#30 High School Football

On Friday nights between August and December, small town Cajuns can be found enjoying the local high school football game all around Acadiana. They go for different reasons, but whether it’s to root for a relative’s son, or support their home town, high school football is cheap, fun entertainment for the whole family. It’s like a Saint’s game, but sometimes your home team actually wins one. (Ok, I know the Saints have been very good the past few seasons, but they’ll forever be frozen in my memory as the loveable never-won-a-playoff-game Saints of my youth.)

Sitting amongst the crowd, you can hear the locals yelling out plays from the bleachers. Pick up dat ball couyon! Block dat kick! Pass de ball to T-Boy over dere! The stands are filled with old timers reliving the football glory of their youth, with only a pair of busted knees and a worn out letterman jacket to show for it.

Louisiana football players have been well represented in the NFL. Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw was born in Shreveport Louisiana (I know Shreveport is barely part of Louisiana, but I’m still counting him). In recent years, Jake Delhomme, Peyton and Eli Manning, Kevin Faulk, Marshall Faulk, Bobby Boucher, and many others have proudly represented our state. In terms of population, only Washington DC and Mississippi have more NFL players. Not bad for a bunch of Louisiana boys.

Most high school football games are a blast, but nothing beats the excitement of playing a rival team, usually from the neighboring town. This is a game of high stakes, since the losing town has to endure a year of taunts and humiliation from the winning side. The big game for me was the Cecilia Bulldogs vs the Breaux Bridge Tigers. Readers of The Daily Advertiser voted this game the largest high school rivalry in Louisiana. In the week leading up to the game, trash talking ramps up, houses are toilet papered, and fights break out between students as tensions rise. On the night of the big game, the whole town practically shuts down as just about everyone goes to the game. This is the loudest game of the season with chants of De-Fense and the thunder of synchronized bleacher stomping filling the air. Even in a losing season, we Cecilia locals can hold our head up high as long as we manage to whup Breaux Bridge. What’s your towns big rivalry?

Cecilia Bulldog Fight Song

Fight for our colors, green and gold
Fight for our honour, heart and soul

Lift up her glory, lift up her name

Shake down the thunder with her fame

Win or lose, we’ll never be blue
We stand together, loyal and true

We’re from Cecilia, this is our song

Cecilia, right or wrong, Hey!

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#26 The Atchafalaya Basin

Cajuns love the outdoors, the fresh air, being surrounded by wilderness, and there’s no better place for this in south Louisiana than in the Atchafalaya Basin. The Basin’s our backyard, a place we can get away to on the weekends and wind down with a little camping, fishing, and beer drinking — everything a modern Coonass needs.

When I was young, my grandfathers would take me to the Basin every few weeks. We’d drive on top of the Henderson or Butte La Rose levees and choose a good place to launch our boat. We’d ride out to our secret spot, moving past house boats and navigating a maze of cypress knees, careful not to hit any underwater stumps. Sometimes we’d fish, other times we’d pick up nets that my grandfather had set out earlier. Sometimes my grandfather would hand me a shotgun with instructions to shoot pretty much anything that flew over my head, endangered or not. To my grandfathers, hunting and fishing laws were more suggestions than anything else. Nobody was going to tell an old school Cajun what he could or couldn’t shoot. Luckily for the birds, I was a pretty bad shot.

South Louisiana contains 40-45% of the wetlands of the lower 48 states, and the Atchafalaya Basin makes up a huge part of that. With 865,000 acres, the Atchafalaya Basin is the largest swamp in the United States. The Basin is over 15 miles wide running east to west, and 150 miles long. The word Atchafalaya comes from its Choctaw name “hacha falaia” which means “long river”. The Choctaws used this word to describe the Atchafalaya River that feeds the Basin. For those that don’t want to get their hands dirty, the Basin can most easily be seen while driving the 18.2 mile stretch of I-10 that runs between Henderson and Marigouin.

The Atchafalaya is home to a wide array of wildlife, including over 300 species of birds and the largest population of bald eagles in the south central United States. It also hosts a large population of American alligator along over 54 types of reptiles and amphibians. In addition, over 90 species of fish, crawfish, crabs, and shrimp also call the Atchafalaya home, and provide a livelihood to many Louisiana fisherman. The fishing industry brings 300 million dollars into Louisiana each year, and the Atchafalaya is part of that.

