The house is quiet early in the morning, unmoving except for a faint churning of mechanical heat somewhere behind walls. One of several cats stalks a moving shadow, slinking soundlessly between chair legs and stacks of books. Now and then comes the hiss and rush of a passing car on the street outside, or the dry crackle of newspaper pages turning, Miz Dee moving from South La. Business to People, seated in a pool of brightening light, her face and coffee cup silhouetted against the glass. From my place among these sofa cushions is a view out onto the 6:30 chill of a patio table still scattered with the leftover tokens of last night’s patio madness. Some bottles and glasses, an empty pack of cigarettes, a candle or two, and the errant leaf blown from the Bradford Pear, now floating with curled edges in a half-glass of beer. In this season the brick tiles are half covered with fallen leaves, a red-brown scatter jostled and shifting in the movement of November air. Birds are few this morning only because their special mix of thistle and sunflower seeds is still in unopened bags, and the feeders are empty of even the last half-hidden morsels. They seem faithless creatures deserting the garden at the first twinge of hunger.
My first full day in town yesterday was a blunt force reminder of the traffic that has characterized Baton Rouge in the aftermath of Katrina. People here will tell you that it all began with the grand exodus from New Orleans before and after the hurricane, and is exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure in the city’s street plan. Wednesday saw me driving in parts of town that I remember as wooded land, but now seethes with service roads, ramps and high speed car chases. Oddly enough the route I followed turned out to be easier than the directions, though it never provided an escape from the hot metal stricture of a thousand moving cars.
In only two days I seem to have become a familiar figure to the neighborhood walkers. For the second morning I encountered a small cast of jogger-walkers, most of whom offer a wave and a friendly smile. While only a few streets away the stream of traffic keeps air heated and grainy, in the virtual forest of Old Goodwood a wealth of green and fewer cars work to keep the air crisp and fresh. It must be related to the concrete surface, but I am walking faster here a distance equal to the Florida walks. Maybe it’s the new shoes.
‘Summer nights here in Baton Rouge trucks from the Louisiana Department of Insect Control hiss between houses and apartment buildings along adjoining streets, the compressor on the back shooting out a white spray like seeds from the crooked funnel of a harvester. A yellow light flashes on the top of the truck in a neighborhood where once lightning bugs blinked and flitted along childhood streets and among bushes and in treetops, and sometimes die only when caught and their glow smeared across the front of T-shirts.
— excerpt from Southern Snapshots