Busted Flat in Baton Rouge

There’s a thick, spreading sense of ruin along the lower Mississippi, no matter the time or the season. Others more qualified than myself have described the river’s otherworldly languor, but this effect seems one with the low blanket of humidity that stretches from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Some days you feel like the sound of a wrench dropped on the floor could echo clear across town.

It was one of those days on Monday. I drove my truck through Baton Rouge and parked by the river, walked with the dog over the Army Corps retention wall, and stood on a four-story riverboat dock that gets completely submerged when the flooding is high. I drove back with the air conditioning up, listening to the president’s speech on the marathon bombing. I noticed how his words echoed the Bush years, of hunting down these folks and bringing them to justice.

“What if they’re not terrorists?” I thought to myself. “What if they’re Americans?” Then I realized that there was a time, just a dozen years ago, when the two were not considered mutually exclusive.

The truck was having trouble starting. Every fourth or fifth try, I’d turn the key and the lights would come on, and I’d hear a click, but get no action from the engine. I mulled getting it looked at for free by the delinquent teenagers at AutoZone while I stocked up on liquor at the adjoining Walgreen’s, but instead I stopped at a windowless Thai restaurant and slept on it. In the morning, before making the three-hour trip to DeRidder, I took the truck to a mechanic.

Jeff Cobb stood on the concrete at Jeff Cobb Auto Works, surrounded by cars, too busy to help with my truck. He called a friend of his at another shop—”Good morning Vickie, you having fun yet?”—and gave me directions up the road. Past one light, through Fried Chicken Land, right on North Street, it’ll be on the right. I thanked him and rattled down the block with my problem. A mechanic named Greg had a new starter solenoid installed within an hour.

Then I went to the bank, got an envelope of cash, and hit the interstate to Lake Charles, where I’d turn northward into the sticks. Somewhere in a soldier’s backyard, my camper was waiting.

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