Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Breaux Bridge: Louisiana's Friendliest Town

“You are always welcome to visit this little City of Crawfish.” Rollie Cantu, Assistant Chief of Police for Breaux Bridge, signed this message in our coach guest book on the day we were preparing to drive away from this friendly Louisiana town. He had been among the first to welcome us here when we stopped at the police station to inquire about where we could park our coach while visiting Cajun Country.

When we arrived in Breaux Bridge, we crossed a narrow but high bridge across the Bayou Teche. Streets offered plenty of parking for cars, but a 40-foot coach with a Toyota on a towing dolly can’t be parallel parked. Rollie directed us to Parc Hardy on the corner of Rees Street and Doucet Drive, right next to the Winn Dixi supermarket.

Rollie picked up on our genuine interest in his town. He took us inside to a courtroom where photos of the town fathers hung on the wall. The patch he presented to Ed – “Breaux Bridge Police, Crawfish Capital of the World” – is the same one worn by all the town officers. We felt like he handed us the gold key to the city. In a way, he did.

He sent us to see Tina Begnaud, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce. She and her associate recommended places where we could enjoy all that the region offers: Cajun and Zydeco music, antiques, crawfish, swamp tours, Acadian culture – and directions to get there. Other people who coincidentally stopped by the Chamber Office also made recommendations too. With all this information, I knew then that we’d stay longer than day or two originally planned.

Ed and I took a leisurely stroll along Bridge and Berard Streets. I found out that Ed loves old clocks so we lingered in The Clock Shop among the towering Grandfathers and wall of chiming vintage clocks. The Victor Victrola phonographs caught my eye. They remind me of the one Grandma had in her second floor bedroom of the old Indiana farmhouse. My cousins and I would crank it to play the thick 78s we found in the cabinet. I let the shop keeper tip the needle onto the antique record and crank out a song for us.

We were in town too early to get a coffee at Café Des Amis so we went to the Coffee Break. After we drank our cups of Community Coffee, Ed sank into one of the leather chairs with a coffee table book of Life Magazine photos. The gallery of local artists held my attention for awhile then the caffeine kicked-in, I had to move. I browsed through the antique stores at the dinner plates, jewelry, and vintage wardrobes. Mixed in among these serious collectables were Zydeco neckties for music making and Cajun cuisine cookbooks. The book covers reminded me of our plans for lunch so I went to find Ed, an easy task in a town with only two major shopping streets.

We scouted for a crawfish restaurant the past evening so we knew to go to The Fruit Stand where Tee, the man in the Big Red Train had welcomed us. Crawfish is a main attraction in Breaux Bridge. History notes that Breaux Bridge restaurants were the first to offer crawfish openly on their menus. The city also claims to be the birthplace of crawfish etouffe and became known for crawfish harvest and cooking. In honor of its centennial celebration in 1959, the Louisiana legislature officially named Breaux Bridge “The Crawfish Capital of the World.” We feasted on crawfish boiled in Swamp Dust seasoning and dipped each tail in a mixture spiced with Slap Ya Mama flavoring. We would miss the Crawfish Festival scheduled annually during the first full weekend of May. This event features a crawfish eating contest. The record consumed is 55 ¾ pounds. Ed and I felt full after sharing merely three-pounds. We’d miss dancing at the festival, but we would dance in Parc Hardy as guests at a birthday party later in the week of our stay.

The Crawfish Festival will be held in Parc Hardy and lots of advance work goes into preparation for this event. The Park staff and Sheriff’s office will have roles to play cutting the grass and preparing the midway for carnival rides, the arts & crafts vendors, musicians, and crawfish races, and Cajun & Zydeco dance contests. We witness these fellows charged with the park work hard each day, yet they too gave us reason to name Breaux Bridge “The Friendliest Town in Louisiana.”

Francis Reese, Assistant Park Director, checked on us regularly during our stay. We looked forward to his ready smile and conversation. He gladly gave us a supply of trash bags so we could honor our promise to pick up park litter. One night when he manned the ball field concession stand, he came by in a golf cart with chili dogs and bottles of punch flavored Power Aid. He couldn’t stay; he had to get back to the hungry baseball fans. We enjoyed this treat and meeting Francis!

We’d see Emile some days. At age 71, he works for the Sheriff’s office watching over the four prisoners in the jailhouse stripes cutting grass and mowing acres of grass in Parc Hardy. He told us they never give him trouble. He treats them fair. There’s a shotgun in his truck, but he is unarmed. Even these men doing time for their criminal acts offered smiles or a friendly nod.

This city is founded on friendliness. According to a Tourist Commission brochure Firmin Breaux built a footbridge across the Bayou Teche in 1799 to ease passage for his family and neighbors. His son Agricole replaced the suspension footbridge in 1818 with a vehicular bridge suitable for the passage of wagons. Travelers were given directions by local people, "Go to Breaux’s bridge…” Eventually, Breaux Bridge became the city’s name. And, so with that bit of history and proof today that the people of Breaux Bridge continue the tradition of easing passage for travelers, I would encourage you to go to Breaux’s bridge…Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

Route #4: Texas Rt. 124 from Gilchrist, TX; Rt. 73; I-10 East; LA State Highway 328 South

April 8 – 15, 2008

On April 8, 2008 a brief storm passed over Breaux Bridge. Ed complained that the Louisiana rain would just make the air humid. I optimistically looked in the sky for a rainbow and found one arched over Parc Hardy, a good sign for beginning a good visit.

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