Baton Rouge: It’s Only Asleep

Walking around Baton Rouge on a Saturday afternoon seemed like walking around a city that was all mine. Foot traffic nil. Granted, I had arrived in Baton Rouge on not just any Saturday, but on Christmas Eve. And unlike New Orleans (just 90 minutes downriver), Louisiana’s capital of Baton Rouge is car country, despite its well-intentioned grid system, set up long before cars were invented, meant to nurture some kind of urban interaction.

On the map, I noticed that four diagonal streets converged on a centrally-located stretch of Government Street. I had imagined that the square must be the city’s center. When I walked toward the square, I realized that there was no square. There was no center. Just a UPS office, a McDonald’s, and a radio tower spread out in all their single-floor, free-standing glory. A case of American sprawl sprawling into the city instead of outwards. There must be a city planner rolling around in his above-ground tomb somewhere.

I did manage to find a newly constructed plaza, however, just a few blocks away, in a manicured median of North Boulevard, where rows of speakers along the walkway gently played Christmas songs to no one but me. It felt curiously post-apocalyptic, humanity’s creature comforts having seemingly outlived humanity. But the peacefulness held a rare beauty.

Despite the ghost town appearance, I still gathered that the small city was just resting. A farmer’s market had set itself up downtown, but had closed by noon. Bars and live music venues would be opening later that night. Nonetheless, such a lull in activity created a great opportunity to take photographs.

Raul’s, one of the few restaurants open on Saturday. Juicy Juicy. Extra points accrued for the blob of ketchup painted on the plate.

Frostop was also open, and it looked like it never closes. Or gets cleaned. After serving me my milkshake, the man behind the counter aimed glazed eyes at me and muttered in monotone, “Enjoy your meal.” Make a meal out of a milkshake? Is that how it is done in Baton Rouge?

eco

An ECO Tireflator lives out its graceful retirement on the post of a defunct service station.

The largest exception to the lull: Parrain's, a restaurant that was teeming with hungry people, most likely because there was almost nowhere else to go. Putting away their grilled drum fillet was like biting into a tender cloud made of fresh fish, a cloud that had just passed over a wood-fired barbecue pit. This place gives New Orleans restaurants a run for their money.

Other signs of life turned up on the wires. Tittie beads on the wires are Baton Rouge’s answer to New York City’s aerial collections of footwear dangling above.

Well, we’ve got a dry cleaner located near the I-10 overpass. What shall we call it?

This sign for a Fresh Breath Clinic shows how it is difficult to glance anywhere in downtown Baton Rouge without encountering at least one church in the background.

Someone decided to counteract the creepy desolation of the Sweet Olive cemetery. Could this tomb hold the restless corpse of the aforementioned city planner?

This tombstone engraving seemed to sum up the afternoon for me. Just like Baton Rouge itself, this man is not dead, he’s only asleep.

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About OmnivorousTraveler

Darrin DuFord is a travel writer, mapgazer, and jungle rodent connoisseur. His writing has won numerous awards and has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, BBC Travel, Gastronomica, Roads & Kingdoms, Narratively, and Perceptive Travel, among other publications. He is the author of Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns and Revelations in the Americas (released in July 2016) and Is There a Hole in the Boat? Tales of Travel in Panama without a Car, silver medalist in the 2007 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards.
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