The Atchafalaya Basin serves an important role as a buffer marsh. As a wetland, the Basin performs many vital functions, including flood control, water purification, and storm buffering. It is home to endangered species such as the Louisiana black bear and the bald eagle, and native wildlife like grobecs (delicious), osprey, herons, egrets, beavers, and alligators.

In the early 20th century, it became quite evident that the Mississippi River, seeking a more direct route to the Gulf of Mexico, was attempting to reroute itself over the Atchafalaya River. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 triggered a max exodus from communities like Bayou Chene, Sherburne, Atchafalaya, and Pelba as these towns were ravaged by Mississippi floodwaters. To prevent future flooding due to the Mississippi’s repeated attempts to redirect itself, the US Corps of Engineers erected huge floodgates at the intersection of the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers. An extensive system of levees and channels was also built to help control future flooding.

In recent years, control of the Mississippi’s flood waters has become a controversial issue as many point to it as a major reason for land loss in Louisiana. Much of the Mississippi’s valuable silt is now being deposited over the continental shelf, rather than into surrounding buffer marshes, which depend on this silt for replenishment. These marshes play an important role as buffers against storms and hurricanes. It is estimated that over 29 square miles of Louisiana land is lost each year to erosion. I’m no scientist or tree hugger, but I love the Basin, and want it to be around for future generations to enjoy. If that means I have to make a few sacrifices in the short term, than so be it.

#22 Working Offshore

Jackup Oil Rig - EndeavourGrowing up in the 70s and 80s, it was impossible not to feel the impact that the oil and natural gas industry had on southern Louisiana. Local businesses boomed with money from oil profits. Most people I knew had some connection to the industry, either by working in the oil field, or in one of its many support industries. Working offshore was one of the best paying jobs in southern Louisiana for a non-college graduate. In fact, you could make a lot more money working offshore than most college graduates could. My grandfather worked on an Exxon drilling platform for 40 years, and was able to comfortably support his wife and six children on his salary. Sadly, he was part of the last generation of Cajuns who could work in the oil field for 40 years, and get the gold watch treatment.

Oil played a huge role in Louisiana in the 20th century. Land based oil exploration began in Louisiana in the early 1900s, and the first offshore platform was built off the Louisiana coast in the 1940s. Many thousands of Cajun men were drawn to this industry in the years that followed. When oil and gas prices rose in the 1970s, Louisiana’s economy boomed. Oil companies built more rigs and hired more people on the assumption that the price of oil would reach $50 a barrel, a bet that was lost when prices crashed to $10 a barrel in the mid 1980s. In the aftermath of the crash, unemployment reached double digits and Louisiana residents experienced a deep recession, with many people losing their livelyhoods. While the rest of the country enjoyed a booming economy, the 1980s was a hard time for Louisiana and its citizens.

Most offshore workers work one of two types of shifts, a 7 & 7, or a 14 & 7, meaning 7 days working followed by 7 days off or 14 days working and 7 days off. I spent a summer working on a natural gas platform, and I can easily say it’s the hardest job I ever worked. I’d wake up at 4am every other Monday morning and drive out to Intracoastal City, deep in Vermilion Parish. There I’d take a 45 minute helicopter ride out to my platform with my co-workers. Once I arrived, I was put right to work. As low man on the totem poll, I was stuck doing most of the menial tasks, from unloading the supply boats, to sandblasting and painting the rig while dangling 150 ft over the water. At the end of a hard 12 hour day, I wound down as most roughnecks do, by eating lots of food, watching TV, and playing some cards or pool at night.

Life on a rig is full of all sorts of potential hazards. It’s very easy to lose a finger or toe, get struck by a heavy object, or throw your back out lifting something heavy. The risk of injury is multiplied by the remoteness of the rig. Any hospital emergency room is well over an hour away, and rig staff usually have minimal first aid training. Injuries are so common, in fact, that local law firms have created a cottage industry of offshore injury litigation. Sure, your back might not work again, but you’ll have the best bass boat in the neighborhood while you collect workman’s comp. Luckily, I survived my summer offshore with no injuries, but I’m convinced that had I stayed longer, it was just a matter of time before something happened to me.

