Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Louisiana, United States

Louisiana, United States,New Orleans. “The Big Easy.” A place where the slow and relaxed tempo of Southern living combined with a unique French and multi-cultural flair.The City’s motto was “Laissez les bons temps rouler”, let the good times roll. The annual Mardi Gras, which reflected the motto, was known worldwide for its immoral excess and constant revelry. It attracted upwards of a million people each and every year.

The French Quarter of New Orleans held particular reverence for Joe Barristar. Although he had been born in the Northeastern part of the United States, he loved the freewheeling and bawdy behavior of the population. From the alcohol hazed strip joints on Bourbon Street to the hung over crazies who practiced walking on their hands on the edge of a two hundred year old stone bridge, this heart of New Orleans had its own unique beat.

Unfortunately, this weirdly happy but “sinking” City always seemed to be the bull’s eye for some type of disaster. Although New Orleans was protected by levees, Hurricane Katrina quickly breached them and turned many areas of the City into swampy death traps. People who were foolish enough to ignore the warnings of disaster were stranded for weeks surrounded by filthy water and constantly under assault by vermin of all kinds.

When the Gulf oil spill happened, it was no surprise that New Orleans would be among the first to experience its impact. Within a few days, oily ooze crept ever closer to the City and the coast of Louisiana. New Orleans fishermen immediately experienced the mess that would shut down their livelihoods and devastate many places on the Gulf coast.

Cajuns and some Creoles

The history of the Cajun is a bit unique. In 1765, the British exiled the French-speaking ancestors of these folks from Acadia, known today as Nova Scotia. In the greatest mass migration in colonial American history, thousands of survivors of the French and Indian War trekked to Louisiana and areas in and around New Orleans.

Cajuns and their Creole cousins shared a similar French foundation. However, the Creoles considered themselves to be civilized city dwellers, the la crème de la crème of New Orleans society. To the bitter end, which came about the time of the Civil War, they stubbornly held on to their French connections. The Cajuns, on the other hand, considered themselves to be rugged self-sufficient country folk. They settled along the bayous and swamps, and avoided city society. These distinctions did blur overtime, but the best of both French cultures were preserved.

Cajun Accident

Early in his early engineering career, Joe did some work around the levees and learned the meaning of “everybody is everybody’s cousin”. It was a phrase reverently and fondly used when referring to the clannish behavior of Cajuns.

His work involved a couple of good ole Cajun boys who fell out of their home built flat-bottom fishing boat, and then drowned. Folks standing on the nearby levees saw the accident and provided great detail:

Apparently, the first good ole boy was steering the boat’s small outboard motor when he made a sudden and unexpected turn. Speculation was he saw some fish and wanted to get into position. After all, catching fish was key – but you had to watch out for those huge self-propelled barges that magically appeared going back and forth in and around New Orleans.

The second good ole boy, with fishing pole in hand and nothing to hang onto, fell into the water. The first good ole boy then jumped in to save him. One problem, in his haste to rescue his buddy, he forgot to turn off the outboard motor.

What happened next was predictable. Without an operator, the outboard motor did what outboard motors do, – and the boat locked into a hard turn to the right. Both fishermen were now trapped inside what boating experts call the “circle of death” created where water is being churned up with air from the spinning propeller. Since people can’t swim in an air water mixture, both good ole boys sank below the surface to be seen later by the local coroner.

Cajun Litigation

In one respect, the Cajun culture wasn’t a whole lot different from the rest of the country. Lawsuits for just about everything were the norm, and a double death case promised big money for the families of the deceased, the community “cousins”, and the local lawyers.

Cousins do come in handy. The attorney for the families of the deceased fishermen was somewhat of a distant relative. However, what was important was that the sheriff was related by marriage to one of the deceased and was the brother of the “other”. The judge, generally oriented to reaching into the deep pockets of industry anyway, was also related to the “other” deceased. Simply put, whenever the plaintiff attorney wanted or needed something he got it without question.

The first major plaintiff request was for a test to see if it was possible to replicate the accident. The original boat and original motor were available, but it was hard to get an accident perspective because of the location. No problem, the sheriff loaned out the department helicopter under the guise that it was training for his deputies and useful in promoting boating safety.

During the test, Joe was in a helicopter looking straight down at the circling accident boat. The test was going well. The instruments were working. Then the unexpected happened. The helicopter slowly spun around and comfortably settled in an open field.

The operator of the “copter” was cussing and Joe heard some new French versions of well known English curse words. However, the words that had the most impact were “this is the 7th time I’ve crashed in one of these “bubble” copters, and I ain’t flying ‘em again”. That was when Joe knew that being only 100 feet up in the air was much preferred to being 1000 feet up.

A meadow along side the levees was the crash site. The pilot had succeeded in putting the damage bird down about 50 feet from a major highway and less than 100 feet from the crowd of folks watching the test. He had also avoided a water landing which almost certainly would have resulted in injury or death, – particularly if a barge just happened to pass by.

Joe started to get out of the copter because there was some concern about the extent of the damage and maybe fire, but the pilot told him the field likely contained poisonous snakes and to best tread carefully. The phrase “Damned if you do or damned if you don’t” perfectly described the situation.

Normally, an aviation accident makes headline news. However, this accident was so rapidly hushed up that it never even made the back pages of the local newspaper or a broadcast on the local radio or television. Joe’s suspicion was that the editor of the local newspaper, who just happened to be the owner of the lone radio and television station, was related to someone on the plaintiff side.

For all intents and purposes, the crash was turned into a Cajun legend probably to be told to children to impress upon them that “flying isn’t safe – and maybe you should hang on when you’re fishing and the boat is moving.”

The entire incident was an impressive demonstration of how family ties affect politics and life in and around New Orleans.

Louisiana, United States Rating: 4.5 Diposkan Oleh: Arm Aritn

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