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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the books FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

The Train That Didn't Go That-a-way / January 2020

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💔 LEJ's  Louisiana,

Yours Truly in a Swamp
a monthly e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
 E-mail: Subscribe@LEJ.org

January 2020
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Copyright 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

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The Train That Didn't Go That-a-Way

by Leonard Earl Johnson

My 9am train West, Amtrak's famous ole #1 (the first train to cross the American continent, and the first train anywhere to bear
Amtrak waiting
a personified name, Sunset Limited) departed New Orleans on time, but The City Care Forgot forgot again that citizens actually live in New Orleans and need to do daily things like catch trains.  As well as serve the holy tourist industry.  

Again this year, just like last year's train booked after the New Orleans Film Festival, passenger access to Union Station was cut off for a marathon run.  A good cause, I'm sure.  But so was catching my train. 

A friendly policeman and two EMS drivers posted along Poydras Street assured me nothing could be done to help me, an elderly scribe with a heart condition.

I had to drag my self and luggage the three long blocks across Poydras Street from City Hall to the Amtrak Station. I asked these public servants to at least keep an eye on me, and if I fell over please pick me up and take me to hospital or undertaker.  They agreed.

The train pulled out on time.  Some two-hundred determined souls on board.  No one could say just how many had not made it.  The Assistant Conductor in coach said she had no idea.  The sleeping-car Conductor said he had "Several no-shows," but hoped to pick them up at a scheduled stop West of the Mississippi, "At either New Iberia or Lafayette, Louisiana."  Alas, we never reached The River.

The previous night's storm had littered the tracks with cables, wires, and fallen trees. We waited about an hour as crews worked to clear our way.  Then, "For safety reasons," a disembodied voice announced, we backed into to the Station, de-trained, went to the desk, and were informed the next train West would be in two days.  

We could have our money back or wait and see if workmen are successful clearing the tracks.

If we waited ~ and wanted ~ we could re-board and wait aboard the more comfortable train, with operational snack-bar and dining car.  We did.

We ate a delicious Don Salad ~ brought along from Arabella Casa di Pasta ~ in the chipper floor-to-ceiling windowed observation car.  With its stunning view of the Amtrak yard.  There we talked with two fellow ageing hippie travelers on their way to an artist colony in the Chihuahua Desert, near Alpine Texas.  Pleasantly we idled the hours away. 

Then the announcement,  Amtrak # 1, was being canceled.  I was put on a new painfully cramped Greyhound Bus departing hours later and arrived at my home out in The Great Mother Swamp eleven hours late and just in time to have a heart attack.  

"A small one, hardly worth bothering the tourist run," L. A. Norma said. 

I am doing fine.  In Lafayette Physical Rehabilitation Hospital with high expectation of going home in a couple weeks.

Weeks later.  Home.  Fine.
Peter S., a friend from distant college daze, wrote asking for New Orleans drinking, eating and music advice for cross-country camping friends of his.  

"Like explaining the Catholic Church, 
an easier undertaking started than ended," 
 L. A. Norma said, sitting her glass, 
and lighting a Camel Cigarette.
🍷We wrote: New Orleans gave birth to the cocktail.

Start with a Sazerac at the Roosevelt Hotel's Sazerac Room.  Some slightly true origin-claim to this very good drink. BIG PLUS: Lovely room with fine New Orleans murals.  Origins of this drink are NOLa, for sure.  Not really at the Roosevelt but close enough.  Ask the bartender.  Or visit the Sazerac House Museum on Canal Street. 

Also the Napoleon House, not far from the Roosevelt, on Saint Louis Street, in the French Quarter, makes a fine example and has a colorful nearly true history itself that is worth touching.  

Crayfish (crawfish) Ettoufee (means smothered, in Louisiana French).  Not hard to find.  Can be on blue-plate lunch specials and fine dining tables.  Next to the Roosevelt's Sazerac Bar is a fine dining room.  Note prices before entering.  Theirs will be good.  

Dooky Chase's (Leah Chase passed recently, LEJ's Blog, July 2019, but the great establishment lives on.)  Buffet fit for the Gods.  If eating at but one, this would be a good choice. 

My favorite dish, Shrimp Clemenceau is not on the buffet, but well worth ordering from the menu.

The late great Chef Leah Chase of New Orleans and Heaven

Music.  Everywhere.  Most of it good.  A favorite of mine is Kermit Ruffins, trumpeter
who you may have seen in the HBO post Katrina film, TREME.

He bought the late Ernie K-Doe's MOTHER-IN-LAW LOUNGE, with his movie pay (for all the solid community reasons that make New Orleans Big Swamp City).  Charges a 20$us cover for out-of-Towners but free if you have a NOLa ID.  Kind of crummy, but iconic.  Only tourists who know why they came and locals are here.  Under the Claiborne overpass.

