Louisiana: Awesome or Not?

KRYSTEN OLIPHANT: Louisiana is awesome. Plain and simple. I’m a Texas girl by birth, and while I have an immense amount of pride for my home state (what Texan doesn’t?) I’ve adopted Louisiana after living here for six years. Call me a traitor, call me fickle, call me a fair-weather resident — I don’t care. I love this state.

I graduated from LSU in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from one of the best journalism schools in the nation. The Manship School has graduates in New York, Washington D.C., Delaware, Florida, Tennessee, Texas…you name it, we’re there. That’s not even to talk about the Tigers. Come on, y’all know you love ‘em. LSU football really is the greatest sport (three national championships, hello!) , and Death Valley the best place to play — that is, unless you’re the visiting team. It’s been ranked one of the toughest arenas to play in as a visitor year after year, and the noise and energy are legendary. There was even a game in the 1990s between LSU and Auburn in which the noise level recorded on a nearby seismograph. There was an EARTHQUAKE in Tiger Stadium! Plus there’s the baseball…six national championships in all — five in the 1990s under Skip Bertman, and another College World Series win in 2009.

Plus there’s the tailgating. It’s serious in Baton Rouge. People pull their RVs onto campus on Thursday afternoon before a Saturday night game, and the cost for an RV spot is outrageous — and totally worth it. Pickup trucks start coming onto campus on Friday afternoon, parking across two spaces and leaving the vehicle there overnight. (The second space is reserved for the other vehicle that brings the revelers back to their tailgating spot the next morning). There are full-sized gas and charcoal grills firing up as soon as the sun rises, and the boiled shrimp, crawfish etouffee, sausage and jambalaya are the best you’ve ever had. And don’t worry, we’re glad to share our food and our beer (unless you’re an Alabama fan). Ignore the “Tiger bait” chants — we’re just having fun. And when you lose (because you will), we’ll hand you another beer on your way out the door.

But enough about the greatest university in the nation. Louisiana has drive-through daiquiri shops. I repeat, you can drive up to a building, roll down your window, order a frozen alcoholic beverage (with an extra shot, if you’d like) pay and drive away, without ever getting out of your vehicle. I’ll pause for you to wrap your heads around that. Now, technically you cannot drink them in the car — once you poke the straw through the lid it’s an “open container violation,” but come on. You know that doesn’t matter.

The food is, well, legendary. There are Louisiana-style restaurants and menu items everywhere in the country, and Cajun-inspired food is on just about every chain restaurant you can find. Chili’s, Applebee’s…they all have Cajun-ish dishes. But don’t be fooled, there’s a difference between Cajun and Creole food. Ask anyone in Louisiana and they’ll tell you, the two are NOT the same. But don’t worry, we understand that outsiders get confused, and we’ll generally bring you a sampling of both so that you can recognize the difference.

Louisiana crawfish is about the best thing in the world, and nothing quite compares to a spring crawfish boil. We live for them here. We count down the days, we invest hundreds of dollars in large pots and propane burners and giant stirrers, and we labor over our own crawfish seasonings for years until we get them right. It’s a party, like everything in Louisiana; so much so that LSU students are now trying to figure out how to raise crawfish that will be ready to eat in the fall as well. Can you imagine tailgating season with crawfish?!

There’s the Saints, and their fans. Honestly, if the Saints never saw the inside of another Super Bowl again, everyone in Louisiana (and Mississippi and the surrounding areas) would still die happy. You don’t understand the heartache, the misery, the passion — the paper bags over their heads — that Saints fans have endured for the past 40-plus years. I saw grown men cry in each others’ arms when the Saints defeated the Colts, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

I won’t even get into Mardi Gras, because everyone knows about that. It’s a blast, it’s something you have to see at least once in your life. But the festivals every other weekend of the year are what you need to talk about. Jazz Fest, Voodoo Fest, the Satchmo Summer Fest, the Strawberry Festival, the French Food Fair…the list is too extensive.

Look, everyone knows we’ve had our share of problems down here. Thanks to the infamous hurricanes Katrina and Rita and now the Gulf Coast oil spill, there have been quite a few hard times in Louisiana recently. But if you know people here, if you really understand how they work, you’ll see that we never let anything bother us for too long. We’ll rebuild (the idea that New Orleans would shut down for good was ludicrous), we’ll replant, we’ll still shrimp and fish and catch gators. And we’ll still party. After all, there’s a pretty good festival going on next weekend.

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