A newer model silver pickup drove past me as an older guy behind the wheel offered a friendly wave, which I returned with a smile. Three more steps into my daily walk along this country road, the incongruities struck me like an acorn lobbed by a chattering squirrel in the trees overhead.
“Who was that guy?” I asked aloud.
You see, he had a gray mustache and beard and had been wearing a John Deere-emblazoned ballcap. He had a gunrack barring his back window, along with the ubiquitous American flag decal on his tailgate and a Trump sticker on his bumper. But he’d also had a pair of oversized fuzzy red dice hanging from his rearview mirror. Why?
This was not some cholo cruising the streets of SoCal in his lowrider; nor was he some high school FFAer whose treasures were his hand-me down pickup, the parish fair blue ribbon earned by his Angus bull, and the fuzzy red dice won at the ring toss booth at that same parish fair. No, this dice-dangling driver appeared to be just another God-fearing, gun toting, red-white-and-blue bleeding good ol’ boy.
Although I am too much of a lady to elaborate on it here, I will confess the analogy of displaying a pair of red faux fur-covered squared balls gave me several moments of mental amusement. Yet perhaps the man in the silver pickup was a craps dealer or a craps player at the nearby tribal casino? That could explain the dice.
When I previously returned to southwest Louisiana late in the summer of 2020, just days before the arrival of Hurricane Laura, I thought of it as a homecoming of sorts. Some of my best memories were made here, and two of my adult children still live in the area. And while taking one of my regular hikes along the country lanes soon after that return, I discovered the fork in the road. Embedded in the asphalt at an intersection where one road t-bones the other, the visual play on the hackneyed phrase made me think “whoever did this – that’s my people!”
While the fork in the road still delights me each time I cross it, I have since met a lady who lives down that lane, a consistent ambler of the avenues like myself. She takes her walks wearing camo printed t-shirt and shorts, overdraped with a neon orange vest – “for visibility,” she says – and she confessed she’d never noticed that tableware in the tarmac before.
Maybe not my kind of person after all…
It’s become clear that some of my neighbors, their friends and area visitors are certainly not my people. They are the ones that toss their plastic water bottles, as well as their beer, soda, and energy drink cans alongside both the paved and dirt roads in our area. For awhile it was the Bud Light contingent, though most recently it’s been the Miller Lite drinkers. Being that I view littering as an exhibition of antisocial behavior, I have no desire to discover anything more about the neighborhood beery boys who create random roadside reflectors from their trash.
There was one pathside disposer of metallic debris who piqued my curiosity this past spring. This individual was addicted to Altoids. Over the course of one weeks I encountered no less than six flip-top rectangular tins that had contained arctic-flavored (i.e., sugar free peppermint) Altoids. A couple of the tins were beginning to rust inside; three were intact and clean, and one was crushed into the shoulder along the dirt drive leading into the RV park where I presently abide. No other emptied containers of other flavors or other brands of breathmints could be discovered in this approximately mile-long stretch between the woods and pastures and ponds.
So who was this regular consumer of peppermint pellets? My guess was a self-conscious teen, in his or her first flush of spring-fevered desires, fearing halitosis and hoping the arctic blast of Altoids would avoid his or her giving offense before receiving a yes date for the prom and a lengthy liplock from the object of their cravings.
There are houses where the dogs run free (many of those, actually) and bark at any and all passers-by, pedestrians and vehicles alike. There are other homes with ponds in the front yard, and guard geese that honk and wave their wings not to say hello and welcome, but to warn you of your urgent need to go away right now. Other places along my strolling routes have free range chickens and rowdy roosters, goats and Shetland ponies. There’s a large pasture nearby with a dozen or so Angus steers and another dozen Brahmas. And there are crawfish ponds that do double duty annually as rice fields, as well as providing habitats for egrets and herons, roseate spoonbills and even a flock of whooping cranes.
One place, adjacent to the cattle pasture, never has visible occupants other than the dogs, yet every few weeks there’s a red pen or its cap lying in the driveway gravel beside the trash barrel. A teacher, perhaps?
When I first spotted another shiny metallic object embedded in the asphalt a couple of weeks ago, I thought it might be a robotic toy, a la R2D2. Looking closer, I realized it’s the cylinder of a revolver. A toy? A warning?
Who does this and why?
