Let's clean up our act
For our family vacation to Maryland this year, I thought it would be a good idea to drive instead of fly. One of the theories behind the travel-by-land decision was the opportunity for my children, ages 12 and 10, to see a variety of Southern cities while making our way to Baltimore and then Maryland's Eastern Shore. Our journey from Baton Rouge to Baltimore and then to Wye Mills and Easton, Md., took us through the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and Delaware, as well as D.C.
We saw cities and towns big and small, visited the nation's capital as well as the nation's oldest continually operating state capitol, and checked out at least a dozen college campuses, including those that belong to upcoming Tiger football foes Alabama and the University of Towson (though the most inspiring tour of academia was strolling the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy). Yet what fascinated my son and daughter, whose only previous brushes with elevation change were the levee that borders River Road and the Indian Mounds on LSU's campus, was the radically different topography once you clear Tuscaloosa—they were breathless in Virginia seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their other lasting memories: 1) a first encounter with the 4-foot, saltwater surf of the Atlantic Ocean, 2) the remarkable number of Cracker Barrel restaurants that are in business along our nation's interstate system, each looking exactly the same as the one seen two exits earlier, and 3) the sight of a 6-pound milkshake and 3-pound hamburger at Chick & Ruth's Delly in Annapolis.
I, too, was left in amazement by the prolific number of Cracker Barrels, which clearly have replaced Stuckey's—home to the infamous pecan log roll—as the road warriors' go-to destination.
Yet, two facts that could not escape notice during our eight-state-and-District-of-Columbia odyssey were: 1) the horrible condition of Louisiana's pothole-infused roads compared to every other state we traveled, and 2) Baton Rouge is the undisputed litter capital of the South.
Seriously, there's no need for the “Welcome to Louisiana” signs that dot our border. You can tell you're home the instant your vehicle begins to bounce and shimmy, initiating an abdominal rearrangement of one's kidneys.
Even more aggravating—and sad—was the undeniable realization of just how little we in Baton Rouge care about our city and parish. Simply put, we live like pigs. Go to other cities and you don't see the water-stained fast-food bags, extinguished cigarette butts, broken bottles and crushed beer cans that are as ubiquitous on our roads as standstill traffic. A drive through suburbia in other states doesn't include a 500-yard cavalcade of signs along right-of-ways informing me that Toms shoes are in stock, or that a drive-thru pizza can be had for $4.99, or that I can pay off my house mortgage in 18 months. Other cities, of course, have abandoned buildings, but they don't have the added hideousness of rusted metal remnants of dilapidated signs lining their roadways. The public works departments in other cities and towns regularly mow the grass along roads, streets and boulevards, rather than allowing the greenscape to devolve into a swath of weeds 2-feet tall.
The filth in our fair city is such that last month, just prior to a convention of international brainiacs, scientists and astronomers visiting our downtown, the DDD had to declare a day of cleanup so we could make ourselves reasonably presentable. Am I the only one embarrassed by the fact that we need an official day of cleanup just to avoid humiliating ourselves?
What happened to Mayor Kip Holden's declaration of war on litter? Don't we have a litter court? Frankly, Holden has been as ineffective on this front as his predecessor, Bobby Simpson, who launched a pig-faced billboard campaign to guilt us into cleaning up what's been dubbed “America's next great city.” We've been at war with litter in Baton Rouge for more than a decade. The verdict is in: We've fought the litter and the litter won.
To be fair, it's not right to simply blame government for the trash that litters this city. It's my belief that the cleanliness of a city or parish is equal to the amount of pride that residents have in the place they call home. Based on our appearance, we don't like it here very much.
Others will say we have more pressing problems, like poverty, public education and crime. True, but how can we expect to tackle those monumental challenges when we're buried under a mountain of trash?
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