Roads Less Traveled

 

I never made it to the snake farm. That used to be one of the sites along Airline Highway (U.S. 61) as it stretched between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In the days before interstates, traffic moved a lot slower along the old federal and state highways. The roads were designed to get you where you were going, but not necessarily in a hurry, partially because when you reached a town there were stop lights, whether they were needed or not. Interstates are a marvel, but they’re just not as quirky. Promises extracted from parents to stop at the snake farm on the next trip were forgotten with age and interstates. Some places were an easier sell, such as Rousselle’s, a must-stop restaurant in LaPlace, ideal for a rest along the way after travelling 25 miles from New Orleans. The building had an art deco style, which was perfect for the spirit of a highway called “airline,” a word meant to connote the modern concept of direct travel. In the Metairie stretch of the highways, there was a billboard for a restaurant, the St. Regis, that boasted of serving something called “shrimp in shorts.” The sign’s image showed a shrimp, wearing a bathing suit, diving into a pool to depict a fried shrimp dish in which a bit of the the shell (the shorts) was left, presumably for easier handling.

According to legend, the construction of Airline Highway was strongly supported by then Governor Huey Long, who appreciated that it reduced the travel time from what was then the Governor’s mansion to the Roosevelt Hotel, his favorite New Orleans haunt, and whose general manager was also the Long political organization’s treasurer. To this day, there are legends of the “deduct box,” a chest which contained a percentage of state employees’ wages that were deducted for political campaigns. (There is even an exhibit in the current Roosevelt Hotel lobby.)

East of New Orleans in the pre-I-10 days, Highway La. 47 was part of the route to the Gulf Coast. At Little Woods a routine was spotting the names on the mailboxes of the fishing camps that lined the way. There were fun names like “Joe’s Place,” “My Retirement,” or “Fishing Hole.” Though the interstate would one day divert the traffic, Katrina eradicated the scene in ’05, leaving behind a sad regiment of empty piers.

This edition talks about short trips, and though I-10 has changed the scene, it has made possible going farther quicker. There are no snake farms anymore and shrimp no longer wear shorts; still there are places to explore, each a blend of the past with modern conveniences We urge taking the trips. They are tomorrow’s memories today.


 

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