Today, Louisiana remains the #1 producer of crude oil, and #2 producer of natural gas in the United States. With 19 operating crude oil refineries, it has the second largest refining capacity in the US. Louisiana supplies a quarter of the U.S. production of natural gas. There are currently more 2,300 active oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. With oil prices over $110 a barrel, the industry is once again booming, though not at the same levels seen in the 1970s. There are many jobs to go around, but people who lived through the last recession are reluctant to return since they fear that there’s no long term future in the field. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

#19 Cockfighting

In 2008, Louisiana became the last state to ban cockfighting, yet again securing the states spot as the laughing stock of the country. Cockfighting is a spectator sport in which two specially bred roosters fight it out with razor blades or spikes fastened to their feet until one bird either dies or refuses to fight. The action takes place in an arena, while a cheering crowd places bets on the outcome.

With an estimated worth of 150 million dollars, this little blood sport didn’t go down without a fight. Proponents of the sport argued that fighting comes naturally for these birds, that the birds actually enjoy it. There were the usual appeals to tradition, about cockfighting’s positive impact on the economy, on our Cajun way of life. Phrases like ‘it’s our heritage‘ popped up in just about every pro cockfighting argument. How many times has that phrase been uttered to protect and defend a dying tradition?

I’d like to dispel the myth of cockfighting’s popularity in Cajun culture. Although I grew up at the epicenter of cockfighting country, I’ve never seen a single event, or known a single person who frequented cockfights. Hell, I didn’t even know where these events took place. Recent polls show I’m not alone. Some 82% of Louisiana residents supported the cockfighting ban, so it’s a bit of a stretch to say Cajuns, on the whole, like it. For the sake of this post, let’s call cockfighting Stuff That a Small Minority of Cajuns Like.

As a full fledged carnivore, I have absolutely no problem with eating the meat of slaughtered animals, nor do I have any issues with game hunting. You won’t catch me at a PETA meeting anytime soon, but when you put two animals in the ring and watch them fight to their death for your personal enjoyment and profit, well, that’s where I draw the line. That’s not part of my Cajun culture. Some may lose their livelyhood over the ban, but so be it. Some traditions need to die. Now, let me get down from my soapbox…I got some chicken to cook.

#18 Boudin

Crawfish, gumbo, and jambalaya may get all the glory when it comes to Acadian cuisine, but there is no more uniquely Cajun food than boudin. A simple food, boudin consists of cooked pork scraps, rice, onions, and seasoning stuffed into pig intestines. Nowadays, most places substitute pig intestines for artificial sausage casings, so the squeamish need not worry.

Boudin has a long history in Cajun culture, and can be traced as far back as the early 1800s, when French fur trapper Toussaint Charbonneau whipped up a batch of buffalo boudin for the famous exploring team Lewis and Clark. The boudin we know and love today is a result of poor Cajun families finding a use for the leftover scraps of pork and intestines after a boucherie (community hog slaughter). Boudin slowly evolved over the years, with each family refining and passing their secret recipes down to future generations.

One of the best things about boudin is that it’s a people’s food: simple, delicious, inexpensive, and portable. Sold by the link at convenience stores and local meat markets, and wrapped in thick white butchers paper, boudin is the Cajun man’s answer to the burrito. It’s the ultimate food for the Coonass who’s on the run. And Cajun’s don’t care where their boudin comes from either. Whether it’s from a fine restaurant (not likely), or the back of a gas station, all that matters is the end result. In a way, boudin is the ultimate in Cajun culinary meritocracy.

Boudin can be eaten in two ways: you can squeeze the boudin stuffing into your mouth with your fingers or teeth, or depending on the consistency of your link’s casing, you can bite into it like a sausage, casing and all. Either way, expect your hands end up greasy, so keep some napkins close by. And if you don’t have time for all dat mess, you can order up a batch of boudin balls, which are tiny rolled balls of boudin, deep fat fried, served piping hot. They’re like little Cajun donut holes, you can just pop them in your mouth.

Now fights have been known to break out over which boudin is the best. Cajun people defend their favorite links the same way most people defend their favorite football team. We usually tend to favor our home team and not some foreign store that’s 10 miles away. We also argue about all the different boudin qualities: spicy vs mild, crisp vs chewy casing, liver vs no liver, and the rice to meat ratio. Luckily, we’ve got an objective resources to help us decide. The Boudin Link, a comprehensive guide to the boudin of Acadiana, reviews and scores all of the major boudin outlets in Acadiana.  Another great read is The Southern Boudin Trail, which contains several interviews with some of the area’s top boudiniers.

