There’s really no other way to put it. The drive from New Orleans to Laredo is a slog. Pure and simple. Just over a thousand miles, it passes through some fairly featureless country. However the first part of the drive is truly impressive. I refer to the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, something of an engineering miracle. As you know, New Orleans is basically in the middle of a giant swamp. Perhaps one of the biggest swamps in the world. Even if it’s not, there are few places that blur the line between terra firma and open water so much as South Louisiana. Hence the Basin Bridge, or causeway. At 18.2 miles, it is the second-longest bridge in the US and fourteenth-longest in the world by total length, and crosses alligator-infested swamps. And in fact, it’s actually two, parallel, identical bridges, so maybe if you put them end-to-end, they can move up the list. I’m always amazed when I go over it by the difficulty of putting a freeway right through the middle of a swamp. Yet there it is, filled with people whizzing by at 85 mph, not giving it a second thought.
The second impressive bit of engineering is the Horace Wilkinson Bridge over the Mississippi at Baton Rouge, which suddenly rises out of the horizon. After those two engineering feats, the drive is relatively dull until you get to Houston.
And in Houston, aside from the amazing skyline, I had the pleasure of dining with my old friend, “N,” who is a political science professor, musician, and all-around good guy. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, but as with truly good, old friends, it was like we were never apart. The three hours we spent together flew by, and then I had to go.
My plan had been to stay in a motel on the outskirts of Houston in some place like Sugarland. But despite the five hour drive from New Orleans, I was energized by our dinner, so I kept driving until I reached Edna, Texas, which more than a destination just became the nexus of fatigue, darkness, and an an available motel that didn’t look too dodgy. However that didn’t stop me from imagining a western-themed drag queen named Edna Texas, smoking, lip-syncing western songs, and twirling a rhinestone encrusted lariat before I fell asleep.
The next morning I headed toward Laredo, continuing southwest on 59. I wanted to get there early, as I still had to buy Mexican car insurance, and take care of a few other errands. Around Victoria, I made a wrong turn, and didn’t realize it for about 50 miles. Though I wasn’t far off track, I did have to go through a lot of little towns, where I was forced to join normal traffic, stop at lights, etc. As I neared Laredo, the terrain began to look more Mexican, with low scrub and cactus along the freeway.
Laredo itself seems almost part of Mexico. Everywhere I go, I hear more Spanish than English. I even saw a guy at a light washing windows for money. Though late, I took a quick spin through the old downtown. It looks very Mexican, built around a Zócalo. But unlike a Mexican town, the Zócalo was dead, and the whole area seemed kind of eerie, with poor street lighting, narrow streets, and only a few homeless people wandering around.
Tomorrow morning, I will pick up Tino of Tinisimo Blogger at the bus station, take him around for a few errands here, and then he will accompany me across the border, where I will then drive him home to Monterrey. Wish me luck. The crossing is likely to be the most nerve-wracking part of the journey. Until then, saludos.