There are many places into which out of town people drive to New Orleans
. Since it's somewhat of an island
with all these veins popping out for travel, there's more than a few entrance points. A favorite of mine is what Baxter and I call Junction Bend
. It's an off ramp
coming from the west from some route number that neither of us know. It shoots you down under an overpass
, leading you downtown
Since you can't really sit on the side of the road, in the crook of a concrete wall under an overpass by yourself without looking like some crazed serial killer, Baxter takes me with him. It was one of his secret places, one of many in the city where he can let everyone else have motion and direction for a change.
The road of the Bend is one lane wide, so whatever cars come down it go a little slower, as if with hesitation, into a new place. We look at the license plates. A yellow VW Rabbit from California, a rusty blue Tercel from Wyoming, a pale, oxidized green Cavalier from Nevada. We watch traffic and peel oranges before dark, our jeans turning white from the concrete and our faces brown from the airborne red clay the cars kick up as they pass.
We always wonder the same things. What brought them all here? We can tell which are coming to visit and those coming to live by the way their belongings are packed. There's a difference between piles of clothes wedged in a hatchback's window and boxes, bags and knapsacks. Someone is always in the co pilot seat, folding or unfolding a map to a certain section of the area, a map that is softened in the lines where it folds and marked with dotted lines in black and circles in red. Someone is always pointing, unscrewing a water bottle, or stretching with one arm out the window, the exhaustion that comes with close quarters.
They're usually about our age, mid 20's, and sometimes they'll even wave to us as they go by. There is mud and rain interrupted dust on their cars that came from other places, other states that we've never seen and didn't come from, since Baxter and I came here from the North. Dirt, we theorize, is pretty much the same, but we long to see the places it came from.
What grass that grows by Junction Bend is long and course and trims the horizon in razor blades. I wonder how people end up on this off ramp, what skyward signs mark its descent. The ticking overhead is the staccato of balled tires, wavering on the only smooth surface these cars will know after they descend. After a few months of coming here, a pothole at the bottom has opened slowly like a sore, a sinkhole soft and undetected until the winces from the driver shows its location when he plunks down over it on the left hand side. We wince with him, wishing we cold hold a sign to warn people, but people who move here, Baxter theorizes, don't want to be warned about much.
Once you know where you are, and new people keep coming there, there's this maternal instinct that wants to reach out for them, every single one, to guide, instruct, forewarn. The mileage you witness grows on you as you sit still in one spot, contemplating movement as if it were something you could avoid by not moving in actuality. But you know that each of them will walk away with something different, a revived realization of this ancient place and it will be new again. That is why people keep coming, Baxter says, because we are all still looking.