Traffic problems defy quick solutions _lowres

Congestion on the Mississippi River Bridge on Interstate 10.

It was a simple business trip on Wednesday: Drive two hours to Lake Charles, watch something happen while melting in sizzling heat, then get back in the vehicle and hightail it back to Baton Rouge. Simple enough, right?

Come on, this is me. My brain and its overflowing bucket of thoughts won’t let that happen. Couple that with all the natural driving woes on Interstate 10 east and west in Louisiana and it’s a chemical mix that does not bode well for normalcy.

Buckle up.

I’m tooling down I-10 east at 75 miles per hour and on my left, an 18-wheeler is coming up and blows by me. Seconds later, I look up and another monster is consuming my rear-view mirror, ready to roar past, too. Yikes! For a second, I thought about those lawyer commercials claiming they have gotten folks a bazillion dollars because a big rig hit them.

Thankfully, the flying 18-wheelers were not a continuing problem.

For about 15 miles along the way, I got caught up in talk radio discussion involving doomsday preppers. They are stockpiling food, medicine, masks, water, guns, bullets and building underground shelters in case of national or world catastrophe.

I got depressed and alarmed at the seriousness of the chat and changed the station.

Looking down the highway, I was a tad on edge, worried that I was heading toward some long traffic delay that makes I-10 famous. I just knew it was coming.

Looking at the traffic heading east, the I-10 was showing off what looked like a miles-long slowdown. The big rigs, backed up one after another, looked worthy of a photo.

I sometimes wonder if there is some special emotional training course that truckers have to take before they are allowed drive Louisiana’s I-10 from Lafayette through Baton Rouge? There has to be. You can’t deal with this stuff on a regular basis without some kind of sanity prep.

My trip did include a big chuckle as I noticed a number of road advertisements touting the state’s ability to fry almost anything and stuff things into edible balls and sausage skin. Chicken cracklins, pork cracklins, boudin, boudin balls, jalapeño cheese balls, along with crawfish and shrimp balls. I think the cracklins would horrify some outsiders until they built the courage to try them.

As I continued down the road, I started reading a lot of exit signs I’ve seen a million times. I noted a string of towns with one name: Mire, Crowley, Duson, Scott. Were these names of people?

A friend of mine, Lawrence Jackson, the former director of Southern University’s famed Human Jukebox, was called Crowley in college. I doubt the town was named for him, though.

As I approached my destination in Lake Charles, my GPS system announced, “You are here.” Well, I wasn’t. I was at a restaurant and not at my lakefront destination. Dang smartphone.

I went down the road a bit, made what amounted to a U-turn and a minute later, I was at the designated location. Things went well considering the sun and heat embraced me like I was a long-lost friend.

Oh, on the way back, I was hit in the face with the reality of the damage done by the repeated hurricanes last year in Lake Charles and the southwest region of the state. From the highway, you could see signature blue tarps on homes and businesses still struggling to become whole.

Now it’s hurricane season again. I pray for them.

For a while, it appeared I would miss the expected stall. But, lo and behold, about 20 miles from the precious I-10 bridge into Baton Rouge, I saw a traffic jam awaiting me. I got off the Interstate and found a route to U.S. 190 and back into Baton Rouge and yes, more traffic.

But this was my own traffic, and it’s like a comfortable sweater or an old pair of jeans. And more importantly, it is good because, unlike on I-10, I know I’m never far from an exit that will take me to a precious place — home.

Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.

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