He no longer plays at Vaughn's in Faubourg Bywater, but a worthy music venue nonetheless.  Taxi or drive to either, safe-ish as any place in violence-loving gone mad America.  (You know the story, I expect).

Also a good music venue: Chickie Wah Wah – Live Music Venue in NOLa on Canal Street.

And, of course, Preservation Hall, French Quarter, Rue Saint Peter. Locals do not go here, but love the place anyway.  See the film, A TUBA TO CUBA if you get the chance.  LEJ's Blog, November 2018, contains a review of the New Orleans Film Festival's screening of A TUBA.

The music is famously good.  
General admission is 20$us, first come first served.  CASH only at the door and requires a long wait in line. The odds of being able to sit are slim on a busy night.  No food, no drink, no bathroom, no air-conditioning.  Admission is for a fifty minute set.

Mostly tourists, who often do not know why they came.  I have not gone there in decades but when new to Town spent many a good night there.

Stroll Frenchmen Street, in Faubourg Marigny just below the Quarter.  Once popular as the local's Bourbon Street but lately full of tourists, but also full of good music clubs.  Calendars are posted on the door/windows.  Charmaine Neville (Daughter of the late Charley Neville) performs at Snug Harbor, on Mondays.

Enjoy.  Eat often.  As we say, Anything worth doing in New Orleans is worth overdoing.  And if you take a train out, check first to make sure The City hasn't dug a moat around the train station.  

~ Your comments or corrections are welcome ~

Coming next month

February 2020

LEJ's Mardi Gras History and Glossary

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
~ Hosted on GOOGLE Blogger ~
and periodically 
at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,
publication of the
It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
© 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
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💜  💚  💛

Sailor Man Scribe LEJ.org                                  photo credit: Alyce Morgan

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Go here For 
and such falderal
© 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, all rights reserved.

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Sunday, December 01, 2019

La Porte, Tx. to the Promised Land / December 2019

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💔  LEJ's  Louisiana,

Yours Truly in a Swamp

a monthly e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana

 E-mail: Subscribe@LEJ.org
Archives: www.LEJ.org   
December 2019

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by Leonard Earl Johnson

Copyright, 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

"Pooh!, says he my dear, 
any port in a storm." 

From La Porte, Texas 

To the Promised Land

by Leonard Earl Johnson

~ Dedicated to La Porte native and WVUE-New Orleans Chief Meteorologist David Bernard and real estate investor, Charlie Urstadt of New Orleans and Miami.

The year of the last Cuban Boat-lift1980I was sailing aboard the M. V. Sealand, a U. S. flagged container ship, burning diesel, and running transatlantic stops between Houston, Texas and Rotterdam, Holland. 

I served as the officer's Bedroom Steward (B. R.) ~ a kind of seagoing maid. Not a glamorous rank, to be sure, but a joyful one owing to the large amount of shore leave it afforded.

During that year, the Sealand quit the wharves along Houston's downtown Ship Channel and began calling at a newly constructed container terminal at Morgan's Point, near the little town of La Porte, Texas, a spot so far out-in-the-boonies it was barely in from the Gulf of Mexico.  The Port Authority's decision to move the Houston container terminal to Morgan's Point was ~ and is ~ a great thorny urchin in the belly of thirsty sailors from every corner of Earth. 

Now, mind you, near this new terminal existed a dirt-floored, tin-roofed watering hole known as The Little Goat Ranch. It sat promisingly in the turn at Barbours Cut, 
on a jutting beachhead walking distance from our new berth along what we called, The after berth trail.  

Its services were mercifully available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. 

A hand-painted message in white scrawling letters with random splats and dribbles proclaimed this from a mirror behind the bar, "We No Closed Never." 

Fully appreciated by all, but hardly Houston.

George Ranch Museum Collection 
University of North Texas Libraries
    The town of La Porte was, also, a beckoning destination some two, three miles further inland.  

    I took a bicycle aboard ship with me in those days and it was a pleasant two or three miles ride over newly laid black asphalt roads winding through pastures filled with long-horned cattle and Spanish moss laden live oak trees.

    The town itself offered weary sailors a light respite from The Sea. There was the Space Shot Motel and Bar, for those who got lucky. A Spanish movie house, Rosetta's Cuban Cafe; and the piece de resistance, The Gulf Coast Railroad Emporium, with a back-lighted oval sign proclaiming: "Lionel Trains for All The Ages -- Toot! Toot!"

