It was May 1994, and I — as a whiskerless 24-year-old aspiring writer — found myself in a three-piece suit, sprint-walking down U.S. 190 in Covington. But that’s probably getting a little ahead of myself. Let me back up a skosh.
It was my first trip to the Northshore — or at least my first willful, conscious trip across the Causeway. Having been born and raised in New Orleans, I’m sure I had visited St. Tammany Parish before. Back then, though, I don’t remember people referring that often to “St. Tammany.” At least in my suburban circles, it was known as simply “the country” — a vague term that pretty much meant “not New Orleans, but also not Metairie, not Kenner and not Chalmette.”
For me — and, I have to think, countless other children of the Crescent — “the country” was where other people’s distant cousins lived. Oh, and lots of trees and cows. (Those same cows Bill Elder reported on back in the 1980s!)
There was also Mandeville, but back then, that particular place name was synonymous with but one thing: the psychiatric hospital located there. If someone said they were going to Mandeville — or, more likely, if they threatened to send a rambunctious child there — it meant a trip to the booby hatch.
Mandeville was not a place to be trifled with.
It was all just a 25-minute drive across the Causeway, but it might as well have been another planet.
It was in the week before that 1994 trip, however, that I was invited to interview for a job as a cub reporter at The News-Banner newspaper, a thrice-weekly publication located on U.S. 190 between Covington and Mandeville. (It ain’t there no more, the building having been replaced in recent years by a Taco Bell.)
As intimidating an idea as that solo trip across the bridge was, there was the possibility of a regular paycheck on the line — not to mention entry into the newspaper game. So, I packed my briefcase (a college graduation present), pulled on a dandy three-piece suit (inherited from my older brother), and pointed my red, secondhand Toyota Corolla northward to that point where the 24-mile-long bridge disappears into the horizon. If memory serves, the round-trip toll was two bucks. Today it’s five.
Twenty or so white-knuckled minutes later, I spotted terra firma. Contrary to all those rumors I had heard growing up, I wasn’t greeted at the other end of the bridge by orderlies with butterfly nets.
Turns out, though, that the trip across the bridge was just the start of my journey. Let me explain:
Given my lack of familiarity with the lay of the land on the Northshore, I had given myself a little extra time to find my way. The News-Banner building, however was exceedingly easy to locate. That meant I found myself with 45 minutes to kill before my appointed interview time. Rather than explore too far from the paper, I grabbed a cup of coffee at the Texaco station (still there, though closed) at Hollycrest Plaza. I then turned off the engine and turned on the radio. Howard Stern…