You get off the Interstate at Rayne, La., and turn southward. In addition to the heraldic banners hanging from the utility poles touting everything from the Frog Festival to various year-round attractions, there are two giant frogs painted on the concrete reinforcement blocks of the overpass, and quite nicely, too.
Thereís a big green "Welcome to Rayne" sign nicely done in bas-relief wood and set in brick columns.
What really made me go, "Wow," though, was the creativity and the vision behind a huge sign in the middle of the highway right off the Interstate that read in big, bold letters:
Weíve Been Expecting You!
That was just pure-dee cool.
Deeper in town, magnificent murals adorn the walls of what typically would otherwise be plain buildings. Thatís because the city and a group of citizens got together, formed a panel that actually did something rather than sat around glowering at each other before adjourning for hors díoeuvres and cocktails. They hired an internationally acclaimed mural artist, Robert Dafford, to take the blank, monotone sides of brick buildings and create vivid, stunning scenes from Rayneís history and, of course, frogs.
Population of Rayne: 8,500. About the same size as Franklin. Struggling with commercial and business competition from Lafayette, Rayne managed to carve a niche for itself and is holding its own nicely. Thriving, even.
Friends and neighbors, Iím here to tell you that even with all that, Rayne ainít got doodley-squat on us here in terms of curb appeal, except what they worked very, very hard for.
Letís cut to the chase, here. Letís get down to the painful, blunt, nitty-gritty.
Why the devil arenít the average Janes and Joes in western St. Mary getting riled up and doing something?
Whatís the excuse? Too busy? Too tired? Too what?
Bottom line is, if this community continues to wither, itís not all the courthouseís fault, or any of the city halls, or the legislative delegation.
No. Itís your fault, too.
Thatís right, you heard me. You can never read this column again and you can chew me out in the grocery store if you want. Thatís better than telling me what a fine job Iím doing "gittiní on Ďem" and then going home to watch the tube. Take it out on me, thatís fine. At least Iíll know thereís some passion in there.
But until a bunch of you get mad enough to form a coalition, go to a parish meeting or a city meeting or a town meeting en masse and say, "Look, itís time to diversify and grow this community and we ainít taking Ďnoí for an answer," nothing is going to change.
Listen, I appreciate the support. But the simple fact of the matter is if you arenít physically and vocally behind me, I might as well be writing about fly fishing and Patches. Iíd have a lot fewer of the dukes and lords around here hacked off at me and probably sleep better at night.
You have to do something more than complain to each other at your coffee clutches and crawfish boils. You have to mean it. You have to make yourselves heard, understood and most of all obeyed. Donít let them blow you off, donít let them make hollow promises, remind them that you hired them at the election booth, loaned them your money to work with, and you can fire Ďem next time around, if not sooner.
Tell them what you want done and stick to your guns. I donít mean you have to be asinine or rude. I mean you have to be firm and authoritative and resolved.
You donít need to be cocky. You better not be rude. But you have to make them understand that youíve had enough of the status-quo in this community.
You must understand the strengths and limitations of government versus civic groups versus the individual citizen, and how those can work together, rather than autonomously or Ė as in our present case Ė not at all.
It is pointless to go to a government meeting and say, "Build an amusement park so tourists will come." Be realistic in your demands. But expect effort. Give ideas. Encourage, and if that doesnít work, demand a master plan for your community that will be open for public input during creation, created by a team of citizens, officials and professionals, and that will be acted upon in pre-ordained stages and phases, not published then poked in a desk drawer and forgotten.
Youíve got to be persistent. Speaking once and throwing your hands up in frustration when thereís no immediate results accomplishes nothing. Keep at it. Rome wasnít built in a day, but it dang near collapsed in one.
Certainly government has its responsibilities in the brick and mortar area. But thatís not all the burden they must bear. Nor is it all ours. It belongs to all of us.
Be clear on this one thing: While we certainly need and want things for ourselves, for the people living here in this area and our children, thatís not what is going to bring in economic enhancement. Certainly we need to take care of our own and continue to do so, but we need attractions and incentives for people to visit our community and spend money. Sorry to say, another ball field, rec center or golf course (for cryiní out loud!) ainít going to do that.
Weíve built and are continuing to build ourselves a cozy little island on this end of the parish, with everything but a stinking fence and machine-gun towers to keep the rest of the world out. Time to remedy that, before we wake up one morning and found ourselves extinct like the residents of Easter Island.
This is nothing new. Fed-up citizens have been bringing about change in their communities since we lived in caves. The American Revolution, in effect, was nothing more than citizens fed-up with the way their government was being run and inciting change.
Itís time for a revolution.
You all have your strengths and interests, which leads to ideas. They wonít all be good. Some of mine are certainly pure garbage, just ask nearabouts any elected official you happen to run into on the street.
Maybe one out of a hundred will come to fruition. That ratio diminishes greatly if you donít even try.
One thing I am sure most of us can agree on, though, is that weíre floundering here in western St. Mary. Boeing or GM isnít coming to save us, and if we donít do something Ė lead, follow or get the hell out the way Ė our children are going to leave here and weíre gonna be a bunch of old people playing checkers while watching the tumbleweeds roll around the streets.
We so far have not been able to depend on parish government to be fair and equitable, and the spending ratios between sides of the Calumet Cut verify that argument conclusively. Why? Because we havenít gone up there and raised seven kinds of tarnation and brimstone with them.
Itís time for all of you to get vocal, and I donít mean to me in the supermarket or in your coffee clutches or the street corners. You need to stand up for yourselves.
What disappoints me greatly is that there are many, many creative, imaginative, energized people in this town who are doing absolutely nothing to make a difference. You know who you are. Why arenít you putting your talents, drive and influence to work? Yeah, itís hard. People are so dang lethargic, red-tape and bureaucracy so hard to navigate. You get the rug pulled out from under your feet repeatedly, kicked in the gut and even ridiculed.
But if you donít make a stand, who will?
Me? Iím not just pecking on a keyboard and fanning the flames of discontent. Iím involved with something other than this column that may or may not make a difference, only time will tell. Weíll discuss that more later.
But yeah, Iím taking away from my precious time away with my girl, my puppy, my cat and my fishing along with all the other things I love to do, to try to make a difference in this community. Only time will tell how successful weíll be.
Put it nicely? Please try to make a difference, too.
Bluntly? Put up or shut up.
I canít make it any plainer than that.