Thursday, July 26, 2007

Well, here we are. Our last night out on trail, we are camped on the levee, forty miles outside New Orleans. Below us, the Baton Rouge/New Orleans port bustles into night, the hum of a generator rumbling down the way. For dinner, we ate cold-cut ham and 89 cents apple pies while drinking chocolate milk, having hitched a ride to the nearest store with a guy who had dogshit on the backseat, driving with an open beer through the town of Lucy, Louisiana. The landscape was impoverished, dismal, and the store lights blared out into the parking lot. Six or seven old men milled around, looking for a fix, and the "Coors Light" sign shone in the window. "See that?" said the driver with a sweep of the hand. "That's nothing."

The trip is ending perhaps as it should have: ragged, hot, surreal. We paddled sixty miles today through the port, which I am told is the fifth largest port in the world. All day, we dodged barges and oceanliners while deckhands and pilots honked horns at us, pointed to various moving ships, waved. Two deckhands unhooking a barge container shouted, "Row, boys, row!" A towboat driver came outside and yelled, "Go fucking home! You're gonna fucking die!" And over the loudspeaker, a funny man in a large boat with tires lined along the sides chanted, "Stroke. Stroke. Stroke."

All told, it capped the last few days fittingly. From Natchez to here it has been one last trance of heat and paddling, of daydreaming, and bayous, and industry. We have spoken to a man with a handgun in his lap, and been yelled at by casino security guards. We have spread ourselves out on a beach and basked away a whole afternoon in the sun. In West Feliciana, we hitched out of town with a guy who, when told of our trip, said, "Y'all bring any reefer? You need a lot of reefer to do a thing like that." We hitched into town with a guy who spoke to Ryan through the window while we sat in the truck bed in the back. "What did he say?" we asked him, and Ryan shrugged. "I don't know," he said.

South of Natchez, we came upon a huge, run-down plantation coming up from shore. We walked a quarter mile through grass and shambled buildings, wondering if it were perhaps a historical preservation, before finding the owner's house at the far end of the property. Two dogs came flying out from under the steps, one going blind, barking like they might kill us. The owner came out, an obese, older man with "Police Chief" on the license plate of his truck, and asked us if we were lost. "We're coming off the river," I said. "We were wondering if it might be alright to pitch a couple tents down by the water." The man shook his head. "There's nothing for you here," he said. "This is private property." I tried again, he shook his head again. "This is private property," he said, staring into the air. "There's nothing I can do for you." Walking back to the canoes, he followed us out in his truck, his dogs running alongside. He pulled right up to shore and parked, not saying a word, !
and watch
ed as we loaded our things and paddled away. He must just have wanted to make sure.

By contrast, Jacob Savoie put the four of us and Mippi up in his Baton Rouge apartment, and didn't even know our names. He got a call from his friend Marianne, and saved my number in his phone as "*needs help." We pulled into the city and he picked us up right after work, still in khakis and tie, and said, "Shit, this is weird!" He drove us back to his apartment by way of LSU, stopping to point out the tree he vomited on one night back in the day. He made us drink whiskey, and gave us a shower, and took us out to a bar. "These guys," he said to everyone we met, "Are paddling down the Mississippi River! I don't even know them! How fucked up is that?" He woke us up before work, and drove us back to our canoes, and shook our hands. "Gentlemen," he said, and drove off.

Yesterday you already know, and today as well, and now, we are on the levee, too exhausted to fully acknowledge that the thing is essentially done. New Orleans will hit, and at some point we will figure it out, glean meaning, draw lessons. But for now, it is one last night on the river, in the tents with the mosquitoes buzzing, and forty miles in the morning, to a city that none of us know.

Stay tuned everyone. We'll holler back. The trip is far from done. We hope you're all doing well. Until New Orleans, goodnight.

6 comments:

famille stoa said...

Very impressive...I am in awe of what you have accomplished, including paddling, meeting "interesting" people, fighting mosquitoes, ocean liners in the fog, hangovers, heat and now New Orleans!
BRAVO! I am sure you see the world and life in a different way....now.
River, rolling river....
BIENVENUE A LA NOUVELLE ORLEANS!!!!

Jamie-Lee said...

wow. i don't want it to end.

selfish, perhaps, but in the most respectful way.

famille stoa said...

Congratulations to all! You deserve a good shower and a great meal!
Bravo!!!!

Angela said...

This is a wonderful blog.
A good memoir to have, this blog.
It has been inspirational even to me, and I have been sitting in my room all the way in ButtFuck, Montana.
Good laughs, good literature, good times expressed.
I agree 100% with Jamie-Lee. .
Sigh.

I hope the best for all of you.
Congrats, TMP.

-Angela

markie said...

I don't have the words. Now that was a job-well-done and just too cool! All that, and you stayed safe. That was mom's only rule.

Congratulations you four...it was an unparalleled, indescribale journey, yet described with true eloquence.

Huck Finn and Siddhartha have nothing on you! I wonder how often, in years to come, you will remember a day, a moment with the river, that will somehow make the present day different.

What shall I read now? I wish you were all here...I would cook.
Good luck to you. I will miss you, TMP.

wanda1234 said...

thanks for sharing....

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