On the road: Alabama to Louisiana
When I woke on Friday morning, the students who had welcomed me into their rented university-owned home had already left for work. It was seven o’clock, and after a few days in Greensboro, I am under no illusion as to how hard these students work. The commitment to their projects is fascinating, and a probable reason that the buildings they create here are so well finished.
I said farewell to the cats, packed my bags and loaded up the car for the next part of my trip. From Greensboro, I was headed to Lafayette in Louisiana, following this approximate route. Forgive me, but I have to slip into bitter ranting for a second to confess that I hate the way Americans drive on freeways and interstates. Lane changes are never signalled and cars set on cruise control usually hate to move over to the right to let you pass, so highway driving is usually a mad free-for-all in which everyone passes on both sides without any signals. However, my drive through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana was refreshingly different. Even though it’s the start of the Labor Day Weekend, the roads were empty. I had considered deviating from the most logical route to explore some back roads, but in the end was happy to just make for the interstates and drive south. On the radio I found dozens of country and evangelical Christian radio stations: NPR managed to entertain me without annoying for a good part of the trip, and it was fun to hear the occasional report borrowed from BBC Radio.
I-59 took me as far as Slidell in Louisiana, from where I switched onto I-12 to head west towards Lafayette. By the time I approached Mandeville, it was getting near lunch time, so I pulled off the freeway and found a helpful tourist office. I got a recommendation for lunch, and ended up at Petunia’s Place, just south of the freeway. In Alabama I had tried some of the locally farmed catfish (there are dozens of man made lakes and resevoirs around Greensboro), so I tried out some of Louisiana’s sea food to compare. Even though I couldn’t see them, Lake Pontchartrain was not far away. I have almost travelled the depth of this continent, from the broad Saint Lawrence River in Québec to the balmy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It would be an understatement to say that the climate has changed during the course of my trip. Normally a vocal critic of anyone who uses expensive and polluting air conditioner units, I found myself reluctantly blasting myself with artifically frozen air in my car just to stay alive. I am not good in hot and humid climates.
Filling the car with ‘gas’ was a breeze. Americans and Canadians may complain like wounded animals every time they fill up their petrol tanks, but compared to the UK this remains an affordable country in which to roadtrip. A full tank in my Chevrolet Cobalt saloon (a cheap but badly built cousin of the Vauxhall Astra) costs no more than $35, or about £18.50. As I return to the car after paying for each refill, I notice that the further south that I travel, the front of the car collects more bugs. My front bumper is a scene of bloody invertibrate carnage.
Soon I am coasting along the raised sections of I-12 towards Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Here the interstate crosses large expanses of bayou and swamp, and the two sides of the freeway are carried on piers about fifteen metres above water level. The traffic becomes slightly busier, and I continue to have nightmarish visions of a dumb-ass pick-up truck driver pulling into my path and sending me spiralling off the freeway to a muddy and aligator-filled swamp…
Be not afraid, for after about eight hours on the road, I arrived safely in Lafayette.