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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 anthologies: 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.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

✍La Porte Texas to the Promised Land / Dec 2022



December 2022

~ Fiction ~
Roman Γ  clef, cher
by Leonard Earl Johnson 
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana

 β€ β€ β€
Santa and Author Leonard Earl Johnson
a monthly e-column
 *  *
From La Porte Texas 
to the Promised Land
   by  Leonard  Earl  Johnson  

Β© 2022, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved 

Any Port in a Storm!
The year of the last Cuban Boat Lift, 1980, I served aboard the SS Sealand Venture.  She was a sturdy German-built US-flagged container ship running scheduled stops between Houston, Texas and Rotterdam, Holland. 

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

A good B. R. arranges to be on such terms with his officers that all of them but the Captain will lock their doors in port. Ostensibly to keep out shore 
In Port at La Porte
thieves. Effectively ending the good B. R.'s duties after breakfast.  This is a tip, the generous gratuity of extra shore leave to the good B. R.

I was a good B. R. 

During that same year, the Venture quit the wharves along Houston's downtown Ship Channel and began calling at a newly constructed container terminal at Morgan's Point, a spot so far out-in-the-boonies it was barely in from the Gulf of Mexico.

* * *
The Port Authority's decision to move their container terminal to Morgan's Point was ~ and is ~ a great thorny urchin in the belly of thirsty sailors in from every corner of the Earth. 

 πŸΎ   πŸΎ   πŸΎ 
  Now, mind you, near the new terminal there was 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 berth.  Its services were mercifully available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  A hand-painted sign in white scrawling letters with random splats and dribbles proclaimed it from the mirror behind the bar: 
"We No Close Never." Nice, but hardly Houston.

The town of La Porte, a meager destination if ever there was one, lay two-miles straight inland.  I took a bicycle with me in those days, and it was a pleasant two mile ride over newly rolled out asphalt roads separating pastures populated with long-horned cattle and dotted with live oak trees laden with Spanish moss

The town did offer the Space Shot Motel and Bar, for those who got lucky.  A Spanish movie house, for those who did not.  Rosetta's Fajita CafΓ©.  And the Gulf Coast Railroad Emporium, with its back-lighted oval sign proclaiming, "Lionel Trains for All The Ages -- Toot! Toot!"

The sights of La Porte and The Little Goat Ranch were certainly appreciated, but they were dim lights next to our memories of Houston.

* * *

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 truck's left 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 the eyes of this rolling icon.  "To light up the world on the road to Jesus!" he said with a brilliant if likely duplicitous smile. 

I hired him on the spot to drive me and my bicycle back to the ship.

We followed the red-eyed beacon of Jesus down the new black top road not all the way back 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 meeting our ship each voyage and driving one or all into Houston!

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 accommodation ladder.

* * *

Shore Leave and Liberty for all.
Houston was a shining alabaster city undulating on a pool of booming oil prices.  An anything-goes Babylon of the US Gulf coast.  Cowboy Castro's "purple pick'em upbecame our winged angel carrying us to Houston if not Heaven.

Despite his loudly professed religiosity, and being on "extended break" from Texas A. and M., Cowboy performed his 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 atop its flat roof showed chicken heads kissing among flashing red hearts and green dollar signs.

Along a low-slung front porch a row of green doors greeted the needy 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 converse and display their charms. 

Praise the Lord, it was living porn!  Shocking, I guess, 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 a barren rock!" 

He would then enter a door labeled "Girl" and, as he put it, "Wax philosophic with the Jezebel inside."

* * *

ne sacrament too many.
On a warm December night, back at the ship to meet an early sailing board, Cowboy helped us up the ladder and joined me in my fo'c's'le for a parting drink.  After several we passed out. 

As the moon rose mid sky we awakened on the deck by my bunk rocking against the bulkhead.

Our ship was gently slipping out to Sea. 

"I've been shanghaied," Cowboy hollered. He cursed first in Spanish, then in English.  Then he threw Lone Star Beer cans 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 fretting and we made an agreement to make the best of our situation till reaching Miami in two days.  Miami was our last Stateside stop before heading across the North Atlantic for Rotterdam.

owboy could walk off the ship in Miami and catch a plane back to Houston with no one the wiser.  We settled in and became comfortable traveling companions.  He stayed in my cabin, drank beer, watched television and feasted on food I spirited from the galley.

At night we talked of how lonely Christmas was at Sea, and 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 pass through the Straits of Florida?" he asked. I reckoned not.

South of the Mouth of the Mississippi, below New Orleans (which sits in a hole below Sea level) we picked up television from Baton Rouge and saw film of the huge Cuban Mariel Boat Lift currently 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 passed myself off as a Cuban boat-person I could slap slogan those gringos all the way to easy street."

I was shocked and said so, "How could you say that after fleeing Castro?"  
At that time, Norte Americanos saw such acts as noble, sanctified.  Hell, half John Wayne and half Thomas Jefferson!  

American foreign policy yelped and rippled across the waters like a belly dancer waving food stamps and other vouchers to all freedom fighters fleeing Castro for South Beach Florida's welcome wagon


"Fleeing Castro?" He peered back through sun glasses with prove-it on his face and asked, "Are you crazy? That Castro was still in the hills when we left Cuba.  This Castro," he said, pointing thumbs at his chest, "was fleeing hunger!  I still am!"

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.

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 and waited outside the Captain's door with the Cubans.  The two came back out. "Excuse me," I said, "could one of you come with me?" Both declined.

"Not with the fight I'm fixing to have with that drunken Steward over six supernumeries," the Bos'n said.  He turned off towards the crew's quarters.  The six Cubans trotted behind 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 my beard, cherishing the fleeting powers of pirates and rogues.  "We're in rough waters, Mate, rough enough to beach us."

My actual power was that any ship's irregularity meant Federal paper work for the Mate, and the Mate hated Federal paper work.  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 Mohammad!" exclaimed the Mate, slamming the door tight. He looked at me and several words formed buds on his lips before, "Holy Mother of Lenin!" bloomed out his mouth.

* * *

Cowboy's second coming.

n Miami, officers of the United States Coastguard poured over the decks and collected our Cubans.  Now, with the addition of blue-eyed, un-sunburned Cowboy Castro numbering seven.

On our return voyage we lashed a Norwegian Christmas Tree to the foremast and strung it with yellow light bulbs furnished from the Bos'n's locker.  As we hove'round Barbours Cut and slipped up against the wharf all eyes searched the hill. There was no Cowboy Castro waiting for us.

We found his beat up purple truck and used a key from under the floor mat to drive 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 a 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. and those dumbass Aggies!

"You know why piss is yellow,he asked, "and come is white?  So Aggies will know 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 a 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, "and welcome to The Promised Land!"

Copyright, 2022 Leonard Earl Johnson, all rights reserved

LEJ's Lagniappe 

Tommy McClain with CC Adcock,



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Β© Leonard Earl Johnson 

If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.world anytime. 
They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few years.

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 LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.world,
and historically at
Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans
publication of the

It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana

Β© 2022, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved