Country Comes To The City: When Lake Charles Went To New York
First off, let me say up front that I’ve never met anyone who better defines South Louisiana than Mike Soileau. Nothing about him makes any sense at all, which somehow makes perfect sense here in Cajun Country. His name isn’t pronounced in any way remotely similar to how it’s spelled, his voice is somewhere around 8,000 decibels louder than an angry gorilla but he never yells, he wears McNeese shirts with LSU pants and cowboy boots yet manages to not look like an idiot, and he’s a super nice guy.
For my part, my name is Kristian, and I came to Lake Charles a little over a year ago as Townsquare Media’s new Digital Managing Editor for the market, which means I’m responsible for all the words you read on our websites. I don’t write most of them, of course. I just make sure most of the grammar is reasonably correct in what everyone else is writing, along with a bunch other things I do that nobody is at all interested in hearing about.
Now without boring anyone with the details, due to what we’ve been doing online with Gator 99.5, work sent me and Mike to New York City this past week to meet with some corporate folks to talk about radio this and digital strategy that before showing us around the Big Apple in style.
This is what happened.
First, our flight out of Lake Charles was canceled the day we were supposed to leave. Not delayed, not rescheduled, but flat out canceled. Sorry folks, try again tomorrow. So we did, and our flight left on time the next day. We flew from Lake Charles to Dallas, then from there to LaGuardia in New York. Mike talked about 97% of the way there, either to me or to whoever happened to be sitting next to him because he doesn’t know what a stranger is and everybody likes talking to Mike, for some reason.
Our flight left around 6:00 in the morning, which meant we were up around 3:30 so we could get to the airport early enough for TSA to “randomly” select me for a screening because that literally happens every time I go through security. Every. Single. Time.
Which is weird, because I’m about as annoyingly squeaky clean as they come. I’m a dad now, which means I’m pretty boring, overall. I wear video game t-shirts and black socks. I don’t look at all threatening to anyone, which I guess makes me terrifying to the TSA. Because they always screen me. Literally. Every time.
Getting up so early in the morning to start the mad rush of airport dashing also meant I didn’t have time to eat anything all day, even though I know better because I’m hypoglycemic, but I never did learn. The lines were too long at every restaurant in the terminal for me to get anything and still make our connecting flight, so I just kept planning to get something later. But later never came.
When we finally made it to New York, we left the airport and waited in line for a taxi for half an hour like we were trying to get on Pirates of the Caribbean without a Fast Pass or something, then it was another half hour and 50 bucks to get to our hotel, which we didn’t even have time to check into because we were already late for our first meeting at corporate HQ.
We booked it over to where we were supposed to be, then signed in at security to get our passes. Mine came out fine, but Mike’s name was spelled wrong on his because of course it was. Nobody not from Louisiana has any hope of ever spelling Soileau. It’s just not possible. I’m only from next door in Southeast Texas, and it took me way too long after I first got here to realize that the guy I knew as “Mike Swallow” was the same “Mike Soileau” who kept sending me emails, wondering why I didn’t know who he was.
Anyway, our meetings started out fine until we went into a conference room and I sat down in some kind of astronaut training chair because I thought it looked cool. It was this funky egg-shaped thing hanging from a chrome base that swung around as you sat in it, and when I talked inside the thing, I sounded like Darth Vader. Admittedly, that felt pretty cool at first, but then I suddenly remembered I hadn’t eaten anything all day and my blood sugar was dangerously low when I started sweating bullets while fighting serious nausea and the urge to pass out. They brought me a Coke to try and spike my blood sugar, which helped a little until I could get some protein in me. But I spent most of that first meeting sitting in the Darth Vader space egg swing looking like I was dying. Because I kinda was.
Mike jumped in and talked up a storm for both of us though, because talking is his super power. Seriously, if the X-Men were real, the dude would be Professor Talks-A-Lot and he’d fight crime by convincing bad guys to go home and rethink their lives after spending five minutes jabberjawing with them. It’s his special purpose.
After the meetings, we went out for dinner and socializing, which Mike was great at, but since I’ve always been that awkward kid in the corner nobody wanted to dance with at parties, I mostly just stood around awkwardly in the corner and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. But then we went to a place by NYU that was filled with college kids, and I felt entirely too old to be there, like some kind of ancient interloper or anthropologist trying to blend in with chimpanzees in the jungle. They’d never accept me as one of their own, and I knew it was only a matter of time before they’d all turn on me and, I dunno, eat my face or something. Plus, I was still weak from my hypoglycemic crash earlier and all I wanted to do was get back to the hotel and into my fat clothes, like the boring 42-year-old dad that I am.
So we did that. I took a shower and fell in love with the water pressure at the hotel, which did wonders for my stiff neck and all my aching muscles that aren’t used to long plane rides and lots of walking. For real, by the end of the trip, my lower back wanted to have its baby. After my shower, I stuffed some more food down my holler hole, then fell asleep watching a Golden Girls marathon on the Hallmark channel as my blood sugar stabilized, after which I woke up feeling fine and back to normal the next morning. (Thanks, Betty White!)
Getting a good night’s sleep turned out to be a great thing, because we basically checked all the top tourist things off our itinerary in less than 24 hours the next day. Empire State Building? Check. Statue of Liberty? Check. 9/11 Memorial and Freedom Tower? Check and check. (Both of which were extremely powerful. The memorial fountains in the footprints of the fallen towers were very moving. Standing there at ground zero was an emotional experience neither of us will ever forget.) Rockefeller Center? NBC Studios tour? Nintendo Store, Battery Park, Grand Central Station? Check, check, check, check and check. Chrysler Building, United Nations, New York Public Library, Trump Tower? All the checks! Times Square? No problem!
It was a busy day, and we loved every minute of it. I did feel kind of sorry for our hosts though, because Mike is a tall guy and I’m not exactly short, so we both tend to walk really fast with our long legs. Plus, we were motivated to SEE ALL THE THINGS, so we were pretty much sprinting around the city while Mike snapped photos every five seconds, which was nice for me because I don’t like looking like a tourist, but I still wanted pictures. He had me covered.
To get to New York, we took an airplane. When we got there, we hailed a cab. Then, we rode the subway. It was kinda like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, only I was Steve Martin and Mike was John Candy because he’s the likable one. By the end of our second day in New York, we had seen virtually every single thing we wanted to see, and then some.
In the end, we spent a lot of time just walking around, taking in the city. Mike posted a list of things you’d never see in Louisiana that we saw all the time while we were in New York that you should check out, because it’s pretty funny.
When it was time to head home, we caught an Uber, and Mike made another friend of the driver while I sat in the backseat, sulking because we were leaving. We flew out of Newark in New Jersey, so we got to stick another pin in another state we’ve both been to, and everything looked like it was ending on a high note.
Then Dallas happened.
First, our return flight to Texas took two hours longer in the air than it took us to get from Dallas to New York because of weather. When we finally landed, the three hour layover we’d planned had turned into a two hour layover, which ordinarily would be pretty cool – and it was…until the delays started.
We were supposed to depart from Dallas to return to Lake Charles around 8:00 that night, but that quickly turned into 9:00. And then 10:00. And then 11:00. Then back to 10:00. Then it was 10:45, then it switched to 10:35, and then, and then, and then. The airline eventually gave us free pretzels and nasty sandwiches, though. So we had that going for us, which was nice.
Our plane eventually got there, but it took so long that the pilots who were sitting in the terminal waiting with us went over their duty time and couldn’t fly. So now we had a plane but no crew to fly it, so here come more delays, along with the free pretzels none of us wanted. Sometime around 11:00, our flight crew finally landed from Baton Rouge and made their way over to our plane to fly us all back to Louisiana, and we touched down on the Lake Charles runway around 12:30am.
Of course, then I had to come home to pick up my wife and go to the store because we were out of everything because I’m a terrible husband and didn’t stock up with groceries and essentials before I left town, which is how I ended up at Walmart at 1:30 in the morning after traveling for over 15 hours and just wanting to die.
It was totally worth it, though.
All of it.
We’ve been working with each other for over a year now, but I got to know Mike a little better on the trip, the corporate folks I hadn’t met yet were amazing, and the city itself was awesome. I can’t speak for Mike, but I think I had the most fun just being there. I didn’t need to take a bunch of tours and be fed great meals. Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved every minute of it. It was great that we got to do all the tourist things I’d only ever seen in movies, but just walking around New York was an experience all by itself. That was my favorite thing. Just walking the city.
One thing we both learned by doing that was that New Yorkers aren’t actually rude like you always hear. Everyone is just very efficient. There are so many people navigating so many moving parts of a city that never sleeps that no one just meanders anywhere. Everyone is always walking with purpose, which we here in the South can easily mistake for rudeness. After all, we strike up conversations in elevators, standing in lines, or just whenever we make eye contact with someone, all of which would probably get you smacked upside the head in New York.
But when people do talk, they’re friendly. Every cab driver, every street vendor, every waiter, waitress, and convenience store clerk was nice. We never got mugged, no one harassed us, and the subway smelled exactly like New Orleans. Especially during Mardi Gras.
It was a lot more like home than you’d think, just with cooler weather and taller buildings.
Now, when do we get to go back?