Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.
We stopped for a restroom. Pulled into a fuel station, parked the truck, and went inside for a look around. Let the kiddo wiggle some before we kept up the long ride to Houston. Highway 28 into Alexandria, Louisiana is a long road to nowhere in particular, skirting Catahoula Lake and the Dewey W. Wills WMA, a tract of little but high water and low land.
Most of southern Louisiana feels half an inch from submersion. You can feel that the water wants this place, see it in the raised roads and stilted homes. But the locals approach it with the inevitability of sunrise: nothing worth getting your hackles up over.
There’s something reassuring about a gas station that sells nails. Hardware and soft drinks both illuminated by the glow of a deep-fried buffet. And not just any buffet, but one that requires a lesson in the vernacular.
A friend told us that no matter what, we had to try the boudin as we came through Louisiana. Sure enough, there it was on the menu. It was early for lunch, but I’ve got little in the way of culinary fear when an opportunity presents itself. I started with something I was familiar with.
“Are those chicken livers you’ve got there?”
“Yep,” the woman behind the counter said. “Got some gizzards left, too,”
“I’ll take an order of the livers, then.”
“Larger or small?”
“What about this boudin? What is it?”
She cocked her head a little. A wry smile turned up at the corner of her lips. I’d pronounced it like any good Appalachian boy. Boo-din. Clearly this was wrong.
“Where are you from?”
There’s a question. Where am I from, these days? The dark corner of North Carolina where I was born? The bright and brilliant hills of Virginia, where I met my wife? The soft green Tennessee Valley where we made our life together? That's as good as anywhere, I guess.
“Tennessee,” I say.
“I knew you weren’t from around here,” she says, still smiling. “It’s hard to explain. I’ll get you one to try.”
She hands me something the size of a golf ball, deep fried and warm. Could have been anything in there, but I’m game enough and take a bite with my daughter on my hip. Delicious. A rolled ball of rice and pork and peppers and spice. I pinch off a bit and offer it up to kiddo’s lips. She takes to it like a hound.
“How’d you say it?”
She works the word one more time, slowly.
The last syllable falls on itself at the end. The “N” hangs at the roof of her mouth and rolls there for spell, coursing its roots from this spot, a stone’s throw from Alexandria, and on through 334 years of twisting and turning French language.
“Boudin,” I say.
“Closer,” she says. Close as I’ll get, I reckon.
“You all headed home?”
“In a way,” I say, and it's the truth.
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