Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving To Lake Charles
Lake Charles is a strange place. I haven’t lived here long and I’m still learning the ropes, but I think I’ve narrowed down five things that everyone not from Southwest Louisiana should know about Southwest Louisiana before they come to Southwest Louisiana.
Because it's Southwest Louisiana. Everything is different here.
The speed limit is something that happens to other people
The first thing people will discover as soon as they cross the state line is that driving the speed limit is generally frowned upon by polite society here. If you’re not a speeder, be sure to stay in the right lane at all times, but even then you’re likely to be repeatedly tailgated by some dude in a jacked-up truck with a giant CB antenna flopping around in the breeze like a limp pool noodle after a particularly exhausting crawfish boil.
Which leads me to the second thing people need to know…
The cops don’t mess around
Drive on I-10 for five minutes in SWLA, and you’re bound to come across one of each type of cop in the great variety pack of law enforcement action figures. There are city cops, state cops, sheriffs, constables, and even border patrol - and they’re constantly watching you. The big question is which came first: the speeders or the cops?
UPDATE: It turns out Louisiana is one of the worst states in the nation for speed traps. But can you guess where Lake Charles ranks? (Click here to find out.)
Everyone is in a rush in SWLA - but only on the road
While someone just driving through Louisiana might think the people here are always on the move like coked-up lab rats in a vicious ADHD experiment, the truth is that the mad rush ends as soon as the cars are parked. Once people are on foot, they slow down.
For instance, we have some of the best food in the nation here, as long as you don't mind waiting for it. Don’t go anywhere expecting fast service. Just order your food, then sit back and relax while a whole lot of nothing happens. Your order will come out eventually, but you’ll probably be late to wherever it was you were headed. Unless, of course, you get in your car and speed to get there. In which case, please refer back to points 1 and 2.
Every left turn yields on green…unless you’re first
One thing people will learn very quickly in Lake Charles is that we don’t believe in turn lanes here. Or protected left-turn arrows. Generally, people lean pretty hard to the Right here in SWLA, so I guess anything to do with the Left is suspicious and not to be trusted.
Every intersection with a stoplight will make you wait for days to turn left, assuming there’s ever enough of a break in traffic to even attempt the turn. Which is why most people just ignore the rule entirely, if they’re first in line at the light.
As soon as it turns green, they go. Fast.
If you happen to be headed in the opposite direction and get stuck at a red light with a line of cars waiting to turn left coming at you, a good rule of thumb is to just sit back and let it happen. Don’t assume you can go when the light turns green just because that’s what happens everywhere else on the planet.
Give it a second before you accelerate. Let that first guy wanting to turn left go ahead and make his turn. It's the nice thing to do, and he's going to try it, anyway.
It’s a way of life
Mitch Hedberg had a joke that went something like, “If you find yourself lost in the woods, **** it. Build a house! ‘Well, I was lost, but now I live here. I have severely improved my predicament!’”
Which is pretty much how I think most people move to Louisiana.
I think what happens when people try to drive through our state is that they get so rattled by all the other people speeding past them that they eventually pull off the interstate for a rest and a quick bite to eat. But then the food they order takes forever to make it to their table, and it’s so delicious when it finally arrives that they take way too long eating it, so they get back on the road and try to speed to make up time, then get pulled over by one of the approximately 8,000 cops stationed every few feet on the interstate.
And that’s when they get hit with a ticket and give up trying to fight the siren’s song that is Southwest Louisiana.
It’s easier to just stay here than it is to try and escape once we have you. Plus, you need to stick around to pay that ticket anyway, so why not find a nice little place to live and settle in? There’s bound to be a festival of some sort happening the night of whenever you get pulled over, so swing by and check it out. Invite your friends from out of state to come visit, then wait as the same thing happens to them.
Eventually, everyone you know and love will move here, too. And then, like a sex-ed filmstrip from the '80s, they’ll invite everyone they’re friends with, who will invite everyone they’re friends with, who will invite everyone they’re friends with until, at some point, enough people are paying taxes here to get the state budget back in the black so we can maybe fix the roads and stop having cops stationed every five feet to write tickets to fund all the programs we've cut.
It’s a pretty solid plan.