On with the Show… (Part 1/1)

…. never one to let a thought go unfinished, I do briefly want to wrap up some thoughts from the last entry.  Re: Billy and Paul and anyone else following their passion through to a PhD in the arts or soft sciences, I respect ya.  You’re doing something I could not, and something that you really love (I hope!).  Good luck guys, I’m pulling for you both to land sweet ass professorships somewhere, or a federal job, or something else related to what you are discovering about the world.  Living your heart.  That’s what it’s about. 

Billy and I wrapped up at Camilla Grille, and once our guts were full, we sat there for a few minutes just watching the hustle and bustle behind the grille.  The place was slowly filling out, and while not yet at full bore, the staff was moving quickly to get all needs attended to.  Per Billy, the place is really something to see when it’s full.  You can see the type of place this is below:

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Interestingly, that painting on the far wall, closest to the kitchen, is of an actual long time server at the Grille.  There are several of these portraits adorning the walls of the place, and Billy pointed out the various waiters that he actually had wait on him during previous visits.

(I only have until 11:00 CST to wrap this up, as this McD’s closes then… hustle hustle hustle!)

I bolted from Camilla, and left New Orleans in the dust en route to Ruston for the PM.  The drive up Louisiana was fairly straight forward, but I did want to make it a point to get over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, even if it was out of the way.  Described by some as “24 miles of water,” the LPC is a marvel of modern engineering worthy of at least 1 crossing in a lifetime.  Literally bridging the gap between the northern shores of Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans, the Causeway is indeed a 24 mile bridge, the longest of it’s type in the world.  It’s boring, straight and essentially flat, but the mere length of time you are on a bridge is incredible.  Recommended only for the drivers among you.

A little further north, but still just barely beyond the reach of Baton Rouge, I decided that I wanted to get off the highway to see what, if any, type of Cajun culture I could find.  Being the duffer that I am, I pulled up a map so bluntly labeled “Cajun Map” on google, and determined that I was, sadly, on the far northern border of what may be considered Cajun Country.

My decision was made simple then – next dirt road I came to, I was turning onto.  It wasn’t more than a few miles before I found one, and made my turn.  A relative bore fest, the road was barely wide enough for 2 vehicles, and was made of stone on a tiny plateau of land seemingly created for the laying of a roadway.  It sat a solid 10-15 feet above the surrounding countryside – great for sneaking up on someone.  Anyhow, during my 20 mile drive on this road, I passed only 1 car in the opposite direction.  I am sure that the driver of that car was my soulmate.  From afar, I immediately recognized that VW logo on the front.  First good sign.  As we slowed to pass, I noticed that the driver was a young girl, somewhere about my age.  The car had Washington State plates.  She had as much reason as I did to be on this little stone road in BFE Louisiana.  I really should have stopped and conversated with her for a minute.  Instead, we just waved at each other and were on our ways.  I’m pretty sure she regrets not stopping to talk.

A few uneventful hours later, I pulled into Ruston, and met up with my old bud, Alex.  To be candid, I was very good friends with his younger brother, Greg, while we were in high school.  The stories of idiocy that Greg and myself involved ourselves in number in the dozens to hundreds, but I will quickly share just one.

Now Greg and Alex are both Eagle Scouts, and are adept manly men, should the need arise.  One rainy summer day, when we were about 13, I somehow ended up at Greg’s house (as I couldn’t drive and lived at least 5 miles from his house, but was easily old enough to stay at home alone, I’m really not sure how I got there.  But I did.).  There were no video games in the house, and there was either no cable or nothing was on.  We were bored as hell.  “Not to worry,” Greg said, “I have an ax!”  Two 13 year old boys, an ax and some nearby trees.  The scene for debauchery was set.  You see, it wasn’t because we were bad kids or wanted to cause trouble, but there was literally nothing for us to do.  We were so very incredibly bored.  So we took the ax out, and walked to a clump of trees, rocks and other natural looking shit in the middle of some farmer’s field which bordered Greg’s back yard.  We picked a strong looking young tree, and began hacking away.  Half an hour later, and we both shouted “TIMBER!” gleefully as one final thunderous blow from Greg had the tree felled.  Once the tree had fallen over, we had no idea what to do, so we stood around like Beavis and Butthead for a few minutes, before walking calmly back to Greg’s house.  I’m not sure what we did the rest of the afternoon, but there is no way it was as cool as chopping down a random tree because we had an ax.  No way.

