You are holding a first: Louisiana Life’s premiere travel issue, a special edition dedicated entirely to traveling throughout the state. At a time when “staycation” has become a new buzzword that suggests the merits of staying close to home in the face of high gas prices, we in Louisiana are blessed that staying provides so much to experience. There are places to see and cultures to explore.
Several years ago I was driving from Shreveport to New Orleans through the town of New Roads in Pointe Coupee Parish. It was late on a Sunday afternoon when I stopped for gasoline. The attendant was a gangly kid who spoke with a deep Southern drawl. When I asked him if there was an open restaurant nearby, he thought for a moment and then answered, “Yes, sir, there’s a really good place called Leroy’s.” He told me that I would not miss the spot located ahead along the False River waterfront.
Neither New Roads nor its waterfront are so big that Leroy’s should have been hard to find, but I did not see it. I did slow down at what appeared to be another restaurant. The logo on the sign was a crown above the restaurant’s name, Le Roi. OK, so the kid at the gas station had confused the French word for “king,” but he could be forgiven because he lived in the epicenter of Louisiana’s cross-cultural overlays.
Like all states, Louisiana has its blend of urbanites, suburbanites and rural folks, but the differences in Louisiana are spoken in more languages, reflected in more shades of skin colors and entrenched in more history than in most places.
Culturally, three of the traditional divisions in the state have been the Catholic/Acadian South, the Baptist/fundamentalist/Anglo North and cosmopolitan New Orleans. Throughout the state, though, the distinctions are becoming fuzzier.
Interstates 10 and 20 made it easy for Louisianians to travel east and west; Interstate 49 is binding North and South Louisiana. Before the interstate, travel was along tortuously slow, frequently dangerous but nevertheless picturesque state highways. Louisiana 1 was tops in all of those categories. Beginning in Grand Isle, a barrier island in the gulf, the highway rambles northward to Shreveport in the northwest corner of the state. Along the way the path crosses prairies, rivers, bayous and the Morganza spillway (where snow clouds of egrets sometimes watch the traffic) and maneuvers up and down hills. Approximately midway along its route is New Roads, a traditional country town where the lifestyle is now being influenced by a new force: commuters, folks living there but making the daily drive to Baton Rouge. New Roads, where fancy new homes and condos overlooking the placid False River lake are being built, is a reminder that while the cultural landscape of Louisiana is continually shifting, there’s no denying an underlying heritage –– one that still hopes for every man to be le roi.