Southern Hospitality

I’m interested in macro photography, so I tend to notice the insects of the world everywhere I go. Some of them hitch rides on my camping gear after I pack up, and thus I have become a traveling caravan for creatures wishing to relocate to the next state. Every area seemed to have its own bug. In Idaho, it was earwigs (ew). Earwigs everywhere, packing little earwig-bags and following me into Montana. In Iowa, it was grasshoppers. In North Carolina I found two snails on my tent one foggy morning at 4000 ft on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In Georgia, there were the fat black caterpillars – aka oakworms, a serious and destructive pest in that region.

caterpillar

I met this hairy little dude in Alabama.

In Mississippi, it was fireflies. I haven’t seen them since I was a kid. It happened mainly by accident, stopped on the over-groomed Natchez Trace Parkway during sunset, trying to find something to photograph. I set up my tripod but the road wasn’t looking right. Discouraged and staring off into the weeds, I noticed that some of the weeds were winking at me. I approached and could see small insects hovering, their bodies lighting up dazzling neon-yellow. I felt like I’d stumbled across a stash of pixie dust.

In Louisiana, it was mosquitos. I searched for a place to camp before Baton Rouge, but I went past it and halfway to New Orleans before I found an abandoned lot quite close to Hwy 61. There was an occupied residence just 200 yards back, and normally I wouldn’t park so close to someone’s home, but it was the best spot I’d seen in a hundred miles. I set up my tent and heated up some frozen etouffe I’d purchased earlier at a local store. In the time it took to warm the chunks of crawfish, I was beset by more mosquito bites than I’d picked up the entire week I spent on the dock at the Dragon. For the first time, I sprayed myself down with insect repellant, but a few determined Louisiana mosquitoes would continue to bite me. I ate the crawfish soup inside the protective walls of my tent, and wore earplugs to block to sound of the very nearby highway.

In the morning I was awoken at 8:30AM by the sound of a hand rustling my fabric walls. “Hello,” I said in my high girlish voice. It was probably past due that I got some kind of flack from all the trespassing I’ve been doing in the last few weeks. I unzipped the tent and poked my head out the flap. The situation was much worse than I had hoped: it was a cop, his car parked on the shoulder of the highway.

“Sorry to wake you,” he said. “Got some calls about someone here, wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” I said, trying to look extremely innocent as I wiped the sleep from my eyes. “My headlights died last night and I was afraid to keep going.” There was some truth behind that story: my taped down pass-light had come unstuck a couple of times, leaving me in complete blackout riding at 70mph at least twice. It was not an especially fun experience. “Then I couldn’t find my campground.” This was definitely an outright lie. I haven’t seen a campground in weeks, let alone slept in one. Yesterday I washed my hair at a rest-stop washroom on the Natchez Trace.

“Not much camping round here,” he said, watching me remove the rainfly of my tent. “You don’t have to pack up just yet, you’re fine here.”

“Thanks,” I said, surprised at how well this was going.

“Where’re you coming from?”

“Vancouver, Canada.” It used to be Vancouver BC, but ever since I hit Virginia, people have stopped being familiar with Canadian western geography.

“Wow, and where are you headed to?”

“New Orleans.”

“Any place in particular?”

“No, just tourist stuff. French Quarter. I’ve never been.”

“Cool, I’m originally from New Orleans. You just take your time. Can I get you anything, maybe some coffee?”

I froze, halfway through rolling up the rainfly, glancing back toward the parked police car. Had I set up my tent too close to the road after all? Maybe some sleepy semi had run me over and I was now caught in a bizarre afterlife where cops waited on me. “I – I’m fine, thanks,” I said.

“Suit yourself.” He strolled back to the car, looking over his shoulder. “You’re in Louisiana now. People gonna offer you things.”

I packed half my camping gear. Three hours from noon and it was already blazing hot. The last of my water was gone and I was messing with video footage back in my tent when the squad car returned. The friendly officer stepped out, a large styrofoam cup in his hand. “Here’s some coffee,” he said, holding it out to me. I took it. “I wouldn’t be much of a Christian if I didn’t bring this out to you.”

He left and I rode to New Orleans. It is peculiar looking city, with narrow streets and old weather-worn buildings. There is a lot of foot traffic, and the amount of tourists surprises me, as does the demographic: it seems like mainly families and retired couples. Everywhere I look, people are smiling, and they speak openly on the street. It is a bit of a culture shock to me, coming from Vancouver, notorious for its polite but standoffish citizens.

I was consulting my GPS on the street when two city workers paused to comment on my laden motorcycle. “I’m looking for a pizza place,” I said.

“What kind of pizza? Dominos?” one asked, a heavyset woman with her hair tied back.

“New Orleans pizza,” I said. When I was a kid, my favourite pizza place was a small chain called New Orleans Pizza. I figured I’d get the real thing here.

“We don’t have our own pizza,” the woman said. “You want Chicago pizza. Or New York pizza.”

“Oh. Well, I want New Orleans food then.”

“There’s a good Mexican place up the street,” the other worker told me. “Felipe’s. Two blocks ahead, turn left.”

“No, I want New Orleans food.”

“This is an international city,” he told me. “No one’s really from here and we don’t have our own food.”

So I went to Felipe’s and ate this chimichanga, which could have come from Jupiter and I wouldn’t care because it was completely delicious.

chimichanga

Later I looked for a camera shop. As I have decided to try to shoot more video, I needed some equipment upgrades to help with camera stabilization. It turns out that New Orleans, along with not having its own food, doesn’t have a real camera shop either. I did manage to find an inexpensive fluid head, so my plan is to shoot with that and perhaps ship a glidecam off the Net. For that I’ll need a mailing address, either in Louisiana or southern Texas where I’m headed next … any volunteers?

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