Unfortunately, decent boudin is almost impossible to get outside of Cajun country. Sure, some major grocery chains sell vacuum packed boudin, but trust me, it’s just not the same. Next time you’re home visiting your family, don’t forget to stop by your local neighborhood convenience store, and fill up an ice chest with your favorite links.

#17 Crawfish Boils

Crawfish Boil. If those two words set off the waterworks in your mouth, then you just might be a Cajun. Don’t worry, that’s about as Foxworthy as I’ll ever get on you. I brought up crawfish boil rather than boiled crawfish because while boiled crawfish is a delicious food, a crawfish boil is a grand event. It’s like shootin’ your first deer, going to Mardis Gras, and your wedding day all rolled into one…but even better (but don’t tell my wife I said ‘dat, you). A crawfish boil is an all day affair that combines everything a Cajun loves: outdoors, fire, dead crustaceans, music, and gluttony.

When the guests first arrive, they socialize, munching on snacks, and drink beer. This is a good time to whip up a batch of crawfish dip, a mixture of equal parts ketchup, mayonaise and maybe a dash of seasoning and Tabasco Sauce. Some Cajuns swear by the dip, others are purists, and prefer to enjoy the natural flavor of the crawfish, and the 8 lbs of seasoning they were cooked in. There’s electricity in the air, as everyone anticipates the first glorious batch.

As the first batch of crawfish nears completion, the mood shifts, and people slowly start positioning themselves near the table, like a game of Cajun musical chairs. Sure, they’re still mingling and having a good time, but they’re really only thinking about diving into a pile of Louisiana lobster. Then the moment of truth arrives, and the steaming crawfish are dumped over a big table covered with newspapers, and the chowdown begins. This is a Jeckyll and Hyde moment, where all Cajuns are transformed into fierce crawfish peelin’ and eatin’ machines. Their primal instincts take over and there’s less chit chat, because now it’s time for business.

But don’t think we’re complete savages, even though our lizard brains have been switched on, there are still rules that have to be observed at a crawfish boil. First, it’s considered extremely rude to reach across the table and grab the biggest crawfish, especially when the pile has started to dwindle down. People have been stabbed in the hand with a fork for that offense, and you know what…they deserved it. Secondly, don’t go eatin’ the dead ones (have a Cajun explain that one to you). Do remember not wipe your eyes when you have seasoning on your hands, and feel free to suck the heads (get your mind out of the gutter, couyon!). Lastly try not to fill up on corn and potatoes, it’s a trick to keep you from eating too much crawfish! It’s like filling up on bread at a buffet. Remember, you’re here for one thing, and one thing only, and that’s to gorge yourself on crawfish.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, you’re ready for your next crawfish boil. Don’t forget to pace yourself, a crawfish boil isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and remember to wear ‘dem stretchy pants.

#12 Drive Through Daiquiri Shops

Daiquiri HutCajun’s love their alcohol, and they love it fast. If you ever had any doubt, then look no further than one of our greatest innovations…the Drive Through Daiquiri Shop. Just pull up in your car or truck and order a daiquiri off the menu. You can choose an individual or even gallon-sized portions. Next, you pay the attendant, who passes you your drinks in a large styrofoam cup through the drivers side window. That’s all there is to it!

But isn’t this illegal, you ask? Not in Louisiana chére. As long as you don’t poke that straw through the tape covering the hole in the lid (wink wink), you’re on legal terra firma. It’s a foolproof law, since everybody knows that once you remove the tape, it couldn’t possibly be reapplied. Still don’t believe me? Here’s the law that allows it (LSA 32:300).

This might seem ridiculous to outsiders, but to a hard drinking Coonass, a daiquiri is barely even considered a drink. In fact, it’s a warm up drink, an alcoholic appetizer, something you put down to get your party buzz on. Some Cajuns even swear daiquiris improve their driving (though the numbers aren’t on their side). Of course it should be legal to have daiquiris in your car. Hell, it should be mandatory.

Some Coonasses buying a daiquiri down at Holly Beach:

From LSA 32:300:
“Open alcoholic beverage container” means any bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage and to which any of the following is applicable: (i) It is open or has a broken seal. (ii) Its contents have been partially removed. “Open alcoholic beverage container” shall not mean any bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of frozen alcoholic beverage unless the lid is removed or a straw protrudes through the lid.