in Lake Providence, Louisiana, called The Dock. It sat just above the lake with an outdoor patio (the actual “dock”) that went into the muddy water. You can walk onto the dock and see turtles sunning themselves on rocks or peering out of the lake’s surface. The patio is decorated in old buoys and strings of dirty Christmas lights.
I had just moved to Baton Rouge and was on my way back when I passed The Dock for the second time. I had never had crawfish, and so I pulled in, against my girlfriend’s wishes.
The inside was exactly what I pictured rural Louisiana to look like. Creeky wood floors, a range of taxidermy on the walls, the New Orleans Saints were on the only TV. Baskets of clumpy fried food were on every occupied table, and man, did it smell good.
I’ve only lived in Louisiana now for more than a month. Nothing about my move from Washington has been easy. I lifted everything I had in the Northwest and shipped it via U.S. Postal Service to the Southeast.
On the surface things are nearly the same. Our cities have the same same retail outlets, country roads are bumpy, money is still green. But there is so much to get used to. On a map, Louisiana looks like any other state, aside from its peculiar boot shape. When you drive the roads and experience the countryside at eye-level, you realize the map is a lie. What looks like solid ground turns into swamp and an oceans of knee-deep mud. Roads turn to bridges. Eventually, the roads end and the swamps dissolve into the salt of the Gulf. Everything about travelling in Louisiana is inconsistent. The gas prices, the erratic drivers, the stop-and-go drivers, the colors of the pavement. Shortly after moving here I suffered frequent anxiety attacks while driving.
There are some more subtle differences about Louisiana that I’m not so fond of. Such as the lack of quality coffee. Luckily Baton Rouge is a college town, and espresso is in no short supply. But PJ’s Coffee doesn’t do it for me, and neither does CC’s Coffee. They’re both too bright and the baristas are too happy. Even the Starbucks here kinda sucks. At least Washington’s Starbucks give off the local vibe. I miss the dimly lit hole-in-the-wall coffee shops where the espresso is actually made, not squeezed from a box. I miss pretentious baristas. Where do I watch the rain fall? Where do I ruminate over my life choices on Saturday afternoons? I miss the conscientious nature of Washingtonians. The coffee culture.
It’s not all bad though. Lately, I’ve been writing local news stories for a weekly paper. When I tell people where I’m from, they usually answer in surprise. I recently wrote an article about a peace celebration in town. One of the religious leaders said, “You must be used to this sort of thing then.” She was right. Seattle has its fair share of peace-niks and I’ve definitely rubbed elbows with a lot of them. But even though Northwesterners have a rep for conscientiousness, the issues in the South are still very much the same, regardless of the side you’re on: Environmentalism (coastal erosion), equality, the local falvor, and ultimately progress. Baton Rouge isn’t as different as I expected, and neither is Louisiana. To be honest, I expected hostility, or at least indifference, to the way I talk and dress, but the opposite has been true.
I was lamenting some of these problems to a mutual friend who had also moved to the area recently. It’s not so much the location that makes Louisiana great, she said, it’s the people.