Alex, on the other hand, was far less excitable than his younger brother, and ran around with a mostly more intellectually adept crowd.  We were on the quiz bowl team together for a few years, and while my own childish and boisterous high school personality likely grated on him, we got along well enough.  Like everyone who grew up in CePA, he also worked at HersheyPark for a few years, and we had further run ins there.  I knew Alex well enough, but not well.  I always admired him as a fiercely independent spirit and regarded him as wildly smart.

His story and persona are emblematic of both tragedy and perseverance.  For a long time, his wish was to become a pilot.  He went to Louisana Tech for aviation, and completed his studies, earning his commercial pilot’s license a number of years ago.  Then his eyes failed him.  Not even halfway through his 20’s, his ability to ever again have a commercial pilot’s license was stripped, and his life’s dream was stripped cold from his hands.  He moved to Houston, and worked odd jobs before finally getting back to Ruston to go back to La. Tech.  He is now studying accounting.  It’s not his passion, but it’s something he is capable of excelling at, and will enable him to lead a stable life.

I’m not sure stability is what Alex is looking for though.  The dude is a dude among dudes. 

His only car is a ’92 Vette.  It’s loud, it requires frequent work, and it’s horribly impractical.  But it’s cool – and it’s him.  He had it as a toy for a number of years, but for a reason that I’m sure he told me but I now forget, it’s now his only car.

I didn’t say his only “mode of transportation” when describing the Vette, as he is also a professional bicycle racer, and has a few bikes strewn about his living room.  His road bike, which I guessed cost in the neighborhood of $5,500 (he estimated the value at double that – largely taken care of by sponsors) weighed but a few pounds.  He’s got the full array of biking uniforms and helmets, each with it’s own application.  Per him, his only source of income right now is bicycle racing.  There’s the will to win, then there’s the need to eat.  No wonder he has won several races and routinely places well enough to make enough to pay his bills.  There are all levels of professional athletes in this country, and the ones we never hear about are the Alex Stachows of the world.  He races bikes regionally.  That’s what he does, for now.  Can’t get much more authentically cool than that.  Another young American dude living his passion.

Now I said that you can’t get much more authentically cool than he already was, but just one more tidbit.  He has a pet rat:

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“Rat,” Alex’s pet rat, climbing up his arm.

I had never given a second’s thought to the concept of a rat as a pet, but after listening to Alex sell me the idea for a minute and interacting with his rat, I kinda want one now.  He was fair in his warning: being a rodent, there was a chance it will urinate on me.  Other than that, all good.  It cost $6.  A bag of food lasts months (it can also eat people food).  It knows to shit in it’s box.  Most adorably though, the rat loves people, and is very affectionate.  I held Rat for a few minutes, and as soon as she was comfortable with me (a process that took about 5 seconds), she was crawling up my arms to set up camp at the base of my neck.  She was up there overlooking things, licking my neck and just being a pardner.  Such a friendly animal, Rat overturned all my ideas about rats in just a few minutes.  As an example of how much Rat loved people, Alex told me he’d set her down on his bed and walk away.  He promised that within a minute or two, she would approach us and crawl up on his arms.  Sure as shit, that’s what she did.  The thing just loved people, and was as affectionate and loving as any cat or dog I’ve ever seen.  I want a pet rat.

Now that you know a little about Alex, know that we went down to the Sundown, in Ruston, for dinner and some beers.  Gracious as can be, he picked up this weary traveler’s tab.  Over the course of a few beers, some sandwiches and fried pickles, we caught up with each other, made obscure references to decade old internet memes and learned about the world from one another.  A solid evening indeed.  Thanks again Alex for the dinner, drinks and place to crash.

The “place to crash” referred to his $200/mo apartment in the “ghetto” of Ruston (his words, not mine).  Ruston doesn’t really have a ghetto, but if it did, I guess his apartment would be it.  It was right by the tracks, and every hour on the hour, a train would come lumbering through, rattling the house down to it’s foundation.  The home was split into two units, with a shared kitchen.  The place was very reminiscent of apartments of other biker buddies I had in college: bicycles, helmets, locks, tools and bicycle parts were strewn across the living room floor.  A couch was hidden in the corner, and the most prominent feature of the living room was the collection of bicycle uniforms hanging in the other corner.  In actuality, the apartment was quite livable, but did show signs of age.  Right on the border of La Tech, the place was clearly primarily occupied by college students.  Everything worked, but looked as if it shouldn’t.  Doors latched, barely, and the sink and toilet were right on top of each other in the bathroom.  It was the quintessential American college house apartment.  It took me back to Shippensburg in its look and feel, and in the creaking of the floors as I sauntered about to the bathroom from the 1970s couch in the morning.

Having made it to the morning alive in the ghetto, I said a final goodbye and thanks to Alex, and was on my way to Monroe for a round…

They are kicking me out… more later…

 

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