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Saturday, August 29, 2009

A match made in heaven...

I heard an ad on the radio for this today, and thought I'd do a quick post about it. I had heard about the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival before due to my travels down toward Morgan City and Berwick. I've never attended, but I've always been intrigued by the funny name. If you check out the website, it actually makes a lot of sense:

The festival has been honoring those who have worked tirelessly through rain and shine...and sometimes even hurricanes, to provide the area's economic lifeblood for over half a century. The festival also emphasizes the unique way in which these two seemingly different industries work hand-in-hand culturally and environmentally in this area of the "Cajun Coast."
It actually looks like a pretty nice event. Maybe someday I'll make it down.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Over the river and through Mississippi, to Vidalia we go

I've been chomping at the bit to get this post up. My appointment today was a bit unusual in terms of location, and turned out to be really interesting. Through some sort of oversight, I had an appointment scheduled in Vidalia, LA, located in Concordia Parish. I do not usually venture this far north, but after calling the potential client yesterday to make sure it was worthwhile, I decided to make the drive. (Also, I'd be lying if I said my willingness to take the meeting didn't have to do with being able to do a post on this blog, at least in part.)

Vidalia is located on the Mississippi River directly across from Natchez, MS. In fact, roughly 50% of my drive time today was in Mississippi. To get to Vidalia from Baton Rouge, you head straight north on Highway 61 into Mississippi (picture going through the "top of the foot," if you picture Louisiana as a boot), then take a left in Natchez to go over the river.

I was lucky that the gentleman I met with today was something of a Vidalia historian. Vidalia is not big, but it is a cute little town with some old buildings, as you'll see in the photos below. Here's what's really interesting about Vidalia and those buildings... in 1939 the town was picked up and moved. At the time, Vidalia was not protected from the Mississippi by any levee system, but it had grown to the point that flood protection was increasingly important. In a decision that would no doubt be respected by preservationists today, they decided to move all the key buildings (roughly a couple dozen, as I interpreted it) approximately 600 yards west, away from the river.

My "historian" showed me a series of black & white pictures taken during the move. I wish I could share the pictures here, but for obvious reasons I wasn't going to whip out my camera. Sure enough, they just hoisted up a series of buildings onto big trailers, similar to the apparatus you might see today when they move a house. The difference, of course, was that the trucks being used to haul the buildings were 1930s vintage - it really made for some neat photographs. He pointed out that a few of the buildings are still extant. He told me I could find one of them, a drug store, right around the corner. He also pointed out a stately multi-story building in a state of demolition that was, according to him, actually dismantled brick-by-brick and rebuilt in its new location. I recognized the building as one I had seen outside.

I thanked my prospective client for the history lesson, excited to get my camera out and find a few of the places he had described. Photos of Vidalia follow, along with some other photos from the ride...

The building that was dismantled and rebuilt (now a Concordia Parish building - you'll see it says courthouse in the masonry, but the signage outside identifies it as a library):

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Strange places... good eatin'

The comments in the last thread reminded me of one of the most eye-opening experiences of my travels. Several months ago, I had an appointment in Le Moyen, LA. The appointment was scheduled for late morning, and in advance of the meeting, I had offered to buy lunch afterward. Almost immediately after offering to take this person to lunch, I asked myself, "okay, but where are you going to go to lunch in Le Moyen?"

Some Google searching revealed that the closest restaurants to the meeting location were a Burger King and Pizza Hut, both of which were a good 20-30 minutes away. I figured the Pizza Hut was the more likely option. Certainly a long way from some of the places I used to go to eat with clients in Chicago, but it could be worse, I told myself.

As I drove to the meeting, I didn't notice any restaurants anywhere near the meeting location. I had been thinking about the lunch a lot in the days leading up to the meeting, and figured that I would just let the client tell me where she wanted to go. The meeting went well and she told me to get in my car and follow her to the lunch location.

We pulled out onto the two-lane highway, back in the direction I had come from. The only place I had passed was a gas station. I started to get a sinking feeling, that I was going to end up eating in a smoky, smelly gas station... you know, like the awful ones where you stop to use the restroom on a road trip?

