On the road

Letters from the River, 1

by Gary McMillen

Last night we had our LSU Human Resources Christmas party in the lounge of the hotel.

Pure coincidence but the owner (and his wife) of the Best Western Richmond Suites chose last night to drop by and inspect the property. They opened the door to the lounge and stood in amazement.

Tamara walked up, introduced herself and gave them a plate of fried chicken, a bowl of gumbo and bought them a drink.

Pam and Valencia had fixed delicious Swedish meatballs, jambalaya and two types of chicken in addition to finger sandwiches for 100.

The cash bar set a single night record for sales.

Nancy, the manager of Best Western, walked around, mingling with the crowd, shaking her head, calling the night an "epic."

It was freezing cold but about 20 Human Resources and Payroll staff from Shreveport Medical Center came. Along with any and all hotel guests that showed up, it was hard to find a place to sit. We turned off the wide-screen plasma television and played CD's of The Iguanas, Ernie K-Doe and Professor Longhair.

A group of engineers from Iowa and Minnesota (in town to repair pumps from the hurricane) could not believe what they were seeing. "Man, did we come to the right hotel," one of them said, scooping up his second plate of dirty rice and sausage.

Most of the evening Frankie Lee sat by the fireplace, drinking straight shots of Jose Cuerva, talking to Christy the bar-maid about her modeling career and just telling all manner of lies into the night.

Gary McMillen, my oldest friend (we met at Lincoln School, Modesto, in the 5th grade), is currently working for a state agency personnel office in Shreveport and Baton Rouge, sorting out problems for thousands of employees in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He lost a house in the 9th Ward and an apartment in another section of New Orleans. He has been writing about horse races in the South for 30 years.

He told me today, about this party: "You can take Gary out of New Orleans, but you can't take New Orleans out of Gary."