I arrived on time at Camardelle’s Seafood on the morning of July 23. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (LDWF) was giving media boat tours for journalists. Bo Boehringer, press secretary of the LDWF sent this email message just before my trip to Louisiana:
“Due to the number of requests we receive, and limited boat resources, a pool media boat arrangement is in place with the cooperation of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.”
However, when I arrived there I only saw LDWF trucks parked outside, and no one waiting for those attending the media boat tour. I called LDWF and was told that because of tropical storm Bonnie the 10 am media boat arrangement had been cancelled. LDWF was evacuating its workers and equipment.
It was a brutal 86 degrees. Rather than stand around in the heat I figured I’d make the best of my remaining time in Grand Isle and speak to someone.
I crossed the street to the side of “Camardelle’s Live Bait.” It seemed empty and lifeless so I walked further up only to meet Roger Camardelle, the owner of the camp ground and its boat stalls.
Camardelle, 78, sat comfortably in the shade on a bench swing and armed with a green fly-swatter. Camardelle, now retired, worked as a fisherman and bus driver.
Since the Gulf oil spill Camardelle’s camp grounds have been shut down, and shrimping has been closed off.
Only about a month prior President Obama visited this area to meet with small business owners affected by the spill. Though Camardelle did not meet him he did see Obama “from a distance.”
“I think when he goes places he says things people want to hear,” Camardelle said. He believes that when Obama is in Washington his story changes.
“You can’t operate all the time and not have a mishap,” Camardelle said. Despite the spill, and potential dangers of similar deepwater oil operations Camardelle opposed the oil drilling moratorium. Many oil industry jobs are created in states such as Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, Camardelle said.
“This moratorium is gonna hurt a lot of people,” he said. “I hope they abandon the moratorium and let those people work.” Camardelle suggested that perhaps the leak would not have occurred had there been more than one blowout preventer at the Deepwater Horizon.
Camardelle attributed much of the fault to the government.
“I think the government failed on a lot of things but they don’t wanna take blame for nothing. Always point the finger at someone else,” he said. “It’s all about money,” Camardelle said on future reforms that might affect the oil industry.
With Bonnie approaching that weekend I asked Camardelle what he thought about it.
“It’s got everybody a little bit nervous,” he said but referred to Bonnie as a “little disturbance” that was keeping people on their toes.
From Camardelle’s seafood I walked over a bridge that overlooked the waters around Grand Isle. At this bridge I discovered an abandoned tackle box some fisherman had left there. Though there was a slight chance that someone had merely forgotten it I believed that whoever left it was discouraged by the oil spill and purposefully abandoned it there.
A knife probably used to cut the fishing lines was left there, as well as baits and lures. Pieces of fish bait were also left around the wooden platform of the bridge.
In a nearby neighborhood I met several Louisiana residents.
Siam Jackson, 51, arrived in Grand Isle on July 22 with his wife Trudy Moran. Moran, 47, and Jackson, who reside in Gonzalez, Louisiana, were attending the Island Aid Concert to donate money and show some support for community residents.
Jackson also believed the government erred in putting forward the moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.
“They need to lift it,” he said. “This is oil country.”
Henry Martin, 61, a retiree of the oil industry, said he saw the disaster as serving a purpose, or an agenda to go green.
“Just because BP is a bad actor doesn’t mean everybody is,” Martin said. He also added that the government failed in its duties. “They were the sheriff and they didn’t do their job.” Martin also believed that MMS (Minerals Management Service) and the US Department of the Interior “should be held accountable.”
Martin said he believed the cleanup effort was improving but understood that some things such as fishing would not come back over night. Martin acknowledged that there were “different lenses” for the fishermen and shrimpers who make a living on fishing.
“A big disaster of it comes in,” Martin said.
“I just hope our luck hangs on,” Jackson said.
I found my time amongst Jackson, Martin, and their wives most positive. Just before I interviewed them Jackson had noticed the sweat trickling down from my brow, and gave me a bottle of water fresh out from their cooler. In all honesty without that refreshing water I might not have had enough energy for the rest of that day.
Their humor, smiles, and generosity were true southern hospitality.
Yet for all the hospitality and beauty of Grand Isle I must confess that because of the BP oil spill, and its effects on the community, my time there was a downer. I looked forward to seeing New Orleans, and visiting the bars along Bourbon Street.
I boarded the trolley on Canal St. As a New Yorker that is used to burning cash for his rides around New York City it was an unexpected pleasure to pay merely one dollar and take the trolley all the way down to Bourbon St.
At Bourbon St I went straight for an oyster bar that looked good enough for my appetite (I was insanely hungry and curious to try NOLA’s renowned oyster cuisine). There I visited Pier 424, a Seafood Market restaurant located right on Bourbon St. As soon as I saw the menu I ordered the Royale Oysters, which are fresh oysters baked and topped with crabmeat stuffing.
The waitress that served me let me know beforehand that the oysters they were serving were smaller than those normally served. I asked her if it was a result of the oil spill, and she confirmed that it was.
Nevertheless, I was happy when I was brought the oysters, and I could tell they were delicious despite their size. I savored each bite with the small fork I used to pinch each one. They were absolutely delightful, and afterward I washed them down with a nice glass of Bacardi Rum, and coke.
I continued down Bourbon St checking out one of its souvenir shops, avoiding the naughty establishments (there are quite a few x-rated places there), and observing street entertainers that appeared as steel statues. Horse carriages periodically passed around the corners as I walked down the street. I definitely enjoyed the party atmosphere of the French Quarter in New Orleans. It did not disappoint. Everywhere I went there was something to see, or some different food to try out.
I made my way to one bar where a band was playing live, all be it, Jackson 5, and Michael Jackson music. “Voodoo Blues,” “the Cat’s Meow”—there were plenty of entertaining bars, and restaurants I would have loved to have checked out. The last bar I visited had a blues band playing live music as well. I enjoyed my last few glasses of rum and coke while speaking with the bartender there.
At that bar one patron got up to the band members and sang “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” I have to admit she did a pretty good job of it and got other people in the bar rocking to the beat.
That was my experience there in New Orleans. When I left the bar outside I imagined people on the balconies during Mardis Gras, and the ridiculous noise that must emanate from those streets. Perhaps I’ll come back again someday.
I enjoyed my time for the remainder of the night before paying another dollar to return aboard the trolley. I arrived at my place of stay a bit tired but satisfied with having visited another American city, and seen what people only hear about when they watched the news.
I lay down in bed, closed my eyes, and rested for the next day’s early morning flight.