Huey P. Long for Pie!
When first planning my trip to New Orleans, the number one thing on my list to see was the Huey P. Long Bridge. I’m sure that is not a very popular tourist attraction but one that has been on my list for 30 years. The 8,000′ long cantilevered steel truss bridge rises 150 above the Mississippi River and was opened in 1935. But that has nothing to do with its significance to me.
Backing up to the late 80’s when Trivial Pursuit was all the rage, I fashion myself as a bit of a knowledgeable sort. I am competing against my dad in a hotly contested match. Like most father and sons at that age, the competition is fierce and I have to win. The game is on the line and dad is going for his final piece of the pie. I know he is weak in history and geography. I don’t recall if I choose for him to answer a question from the history or geography category, but I’ll never forget the question and answer.
What bridge over the Mississippi River was named after an assassinated Louisiana senator?
I was grinning from ear to ear knowing I had stumped him. Without hesitation he proclaims. “The Huey P Long Bridge in Jefferson Parish!”
What!?!, How the hell did he know that? Unbeknownst to me, he and my mother had lived in New Orleans for a brief stint prior to my conception.
Is that your final answer?
He goes on to recall a time when he would walk across the bridge to get to his home on the other side of the river. One night instead of paying the ten cent fare (required back in the ’60’s) he got mouthy with the cops on duty and subsequent kerfuffle cost him a night in jail. The story goes that he is barely spared an ‘ass whippin” for his shenanigans by a sympathetic police officer.
There it is, my dads own personal Slum Dog Millionaire story. I wouldn’t call his hometown of Owensboro, KY a slum nor did he ever attain millionaire status. But today, I pay my own little tribute to a man who lived every day like it was Fat Tuesday. While since totally reconstructed and widened, I drive across the bridge that earned him the game-winning piece of pie.
Mardi Gras World
While still celebrating my dads’ life, there is no better place to go than Blaine Kerns Mardi Gras World. Since the 1940’s the Blaine Kern studios have been producing the floats for many celebrations, Mardi Gras, and many other parades.
The tour begins with a short video on the history of the Kern family and the studio. Then the small group enters the massive warehouse. The warehouse is an absolute explosion of color, frivolity, and merriment.
A guide directs us through the first stations where artists are busy gluing panels of styrofoam together and cutting and shaving the huge blocks into the desired shapes. Styrofoam is material of choice because of its lightweight and relatively low cost. Once the panels are in the desired shape they undergo a Papier-mâche process before the final painting and decorating. Depending on the parade they may be fitted with lights for night use.
Many tours are stiff and rehearsed, not this one. The atmosphere is light and airy as you would expect. The artists are jovial and happy; who wouldn’t be in this environment. Once the tour guide walks through the float-making process from the initial design through to the mounting on trailers, she turns us loose to wander the massive space at will. This has me spinning around looking in every nook and cranny marveling at the creativity and workmanship on display.
As if the Kerns arent busy enough producing floats, they are also the sole provider of the Chick-fil-A cows that are on billboards all across the country. To withstand the elements for long periods of time, the cows are made of fiberglass and not the styrofoam used in floats.
The tour wraps up with a helping of king cake. Traditionally, the sugar and cinnamon cake is only served from the first of January through Ash Wednesday. But at Mardi Gras World every day is fit for a king, cake. Dad got his pie and now I’ll take the cake, la vie est belle!