Day 109: Baton Rouge

Day 109 (2016-12-13): Baton Rouge

Yesterday I tried to find a way to volunteer a few hours today,but single-day, last-minute volunteering does not work so well. Instead, I decide to go wander around Baton Rouge, using transit instead of riding on these bad streets with thunderstorms expected.

My first stop is the old state capitol building where get a new perspective on civil rights and the Jim Crow laws through a mix of local perspectives and primary sources from the deep south. Fascinating. Next I learn about Huey Long, Louisiana’s governor in the 1920’s-1930’s and later US Senator. Huey reminds me a lot of Trump – he touted populist goals like infrastructure and education that rallied the poor while using any means necessary to achieve his goals. Huey was extremely divisive among supporters and critics, and he was assassinated. Or maybe it was an accident covered up…

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Me pretending to be Huey Long.

While in office Huey Long built a new capitol building, still the tallest state capitol in the country. Compared to the more modest congressional chambers this morning, the new building boats massive marble columns, fancy Pompeii lava floors, and quite a bit of fancy decoration. From atop the capitol I look out 360 degrees over the city. To the south downtown appears small and quiet, with the massive 102,000 seat LSU football stadium rising in the distance. To the north a huge array of oil and gas plants belch smog into the air already thick with fog, a gigantic scar of twisting metal on the landscape. Boy am I glad I did not ride the ACA route directly through that mess.

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Beyond the capitol campus is a sprawling array of industry growing off the Mississippi’s immense shipping potential.

I spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around downtown and eating a very good but super expensive bowl of corn crab bisque before catching a bus and heading miles out of downtown to find a grocery store. Along the way I notice the absolutely terrible infrastructure for biking, walking, and transit.  Bus stops sit in marshy grass alongside the highway with no sidewalk access whatsoever – you must walk along the highway shoulder. Seriously?

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A sad bus stop on a large surface highway. Seriously, no wonder mostly only poor people ride the bus. Why would anyone want to ride a system with such poor service and a strong stigma?

For the first time on this trip (in city setting) I am hyper-aware of being white, the city being about 40% white and 50% African-American. What’s more, the casual culture in this part of the country is so different from the serious, business focus in the northeast and the progressive elitism in Seattle (generalizing significantly). The whole thing feels very strange. These and other factors come together to create a feeling of otherness my background has typically made non-existent. Another reason people should travel more.

On my way back to my host’s home it begins to pour and, by the time I get off the bus, water is pooling all over the place. I need to walk about 6 blocks and I try the main street but traffic is heavy & fast and there is no sidewalk. I turn to a side street, also with no sidewalk, and wade through as much as a foot of water while I watch residents scramble to move their vehicles to higher ground. Poor Baton Rouge, they cannot catch a break!

I finish the night making one of my signature sweet potato-based healthy dinners for Scott & myself, then learn about his family’s encounter with the flood over a few beers at his local watering hole. They’re about to return to their home after almost four months living in a hotel!

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