I fucked up breakfast. Just as the oatmeal was ready, the coleman toppled over, scattering sustenance to the ants. There are thousands of them. Ants in day like Mosquitos at night. What more, Wiley’s stressing about money; he’s got something like $10 in his pocket and that’s it for the entire trip. Cheap breakfast and free internet, we spent a better part of the day at McDonald’s working on our kickstarter campaign. It’s there that we made our first contact, or so we thought.
Christine is in her late thirties but looks older. She wore her damaged piebald hair in a ponytail, cascading down and around her McDonald’s visor like a fez. She is thin and wiry and her mouth seemed to run away from her face when she talked; and man does she talk. As soon as she gets off work, she promised to take us to Mom’s house on the bayou for a real Cajun meal of shrimp and okra gumbo, followed by interviews with her fishermen relatives. We were planning on hanging round here till about that time anyhow.
Christine stole time from her cleaning duties to chat us up. When Christine was 19 years old she killed a man - shot him in the face. Although she was acquitted on self defense, people round here never got over thinking her crazy. Her story is cut short. Enter a middle aged man with a sinewy face; his eyes obscured by a red baseball cap worn low. Christine gets his attention. "Hey you, when you going to pay me that $40 dollars you owe me". He’s caught off guard; takes a moment to regroup and he's all smiles. He pushes up his hat to reveal darting blue eyes. He hugs on Christine. "Oh so you ain't going to pay me?" she says with a simper. He takes it in stride, like a good joke between friends. "I've already forgotten about it" he replies. His voice is raspy, like someone who’s been smoking since infancy. "That's OK, cause one of these days when you find something you own worth $40 or more broke, you'll know I got mine and I too will have forgotten about it". More smiles and laughter. He scampers off. Christine turns to us and exclaims very matter-of-factly, "he's a crackhead". "You can't lend money to a crackhead and expect it back" I can’t help but kibitz. "They're all crackheads,” she says. “They're my friends. I was a crackhead too, but I stopped all that. I'm in therapy now. Been off it 2 months now."
As it turns out, Christine’s cousin, the fisherman, the one that she wanted to introduce us to, he's also a crackhead. Her offer to invite us to dinner and introduce us to her people, was somehow less appealing. "Man, we got a long way to go. How far away do you live again? 5 miles. That means 5 miles there and 5 miles back. 10 miles is a long way on a bicycle. We better push off. Got to get to Raceland tonight. Hey thanks so much for the hospitality. Have a great one y'hear. It was swell meeting you. Bye"
We followed Old Spanish Trail until it drops off into the bayou and comes out something else, something new. I’m sure it must continue again someplace, where it’s been preserved, restored, or resuscitated for nostalgia's sake, the old transcontinental. It did however pick a good place to die. Twin bridges span Bayou Des Allemands, one newly large and the other antiquely puny. We traversed them both several times, I on one, Wiley on the other, trying for the perfect shot of a cyclist coming upon this quaint little hamlet to the backdrop of an orange sky. At an eclectic dockside fishing camp, decorated in all manners of Cajunesque bric-a-brac, we stopped to watch that last spark of gold fizzle on an aqueous horizon. Joining us from the house across the way, Wayne Yupe, x-oilman raconteur; he saw us role up to his dock and came to welcome us to this little corner of the world.
Between contracts with the petroleum industry, it’s here that Wayne entertains tourists at his fishing camp and front porch – if you buy the gas and the seafood, he’ll take you on a boat ride tour of Cajun Country. Wayne refused the camera, but spoke languidly about all things but oil. Wayne is 52 and he's mostly retired from drilling these days. Ask him about the Oil Spill and Wayne will tell you that BP is not to blame. Around here, oil spills happen all the time, but they aren’t the main the issue; according to Wayne, the levy system is. Wayne grew up on this bayou; he lives right next door to the house in which he was raised. His parents were fishermen and ran a small seafood shack. Sure enough, the remains of a tin hovel sits careened and half submerged in the bayou - the vestiges of Wayne’s family’s business and an augury for those that remain. The only thing Wayne fishes for these days is oil, and the occasional tourist of course. "See those pipes sticking out from the dock - all that says is that I'm an oilman,” Wayne proudly extols, referring to the dock’s jagged pilings, evidently salvaged from some abandoned rig. Wayne points a finger down the bayou; all manners of pipes can be seen jutting from the water like leadened swamp grass. “Those pipes are over 30 years old. That was all land when I was a kid. This whole bayou was just a channel then, no bigger than my front yard. It's at least a quarter of a mile now,” he reminisces. Wayne is particularly incensed about coastal erosion, of which he reiterates that oil is not the culprit. But even Wayne has to admit that the oil industry has taken advantage of people. The installation of the pipelines of which Wayne is so pleased, have butchered the wetlands to the orts and ends. Anyone who's been through this section of Louisiana can see that oil is as important to economy and culture as fishing once was, and for some, still is. But when the fishing industry fell prey to a foreign seafood market, it was the oil industry that has given these people their livelihood. A life without oil is a life of poverty, according to Wayne, who choses to lay the blame for coastal erosion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Surely the president’s moratorium must have had a grave impact? "I know of no one who lost their job, but I sure know a lot people who quit their job,” Wayne retorts, alluding to a fraud-ladened BP compensation fund. "People don't realize, but BP’s gonna get their money back and we’ll be the one’s paying for it in the end.” And it’s with that warm and fuzzy thought that we rode our bikes into the darkness, back across the bridge over Bayou Des Allemands, to the high school football field, where we cooked up a couple of filets, got drunk and passed out to the mechanized hum of a million mosquitos.