It's my last night in Baton Rouge. My last night in this hotel. It's been a long, strange two weeks, I can tell you for certain.
The smoking patio of the hotel is an interesting little spot in itself. A simple covered patio, dressed with a black iron fence and decorative stones lining it, matching the carefully placed stones of the patio. It overlooks the side parking lot of the hotel, right into the side parking lot and the slab-side of a Comfort Inn and past that the even taller stone and glass walls of an Embassy Suites. The little strip of road in front of the hotels is faced by a thirty foot tall concrete wall, intended to block the constant roar of traffic from the ten lanes of interstate traffic just on the other side. At the front corner of the parking lot is one of those monstrously huge billboards, a double-sided giant made of brown steel girders and catwalks, huge spotlights and a massive pair of blank faces staring out over the interstates.
The last two weeks when I've wandered out onto the patio to smoke a cigar I've been watched over by a massive image of Waylan Jennings. He stared out over the hotel and the parking lot and the little smoker's patio. Gentle eyes looking out of a wrinkled, tanned face, surmounted by a soft brown hat and a tan leather coat, he looksed like some sort of benevolent god watching over his chosen tobacco users. No smile on that huge face but a certain species of intent watchfulness.
The parking lot is always full of Audis and Jaguars, Mercedes Benzes and Lexus SUVs. Watch for a few minutes and you see a pattern in the people--a constant flow of black rolling luggage, laptop cases and middle-aged men and women with determine but tired expressions. Servants and workers in the service of the gods of industry and communication and banking.
This evening I had a huge hamburger from the restraunt brought up to my room which I devoured with alacrity, and with a full belly I took a cigar from my little humidor wallet and walked to the patio. I lit up, got the puro burning and glanced around. One of the numerous maintenence men was walking by in the parking lot; an old, thin brown man with a thick shock of black hair, dressed in a starched white button-down shirt and pressed black slacks, polished black shoes and belt. He was of that indeterminate age that Hispanic men seem to carry so well--somewhere between forty and a hundred, his face a map of wrinkles and furrows, his deep brown eyes hawk-like and intent.
He was pushing a yellow and black utility cart carefully arranged with brooms and mops, trash can liners and Wet Floor signs. What threw me for a moment was the fact that he was carrying a single fork from the dining room, and at one point when he returned to his cart he placed it back in the center with a practiced motion. I still don't know what he was using it for, but it wasn't being returned to the kitchen, it had a very specific but unseen purpose.
Being me, and being in the reflective mood I was in, I had no trouble seeing this man standing not in front of a yellow Rubbermaid service cart but a stone Aztec altar, not a fork but a razor-sharp bronze blade held in his hand, his enemy tied to the stone slab ready to have his heart cut out with practiced swipes and offered to the gods. The constant roar of ten lanes of traffic just behind the sound-deadening wall fell away and was replaced by the roar of wind sweeping across the mountains, the sharp sound of a truck's airbrakes turned into the scream of a hunting bird high in the clear sky.
I looked up to see what Waylan thought about all this but Waylan wasn't there anymore. Sometime between the moment I drove in this afternoon and the time I returned to the patio, sometime during my suppper Waylan had been replaced with a young, lean, muscled man in black boxing trunks with the word "Punishment" embroidered across the waist band. His hugely muscled arms crossed over his oiled chest he glowered down on the patio with the purest hatred in his eyes, his brows beetled sharply down, a warrior in the upcoming cage match at the local casino. An angry young god, new and determined to prove himself, ready to smite and destroy, ready to leave no stone standing on another in his determination to prove himself worthy of godhood.
I finished my cigar and put it carefully in the spun aluminum repository for butts, opened the glass and chrome door with my magnetic key and stepped back into the faux Art Deco bar, over to the elevator bank and back to my room, identical to every other room in this monolithic place. Not unsure, just...ready to leave this place of unceasing noise and constantly changing faces. Ready for the old gods of my home.