Road Trip: Ruston – From the Bird’s Nest
There usually isn't much to write about when you have an up and back road trip. And, I really didn't think there would be a lot to write about on the trip this past weekend. After all, we were going to Ruston, not exactly the social hot spot of America. And, it's not like the drive is exciting. Heading up US 167 North of Alexandria is miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles...unless you get caught in one of the speed traps on the way.
Travis Webb, Richie Falgout and I all rode together to Ruston in the KATC Mobile. We weren't but a few miles down the road when Richie remarked "Hey Jay, Travis' age and mine combined aren't as old as you."
Three hours with a smartass in the back seat. This was going to be a g-r-e-a-t trip.
But I knew one thing that was going to make the trip worthwhile: We were having lunch at the Lil' Cajun House in Alexandria.
The restaurant is owned by Erina Valenzuela, a former Lafayette resident who worked with me many years ago when a former employer had a group of hostesses called "The Knockouts" that were our good will ambassadors at client remotes and station events. Erina served in that capacity while she was in college. I had not seen her in more than 25 years. But I knew of the restaurant, which has a great reputation in the central part of the state. (It's easy to find...take the Broadway Exit off I-49 and head west about a mile. It's right near the mall in a strip shopping center.)
There isn't a wait staff there. You just walk up to the counter and place your order. They'll
call your name when it's ready. Erina has been in business for about eight years now and she does all the cooking. And, she does it well.
Travis ordered the Cajun Quesadillas, loaded with chicken, cheese and jambalaya right in the tortilla. Richie had the shrimp po boy and I ordered the Saturday special: Fried shrimp and catfish with fries. (With drinks, the bill was right at forty dollars, which we considered a bargain.)
Richie was only able to eat half of his overstuffed po boy. I managed to get the shrimp and catfish eaten but left some fries. Travis had one leftover quesadilla. All three of us raved about how good it was. A good friend was pulling into the parking lot just as we were leaving. He told me yesterday he'd put Erina's po boys up against anything in Lafayette. That's pretty high praise. (Next time I'm getting the roast beef with a side of gravy.)
Afterward it was time to finish the trip, although all three of us wanted a nap.
It was a beautiful day and Travis was careful when those speed limit signs came into play. And, for those of you who haven't made that trip in a long time, it's much easier now that the road is a four lane all the way.
I asked Travis if he had his credentials and he said he'd be picking them up when we got to
town. He was told to pick up the passes at a gas station about a quarter mile from the stadium.
Wait....media will call is at a gas station? Only in Ruston, Louisiana, I thought to myself.
But, in retrospect, it wasn't a bad thing. It just sounded like a bad thing. There are many times when a parking pass is left at the stadium. The only problem being, you need a parking pass to get anywhere near the will call area. Tech had made arrangements to alleviate the hassle of getting the pass. And, when we got there and asked for the passes, no one looked at us like we were unicorns with a horn sticking out of our forehead.
They immediately went to a drawer and pulled out the pass. They had done it before.
We went upstairs when we got to the stadium and set up equipment. I got to visit with Dave Nitz, one of the great gentlemen in our profession. Dave is in his 41st season broadcasting Louisiana Tech football. Dave does men's basketball and a partial schedule in baseball. Then he heads to Sioux City, IA to broadcast Minor League Baseball all summer long. His team was in the championship series this year and he had to fly in to do the first couple of football games.
When I grow up, I want to be Dave Nitz.
It had been eleven years since I had been in Joe Aillet Stadium and I have to say, the game
day experience and the facility has changed. They had a nice video board in the north end zone and a brand new end zone facility similar to the new Athletic Performance Center adjacent to Cajun Field. It's not as big and part of the square footage is for revenue-generating suites but it's still an impressive facility from the outside.
After setting up equipment I went outside. There's a pretty large tailgate area on the west and north sides of the stadium. They had a small band playing on the west side. That's changed a lot from 2004 when there was very little tailgating going on. But, as a caller on my radio show said Monday, the atmosphere was different from Cajun Field. It wasn't as much a social event to see who could out cook who. It was a place to be until it was time to go into the stadium and kick some butt.
I'll say this for Tech fans. They have their priorities in order.
Speaking of fans, I was very impressed with the crowd the Cajun brought to Ruston, especially coming after the performance against Akron. I'm estimating, counting the band, there were over 2,000 fans in red and that's at least double what Tech had brought to Cajun Field the year before.
I'd like to rave about the pregame meal, but after sampling Erina's cooking, a comparison wouldn't be fair. Bland smoked sausage, beans, barbecue sauce and potato salad was on the menu along with peach cobbler for dessert.
The cobbler was good. So was the sweet tea.
Tech's public address announcer made me laugh when he welcomed the fans to "the crown jewel of the UL system." I was impressed he could keep a straight face. I wasn't able to. Good thing I wasn't having a sip of sweet tea...it would have come out of my nose. Then, he proceeded to "Lafayette" the fans to death, which made me lose a good amount of the respect I had gotten since getting to campus. And, I'm sure it was done on purpose, either by him or by his administration. Very disappointing.
Not much else to report. We packed up after the game and Richie and I got to the car before Travis was finished editing. The drive home was pretty uneventful. But I had eaten long before kickoff and I admit I was a little hungry.
By the time we got to Alex I was thinking about that roast beef po boy with extra gravy. But, Lil' Cajun House wasn't open that late.
I guess Erina has to sleep sometime.