Right near my office is the official Louisiana Welcome Center, or at least one of them. Like most any public work in LA it’s a simple affair, every expense spared to help line someone's pockets with the savings. A pair of buildings set cat-a-corner to each other make up it's layout, connected by wrap-around porches and fronted with a deep parking lot designed for everything from cars to those massive fifty foot motor homes (with attendant paint-matched car towed behind) that always seem to be exiting the interstate to stop over. This morning was no exception; there was a motorcoach parked there having it’s windshield cleaned by the owner. What caught my eye was not the coach itself but what it was towing; not a car but a trailer.
The trailer was white, glossily so. It was riding on a small, narrow pair of wheels, thin as a whore’s promise. They didn’t look strong enough to hold up the apparent weight of the thing, as it was big: a thin tube, round at the front, tapering toward the end some thirty feet away and just a few feet wide. At the very end was a peculiar, up-thrust keel, making it look as though some emaciated Giant had died and this was his form-fitted coffin being towed to some unhallowed cemetery. The image gnawed at me for some time: what could possibly ride in a trailer that narrow, that long?
I knew no sailboat would look like that, not just a few feet thick, and besides the keel would be in the middle and very long and deep, not a small, tail-mounted affair. This being the Sportsman's Paradise I've seen my share of sailboats, and even broken into bits this was no sailboat. Perhaps a submarine?
I bandied about the idea of it being the travel trailer for a land-speed vehicle: it’s missle-like length and fin would suit the rocket-ship shape of some of the fastest land-speed vehicles but Louisiana is a long way from the Bonneville Salt Flats, and those ridiculously thin tires would never hold the weight of a massive engine.
It took an hour of pondering to occur to me: it was a glider. Wings detached and laid alongside, the bump at the end the housing for the rudder, and the tires need not carry but possibly a hundred pounds if that, the aircraft being ultra lightweight. I could only imagine what destination the owner was bound for, what vast silent skies.
Working On The Chain Gang
Louisiana doesn't have chain gangs anymore, but we do have lots of things for "trusties" to do. There's a huge farm near here that grows a lot of the food used in the parish jail, and there's always a road gang out picking up litter on the highways and back roads. I passed one this morning--a big white secure transport covered in electric blue LED flashing lights, an overweight prison guard and a number of youngish guys in white jumpsuits with numbers on the backs and over the pockets, each wearing reflective safety vests and carrying either trash sacks or weed-trimmers. They were working behind the DOTD's bush-hog tractors, picking up the bits and pieces of trash that the spinning blades had sent across the medians during last week's cut.
Coming back toward the office I slowed, as I always do. Not so much to gawk but to make sure I have operating room 'just in case.' As I passed, the main knot of trusties was up under the shade cast by overhanging trees along the edge of where the cutters could reach, collecting bits and pieces of trash and clearing away splintered wood and branches where the machines trimmed the overhang.
What caught my eye was one good-sized fellow, stepping up out of the ditch and onto the shoulder. Personally he was a study in colours--his skin was so black as to appear purple in the difuse morning light, made darker so in contrast to his white prison-issue jumpsuit. The sweat of his exertions made his skin gleam like wet leather, and his muscles were obvious. His grin was a white scythe of moon in a night sky, and this grin was caused by his burden.
Gripped carefully by the outside edges of it's shell was a huge turtle; deep muddy green on top, burnished old ivory yellow on it's bottom, it looked for all the world like a huge chunk of moldering tree trunk. The trustie held it like an empty serving platter, nearly parallel to his chest but out, to avoid the big, clawed feet flailing around for purchase.
For just the briefest moment I could see the kid he'd been--eager, exploring the world with eyes and ears and mouth and hands, all wide-eyed wonder. He was carrying this monster turtle across the road to put it back in the standing water swamp that abuts the highway there, no doubt where it originated. It made me feel good to see this man offering a simple kindness, speaking as someone who has often braved a sharp bite from a red-eared snapping turtle while trying to get it out of the flow of traffic.
I can't imagine what if any ribbing he got from his fellow inmates, and certainly don't know for what offense he was incarcerated. None of that really mattered in the brief seconds I saw him. What mattered was that he was willing to do what he felt needed doing and the consequences be damned.
This time what needed doing just happened to involve a morning, a road gang, a nearby swamp inlet and a fifty pound turtle.