As soon as the sun sank over the bayou, I was confronted with the gravity and the depravity of our current situation. Up until that point, the three of us were having a great time. Rejoicing in the fact that after a fifteen-hour drive Larry Sparrow, Mad Anne Dandy, and Bloody Lynne Flynnt finally arrived in New Orleans. What little sleep we caught was at a truck stop in Birmingham at seven in the morning. MAD had to pry my hands off the steering wheel when we pulled into the State Park. Travel addled and beyond bedraggled and we still had to make camp. A torrential rain tore through two days ago, flooding most of the sites. Tents were assembled amid receding puddles. There I found I wasn’t the only one vying for the dry ground. “Ants in my pants!” I whooped, hollered, and jumped up and down.
“What?!” MAD and Larry Sparrow stopped shocked at my strange and sudden utterance.
“Ants!’ I threw down my tent poles and shook my leg furiously. It didn’t stop the bastards from biting me. At first I thought it was an exceptionally painful sunburn, until I looked down to see all those little red dots crawl up and under my pant leg. Booking to the water spout, I kicked it on full blast, and doused myself. “What?” I looked back to see MAD and Larry Sparrow staring agape.
“You okay?” MAD asked.
“Yeah, I stepped on some ants. I’m gunna change my pants.”
“Shot first?” She offered me a drink.
We were taking shots of $2.99 bottles of Rico Bay Rum mixed with dollar store juice jugs while we worked. “Fleur de Leurs” we jokingly called the drinks. It was a surprisingly palatable concoction. We named them after the votive holders/ shot glasses acid etched with Fleur de Lis to mark the momentous occasion of vending at Pyrate Week 2009. We kicked off this business venture cheap, after all we were there for a week. It was a meager dinner of franks and beans. Then we toured the campsites looking for the waterfront cabins that the brochure boasted only to find the tattered remains. Foundations poked out of the murky shoreline. The rest had been demolished in the hurricane. Through the tinted backseat window glass of my mates HHR the view looked even more brackish and ominous in the failing light. Luckily, I couldn’t see what MAD and Larry Sparrow witnessed in the front. Flies, mosquitoes, millions of them. The water was alive there were so many. The surface breathed. The water danced.
“Maybe we should get out of here,” Larry Sparrow said.
“Yeah, no shit.” I added as a grave wave of inexplicable and powerful paranoia began to take hold. We pulled back on to the road and drove past row after row of parked Rvs. Were we the only ones stupid enough to camp in tents here? Where the hell are the other pirates? Families settled in for the night. An retired couple walked their small dog. Alligator bait, I thought morosely. They waved at us as we passed. Larry Sparrow muttered the word “locals” and I unhinged. In my messed up mind he was right, they were locals. We were tourists. Worse, we were pirates and everyone was out to get us. There was a flood of films where hapless holidaymakers that met a fearful fate in a faraway land, films that I’ve never bothered to watch. I couldn’t help but think of my very own bed more than a thousand miles to the north.
“Did you see this place?! Security patrols, padlocks, dump stations, a water park? Where are we? A minimum security prison?!” I couldn’t hold it in any longer. My madness spilled out. “How cold is it supposed to get tonight?”
“43 degrees.” They said dry from the front.
“That’s bloody cold. Say, did you notice any fences to keep us away from the alligators?” I had only seen alligators in zoos and nightmares. “When I booked the campsite at Bayou Segnette State Park, I didn’t really think we camping in the actual bayou.” My voice rose an octave.
“We could just spend the night in the HHR.” MAD added. It was a brilliant idea and it made me wonder if my apparent panic was contagious. Ironically, having grown up in the back woods of Upstate New York, I was a fairly seasoned camper. This was her first time. I wasn’t setting a good example.
“You know, by the time we get our bedding and everything in here we could just go to sleep in the tents.” Larry Sparrow interjected with a voice of reason.
We were having none of it.
“You said so yourself, we we should have a movie night while we’re down here. Why not right now.” There was no way in hell I was leaving the vehicle, except to fetch my bedding. Swiftly and cautiously, I skirted puddles and sidestepped the little holes that littered the uneven ground. I hadn’t noticed them before and dreaded to encounter the creature that bore them. Keeping a weary eye on my surroundings, I pulled the sleeping bags from my cold unused tent. By the time I made it back to safety, the mosquitoes began to swarm. With the hatch open, I kicked into gear, fighting to make sense of the jumble of bedding before the insect invasion got worse. “Okay, this goes here, that goes there and there and-”
“Whoa, relax,” MAD steadied me.
“Mosquitoes,“ I muttered. “There are a hell of a lot more of them than there are of us.”
She left, braved the bayou to visit the head. Content spending the night bundled up safe in a vehicle that resembled a mini hearse, I briefly entertained the notion of venturing out to find our missing mate before our neighbors did. I saw the way they watched us set up our tents. She emerged from the shadows and sealed ourselves in for the night. Bathed in the glow of the laptop we were too exhausted to pick anything we settled on The Simpsons.
My mates slept stretched out vertically snoring loudly. I curled up between the wheel-wells, atop a pile of blankets, hard pressed for sleep and wishing there was something stronger than a Benadryl to knock my crazy ass out. My mind was thrown into override. I tossed about for the remainder of the night. Sporadically sweating and wracked with chills. Comfortable one minute, cramped the next and then everything would go numb. All the while wondering what the hell I was doing there. Unable to retire I took it upon myself to keep watch. Occasionally glancing out the back hatch, on the look-out for undead midget clowns stealing the quarter panels off the HHR. Thanks to a nightmare Larry Sparrow had in Birmingham that very morning I had to look out for those sonsofbitches too. For the sake of reality, I saw the news, stories about “tent cities” springing up as the economy spiraled. With homelessness on the rise, people called parks like this home- desperate people. I on the other hand was desperate to escape.
Morning came and the sun slowly crept up the window glass of the back hatch, baking us. The air was stale, stinking of sweat and our regrettable choice of supper. Ready to claw my way out like a premature burial, I gasped and grasped for the gusty gulf air.
“Mmmf- feet” I mumbled as Larry Sparrow stretched his legs on top of my face. Bound and determined, I crawled over my passed out mates to the hatch, forced it open, and spilled on to the ground. Breathing heavily and stretched out on my back, I saw it was a beautiful day in the bayou. Overhead the Cyprus trees were in full leaves blown by the temperate spring breeze. The morning sun peeled back the untold terrors we encountered during the night, revealing the same safe place that we found when we arrived. “This is a good camp.” The night was not without it’s casualties. The trusty HHR was dead in the water from a drained battery. In order to make room for more cargo it was someone’s brilliant idea to leave the jumper cables behind . It was our creepy RV neighbors who came to the rescue. We returned the favor with ample glasses of Rico Bay. They reprimanded for us watching cartoons with the daytime running lights on all night.
After entertaining every worst case scenario through the night it seemed the rest of our little excursion should be all sunshine and cypress trees. We successfully skirted our duties and didn’t have to check into the vending hall until the following day. Sunday was at our disposal. “So, what do we do?” One of us asked as we sat armed with instant coffee and hand-rolled cigarettes. We stared at each other for a moment. The answer was unspoken, an axiom as true as The Constitution. We said it anyway. “Bourbon Street.”