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Rain and Catfish Po Boys

I have been to Louisiana three times before. Each time I went to New Orleans, each visit was unique, as the group I traveled with changed. Jamie was with me for two out of the three trips and was with me during our stop at Bossier City as we continued through the southern United States. When I think of Louisiana, a plethora of things come to mind: Jazz music, the Second Line, excellent food, memorable stories and temporary friends, beautiful architecture and sleepy bayous, and also the less desirable, such as forgotten roads and inclement weather.

Bossier City Campground, Louisiana

The drive to Bossier City was a bladder check most of the way down the road, and hunting for our campground was a quest. The ditches on either side of the road had flooded due to the recent downpour, and the county called for sandbag allotments on the radio to alert locals to get ready for the rainy season. Groves of skinny trees looked more or less like swamp scenes from the first twenty minutes of a suspenseful blockbuster movie. The roads weren’t washed away but suggested they could be with a moment’s notice. Our weather app was routinely updated with flash flood warnings in nearby parishes. I paused for a moment, breathed in through my nose, and was instantly transported back to my first visit to Louisiana. There’s a smell I associate with that trip that I never noticed before but cannot forget. It’s a bit sour and chemically damp, but not wrong. To the trained nasal compass, I was overwhelmed with what happens in a humid climate when an old car is blasted with water, either sitting or moving, as it finds its way through the metal parts and oil. Water and oil don’t mix, but they sure do create a witch’s brew in the air, and when combined with the sweetness in the dear, damp South, my senses were both confused and fascinated.

Crossing over a double-lane road, we abruptly stop for a railroad that is about a car length in from the main drag. It's not exactly the best place to stop an RV, let alone any vehicle of length. The train tracks sit up higher, no doubt to protect the train from flooding, and then immediately, the road drops back down again as we pass a storage facility on our right. We prayed that we would not bottom out on this hump. Had that not been enough excitement, continuing down the lane is an entry to our RV park, with a lovely little sign that lets us know we have hit the end of parish-maintained roads. Oh, joy.

These signs exist everywhere, from the hills of Malibu to the parishes of Bossier City, it would seem. Perhaps it was here that the term ‘pothole’ was defined. Carefully meandering over another hump into a wide area with a forgotten building that at one chapter held either a restaurant or party hall for rent, turning right into the RV park is a little building with instructions on what to do and where to go posted upfront. Dialing the number posted on the front of the office, a very nice woman told us to select a spot and text her the space number. We paid ahead of time, so we were all set.

Slowly crawling at a glacial pace through the park, we created a full tour of the park before selecting the last space in the middle, which was toward the back. We were already conscious of the rain, so selecting a site had far more to do with how flooded it was already versus how flooded it would be later after it rained more.

Having selected the lesser of evils, we put the truck in park and hope we made the right decision. Jamie jumped out of the truck and ran around the back to see about lining up with the utilities and called to me about my opinion. I popped open my door, put one foot on the ground that I was sure was solid, and started to slide. The ground was so saturated that what looked solid moved. 

Getting closer to the Airstream door, the footing was a little bit better. There were more rocks and gravel mixed in with the clay, so I had an easier time holding my ground to get a better gauge of things. Eventually, we settled on the fact that we would need to carry the boys from the truck and find drier spots for them to take potty breaks when possible. No matter what we did, there were going to be a lot of wet towels this time. 

It is safe to say that this was the fastest we have ever set up camp. Neither of us wanted to be caught in the rain for long, so we took advantage of the moments when there was a break in the rain to handle anything we could. Removing our shoes to come inside became somewhat of an affair, complete with artful positions so we could keep the mud outside, but our feet still dry without soaking our socks in the process. There’s a bench for the dinette immediately inside the door to the left that allows one to sort of dive in and pivot whilst kicking off a boot and letting it land on the exterior stair, grasping it with a hand and giving the boot a good ‘shake’ for posterity. Some of our efforts were in vain; keeping the mud out and the warmth in was a bit of a fool’s errand.

Inside the Airstream, the evening hummed with the enthusiasm of warm clothes and warmer food. The chill from the rain kept the outside cool enough but not cold, and finding a balance inside proved to be a bit of a challenge, combining comfort with not wanting to fog the windows so we could keep an eye on the weather. It was at this moment that I took it upon myself to check the elevation of our campground. One hundred eighty feet above sea level is a far cry from the 3200 feet we are used to at home. We were also a good one hundred fifty feet from the river’s edge. Perhaps not the best choice for a springtime camping spot in a known flood region.

