Dear Smiley: My first time to drive in New Orleans was in 1960 after the Thanksgiving holiday, when inbound traffic was exceptionally heavy.
I had a reservation at the old New Orleans Hotel downtown, but as a newcomer I needed directions to Canal Street.
Approaching the city on Airline Highway, I decided to follow a cab that was leaving the airport, reasoning it was going downtown.
At first all went well, weaving in and out of traffic, until suddenly the taxi turned right off Tulane Avenue.
Then, on my own and close to panic, I drove past “No left turn” signs for endless blocks.
Finally, at “Left turn permitted,” I turned and within a few minutes rolled into the parking lot of my hotel.
At the registration desk a man tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you the lady who was driving that Ford Falcon?”
Fearing the worst, I nodded.
He continued, “Well I just want to thank you for leading me and my wife all the way from the airport to our hotel. You sure are a good driver!”
Dear Smiley: I was maybe 4 or 5 when my father took me to the newly-built World War II Memorial Field House in Huntington, West Virginia, to see Roy Rogers perform.
I don’t remember a darn thing about the show itself, but I DO remember my dad taking me afterward to the rear parking lot, where Roy’s tour bus was waiting (security wasn’t a thing in the early ’50s).
Roy came out, swooped me off my feet, put me on the top step of the bus and asked, “Do you want to go on the trail with me, Buckaroo?”
He may have expected this kid to immediately reach for the safety of Daddy’s arms. Didn’t happen. I was ready to ride.
I was furious with my father for not letting me go on the bus, and to this day I blame Roy Rogers for causing me to lead a life wasted by a career in radio and TV.
Dear Smiley: Smiley Burnette was my first “celebrity” interview in 1962, shortly after taking my first broadcasting job as a newsman, advertising salesman, janitor and “The Voice of the Motherlode” at KVML, a small radio station in Sonora, California.
I grew up seeing Gene Autry movies at the Empire Theater in Mobile, Alabama. So it was a thrill meet Gene’s sidekick, who was making a personal appearance at the grand opening of a supermarket.
Smiley was an easygoing, nice guy, and far more talkative than my second celebrity interview.
Lassie had to be coaxed to speak to me by his (yes, all Lassies were male) trainer, Rudd Weatherwax.
I guess Timmy wasn’t in trouble.
Dear Smiley: I started college at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in 1952. My first year there cost my parents and me a total of $600.
One way of saving money in those days was by hitchhiking from Welsh to Lafayette. It was most economical, and I always got there faster than Greyhound.
Before very many of these trips I found that I often got rides with the same people — a wealthy Crowley lady, an Episcopal priest and an old couple driving an ancient Jeep pickup with no heater.
I tried to keep a weather eye out for this latter couple so I could hide if I saw them coming before they saw me. (Hitch-hiking protocol did not allow turning down a ride.)
The problem with the old couple in the unheated Jeep was they required me to sit in the middle while they both chain-smoked Picayune cigarettes.
On arriving at SLI after one of these rides, I immediately had to change clothes and find some place in the dorm to air out the clothes I had been wearing.
Dear Smiley: Reading about Picayune cigarettes reminds me of Cotton Bowl Twist chewing tobacco. I think they were both the strongest made for smoking and chewing.
I am also reminded of the time my brother Alvin and I went fishing at Uncle Chester’s camp on Iatt Lake near Colfax.
It was a hot, windy day, and we had a full package of Beechnut chewing tobacco.
The combination of the wind and swallowing some juice (you’re supposed to spit it out) didn’t sit too well with me.
The sky was swirling so fast, if I had stood up I would have fallen in the lake. I had never been so sick in my life.
It took us forever to get back to the landing; the Beechnut went in the trash.
Dear Smiley: In case of a hostile takeover of Texas, I call dibs on Matthew McConaughey.
Dear Anita: How generous of you. And I’m sure his wife, Brazilian model Camila Alves, would be welcome too...
Write Smiley at Smiley@theadvocate.com. He can also be reached by fax at (225) 388-0351 or mail at P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.