The Water Tower

“…I gar-awn-TEE you will wrap your arms around that ladder as you make that last few feet!”

One Friday afternoon, toward the end of the school day, I was plotting the campout itinerary with Keith Gary; we did a lot of things together over the years… some good, some bad, all fun. Also plotting with us was a couple of other friends who didn’t have the same WTH attitude (translation: they studied and made good grades!)—Alvin Zeringue and Jared Vantromp. But they had heard all the stories from the previous campouts, and the curiosity finally got to them, I guess; they were in for an Adventure! Some of the adventure was due to a general lack of planning, other than when, how, where… some of it was due to the circumstances that presented themselves during the night…

We decided that we would meet at Keith’s house after we went home and told our lies, –Ahem… we got permission to campout at X–the previously agreed upon placeholder that all the parents would be okay with—then, we would proceed to Y, the more exciting alternative. In this case, we had decided that we would walk to Bayou Vista and camp out at Skeleton Hills. There was always the possibility for various goings on there, and the longer you were there, the better chance to be a part of the fun.

So we finally got together at Keith’s house, at the corner of Railroad and First streets, and since we didn’t all have bicycles, we decided to walk to Bayou Vista. It seemed like farther, but a quick check of Google Maps shows it to be 3.8 miles. Once we got there, we stashed our meager camp out gear and joined in the various goings on at the Hills.

It was great fun until the cops came and ran everyone off! Well, we grabbed our gear, and knowing we couldn’t camp at the Hills, we went south across the road into the woods (now the Wal-Mart is there). After going what we thought was a sufficient distance in so that our fire would not be obvious (we thought), we established a small clearing and began gathering anything that looked like it would burn, and proceeded to try and start a fire to heat up our cans of beanie-weenies, etc.

Well, if you’ve ever built a fire with green/wet wood, you will already know how much smoke you can create without even trying. And during this exercise, I got a healthy dose of smoke in my eyes, and me being me, I began to scream. Not just your everyday scream, understand; I could scream very, VERY loudly, and like a girl, just to make it more interesting. But after a few moments, we got back to keeping the fire burning, “cooking”, and enjoying our billowing smoke. Life was good…

Well, for a little while, anyway. Suddenly our campsite was bathed in light like the noon-day sun, except it was blueish and accompanied by loud voices yelling, “POLICE! DON’T MOVE!!!”

Police

which was my cue to dash off into the nearest brush like a scared rabbit—but, to no avail. Those lights cut through brush like it ain’t even there, exposing my position pretty easily. After I extricated myself from the briars, they had us all sit by the campfire while one of them did a canvass of the area and the officer detaining us began asking questions.

“Is anybody else out here?” was question one; the obvious answer “no” didn’t seem to satisfy him, so he followed up with “Did you have a girl out here with you?” and the light bulb came on in my head, “Oh shit; my screams!”

After we all said no, I followed up immediately with the story about getting smoke in my eyes. By then, the other officer had finished his canvass of the area, and having found no evidence to the contrary, they decided I might be telling the truth. They proceeded to tell us of the phone calls reporting the young girl in obvious distress, and then told us we had to go home. Not wishing to appear dis-agreeable, we began packing up our stuff, glad that we hadn’t been offered a free ride home! After a parting warning that they didn’t want to see us again that night, we concurred, and they drove away as we began walking out, and back toward Saturn Road, the main East-West road that bisected the subdivision.

As we made our way back toward Saturn, we were kinda bummed that we had to cut our night short. Besides, walking home at 2:00 in the morning was not in our plan. But our route soon brought us to the water tower, and Keith and I began discussing how we had always wanted to climb one; and, Hey, there’s one right here!

Alvin and Jared weren’t real keen on climbing a fence topped with barbed wire, let alone a water tower, so we told them to wait at the side of the Waterworks building near the base of the water tower in the entrance alcove, where the chance of them being seen by our friends in the Gendarme would be less likely. They grudgingly agreed, and took our gear and headed there while Keith and I scouted the fence for the best crossing point.

In our previous campout endeavors we had become skilled in crossing barbed wire topped fences; the best place is where the wire is tightest, so it doesn’t sway so much as you work yourself over to the other side. We made short work of the fence, then caught our breath before tackling the next obstacle, getting to the bottom of the ladder.

