On the train to Tuscon the older gent sitting across from me started chatting with people. Turns out is is a professional comedian just coming back from a show. A long time ago he said he would tour with folks on the chitlins circuit, the number of black-owned clubs that existed before desegregation where black performers would tour about. After the clubs shut down, he got a job with the crew of Redd Foxx and worked in California for some time before returning to his native New Orleans where he got a job in a club as a regular performer.
“Sometimes having a mind that always find’s what’s funny, can get you in real trouble. As I got older I thought more about what I say and try to save it for my routine, but it just come out of me. When I was young we called it riffing, cause we used to riff on each other in the home but it was a way to have fun.”
the comedian had served in Vietnam and remembers the change in the world when he came home. “There weren’t no family when I came home, before I left it was ‘yes sir,’ or ‘yes mam,’ and when I returned I said ‘how you do’ to someone and they like ‘fuck you what do you want.’” At this time he was back in New Orleans and remembers the city being full of people but slowly it went down hill, so he left and toured the country for a few years. He was able to live in New Orleans until eight days after Katrina when the US Army moved him to El Paso and it seems that he won’t be returning to his native land. At this point, something sparked among the other passengers – one who was telling a story about his brother who was getting in a lot of trouble, unlike the speaker of the story who had not been to prison in a long time and had only been there a total of thirteen times – and all of a sudden there were stories of the storm, and relocation. One lady had been put on a bus and moved to Batton Rouge but left after the crime spiked. “They blamed us on the crime wave, but I’m sure it was local folks just taking advantage of the influx of people.” An older man who claimed to have once been a boxer said he spent eight days in the Superdome – I mean, the Mercadies Benz Superdome -another lady had been moved to Huston, TX and said that most people who were moved to Baton Rouge were then moved to Texas. The few who were moved to El Paso, including the older comedian, joked that it never rained or snowed so much in the city and that people blamed those from New Orleans for bringing their voodoo and making it rain and snow.
“We thrown up to the wind and all scattered,” a girl with a few tattoos said in a thick accent said. Then the conversation shifted to how rude people are these days and how good the early comedy albums were, especially Bill Cosby and his routine “the chicken heart that ate New York.”
Sitting on the rain, the eastern lands of Texas are flat and when they’re not farmland, they are a mosaic of gas stations, housing developments that seem to have no entrances, and truck a grid of endless roads. It was a stark juxtaposition to the lands of Louisiana that were flat as a pancake and endless rice-paddy or sugar cane fields or these large construction operations – perhaps serving the oil and gas industry – where yard after yard were all these organized piles of pipes, fittings, engines and pumps and sundry other industrial brick-a-brac. While industry is never beautiful and no longer the picturesque grand mills of the 19th century, there is something grand about seeing some living industrial outfits, the yards well-kept, the materials painstakingly organized, even the scrap piles were fenced in unlike so much of the tattered and blown out endeavors of the previous thousand or so miles of rail-side landscape.
The relocation of so many people does not seem to have caused a raising of the standard of living for the rest of New Orleans. It is perhaps a matter for more enlightened minds and research at their fingertips to argue whether this relocation was good for those who moved out of New Orleans and whether moving to El Paso, or as the old comedian called it “Mexico North” due to all the bridges bringing in immigrants which he claimed has been bad for so many of his friends back home since they can no longer find jobs doing yard work or lite construction. “God created comedians last, I tell my audience, you were some serious sour pusses before we showed up.” the comedian told us. “I changed up my routine, things are too heavy now and the young comedians just get on stage to curse and swear, the older comedians cursed and swore, but it was because of the joke, what they needed to say, not just filler. I have a family show, so anyone can be there, anyone can laugh because we all need to laugh more at this crazy world.”
The conversation lulled and many took to their reading or just looking out the window before they drifted off to sleep.
In the morning the land had again changed. The lawns and Tubby-Wubby gas stations had been completely replaced by the dry lands of Western Texas, punctuated only by abandoned shacks and slowly moving wind pumps that I assume were reaching deep down into the water table attempting to get the last few drops. Considering that this part of Texas has been in a drought for some time and currently doesn’t seem to be about to get out of it any time soon some positioning the drought as entering its third year. While I am not sure the rainfall averages for the many counties the train is going through, there are regular watering holes and resources close to the rails. Ranchers have been dumping a great deal of their stock on the market, lowering the price and filling up the colons of so many Americans. The train passed one bison, a miserable moth-eaten creature, but the antelope appeared spry as did the mule deer and wild boar. The cows are scattered about here and there in twos and threes.
In one place, too much rain, in another too little as the world moves towards polar opposites and our lives may yet have to readjust to some event that uproots us and scatters us to the wind. The New Normal is extreme. Weather, jihad, income inequality, congressional stalemate, energy drinks, sports, couponing, games, pizza, makeovers, and that one band from the early 90s, the one with that song you obsessed over for months and then forgot totally about, it’s all extreme.
If you can see the handwriting on the wall … you’re on the toilet. – Redd Foxx