BAYOU BLACK

Houma, La., is Cajun country, and it’s not hard to find authentically prepared eats. http://www.bntcajuncookin.com

It became obvious within a couple of days of being out in the field that mainstream law enforcement was not terribly interested in playing along with my search for police officers who were “out of the box” thinkers, with “big personalities,” to be shown on the reality television show, “I Am The Law.”

Anymore it’s hard to be a wild card cop – you’ll find yourself in a lawsuit and fired if you go waving a gun around (too many cell phone cameras about). Even small police and sheriffs departments now send their new recruits to state law enforcement academies, to ensure proper training.

This means two things. One, all officers tend to have a similar demeanor (stern), and two, they know better than to get involved with something like this show. It would be one thing if we were talking about “Cops,” where life as a police officer was being depicted.

These folks are more going after a Buford T. Justice-type character, made famous in “Smoky and the Bandit.” Even if I found an individual officer willing to participate, most likely their agency, city or state would put the kibosh on this endeavor before it got started.

The mural outside Boudreau and Thibodeau’s.

After speaking with numerous city, county and state law enforcement agencies I considered due diligence had been met, since none of them would hardly even grumble “NO” in my direction. What I found interesting was that virtually every agency had recently been involved in some form of malpractice that either resulted in police officials being fired or a suspect dying suspiciously while in custody.

Regardless, none of these agencies wanted any outside publicity, much less the attention that would come from a reality television show.This led to a broadening of the criteria to be considered for candidates on the show. Anything quasi-law enforcement was on board. And really anyone that had a big personality was worth checking out. This took me to Houma, La.

A discarded diving bell or abandoned flying saucer along the bayou.

Located 60 miles south of New Orleans, you might say it’s out in the middle of nowhere – and that would be correct. I felt this way too at first, but then came to realize Houma is actually the last stop before venturing into no man’s land.

It’s kind of an outpost community, situated on the edge of the abyss. I see the ocean in many ways as the equivalent of outer space – a vast unknown. Well for anyone that does business in the Gulf of Mexico, Houma is the place where you have your land-office, and where you resupply before going back out. It’s the jump off spot. That also means you have a bunch of fishermen and off-shore oil platform workers who come back from being out in outer space, that haven’t seen land or women in a while, and these boys have pockets full of money. You could say Houma can get a little politically incorrect in the evenings.

It took me a couple visits to find my way into the place. With a population of 33,000, it’s much larger than my target community, but with so many small towns orbiting this city, it seemed a good place to spend some a moment getting to know folks.

The sun peaks through the canopy of the swamp to shine down upon Mother Mary.

I hit the clubs first, but looking in joints like Pineros Sports Club (where I scored an invite to Lingerie Night from Miranda), was only turning up self-involved bar flies, who were embalming themselves with Grey Goose. I had better luck by talking with the Lifestyles editor at the local paper, and the folks over at the Houma Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. In both instances I heard the same thing, “if you’re looking for a personality big enough to build a show around you need to speak with Black.”

Now I don’t know about you but I’ve never met a person named Black. I said, “beg your pardon – Black.” Sure enough, Black Guidry was the man to see. He currently runs swamp boat tours, but prior to that he was a military man, special forces/Green Beret, and a former Louisiana State Trooper. This sounded promising.

I was told that Black often lunched at A-Bear’s Cafe, in Houma, and I might find him there. Sure enough, after describing my situation to Ms. Jane at A-Bear’s checkout counter, she directed me to the tall gentleman in the back. And this is where I met Black Guidry.

Black Guidry striking a pose outside the trappers cabin in Wildlife Gardens.

After a brief introduction, Black was excited to talk further about the project, and we arranged to meet the following morning at Bob’s Bayou Black Marina, http://bayoublackmarina.com, where his swamp boat tours originate. With this settled, and feeling triumphant, I went back inside A-Bear’s Cafe and ordered up a mess of red beans and rice, with a side of gumbo from Ms. Jane. Nothing like some tasty vittles to take the edge off.

I met Black the next morning at the marina, which is 20 some miles west into bayou country, locally referred to as Gibson, La. There’s a strange mix of folks at the marina, professional fishermen, along with recreational adventurers and oil pipeline workers, who repair equipment that snakes through the swamps. This also is a big duck hunting area, and multi-level liveaboards can be chartered here. I can only imagine 12 drunk guys with high-powered rifles turned loose on one of these bad boys in the swamp. That poor skipper.

A big fellow out for a swim – he’s fond of raw chickens.

Black runs, A Cajun Man’s Swamp Cruise, http://cajunman.com. While his boat is nothing fancy, just a flat-decked steel job, with some red carpeting, white benches and a canopy for shade, the tour is full service. In addition to gliding through the dense flora, and wild fauna, Black narrates throughout the journey, there’s an alligator feeding, and the Cajun Man sings a few songs in English and French.

One of the alligator pens at Wildlife Gardens, where the reptiles are raised for their hides and meat.

Over the years Black has picked up a fair amount of notoriety. He’s been seen and heard on all the networks, and the late Steve Irwin, aka The Crocodile Hunter, went out with Black to meet his alligators. Still, standing on his dock I felt I had discovered a remote treasure. Two things changed this idea.

One, I was informed that 20 miles down the road, in Thibodeaux, at Zam’s Bayou Swamp Tours, ABC filmed an episode of “Wife Swap.” Who knew? And second, Black himself had been featured in multiple Kia auto commercials run nationally and internationally. A clip for one is provided below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjiKv4A-7OY

Peacocks and other critters roam free at Wildlife Gardens.

Black remains an interesting character – part of a dying breed. The Cajun culture is running on its last true generation, and Black is doing his part to let people know this fabric of culture is bordering on extinction. It was blind luck that some advertising executives took his swamp boat tour and picked him to do the Kia ads. That was good publicity and good money, but doesn’t fix how the new generation of kids in Cajun country don’t speak French, and that corporate America has found its way into the swamps. Wal*Mart, video games, Internet and cable have taken a serious toll.

Still life in motion on Bayou Black.

Gibson, Thibodeaux and Houma aren’t what I thought they would look like. These folks don’t live in some hybrid-houseboat looking structures out on the bayou. They’re normal ranch and two-story jobs, that look like any other suburban home – it’s their backyard bayous that set them apart. You need a boat out here, but roads, canals and drawbridges allow folks to get around normally by car.

Black took me over to Wildlife Gardens, http://www.wildlifegardens.com, a unique wilderness bed and breakfast. Owned by Vernon and Betty Provost Eschette, visitors can reserve cabins out in the swamp, and enjoy hiking the nature trails, have access to the alligator farm and take in the sounds of the swamp nightlife from one of the screened in porches. It’s a different kind of relaxation experience. After I said my goodbyes to Black and all his friends, I wasn’t sure what I had for the show, but I knew I had something. Since then I’ve come to realize this slice of culture is too substantial and real for reality television, but the Smithsonian Institute is showing some interest. In the end, what I learned from my first foray into the reality television field was – – it’s hard to get lost in America anymore.

Meet Troy, he’s the stud in residence at Wildlife Gardens. Measuring 12 feet, Troy and his mate, Helen, produce 40 to 50 offspring annually.

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One Response to BAYOU BLACK

  1. Taylor says:

    The albino alligator name is not troy the big one that ‘likes raw chickens’ name is troy and it is located in Gibson,Louisiana not Bayou Black.

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