Lafayette, LA — 8.2.2016
I arrive to my Airbnb in Lafayette and I have no idea how to get in. I go around the side, looking for a lock box, and I see a guy working on his truck and I assume it’s my host, Travis.
He runs towards me, shakes my hand, shows me the key pad, and let’s me in, all in the matter of seconds. He talks with a distinct Cajun twang that I heard for the first time in my Uber ride over. It makes me realize I’m how far I am from home.
Travis moves fast, or maybe, all over the place is a better way to put it. When I put my bags down in the room, he apologizes that it’s not ready quite yet. He rattles off excuses but I can’t really understand. Anyways, I say it’s totally fine and I’ll just go get some food. Just then, a big, spotted pointer stands up from under the comforter and I realize there’s been a dog in my bed the whole time.
“Get out, Duke!” he exclaims and apologizes profusely and promises the room will be ready soon.
I’m out the door within a minute and on the street and have no idea where I’m going.
I end up at Blue Dog Cafe. It’s a family spot — big tables, big portions. I head to the bar, where people go when they’re in one of these places alone. Anyways, there’s baseball on, so even if I don’t talk to anyone, at least I’ll catch the game.
I sit next to an man with glasses, neatly combed back grey hair, probably in his early fifties. Further to our left is a group of three guys, all eating their dinners at the counter and drinking and starting to go too far into politics.
“I didn’t want to talk about this!” the one guy says red faced and innocently to the bartender. Like he had nothing to do with instigating the conversation. We’re all guilty of overindulging in political talk, especially when we know someone is on the other side.
Me and the man sitting next to me hear their banter and both laugh to ourselves. Three drunk guys talking about Hillary’s email servers on a Tuesday night at Blue Dog’s isn’t going to solve much.
I start talking to the man, I don’t know how. But we do and it’s a pleasant exchange of where are you from, what do you do.
Jack’s a meteorologist from Fort Worth, Texas. He works for the National Weather Services, which is an organization under the federal government. They don’t sell any of their information, Jack tells me, they just make it available to businesses and news outlets who package the data and make it look nice. I pull out my phone and show him the weather apps I use and he nods.
“They most likely get their information from us,” he says.
People don’t think about the National Weather Service as an organization they couldn’t live without. But people do rely on weather reports and in some cases, like hurricanes or tornados, their work is a matter of life and death.
Conservative politicians, like Jack’s favorite Senator from his home state of Texas, Ted Cruz, often want to cut government spending. And a cut in spending always threatens organizations that aren’t bolstering our military arms.
Jack’s at a convention over here in Lafayette and I ask him if the joke is that it’s actually okay to talk about the weather. He say’s they’re past that one. Now the joke is how often they get it wrong.
I’m two beers in and so is Jack and I think the both of us realize we’re having a good time. It’s an odd pair. I’m trying to connect my love of surfing and wanting to learn more about tides to the work he’s doing. He talks about his kids and their soccer tournaments and the rec volleyball team that he and his wife play on. But somehow it works and we order another beer.
Jack has three boys — 13, 11, and 6. The six year old came as a surprise, but they thought, what the heck, maybe it will be a girl. Instead, they got their third son. The older two play on travel soccer teams and his wife stays at home to raise them. Jack talks about the cost of travel teams these days and says that it’s tough to afford. The league set up a volunteering program, though, which helps subsidize the league dues. So on weekends, he and his wife work concession stands at sporting events around Dallas. His kids aren’t old enough to serve beer, so legally, they can’t help.
I tell Jack about my trip and he lights up. Travel is on his mind, as his family just got back from Costa Rica last week. They were in the forests of Costa Rica for two weeks — exploring, eating. The kids did slack lining. It was their best family vacation yet and the first time Jack had left the country.
I think about how cool that must have been for his kids and how important it is to introduce your children to the idea of travel at a young age. I think about how much more likely his kids are to move about in their older years because of that one trip to Costa Rica.
When you’re at home, you’re scared of the unknown. Or you buy into the stories people tell you about these places. And then you get there and feel it out and realize it’s not the place everyone made it out to be.
Blue Dog’s was closing down. It’s a family restaurant and it was 9 o’clock. I’m full of fried crawfish and pretty tipsy from those three beers.
Jack hands me his card and I tell him I don’t carry cards, but that I’ll follow up with an email. I tell him if he’s ever in San Francisco, bring the family and I’ll gladly show them around. It’s something you say on the road, but with Jack, I’m genuine with the offer.
We’re outside and he asks how I’m getting home. “Uber,” I tell him.
He unlocks his car and I look over and see a white Explorer with government plates. He offers me a ride back and I think that it doesn’t quite count as my hitchhiking challenge but that it’s still pretty cool to get a ride in a car with government plates. I take him up on the offer and after a few wrong turns, we’re back at Travis’ spot.
I thank Jack and shake his hand and wish him the best. Jack’s a good, honest, hard-working guy. And we could use more of him in this country.
I open the side door and when I enter, Travis, his girlfriend, and another guest want to go alligator hunting on the nearby bayou. I say that I’m in and within a minute we’re back outside, off to find some gators.
I think that it doesn’t get more Southern than this and I still haven’t seen if my room is clean.