Oct/Nov 2010 Travel

Greetings from Grand Isle, Louisiana!

by Jim Parks

There's a red house over yonder.
It's where my baby stays.
I ain't been home to see my baby
in 99 and one-half days...

—traditional blues lament

Grand Isle, Louisiana, was the setting for Kate Chopin's Awakening. More recently, people have become familiar with it from its numerous depictions on national television.

What kind of place is it?

Picture making your way up an expansive bayou that cuts through extensive marshland. Suddenly, up ahead, you see the profile of a massive ship, or a tug and tow. It appears the vessel is cutting across a river of grass and mud in front of you. But it's only the Mississippi River. You just don't know it's there because you haven't gotten there—yet.

That is the kind of place it is. A barrier island perched at the confluence of bays and bayous in the public area of North America. The beer joints don't close and the shrimpers and oystermen sell their catch in sheds on the bay side of the island.

It's the capitol of the supply bases for all the major oil companies. You find everything from oil tools to drilling mud, diesel fuel, strings of pipe and groceries, choppers and ships and tugs with barges in tow coming and going up and down the channel at all hours of the day.

The pirate Jean LaFitte and his lieutenant Nez Coupé, old Cut Nose, built a red brick fort to guard the inlet that leads to Barataria Bay, Grand Bayou, and the inland route to the west bank of the Mississippi at New Orleans and Empire. In its store rooms they traded chandlery items from ships they had plundered and burned, cargo, supplies and groceries—all for sale at a high price to captains with a need for speedy resupply on their way somewhere else.

They used their local knowledge of the back routes across the bayous and bays to encircle and ambush the Red Coats during the War of 1812 when they worked for General Andrew Jackson as intelligence and special ops types during the Siege and Battle of New Orleans.

To the northwest is the channel that leads to the Bayou LaFourche with its canal-side towns of Cut Off, La Rose, Galliano, and Golden Meadows, the back door to the Atchafalaya and Terrebonne Bay, the shipyards of Morgan City and Houma where they build the offshore rigs and supply boats.

Roustabouts and worms drink at one place; pushers, mud engineers, fracturing and logging crews at another; shrimpers, king fishers, and bottom fishermen here; company men and Coast Guardsmen there; federal agents and cops at yet another.

Smugglers and outlaws drink at blind pig joints in the trailer parks and fish camps. They rarely show their faces amongst the establishment types and their employees. But they all belly up to the bar and take a load off their minds come beer-thirty.

You watch a sea bird wheel and dive in the surf, coming up with a little silver fish every time. You listen with idle interest to men with aches and pains, women and children, plans, dreams, goals—and massive quantities of hot air.

The talk was free and easy before Deepwater Horizon blew out, burned and sank in mile-deep water 50 miles offshore after the well blew out on Earth Day, April 20.

In the beer joint used by the oil executives, cops, and Coasties, 30 years ago, I learned about the Nicaraguan raid on a Navy Seal base across the Gulf of Fonseca in Honduras in which commandos stole three of the special ops unit's boats to use for their own.

Embarrassing. Oh, how the como types from the Coast Guard's knee-deep Navy hooted and clucked over that one.

Later, the officer in charge of the Seal unit took back his boats, secured from the operation, and got in his Toyota to go get his wife when she got off work, only to be shot in the back of the head by a stranger passing by on the street.

Bad day at the office, to say the least.

Radio. It's red hot, they say.

Then there was the surprise exercise and raid on a production platform mounted by a unit of Britain's Special Air Service, the precursor and prototype of Charging Charlie Beckworth's Delta Force. They parachuted from a high altitude, navigated to the rig with their square parachutes, and blithely took everyone hostage, demanding they contact their government to let them know the situation.

In the aftermath, people swore up and down that President Ronald Reagan sat in the Situation Room at the White House laughing up a storm as government agency after government agency passed the oil company's representatives off from one to another. The Coast Guard referred to the Navy; the Navy said they don't do that kind of work, try the FBI; the FBI referred them to the CIA; the CIA had them contact the Pentagon; the Pentagon said try the White House; the White House referred them to the National Security Council; the National Security Council had them talk to the National Security Advisor, who chuckled and said things were just the way he had suspected.

There was no policy, procedure, or plan in place to deal with a happening of that type.

What happened?

Who knows?

It's not the kind of place where you ask questions, and certainly no one is eager to give answers, in any case. The wise man drinks his brewski and sticks to ball games, divorce lawyers, and the accursed IRS when the conversation lulls.

What you don't know sure as hell won't get you in any trouble if you just keep your mouth shut.

It's a dangerous place filled with men who don't take kindly to questions. Funny things happen. Heavy objects fall out of the sky and land on a man on the drilling floor. I once saw the remains of a man, a rigger on a shrimp boat, whose body had been pulled through all three winches. The only thing left was hunks of meat and bone clinging to the wire spooled on the drums.

The same dynamic goes double today.

It's best to keep one's mind on the business at hand. Let the world solve its own problems. Keep your mind on the good news. That is usually enough of a challenge for a working man.

That is, a working man with no access to information, no news.

Reports are starting to filter out on the radical Internet sites about BP threatening to fire anyone who wears a respirator to keep from breathing the noxious fumes while working on cleanup crews.

You don't catch that one on the evening news, nor do you see it on CNN or read it in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.

The speculation runs this gamut. They, the BP executives, must fear that to condone the practice would constitute some kind of admission on the part of the company that it knew or should have known that long term health hazards will haunt those who work doing the messy, smelly job.

Militia types speculate that an enforced evacuation of the area will lead to mass arrests and the internment in concentration camps of those who make waves.

There are many reports of National Guard and Airborne, Air Cavalry and straight leg infantry outfits going through operations to train them how to handle troublemakers, arrest them and move them along in an orderly fashion.

Televised reports from the Kenai Correctional Facility near Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, Ft. Knox, and Ft. Richardson, Arkansas, pepper the internet on sites like Prison Planet and World Net Daily.

And how did they come to be there, the Acadian people, at "the end of the world" in the bayous and bays of south Louisiana?

Why, the nation of France lost a war to the British and relinquished all claim to the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. That meant the Cajuns had to go. So, they surrendered their firearms to the Red Coats and accepted transport to a new province in Louisiana.

That's just where the Brits put them, smack dab in the middle of the swamps and bayous where many of them died of exposure. It's a thriving culture, complete with big-paying jobs in the oil patch, plenty of seafood and wild hog meat, gators, and crawfish.

Y'all come take their aromatic shoot gun and they twice-barrel carbine away from them now. Oh, yeah. Come see. Uh huh.

The Posse Comitatus Act?

Oh, they say, the Presidential powers afforded by the Insurrection Act supersede that antiquated old relic. It's okay to use federal troops against American citizens in a time of a natural disaster declared by the President of the United States of America.

The Constitution?

Some say since they didn't sign it, and they aren't all that impressed with what it says.

One thing for sure, everyone seems to agree: police, SWAT teams and the Office of Homeland Security won't be able to handle the massive security problems resulting from such a disaster...

That's when the Army of the United States of America will have to go to war against its own citizens.

War? Hell, yeah, cousin. That's what the fella said. Pshaw! Talk some kind of crazy, too. That's when he will have a war and you know that's right.

As the Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his "Meditations," always there will be war and rumors of war. Certainly, that's true in Grand Isle, Louisiana, today.

Things have not changed much. Conditions are very much the same as I remember them from my experience of 30 years ago.

Bon appetit!


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