Sure enough, this is where we stopped, a place called Stelly's:

I don't know what's more amazing - that I was able to find an image of Stelly's on Google Street View, or the fact that it was one of the most satisfying meals I've had since I've been here. Stelly's is, in fact, attached to a Shell station, and yes, I had to pass beef jerky and Copenhagen to get to my table. But the people at Stelly's were extremely nice - even to the guy wearing a dress shirt and slacks and driving a European car. And the food... delicious fried chicken, savory white beans, some sort of creamy, cheesy smothered potatoes, seasoned rice, and a biscuit... all washed down with a cold glass of sweet tea. Down home southern cooking at it's finest, and I cleaned my plate.

A few years ago, I would have never imagined myself making the kind of trip I did that day. My visit to Stelly's was one of many defining experiences over my first three years in South Louisiana, and one of the many experiences that taught me to lose the snobbiness and pretense that comes with being, well, a "Yankee," I guess. Yes, the South has its issues and not all the stereotypes are false. It has been a struggle at times for me to look beyond my preconceived notions. But one of the things I'm most proud of is how I've started to be able to lose the pretense, roll up my sleeves, and just enjoy the simple pleasures of good food, good company, and "les bons temps."

Monday, August 17, 2009


My appointment this morning was in Gonzales, LA. Not very far afield - in fact it only took me about 15 minutes to get to the appointment from my home. Located in Ascension Parish, Gonzales is primarily known for two things by non-residents (if it's known at all). It's either the I-10 exit between New Orleans and Baton Rouge with the outlet malls and Cabela's, or known as the place where many relief efforts were staged in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Outside of those two things, you may also be interested to know that Gonzales plays host to an annual Jambalaya Festival, and in 1968 was named the "Jambalaya Capitol of the World."

For those that merely pass Gonzales on their way between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, these photos will look familiar...

...But for me, these give you a little more feel for Gonzales. The town does have a little central business district, characterized by low-slung, nondescript buildings, punctuated by a few nicer Acadian style buildings (as pictured below).

Unfortunately no other appointments scheduled for a couple weeks. I'll check back in if I have any interesting travels in the meantime.

Friday, August 14, 2009

About those Parishes...

In my first few posts I've made reference to Louisiana's system of Parishes. You may be wondering what that means, as I did initially. The most simple explanation is that a Parish in Louisiana is basically the same thing as a County in 48 other states (Alaska, apparently, has a unique system as well). But how did Louisiana end up with this strange parlance? Like many things, it has to do with Louisiana's fascinating and defining mix of cultures.

I've heard many people explain the existence of Parishes by simply saying something like, "well, we have the Napoleonic Code." The law in Louisiana is different than the other 49 states in that it was founded upon the Napoleonic Code - literally the civil code established by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 19th century. (A better description of Napoleonic Code can be found here.)

Nothing I've read about Napoleonic Code, however, mentions Parishes. The answer seems to lie in the religiosity of the settlers of Louisiana. The state was settled largely by the French and Spanish, two cultures with deep Catholic roots. From the blog ddbNOLA:

The parish system of division is based off of the Catholic church and the strong Catholic background of the population has kept it alive. The beginnings of the settlement of Louisiana and the rest of the Mississippi Valley after the Louisiana purchase were led by missionary priests, seeking to leave the eastern seaboard where Catholicism was not necessarily acceptable, and hoping to estabish (sic) Catholic settlements. Shortly after the Mobile parish was founded, a pioneer named Bienville took fifty men with him to Tchoutchouma, an abandoned Indian village, and erected buildings, laying out the city according to chief engineer of the colony de La Tour. The first church, dedicated to St. Louis, stands in what is now the St. Louis Parish. The city was named New Orleans after the Duc d'Orleans, and thus started its urban growth.

