La. oil spill dominates bar talk across the bayou

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 2, 2010; 11:10 AM

MONTEGUT, LA. -- Smoke swirls from the cigarette Guy Bourdreaux waves as he sips Jack Daniels and vents about the slow loss of all he knows.

"When we get a storm, it takes one year to recover," he says with a deep Cajun accent. "With the oil in it, what are we looking at? Two? Five? Ten?"

"If we'd had a war, it wouldn't have been so bad," Rosalie Crochet, 76, says. She sits three tattered bar stools away from Bourdreaux. It isn't quite 5 p.m. at Gene's Bar in Montegut.

"If we'd had a war, we could fight," Bourdreaux, 57, says. "We'd have been able to make some headway."

"If we do have a storm," Crochet says, "talk about a mess."

"A mess," her husband, C.J. Crochet, 78, agrees.

Here and at other bars across the bayou region of Louisiana, which was hit hardest by the oil spill, locals talk over one another, their complaints and fears colliding on beer-slicked counters. At Gene's, a place so ingrained in the community that a sign on the door lists the full names of those who are no longer welcome, souls empty alongside bottles.

To grasp how this region has been affected, to understand what residents grumble about among neighbors they know can relate, one just has to pull up a stool and listen.

"That little restaurant," C.J. Crochet says, "she went to get a shrimp po' boy and the lady said, 'Here, this is the last one.' "

"I think in part, the United States wants to lose Louisiana," Rosalie Crochet says.

"That's what it looks like," he agrees.

The bartender replaces his beer and then tops off Bourdreaux's almost empty glass. The ash tray in front of him is filled with three cigarette butts. As soon as he finishes one, he taps another out of a pack of Marlboro.

"Fifty percent of the economy down here is him," Bourdreaux says, motioning to the man next to him. Ellis Lebouef, 62, is one of seven boys, all Louisiana fishermen, including his 84-year-old brother. A few weeks ago, Lebouef filled his boat with ice in anticipation of a fishing trip, only to watch it melt when the seas were declared closed.

"We're dead in the water," he says.

"I'll tell you what this is going to do." C.J. Crochet says. "China and all these other countries that sell seafood, we're going to have to buy from them."

"I won't eat it," Rosalie Crochet says.

"I know that," he says. "But if you want seafood, that's what you're going to have to do."

"You'll never get rich off me because I'm not buying them," she says.

"Me neither," Bourdreaux says. "It's not what we got down here. What we got here is special. . . . Once they ruin it, it's gone."

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