New Orleans Since 1975, I’ve been on the road, one way or another, pedal to the metal or wheels up, anywhere between one-third and more than a half of the year. I always make a mental note of the final trips as hallmarks of making it through another year, safe and somewhat sound. It’s a small personal tradition, meaning little to anyone but me.
My last flight was from a cold and snowy Quebec City to Newark to New Orleans and its brand-new airport. The crews were plowing and salting the light snow on the Quebec runways for hours, but initially we were greeted with an air traffic delay that made catching the last flight from Newark to New Orleans a dicey proposition. Eventually, the delay was reduced by a half-hour. In the small plane, more than thirty of us were told by United Express to gate-check our bags to pick up on the runway when we hit New Jersey, so we didn’t have to wait in baggage delaying our run through Customs. Landing with our eyes on the clock, we crowded around until a big baggage handler came up the stairway and announced that on an international flight they could off load on the ramp, everything had to go to baggage claim. They piddled around calling to confirm. The pilot and the crew came on the runway, and he lamely offered that he had only flown from Canada to Newark twice before, so wasn’t sure how it worked. It wall worked out, but it was bad travel karma for a last flight.
Running the roads on my regular route from New Orleans and back with stops in Arkansas and towns in the Mississippi Delta like Greenville and Drew was smoother, and my mental notes were different.
- Why are there literally hundreds of railroad tank cars parked along the tracks for miles in north Louisiana between Tallulah and Lake Providence? They’ve been there a couple of years. Oil glut? What’s up?
- Did the chain of Fred’s Pharmacy just close its big store in Dumas, Arkansas, and will that hurt the Donut Palace next door, where they make the best apple fritters in the country? And, why are all of the donut shops in southern Arkansas closed for two weeks at the end of the year? Just asking for a friend.
- Does anyone else think that the long rows of pink and yellow wrapped cotton bales bordering the plowed dirt fields between Dumas and McGehee, Arkansas are one of the more beautiful winter sites anywhere?
- Is there any progress reported by the EPA on the demands painted solidly on farm fences and town walls between Vicksburg, Mississippi and Greenville demanding that they finish installing pumps against the flooding?
I could go on and on, but making this trip year in and year out for years, some commonplace things become landmarks, traditions, old friends, and constant curiosities. Another year on the road passes, but from my window in my gray, Colorado pickup, I mark the calendar for another year of travel, still fascinated by the lives I see passing by me and wondering about the mysteries and magic they might tell, and imagining that someday, maybe next year, I’ll stop for awhile and find out the answers to these puzzles and hear their stories.