Miss Louisiana Beauty Pageant
Our next stop is Louisiana Purchase Zoo. Guys in our group were excited, no, not because of the zoo animals, but because Miss Louisiana Beauty Pageant were having their shootings in the zoo!!! (^0^) I wish they'd have "Louisiana Man Hunt" and I'd be more happy!!!
Louisiana has an open container law (meaning that you can't have an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the front seat of a vehicle) to discourage drinking and driving. Yet scattered throughout Monroe are these drive-through liquor places. They get around the law by leaving the end of the straw covered with paper. Yep. That would certainly make me wait until I got home before I took a drink. All you need is a drivers license to prove you are over 21 (if you are the driver) and around four dollars (for a small drink - around 8 ounces).
This custom doesn't make sense to me. But when in Monroe...
Italian in Monroe
While not the experience that the Chateau can promise, Genusa's is a nice place away from the madness of I-20 and chains in a nice area near Forsythe Park in Monroe. The wine list is pretty good as well...walk down to "Windows" bookstore after you eat.
Life like a thick syrup
Monroe is very close to my hometown (30 miles) and is the biggest city in over 100 miles. I never even thought about doing a VT page for Monroe until I started reading a few pages from some VT friends and realized that sometimes the most offbeat and not always "postcard pretty" are the best locals to experience. I have so many memories (good and bad) from Monroe that it will be hard to be objective, but I will try.
Why go to Monroe/Ouachita parish? I think it would be fun for the sort of person who really likes out of the way places and NO tourists. Good god...I mean none. I will write some of the best tips you can imagine (or best possible for this area!). Keep an open mind and be prepared for the DEEP South where not much has changed in 20 or 30 years, but this is exactly WHY one should visit. The people here are truly "real" and in many ways the salt of the South. Another reason might be if you are a hard core smoker. Monroe has yet to jump on the anti smoking campaign and you can still smoke almost everywhere until your heart is content. Even at the airport! oh yeeah..
Monroe has 53,000 people and West Monroe on the other side of the Ouachita river has an additional 18,000. It is one city, but don't tell the folks in West Monroe that. Don't ask me either. It is weird and a waste of money to have two city governments, but like many things in the South race plays a factor.
Most people simply drive through Monroe and hold their noses because the first thing you notice is a strange pungent smell from the paper mill. It does appear to simply be a maze of streets and lightpoles, but there is more if you are patient and like a little ecentricity. If you live there you really do not smell it very often because one gets used to it and since it is the heart of the economy, albeit a weak one, one comes to appreciate the smell.
Go and drive through a daquiri stand and grab a po boy and sweat a bit...you just might enjoy it....
"Bayous & rivers"
Like most of Louisiana, Ouachita parish and the surrounding region has its share of Bayous and swamps. Bayou Desiard is a beautiful bayou that runs through the heart of the city and university and has many nice areas to fish and canoe...well, if you don't mind the oppresive heat and bugs, but hey, that's Louisiana....
One of the most impressive bayous is Black Bayou not only because of the sheer beauty, but it has one of the largest snapping turtle populations in the world. Why? Because folks in South Louisiana eat them and we don't. Don't let one bite you. It hurts like the dickens! I will give a tip later on how to get there.
Sadly the downtown of Monroe has gone the way of many centers in the South in so far as it has been almost abandoned. Somehow many people seem to think that chain eateries along the Interstate mean progress and any mention of downtown redevelopment is met with sighs and usual complaints about not being able to park 1.2 feet from the entrance of a store in their SUV. West Monroe however does have a thriving downtown that I will touch upon later on this page.