Along that street and others in the same tract, there are homes sporting flagpoles still proudly waving their now-tattered Trump flags, including one that flies its black flag declaring “Don’t Blame Me: I Voted for Trump” above the stars and stripes. But since 2020’s double whammy of Hurricanes Laura and Delta hitting the area, several houses seem to have permanently become former residences. One place retains its plywood window coverings, boldly sprayed with now-fading paint boasting “Trump 2020.” Waist high weeds and grasses obscure the lower half of what remains of some structures, while morning glories have woven their ways across the gaping holes created by last year’s storm-uprooted trees. Trumpet vines drop their withering orange flowers onto the shredding remains of a blue FEMA roof tarp.
Surrounded by suburban-style brick homes there’s a tract of woods covering what would be a square block in a town or city. About fifty feet in amongst the trees you can spy several blue tarps. They’re not storm debris, nor do they seem to be protecting some building from further rain damage. They appear to be hung over ropes, forming primitive tents, as a rural homeless encampment.
Was it the hurricanes, or COVID, or age and infirmities that kept these neighbors from returning to and repairing their homes? Are the campers in the woods former residents of the crushed buildings around the corner?
Who are these people?
Many of them are the people who won’t wear masks into the only grocery store in town, where even the manager keeps his mask perched below his nose, often dragging it below his mouth. There’s the bagger who wears his gaiter-style mask like it’s a turtleneck, and when asked to pull it up, insists he doesn’t have to, as “the governor’s order only requires you to wear a mask. I’m wearing it.” One young woman cashier wears her mask properly, saying as it’s her senior year of high school, she doesn’t want to get COVID and miss out on “all the things.” But she doesn’t intend to get vaccinated, because “my dad, who works offshore, says taking it might keep me from being able to have children later on.”
Only 31% of the fewer than 26,000 residents of the parish where I’m residing have been vaccinated. Testing and hospital admissions have confirmed that 15% of the parish population has contracted COVID, with more than nine cases per day being reported this week.
These are also the people who’ve not been shy to express resentment for the attention and assistance southeast Louisiana is getting in order to recover from Hurricane Ida.
“New Orleans and Baton Rouge get all the attention and almost all the money!” griped one guy shopping in my town’s hardware store.
And while supplemental disaster aid was federally approved in well less than a year each after 2005’s Katrina and Rita, 2008’s Gustav and Ike, 2012’s Isaac, and 2016’s flooding, it has been nearly 400 days since Hurricane Laura hit, and federal supplemental disaster assistance has yet to be authorized.
It’s included in the White House’s current budget request, which – along with other spending bills – is being stonewalled by Republicans in Congress. In fact, the seven GOP members of Louisiana’s eight-person congressional delegation are staying loyal to party over populace, with U.S. Senators Cassidy and Kennedy voting earlier this week to block the U.S. House-approved bill that would prevent a government shutdown and default on loans taken out by the Trump administration. Of course, every House Republican, including Louisiana’s own congressmembers Scalise, Graves, Johnson, Letlow, and southwest Louisiana’s Higgins, voted against that same measure when it was considered in their chamber.
Along with the yard signs offering “Fresh Eggs” and “Home Grown Okra”, there are the crudely lettered rectangles of torn cardboard stuck on stakes, saying “F*CK Biden,” as many folks around here conveniently ignore the fact that their beloved (former) President “Trump looted $44 billion from FEMA’s disaster relief fund” (as Rolling Stone reported) less than three weeks before Hurricane Laura hit.
These are the same people who, last November, sent “Captain Clay” back to Congress with 68% of the vote.
In the meantime, Congressman Higgins has called COVID a “biological attack weaponized virus,” even as he opposed masks and pandemic restrictions and drafted legislation to make vaccine mandates a federal crime. In late July this year, he announced he, his wife, and son were all ill with the virus.
On Aug. 31, two days after Hurricane Ida made landfall (on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina), Congressman Higgins held a press conference, along with 25 Republican colleagues. They weren’t, however, calling for disaster assistance. Nope. Instead, Higgins was announcing the introduction of his resolutions calling for the resignation of the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “because of their failed Afghanistan withdrawal.”
When asked for the latest on hurricane damage in his home state, Higgins replied, “Let me tell ya’ what would be a good start for the people of Louisiana: $85 billion worth of equipment that was left behind in Afghanistan!”
(That claim, perpetrated by the former president and his loyalists, has been debunked.)
Who ARE these people?
Bless their hearts, they’re the folks who are getting the government (and government services) they’ve asked for with their actions, reactions, and their votes.