Back then they didn’t have cages around the base of the ladder, but it didn’t reach all the way to the ground, either. One of us had to stand under the ladder and let the other one climb up his back and stand on his shoulders to reach the end of the ladder; then, the person on top had to hang on to the end of the ladder while the lower person climbed up his legs and back to get over him and onto the ladder!!! You had to really want to do this, eh?

After a short break to recover, the long climb to the top began. This was the most critical part of the adventure, as we knew our dark clothes would show up like a beacon against the white ladder and legs of the tower, and we didn’t want to meet up with our peace officer buddies again like that! But you ain’t lived till you’ve climbed a 60 foot ladder that LEANS OUT the last 15 feet or so. I gar-awn-TEE you will wrap your arms around that ladder as you make that last few feet! Then collapse over the rail and lay there for 10 or 15 minutes just catching your breath—but it’s worth every second for the view.

It was a cool fall night, with a very slight breeze; and the fog was beginning to come down.  There was a solid cover about a hundred feet above us. You could see and hear everything for a mile or so, and all sound seemed to come from below us. As we made our way around the perimeter of the tower walkway, we stopped almost directly above where Alvin and Jared where sitting near the Waterworks building entrance.

We could hear them talking like they were right next to us! They were trying to decide how long they would wait for us before they bailed and headed back to town.  Suddenly, I had an inspiration! I choked back a laugh, and elbowed Keith as I unzipped my pants… he instantly knew what I was going to do and joined in! We began peeing over the rail, and after a few moments, we had to stop and almost choked to death trying not to laugh out loud as we heard one of them exclaim, “DAMN! It’s starting to RAIN!”

We were kicking each other and laying on the walkway choking for I don’t know how long before we finally got enough control to head on over and begin the long reverse trip down the ladder. We had to stop several times on the way to recover from uncontrollable fits of choking laughter trying not to ruin the moment by being caught now.

I don’t remember either one of them joining in a camping adventure after that.  I know that unless Keith said something, I never told them what the “rain” really was. They were both really good guys, and I suppose we felt a little guilty for the prank… Nah, not really.

To be continued; same life, different story…

Skeleton Hills

“…maybe 20 feet high, but in South Louisiana, that’s a frickin’ Mount Everest!”

Skeleton BicyclingWe lived in Bayou Vista, Louisiana from the time I was 2 years old until I was 13. I have some great memories of those times, and we were living the American Dream. My Dad bought a small house on Jupiter Street in 1957 or so, and we lived there for 5 years as he built up equity and savings until we could afford to move into a bigger new house he had built on Neptune Street.

Then he did the same thing there, so we could build a nicer house in Patterson.

Bayou Vista was a relatively new sub-division sorta, previously sugar cane fields between Patterson and Berwick, and while we lived there it was filling up rapidly. My Dad actually worked for the construction company out of Morgan City that was developing the property south of the drainage canal that we all just called ‘the canal’ and everyone knew what you were referring to. I remember falling asleep in his lap on the bulldozer while he was moving dirt and knocking down trees! It was a simpler time.

One of the results of the earth moving/tree clearing was 2 relatively high mounds of dirt that were left after the clearing of the section to be developed. To those of us living there at the time, they became known as Skeleton Hills, and they became a focus of activity for several years for a large group of kids in Bayou Vista. As they were only maybe a hundred yards apart, and we soon had a trail from the top of one to the top of the other, you only had to pedal your bike moderately hard to get a pretty good head of steam up between them! They were only maybe 20 feet high, but in South Louisiana, that’s a frickin’ Mount Everest!!!

One story from Skeleton Hills that still makes me smile is the time Perez Aucoin, one of my friends from the Berwick side, decided he was gonna climb a tree with his bicycle. I had met him during my one year hiatus from going to school in Patterson; I attended the new elementary school in Bayou Vista for my fourth grade year… and fought everyone there. Well, it seemed like it. Looking back, you realize that you had an established order after a while where everyone knows who is who in the pecking-order; but if you go into a new environment where it doesn’t exist yet, it has to be established–and Perez was one of the guys that I fought to a stand-still, so we became great friends.

