A man with convictions in Florida

NEW ORLEANS, La. – I was walking along the dark streets around our hotel, alone, when I stepped on something that couldn’t have been bigger than a frog but made a sound like a hurt squirrel and then skittered away. Skittered! Like that creature in The Grudge. What does that? Omigod.

Creepy end to a creepy day where we drove in and out of the most intense thunderstorms I’ve experienced. The worst hit us before we were out of Florida and we had to take shelter in a McDonald’s (again). Rain or not, I was headed back outside for a calming smoke – my legs had been shaking for 10 minutes, and that makes it really hard to maintain a safe speed in high winds.

There was a guy out there in a blue scrub-type shirt with something stamped on the left-hand pocket. His grey hair was shaved nearly completely and his eyes were watery blue. His arms were covered in monochrome tattoos, from wrist to shoulder; not one pattern but dozens of separate pieces. There was a large, unevenly ornate cross on the inside of his upper arm.

He bummed a smoke and said, nodding toward the truck, “Are you all really from Quebec? What’re you doing here in sunny Florida?”

I told him we’re on our way to Texas and he shook his head like we’re crazy (I’m beginning to believe he’s on to something there). “I’ve been to Canada,” he told me. “Not Quebec, but lots of other places. Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C., the Yukon.”

“The Yukon? That’s intense.”

He shrugged. “My dad worked there for a year, I was young. I went up later when my cousin moved to Alberta cuz he needed someone to drive the truck. Stayed a while, came home to Texas and Louisiana.”

“We’re spending two days in Louisiana – I can’t wait.”

“You gotta get you a piece of boudin,” he said, meaning a kind of Creole sausage. “Anyone who goes to Louisiana gotta get them some boudin.”

“And gumbo. The real stuff, not like we make at home.”

He licked his lips. “I’m gonna make me a pot of gumbo soon as I get home. I just got … I haven’t been home in a while. Waiting for someone to pick me up. A friend was supposed to take me home, but he just brought me far as his place and I had to call another friend to come pick me up here.”

“Nice friend,” I said.

“Yeah. He was on his way to drinkin’. I just hope the next one shows up soon.” We were nearly finished our cigarettes and he could see I was moving toward the door. The sky was clearing, miraculously. “You have a good rest of your trip, y’hear? Lots to see.”

“Sometimes I think life’s too short to see all the things.”

He laughed. “I dunno ‘bout you, but my life’s feeling shorter every day.”

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