Eric Orgeron – The Edison of Airline Drive

FRANK METHE PHOTOGRAPH

“Trouble is only opportunity in work clothes.” – Henry Kaiser

hree things you can assume with certainty about Eric Orgeron as he sits in his office in the tiny blond-red brick building on Airline Drive that used to be headquarters of Troop B of the Louisiana State Police: 1) he won’t be sitting there for long; 2)  you won’t be bored if you tag along with him for his next ride; and 3) his itch to invent will be never be eliminated, and somebody’s life somewhere on this planet will be changed.

First, who in the world finds profit in getting rid of your “ugly yellow headlights?”

If you drive down Airline Drive, no doubt you’ve scratched your head in amazement about that odd looking semi-circular canopy emblazoned with messages beckoning you to come in and get rid of your scratched up, dim, yellow headlights.

“It’s not the biggest business in the world, but it helps pay the rent,” Orgeron says matter of factly.

While waiting there for the next customer to drive up seeking the cure for this pandemic, Orgeron will share the secrets of his cheesecake recipe. He might also break out the box that holds his migraine headache curing helmet, show you the jiggly lures he invented to help the weekend fisher haul in more than a fair share of red fish and speckle trout and he’ll pull out photos of his souped up fiberglass pirogue, the one that looks like … anything but a pirogue.

Orgeron’s inventions and businesses – big and small, successful and not so successful – run the gamut and would seem to put him in a league with Thomas Alva Edison. But for every trip down this road or that path, he’s had nothing but stones and some were, and are, real boulders.

According to Orgeron there’s a wife out there somewhere who left him and three sons he hasn’t seen in a lifetime.

Right up there he says, in fact, is the foundation of all his entrepreneurial inventiveness, the biggie: he’s just about deaf.

“From all the way back when I was in high school, I wanted to be in business,” Orgeron says. “I was driven by that. Ran my own business. But even back then, and further back than that even, my hearing was a problem. I enrolled at UNO only to find out that I couldn’t hear a single word that was being said in any of my classes.” He continues, “Finally I had to admit, this is just not going to happen. So basically, I started educating myself.

And I decided to learn something new every day for the rest of my life. What happened was, my handicap became an asset. I began to look at every problem as an opportunity. Persistence and action alone are all powerful.

Every single project I started was engrained in my determination never to quit no matter what the odds against me were.”

Orgeron figures that when you get right down to it, life is a constant flow of epiphanies. What separates him from most other folk, he says, is that he’s always aware that those flashes of genius can come at any time and he is always open to them.

“Most people are too busy talkin’ onna cell phone or punchin’ in worthless text messages,” says an elderly lady sitting in an outer office waiting for Orgeron to work his magic on her headlights. “When that bolt of lighting comes, they’re too busy talkin’ to a friend about what some long lost boyfriend said last night.”

“Would you like to try one of my latest cupcakes?” Orgeron asks the customer. He doesn’t wait for an answer. He simply hands her a cupcake he’s retrieved from a baking pan in the nearby kitchen. The woman devours the cupcake in about four bites and smiles her approval. “Like another?” Orgeron asks.

Orgeron busily thumbs through this magazine and that trade paper, pointing out “new inventions” and offers his unsolicited advice on how they may be improved.

“Let me give you an example,” he says and you know something profound is coming. The lady with the cupcake has forgotten all about her ugly yellow headlights for the moment, she’s leaning forward, to pick up on Orgeron’s words of wisdom. “I picked up a young man on the highway one day. He had run out of fuel. We started talking and I said, ‘Maybe we can go fishing’ … just making conversation. He said, ‘I don’t have a boat, I just fish off the bank.’ I started thinking, maybe I can go to my shop and pull a pirogue off the mold and we’ve got a boat. Then I realized that a pirogue isn’t too stable … especially for two people. The second it turns over, you’ve lost all your equipment and the fishing trip is ruined.” He continues, “Stay with me here. Follow what I’m saying. I started thinking, ‘If I could put wings on the side … hmmmm. That would stabilize it. Then I remembered something from all my travels: a hinge. That would allow me to lift the wings … so I designed and engineered what you see here.” Orgeron shows a showroom quality boat with, well, wings jutting from the sides. “This took me about a year and a half to bring it to what you see.”

So where does he go from here?

“I’m going to use my ‘cheesecake money’ to get me to the point of having disposable income and I’ll start producing the boats.”

Orgeron rushes into another room and returns in a flash with a box. He pulls from it a well-constructed helmet.

“This cures migraine headaches,” he says. “There’s a pharmacist here in Metairie who had been having a lot of headaches. I let him use this helmet for a few days and he called me. He was thrilled with the results. His headaches were a thing of the past. ‘Send me all you’ve got,’ he said. ‘I’ll start selling them right here in my store.’” Orgeron held off on the offer because of patent considerations, but swears he and the pharmacist are still in touch.

Orgeron pulls out scrapbooks with photos of this invention and that refinement. With each new creation there’s a caveat or pitfall: “the industry started fighting us,” “wiped out by Hurricane Katrina,” “… a fire burned down my plant.”

“But I’ll never say ‘die,’” Orgeron swears. “Obstacles are there only to be overcome, only to test your will to get it done.”

The lady stands and heads for the door, ready to drive under one of the canopies off Airline Drive with her ugly yellow headlights revived to a resurrected new life.

She stops and turns and smiles at Orgeron.

The inventor is quick to pick up on this epiphany: “Like another cupcake?” he asks.
 

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