(Incidentally, the term "creole," which all of you have undoubtedly heard, was originally applied to Louisianans born here by French and Spanish parents. It now commonly refers to people with a mixed background of French, Spanish, African American and/or Native American.) Today, the term "Parish" seems to mostly be a holdout from a more parochial era in Louisiana. Some further discussion from the Wikipedia entry on Louisiana Parishes:

Louisiana was formed from French and Spanish colonies, which were both officially Roman Catholic. Local government was based upon parishes, as the local ecclesiastical division. Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Territorial Legislative Council divided the Territory of Orleans (the predecessor of Louisiana state) into twelve counties. The borders of these counties were poorly defined, but they roughly coincided with the colonial parishes, and hence used the same names.[1]

On March 31, 1807, the territorial legislature divided the state into 19 parishes, without getting rid of the old counties (which continued to exist until 1845).[2]

In 1811, a constitutional convention was held to prepare for Louisiana's admission into the Union.[3] This organized the state into seven judicial districts, each consisting of groups of parishes. In 1816, the first official map of the state used the term, as did the 1845 constitution. Since then, the official term for Louisiana's primary civil divisions has been parishes.

The Wikipedia entry has some further information on the various Parishes if you're interested. One thing I find interesting is that in general, you'll hear Louisianans refer to places by Parish much more than you'd hear a Midwesterner refer to place by county. For instance, I usually tell people I live in "Ascension Parish" rather than the name of my town. When I lived in the Chicago suburbs, I wouldn't have thought to tell people I live in "Lake County" as opposed to "Mundelein."

My next expedition is scheduled for Monday morning, so hopefully I'll have some new stories to share early next week.

A better, more detailed, interactive map

Google never fails to amaze me with its tools. After doing some research and playing around a bit, I've managed to create a more detailed, interactive map of my journeys. I've marked each meeting location more specifically, and using Google maps you can explore the locations in more detail, including satellite views and StreetView (in some cases). I've also tagged where I took my first set of pictures, as well as my office location and home location. Finally, I tagged a few other locations in different colors, showing a few other interesting places I've been.

View SoLA solo in a larger map

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Where I've been...

Here's a quick map plotting the places I've visited as part of my sales activity since November 2008. Many of these places I've been more than once. In the future I hope to figure out how to create an interactive map for those of you visiting the site.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Today I visited Houma, LA, located in Terrebone Parish. I find myself in Houma a lot. It's not a terribly big city (about 32,000 residents), but due to its location, there are tons of oil/gas/offshore companies located in the vicinity. When I visit Terrebone and Lafourche Parishes, I'm always amazed at the scale of the boats and rigs as compared with the surrounding community. I've never visited any shipbuilding towns in the Northeast, but I'd imagine it's similar. Here are a few pictures from my soggy trip this afternoon...

This was taken just outside of the company that I visited today. I was struck by all the tugboats lined up so close to the road. I also tried to include the little drawbridge in the picture - these are quite common around Houma.

A little cemetery, fenced off and located right in the middle of a neighborhood.

Typical view on a Houma street approaching a canal/channel.

Rolling shot going over a canal - gives you some perspective on the scale of industry compared to residential areas.

Like I said, my photography skills need improvement. Stick with me.


I grew up in the Midwest, Chicago to be exact. About three years ago, I found myself in Baton Rouge, LA. Overall, the transition hasn't been all that difficult. In general, the people of South Louisiana are kind and gracious. It's hard to find someone unwilling to share a cup of coffee or teach you how to eat crawfish. But things are different in South Louisiana than they are in Chicago, to be sure.

In late 2008, I embarked on a new chapter in my career that requires me to be on the road several times a week making sales calls. On any given day I might be as far northwest as St. Landry Parish, as far northeast as Washington Parish, as far southwest as Vermilion Parish, or as far southeast as Lafourche Parish.

It's been quite an experience. I've met a lot of memorable people and found myself in places I never knew existed. I'm starting this blog to share a few slices of my experiences with family and friends. I've never blogged before and I'm not a great photographer, but I hope to get better at both via this exercise.

I hope you enjoy seeing and learning a little about South Louisiana through my travels.