Monday, July 19, 2010

Playing Tourist (origins)

I grew up in a small, small, small town in rural south Louisiana. It was probably better than your average small town because we were Cajun and felt somewhat special, somewhat insecure, somewhat isolated. We ate different food. We talked funny.

One summer, my daddy said that if we can spend all that money and time exploring other states, we should do it in our own state. We spent our family vacation driving around Louisiana. I will never forget that trip. I was around 9 or 10 and we set off on a week long journey through the Sportsman's Paradise.

It was fun to be familiar and unfamiliar with the place simultaneously. We drove West to Lake Charles, the Acadian Parishes, up toward Toledo Bend, to Shreveport and Bossier City, Monroe, down through Central Louisiana, Baton Rouge, Hammond. We left out New Orleans and our swampy homeland because we covered those areas on Sunday drives and weekends.

I loved the antebellum homes. I remember seeing the beautiful False River. We visited the Monroe Zoo and an Acadian Village. At Shadows on the Teche, I was reprimanded by a stern docent for touching a piece of furniture. I leaned on a chair, rapt in the docent's story and she called me out. My mother, not one for sticking up for me when I got in trouble, was really mad.

We stayed at a tiny dive motel in the town of Many and I saw my first ever vibrating bed.

Our state was just as interesting as other places in the country, we learned. We saw gardens, met people, learned about our history and the physical act of riding those roads helped me in later years because if you told me you were from even the dinkiest town in Louisiana, even when I was in college, I could almost always say I had been through there once.

My parents loved doing this sort of thing out of shear curiosity. No hipster ideals. No desire to check things off a list. They simply felt it was important to know your own place. Dining at mom and pop restaurants was a way of life and it shaped me in the years to come. I don't seek out the out of the way spots to "be cool." I honestly enjoy it and am interested in it.

I think we need to keep that spirit of the open road, of getting there, rather then being there. Stop thinking of rural areas or the middle of the country as places you drive through, gas up, or worse, fly over. If we're going to burn fossil fuels in this country, at least let's use it for good connect, to learn, to explore.