    The sights and lights of La Porte and The Little Goat Ranch were certainly appreciated, but they were thin dumplings compared to our plump memories of Houston's Ship Channel.  

    "You could fall in it, it was so polluted, and get yourself an automatic medical furlough with pay," we laughingly told the cold and disinterested barmaid, whom we nicknamed Senorita Goat-raunchy.

    "Every night, over the hill," the Bo'sun lamented, "were fine Greek and Lebanese restaurants with amazing Belly Dancers!" 

    Goat-raunchy grunted, "Rosetta's has black beans and ham hocks, tonight."

    Our Savior is Found 

    In the Gulf Coast Railroad Emporium one memorable Fall day, I made the acquaintance of Cowboy Castro, a fine looking blue-eyed, brown-skinned local, with a not-so-fine looking purple "pick'em up truck." 

    Crowning the left front fender, amid a lifetime's collection of dents and scratches stood a two foot tall plastic statue of Jesus holding a bleeding red heart in one hand and a chromium pigtail radio antenna in the other.  Cowboy Castro was in the Emporium purchasing tiny red lights for this rolling icon.

    "To light the world through the eyes of Jesus!" he said with a brilliant smile. I hired him on the spot to drive me and my bicycle back to the ship, and we followed the red-eyed beacon of Jesus down the new blacktop road to the Sea.

    We did not get all the way to the ship. We stopped for "refreshing beer beverages," on Cowboy's suggestion, at The Little Goat Ranch.

    Later that evening, still at The Goat Ranch, the ship's Mate, Bos'n, Chief Cook, and I secured Cowboy's commitment to meet us each returning voyage, and drive one or all into Houston. 

    La ship, La Porte

    Cowboy was to wait as long as it took, then round us up gurgling in the morning light, and return us dockside and, need be, help us stumble up the ladder of accommodation.


    Shore Leave and Liberty

    Ithose days, Houston was a shining alabaster city undulating on a pool of booming oil prices.  An anything-goes Babylon of the U. S. Third Coast.  Cowboy Castro's purple "pick'em up" was our winged angel carrying us Home.

    Despite loudly professed religiosity, and being on "extended break" from Texas A. and M., Cowboy performed these duties well. Even, in time, joining our romps in port out of La Porte.

    Our favorite Houston destination was a long gray building along Westheimer Drive, named The Green Door. Neon tubing twisted atop its flat roof showed chicken heads kissing among flashing red hearts and green dollar bills.

    Along a low-slung front porch a row of green wooden doors awaited each yearning visitor. Beside each door hung a lantern similar to those used by old-time railroaders. If the lamp was lit green you could enter for a price, and talk privately with a scantily clad man or woman behind a plate glass window. By the power vested in money pushed through a slot in the glass, you could persuade your selection to display their charms. 

    Praise the Lord, it was living porn! Shocking, I suppose, but with the possible exception of Cowboy, we were depraved salts and not missionaries.

    Truthfully, Cowboy loved The Green Door as much as we did and always arrived screaming Biblical quotes like, "Better to spill your seed in the belly of the whore than upon barren rock!" ~ one of his favorites.  He would then enter a door labeled "Girl" and, as he put it, "Wax philosophic with the Jezebel inside."

    One Sacrament Too Many

    On a warm December night, back at the ship to meet an early sailing, Cowboy helped us up the ladder and joined me in my fo'c's'le for a parting drink.

    Photo credit: Tony Politopoulos  
    After several, we slipped to the deck and passed out. As the sun rose over the fog bank we awakened rocking against the bulkhead beside my bunk. The Sealand was slipping out to Sea. 

    "I've been shanghaied," Cowboy hollered. He cursed in Spanish and threw Lone Star Beer cans first at the Gulf of Mexico on the other side of the porthole, and then at me.

    I yelled back, "You Bible thumping Aggie, you think I want a stowaway in my cabin, for Christ's sake!" 

    The word "stowaway" brought us both up short and sober. He ceased his fretting and we made an agreement to make the best of our situation till reaching Miami, Florida in two days. Miami was our last stop before heading out across the North Atlantic bound for Rotterdam.  Cowboy could walk off the ship in Miami, we figured, and catch a plane back to Houston with no one the wiser. 

    We settled in and became comfortable traveling companions. He stayed calmly in my cabin drinking beer, watching television, and feasting on food I spirited from the galley.  That night, we talked of how lonely Christmas was at Sea, and I told him how Norwegian sailors lashed evergreen trees to their ship's foremast at Christmas time. He told of his family's immigration from Cuba, "Before Fidel," and wondered if he might see the "Crimson Devil's Isle."

    "Perhaps when we sail through the Straits of Florida?" he asked. 

