By Hank Nuwer
A new airline named Breeze set up shop in Columbus. They were selling introductory $78 roundtrip flights to Tampa, Charleston and New Orleans.
“Gosia, Gosia,” I said. “Can we go to New Orleans?”
“Why New Orleans?”
“They have alligators in the swamps,” I said. “We can take a swamp ride in a boat and see them.”
Gosia put on her hard bargain face. “We can go, she said. “But you have to take me to hear good jazz, eat a couple good meals, and visit a museum of my choice.”
So we landed in New Orleans and lucked into 60-degree weather. We heard great jazz at Preservation Hall, learned tons at the World War Two Museum, and lunched at a great eatery off Bourbon Street.
The week passed quickly, and now it was time to live on the wild side.
Before getting on the boat, we visited the Jean Lafitte National Park office. Gosia bought a souvenir tee shirt with a big snapping gator on the front. I picked up a stack of informational materials.
“What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?” Gosia asked as I began to read.
“Alligator starts with A, and crocodile starts with C,” I said with a smug look.
“Thanks,” she said. “Did you know divorce starts with D?”
Being the considerate husband who managed a C+ in wildlife biology in school, I then launched an explanation.
“When an alligator closes its mouth, no teeth are visible,” I said. “When a crocodile closes its mouth, a tooth sticks out.”
“You just looked that up on Mr. Google,” she said.
“Busted,” I confessed. “Time for a joke?”
“What is it?” She sounded suspicious.
“What do you call an alligator who bites you in the butt?”
“I give up.”
“A tailgater!” I said.
“That’s supposed to be funny?”
One pamphlet said that Louisiana used to have lots of alligator wrestlers who put on exhibitions for the tourists. The guides had a difference of opinion on what to do if you’re communing with nature and all at once a 19-foot behemoth charges you.
“Gosia, some guides say run in a fast beeline. Some say run in a zigzag pattern,” I said.
Gosia put her hat over her heart. “Poor dead Hank,” she said. “He zigged when he ought to have zagged.”
“Yeah,” I said, giggling. “And nine out of ten guides advise not running in alligator shoes. That only makes the monster mad.”
We walked to the dock area and caught a Grayline bus that took us to the swamp. There a guide was waiting, and we boarded with 30 other tourists.
Out on the water, the guide opened a big cooler and brought out a tiny alligator.
“Who wants to hold it?”
My hand shot up. He brought it over.
I nicknamed him Stinky in my mind. He was a cute little feller, all tail and legs.
After a minute, I passed Stinky to Gosia. She beamed like a schoolgirl.
The guide said he keeps the alligator for educational demonstrations until it grows to be three feet long. Then he releases it into the swamp. “Unlike other species kept as pets, the alligator adapts immediately into life in the wild,” he said.
I had to ponder that one for a while. “If I fed a pet gator what I used to feed my black Lab Dogzilla, he’d probably swim out to passing boats on a regular basis to beg for a Big Mac,” I said to Gosia.
“You know the difference between a dog and an alligator?” Gosia said. “An alligator’s bite is worse than its bark.”
We had a great guide. We learned all sorts of alligator trivia. Alligators can run up to speeds of 25 miles-per-hour.
Now it’s a fact that my best running days are way behind me. I get on a treadmill for four minutes and sweat for an hour.
But I just had to ask.
“Gosia, you think maybe I can outrun an alligator?”
Did I mention that my wife is very supportive?
“Sure, she said, I’ve seen you leap from the couch during a football game to grab a beer and be back before the 30-second timeout ends.
The guide told us only about five persons a year get attacked in the state of Louisiana.
“That’s reassuring,” I said to Gosia as she pointed her camera at a twelve-footer taking a beauty nap on a small island.
“Not if you happen to be one of the five,” she said.
The guide said experts think that the attack gators once were pets. They had lost their fear of humans.
Note to self. Never go swimming in the same area where the guide releases Stinky.
After our tour, we boarded the bus. He dropped us at the dock. We had time for one farewell-to-N’Awlins meal.
The menu had alligator for $27.95.
“What does alligator taste like?” I asked the waiter.
“Just like chicken,” he said.
Gosia scanned the menu.
“My husband will have the chicken for $7.95.”
Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.