Photo of a truck and RV in front of a tree.
Bossier City Campground, Louisiana

When the sun peaked out in the morning, the world was wet, but we hadn’t washed away, so luck was with us. The rain hit the Airstream all night long with thunder and lightning, which was beautiful to listen to and caused the boys to burrow under the covers. Benny managed to squish between the pillows, and Vito inserted himself into the blankets, something he only does when the weather hits below 30 degrees at home. 

Finding that it was far easier to take turns bringing the boys outside, we developed a routine that kept us busy but routine. I would take the boys outside to a drier spot to allow them to do their business and bring them into Jamie while he sat inside, ready with a towel to dry them off, wipe their paws, and inevitably brush off their undercarriage. Then, I would come in and repeat the boot removal routine from the night before. There was a lot of mud (and sliding), but we made it work.

Around 10:30 am, we piled into the truck to get a view of the nearby city and belabor over the decision to scope out a better campground that wasn’t so close to the riverbed. Bossier City is like a smaller, more humid southern version of Laughlin (my perspective). There are casinos and hotels and a large bridge that covers a river, but our focus was on what it will always be: food.

On a little side street with a few lounges and not much else is an eatery called Beaujax Crafthouse. Jamie parked the truck and jumped out to scrounge up a couple of Po Boys and boiled shrimp for later so we could go find a park to eat lunch and have leftovers for dinner. The weather had cleared enough for us to try to sample the local cuisine, and I am so glad that we did.

Down the parkway we went, where there’s a beautiful little park and a grove of trees surrounding a veteran’s memorial monument right in the median. Traffic was light, and as we twisted and turned around the parkscape, we made the most unusual turn into a parking lot, turned off the truck, and popped open the windows. With the amount of rain we had experienced, you can’t really ignore the humidity and that thick, cut-it-with-a-knife weight that bears down on your face and shoulders. Even with the heaviness of the weather, it was worth breathing in the circulating air that wasn’t filtered through the truck’s vents. I like sitting in the truck to eat. There's a control level there that I can't have with a picnic table or park bench. Making guesswork out of which corner a spider lives in or how quickly ants will discover my meal.

Photo of a Po Boy Sandwich, Sauce, and Chips
Catfish Po Boy, Beaujax Cafe, Bossier City, Louisiana

Cracking open the takeout containers, Jamie enjoyed a blackened shrimp Po Boy while I had catfish. The sandwich was good, but I enjoyed the sauce more than the sandwich. A Po Boy, for those that have not had them, is much more sandwich bread than filling. Think of it as a “poor man’s sandwich” – and this was that. It is quite the opposite of a muffuletta, though I really enjoy both. A Po Boy is a good option when you want to be full but not weighed down, and since the weather was so oppressive, this was certainly the best option. The catfish was light and flakey and just blackened enough to cause a crust, seasoned with black pepper and salt, wrapped in French Bread cut lengthwise with coleslaw. I do not know what is in the sauce, but it’s fabulous. Just enough zing to be interesting but calm enough so an easily aggravated belly can handle it. Served with a side of Zapp’s, I’m a satisfied customer. 

After lunch, we gave the boys enough of a wander to be satiated, having fully inspected the eagle statue and small bridge at the park, as well as the grove of trees, which I found romantic, magical, and casual. I imagine this is a good break from the grind for someone who works nearby. Something to pull them away from the land of cubicle walls and blue screens.

A Park with a Bridge
Veterans Memorial Park, Bossier City

On our way back to the campground, we swung by Another Broken Egg Café for takeaway beignets. These are not Café Du Monde beignets, but they do the job. They are a bit denser in the dough than I am used to, but they were powdered evenly and served with a warm marmalade and honey blend that really added where (I felt) the dough was lacking. It really made the dish work and served as a bit of sunshine when we returned to the RV park so we could prepare for the trip to Branson, Mississippi, in the morning.

It’s evenings like these, the uneventful ones where there isn’t much to do but stay indoors, that give time to pause, to appreciate the little things, like extra powdered sugar that sticks to my nose or the warmth of a sleepy, stinky dog curled up on my lap. Easing into an almost silent night, save the furnace kicking on to keep us warm and the pitter-patter of fat drops of rain hitting the roof, it’s the end to a perfectly imperfect day, and I would not have spent it differently.

Sunset at an RV Park
Sunset at the Bossier City Campground, Louisiana

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