    I reckoned not.
    Passing south of New Orleans, which sits in a hole below Sea level, we picked up Baton Rouge television and saw tv-news films of the huge Mariel Boat Lift washing onto the beaches of south Florida.

    Cowboy laughed at Florida's "gringo governor" greeting Cuban boat people while literally mopping his brow. Then Cowboy's eyes lit up like the red-eyed Jesus on his purple truck. "Carumba!" he exclaimed. "If I can pass myself off as a boat-person, I could slap-slogan those stupid Florida gringos all the way up to easy street USA."

    I was shocked and said so, "How could you, after fleeing Castro?"

    "Fleeing Castro?" He peered back with a prove-it expression that asked, 'Are you crazy?'  "That Castro was still in the hills when we left Cuba. This Castro," he said, pointing his thumbs at his chest, "was fleeing the poorhouse, and still is!"

    As Cowboy was saying this I felt the ship slow and go dead in the water. I left him plotting his economic salvation and went topside.

    le Barco                                                     le Mar

    The Mate and Bos'n were walking back from a Jacob's ladder slung over the starboard gunnel. Six sunburned Cubans walked behind them. Off our stern, an unpainted rowboat with an upended oar sluiced in our wake. From the oar flapped a white cloth painted with black letters spelling, "S. O. S."

    I followed behind them and waited outside the Captain's door till they came back out. "Excuse me," I said to the Mate, "could one of you come with me?" Both declined.

    "Not with the fight I'm fixing to have with that drunken Chief Steward over six supernumerary," said the Bos'n. He turned off towards the crew's quarters. The six Cubans trotted close on his heels.

    The Mate shrugged, "Sorry, Leonard, I'm facing a long ton of Federal paper shuffling."

    "You best come," I said, rubbing me beard and cherishing the powers of pirates and rogues. "We're in close waters, Mate, rough enough to beach us."

    My actual power was that any ship's irregularity meant Federal paperwork for the Mate, and the Mate hated Federal paperwork. He came along.

    At my fo'c's'le I turned the latch, opened the door and stood back.

    "Hi, Mate," Cowboy grinned, lifting his beer can.

    "Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed!" said the Mate, slamming the door.  He looked over at me and several words formed on his lips before, "Holy Mother of Lenin!" escaped.

    Cowboy's Second Coming

    In Miami, officers of the United States Coast Guard flooded aboard, and collected our Cubans. Now numbering seven with the addition of our handsome, blue-eyed, un-sunburned Cowboy Castro.  Who was ~ after all ~ just a poor Cuban, who came over too early.

    We sailed next morning for Europe, without Cowboy.


    On our return voyage we lashed a Norwegian Christmas Tree to our foremast and strung it with yellow lights we got from the Bos'n's locker.  As we hov'round Barbours Cut and slipped in against the wharf all eyes searched, but there was no Cowboy Castro waiting.

    Goat-raunchy said she had heard nothing of him.

    We found his beat up purple truck, used a key plucked from under the floor mat and drove ourselves into Houston for Christmas Day. Then, two days after Christmas, as we tumbled down the ladder headed for The Goat Ranch, Cowboy drove up in a brand new blue pick'em up truck.

    Cowboy explained on the drive to Houston, "They couldn't find me a purple one." He laughed, slurped from his beer can, and handed a fresh one to the Mate. He told us he was going back to school, but not to Texas A. and M.

    "You know why piss is yellow, and come is white?" he asked.  "So Aggies can tell if they're coming or going!" He slapped his leg and laughed again.

    He told how the Miami V. F. W. had bought him the truck and the gringo governor of Florida had gotten him an appointment to the National Maritime Academy at Kings Point. He grinned and said, "I start next Fall. After that I'll be sailing with you legal like, Mate!"

    The Mate popped open his beer, rolled down his window, and screamed a wild Texas "Wah-hoo!" at three steers nosing a discarded Christmas Tree. "God bless us all," he said, pulling his head back in the cab. "Welcome to The Promised Land!"

    Copyright, 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson
    All Rights Reserved
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    🎅 🐔 🤶

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    songs by Lee Murdock

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    LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
    is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
    ~ Hosted on GOOGLE Blogger ~
    and periodically 
    at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,
    publication of the
    It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
    of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
    Archives: www.LEJ.org
    © 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
    All Rights Reserved.
     ~    ~    ~

    Copyright, 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson

    All Rights Reserved

    ~ * ~      * ~      * ~

    💜  💚  💛
    Sailor Man Scribe LEJ.org                                  photo credit: Alyce Morgan

    * * * * * * * * * * * *
    Go here For 
    and such falderal ...

    © 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, all rights reserved.

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