There were a couple of trees near the trail between the hills that were kinda up on pedestals of dirt; the dozer had cut around the base, lowering ground level by about 5 feet, and leaving a 6 foot high or so pedestal of dirt around the tree. There was a slight slope to the dirt around the bottom, just enough to tempt a crazy MF like Perez to try and ride up it to the top! Well, he got a running start down one of the mountains, then veered off to the base of the tree–then WHAM! A big cloud of dust, and Perez is laying on the ground in gray-face, out like a light!

We got the dirt out of his mouth and nose so he could breathe and after a few minutes he woke up and says, “Did I make it?!?”

We all about died laughing! Perez was one of the only friends I knew in Bayou Vista that was crazier than me…!

To be continued; same life, different story…

The Great Wall

“Once we had run out of empties, we lay back in the weeds along the road admiring our creation. And it was a wonder to behold!”

January 14, 2017:  Every time I hear “Build Me Up Buttercup” or “Holly Holy” I’m transported back to a simpler time… 1968, back in Patterson was a world away from the way things are now. My family had just moved from Bayou Vista, and maybe because my Mom and Dad grew up in Patterson and Calumet, they gave me a little more freedom to roam around. I was 13 years old, and a whole new world was opening up for my exploration.

One of the activities that I was allowed to engage in was camping out, and for 2 or 3 years I did it as much as I could. There are hundreds of memories to be mined there; some good, some bad, some ugly. But all fun now, and this one came to mind this week. You never knew who would show up—sometimes 1 person, usually 2 or 3. On this particular Saturday night there ended up being a large group at our favorite place to camp.

There was a patch of new growth scrub trees along Red Cypress Road, not far (maybe a quarter mile) from LA 182 (old US 90) along the north side of the road. It consisted of a mix of young trees and briar patches; the tallest trees being maybe 15 or 20 feet tall. There will be much said about this camp-out area as the stories come out, so I’ll leave that for later.

As I started to say earlier, before I side-tracked, on this night there were maybe 10 or 15 people there off-and-on as the night went on. Some of the older guys had vehicles (and became our mules to go get beer) so the number varied throughout the evening. Yes, we drank beer, and as much as we could get our hands on depending on how much money we could scrape together.This night we probably drank 5 or 6 cases, 120 or 148 cans of whatever was available… and we had much fun!

I’ll fast forward to the early morning of the next day, just before sunrise; those of us remaining were beginning to sober up (a little, anyway) and were getting bored. Gazing at the piles of empty cans littering our immediate area, someone came up with the genius idea to build a wall of beer cans across the road! That perked most of us up enough to begin gathering up the cans, and we soon organized into 2 groups; one to gather cans and another to stack them neatly into a wall stretching from one side of the road to the other. Every now and then someone would stumble into the on-going construction and knock down some of the wall—after much cursing and yelling, eventually the project would resume.

I’m going to pause here for a moment to name names. Keep in mind this was many beers ago… I may leave out some culprits, but if they were there they’ll know who they are! In no particular order: Lee Felterman, John Felterman, Larry Beard, Donald Trock, Chuck Toney, Jeff Dolci, Joe Stewart, Glenn Jumonville, Keith Gary, Perry Gros, Timmy Leggett, Jack Smith, (I’ll edit this later as other names pop up through the fog), and yours truly. Now, back to the action…

Once we had run out of empties, we lay back in the weeds along the road admiring our creation. And it was a wonder to behold! In my memory it was 6 feet tall and solid as a rock. It was probably more like 18 inches of precariously stacked beer cans, but it was ours! And we were proud of our creation.

beer-cans

We only had to wait a short while before we heard a car coming down the road from US 90…. and then it came around the curve, at a pretty good clip, too! We waited in intense anticipation for the possible reaction, and at first, the car slowed as the driver saw this un-anticipated wall of something across the road; and just as we gasped in realization that it was Mr. Barr, the mayor of Patterson!—(I remember visions of handcuffs and angry adults)—he must have realized what it was, and he floored it! 

He hit that wall probably going 60 miles an hour, and beer cans exploded off in every conceivable direction!  We all burst out in a unanimous cheer of wild excitement and relief as he kept going toward the intersection, and we slapped hands and laughed and started to round up our things to get the hell out of there in case somebody with a badge showed up to investigate the Great Wall of Beer Cans.

We never did hear anything about it from the authorities, grown-ups, etc., but boy, that was a fun story to tell at school on Monday morning! It was a helluva ending to a long Saturday night on Red Cypress.

To be continued; same life, different story…