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Monday, March 26, 2001

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Baton Rouge

I had such a good sleep last night and woke up refreshed and ready to go. There was no bus so I walked about a mile into town but it was a beautiful day and I enjoyed my walk through the industrial part of town. I passed the a sheriff's station and a convict was doing yard work. I passed under the interstate and into downtown Baton Rouge where I stopped at a courthouse and at the public library and no one had bus schedules. They acted like I was asking about aliens.

It wasn't hard to find the capital building as it's thirty four stories high. It's set behind a nicely landscaped garden with the grave of Huey Long and a larger than life statue of Long on top of a very tall pedestal. This is one overdone grave. There are forty eight steps leading up to the first floor with each state each state and the date they became states. Arizona is, of course, on the top step. Hawaii and Alaska were added to the top step later. If we add any other states they are going to need to start going back down.

The Tourist Information lady in the front lobby was very helpful and I signed up for the volkswalk and was ready to go in no time. When I wrote for info on the walks a little note was included in the reply suggesting that I don't miss the observation deck on the 27th floor so I headed up there before I set out.

It is a glorious view of the Mississippi and Baton Rouge. I watched some tugs pushing barges and looked up and down the river as well as over the very flat Louisiana land. While I was there a corrections officer brought two prisoners up to clean. First he had them walk around the deck a few times to work on their fear, as he put it in his little speech to them. Do they pick prisoners who are afraid of heights to work up here? I must say he talked to them like they were two year old, even when explaining what they needed to clean and how to do it.

I went back down, which takes two elevators, and started out. The walk went east from the front steps and around the old arsenal building which is across the road from the capital. Beside the arsenal is a mound which a sign said was an indian mound. There are guns mounted on it now and another sign said it was a memorial to the only Revolutionary War fought outside of the origianl thirteen states. Quite a multi use pile of dirt.

Then around the back of the capital and a few jogs over to River Road which runs along the Mississippi. Actually you couldn't see the river from River Road since there is a levee with a railroad on top. There were some steps so I must confess that I walked up and along a walking path on the other side of the railroad, instead of staying on River Road like the instructions said.

It's a brick path with benches and I watched the tugs and barges and passed a casino and the USS Kidd. The Kidd seemed small for a battleship but all the museums were closed since it was Monday, so I can only wonder.

The walk took me back into town and I wound back and forth through the historic area enjoying old houses and a nice brick path on the median of North Street. I stopped at the Old Governors Mansion to see if I could tour it but they were closed. The docent, a nice college aged kid, apologized profusely and gave me a postcard with a picture of it.

I know Mondays are very bad for museums but when you take a couple weeks you have to be somewhere on Monday. Luckily next Monday I'll be in DC and the Smithsonian is always open, well, except for maybe Christmas (?).

Baton Rouge is a nice southern historic town with victorians and frame houses with porches. There were flowers blooming profusely and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was surprised that there were so few places to eat. I passed a few places that looked expensive and I'm sure the casinos have restaurants and many of the government buildings have cafeterias, but I just didn't see many little coffee shop places. I passed a McDonalds and that was the only fast food place on the walk. I never was in a downtown where it was so hard to find a place to eat.

I walked through one section with very tiny, narrow streets that was so cool where everything was lush and a bit shabby, but cozy. Elsewhere government buildings were everywhere and lawyers offices were ubiquitous, partners in crime.

My feet were very tired and sore as I finished up at the state capital. I decided to eat in the cafeteria there since I hadn't found any other place. The food was good and very reasonably priced but it was a little strange to be served by prisoners. The corrections guard stands there, occasionally handing someone a plate of food. The prisoners are all very polite, as I'm sure they have to be or they couldn't keep working here. There were also prisoners cleaning. Do they use prisoners for all menial labor in Louisiana state offices?

The lobby was full of people there for something. They had tags on and pies were being handed out. In the ladies room several women were lined up along the wall and waved me past. One said they were listening to the governor speak and I realized a guy was speaking on the loud speaker about someones wages. I guess that they couldn't get into whatever room he was speaking in and the bathrooms had loudspeakers to keep everyone informed even when called away for essential bodily functions. The only thing I recall from the speech was a phrase that six years ago he hadn't asked for anything for his friends and family and he didn't now. A typical political speech.

I needed grocers and wanted to check out the bus system so I stood at a bus stop till a bus came by. I took it to the bus terminal where I transfered to another that went a block from my motel and then continued on to LSU. I figured somewhere there was someplace the students bought groceries. It's always best to get out of downtown to find a grocery store anyway, I was the only white person on the first bus and one of two on the second bus. I saw a couple white people waiting at the terminal but most of the people were black. I felt like I'm sure black people feel when they are the only black in a group of white people. Actually I was probably better off.

The second bus went through a very poor black area (the area by where I was staying) and then the beautiful LSU campus. It's set in lovely tree covered lawns. Beyond the campus was an older but nice housing area. Finally I saw what looked like a very commercial corner and pulled to cord to get off.

After wandering around all four corners, someone directed me to a Winn Dixie just down the block. I picked up some carrots, bananas and milk and gave into some chips. I used their bathroom and when I came out my cart was gone. This has never happened and I was a little taken back. I took my backpack with me as it never leaves me when I'm traveling but it was a bit of a pain to have to get everything again.

As I waited to cross the street a lady waiting for the bus asked to see the bus schedule I had sticking out of my pocket. We decided when our buses would come and then she told me to not stand at the stop right across the street as sometimes the bus doesn't see you there but to go down about a block to one with a bench. That was nice of her.

Another lady was at the second bus stop and we agreed that the bus should be here soon and it was getting chilly. The bus did come soon and I got off in a rather scruffy area, just before the interstate and walked over a block to the motel. I noticed as I walked toward the motel that part of it had a sign saying it took long term stays. When a motel or hostel starts allowing long term people they are usally on the way down. In my room I noticed they had made the bed and given me clean towels but weren't real spiffy about the rest. Again I had to go to the desk to get ice as the ice machine is broken. Oh well, it's always a toss up as to whether to take an inexpensive place close in or a newer and cheaper place farther out that I have to take a taxi to.

I'm just sitting here resting and eating and then I need to repack everything so I'll be ready to head out tomorrow. Baton Rouge seems to be government or casinos, both of which can make for a boring place after a while. There are some lovely areas but it didn't seem like a great place to live.

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Rachel Aschmann 2001.
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