A few miles outside of downtown Lake Charles we saw the most intimidating and dangerous road either of us has considered riding during this trip. The I-10 bridge is more than a hundred feet tall with no shoulder and has construction limiting two lanes. We shrugged and decided to get a closer look. After seeing it up close, we decided neither of us wants to die a miserable death on the highway. We eventually agreed to hitchhike.
In about ten minutes, we had two men in trucks that were driving home from work stop to take us over the bridge. They were familiar with the problem and didn’t seem surprised by what we were going through.
In the mix of deciding whether to go or try another route fifteen miles North we were contacted by Jennifer, a couch surfing host we had unsuccessfully tried to call earlier. Her timing being the worst possible, we tried to negotiate being picked up by her, but the men in the trucks interrupted the idea. After several phone calls, it had been decided we would go to the Wendy’s downtown and wait for Jennifer to come pick us up. She was coming from South of town by about fifteen miles and would be awhile. We posted up and ate the frosty and french fries combination neither of us used to believe was good.
At this point we were already done with Lake Charles. The night was going to consist of showers and sleep with no celebration due to our anticlimactic ride over the bridge. We were happy to have been helped across, but the stressful feeling that came with talking a stranger into coming to get us from fifteen miles away was overwhelming. We weren’t really pumped about the idea at this point.
“Excuse me, I know you might find this kind of weird, but are you two on a journey?”
“Umm, yeah we are.”
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Matt Gaspard.
We raised our heads to see a short statured and sharp dressed man with his hair swept back, but left sort of unruly. He was being followed by a small dog named Lola whom he addressed like a person. She was equally responsive.
“I saw you when I was walking by the lake and I thought to myself, man they are on a journey.”
A brief discussion later and we had found out that Matt, too, will be on a journey of his own soon. He is going to hike the Appalachian Trail with his close friend, Troy Wainwright. The introduction was enthusiastic and he decided on the spot to welcome us to stay with him at his loft two blocks away. We called Jennifer back and found out she had not yet left; golden like grahams.
Now, we aren’t psychopaths, therefore, we have trouble distinguishing if anyone we meet first hand is going to turn out to be the type that will not only murder us, but won’t tell anybody about it. When we are invited into a strangers home without even provoking the invitation, it leaves us with the option that we will in fact run into such a person.
The moment we walked into Matt’s loft and saw how exotic and eclectic the decoration was we figured we were either dealing with the classiest murderer we’d ever have the pleasure of being strangled by or we had just won the lottery (we’re aware it’s over five hundred million now).
Matt gave us a tour, on both floors, of his well furnished, well kept apartment. The upstairs being more like the captain’s quarters of a seafaring vessel and the downstairs more like the inside of Matt’s head.
He also told us he was having some friends come over soon. We were told they were good people, but at that point neither of us cared how good they were, we were busy celebrating.
Showers later, we met Matt’s friends. The apartment had left us with questions of who Matt really was, and his friends started to give us a better idea. The first visitor was a man named Tim. He’s an optometrist, recent divorcee and easily forty years older than any of the guests that came after him. The rest were mostly eighteen year olds that were off the following day from high school because the teachers in the area were protesting.
Once we got past the mix of company we were pulled in easily by getting to know all of them. One girl, Garrants, had lived in France. Another, Mike, seemed much more interested in what we were doing than he did in college. It was the most inquisitive of any age group that we’ve explained our trip to. We received recommendations from them about where to go and what to do while in New Orleans. Eventually, the group left and we were three again. Soon after, we were joined by a friend from the building whose name wasn’t as catchy as his nickname, Red.
Red and Matt explained how they will often climb to the top of the tallest buildings and look out over their city. It was an open invitation for us to join them that night at the top of the county court house. Photos from the top of the city at night? The answer is yes.
The next morning we decided we would take Matt’s new invitation to stay a second day. It was too good to pass up and it had pretty much always worked out for us before.
We all spoke of our backgrounds and our lives currently. We talked about the people we had encountered last night. Matt asked us questions about our trip and we responded with questions about his. Even though Matt described himself as manic, a fitting word for his frantic nature, there was no questioning his sanity any longer, he was clear.
We took our time getting motivated, but eventually made it down to a restaurant owned by one of Matt’s numerous friends. After some green smoothies, we were given Matt’s personalized tour of Lake Charles. He showed us historical buildings downtown, an ex-governor’s house, and the lakefront. The tour ended on an old World War II tank where Matt told us more about his service in the Marine Corps.
Of all the mysterious qualities that Matt had, his tact in speaking about the military was the most intriguing. He was calm when he talked about being deployed and involving himself in war. He seemed effected, but not destroyed. Neither of us being friends with many military service members we felt happy to round out our perspective on that crowd. Story time was over though, and we all split to take care of different things. Plans to reconvene and have another little party were spoken of.
Later that night we did in fact reconvene and we were soon joined by Matt’s “brother”, Troy Wainwright. We’ve noticed people in the South will introduce themselves with their full names. It’s so classy we can’t help but try to join in.
Troy was a marine with Matt, though they weren’t in the same platoon (forgive the possibly incorrect military jargon). Troy is the perfect foil for the compact, fast-paced Matt. He’s as steady as Matt is jumpy and the two made for a great pair to spend our night with. There were a few more friends that came by, including Red from the previous night, but nobody stayed the entire time. We got to know Troy better through the night and coincidentally we got a better understanding of Matt through our interactions with him. Troy was the first to chide Matt for anything and it showed a charming quality of their friendship.
Like us, they are investing in each other’s company when they take off into unknown territory. They were as drawn in to our story as we were with theirs. Now they were all connected and everyone seemed aware of that. One highlight for the night included having conversations about how Matt was nervous that we would assume he was a serial killer when he originally approached us. We claimed that we had safety in numbers. Another highlight was late night pizza, a staple of this trip.
Our final morning with the guys we packed, exchanged information, snapped photos, and then shipped out. Troy made reference to how it felt when fellow soldiers were being sent out on missions. Though our trip isn’t as intense, the feeling of brotherhood that both men exuded was infectious and we talked about seeing each other again when their path crosses ours.
Lake Charles was the worst welcome possible followed by the best possible. What started out as a city neither of us planned on caring about, turned out to be a lesson in optimism. Something that Troy and Matt talked about briefly while helping us with our gear was that marines are taught to adapt to their surroundings. It was the kind of mentality that implies if you have nothing, you aren’t trying hard enough. We often feel overburdened and undersupplied, but then again, we’ve never been under fire. Troy had words of encouragement that were suitable to the very situation we were in before we were approached by a curious stranger “the worst times make for the best stories” and “you got to keep on moving, because if you’re standing still you’re just dying.”