Miroslav Medvid and the Marshal Konev are gone, the protestors have flown back to Chicago, Ohio and Washington, the network camera crews are on the next story, but the Soviets are still here.
Another of their 800-foot ships is loading at the Cargill grain elevator. Waiting behind it are six more Soviet freighters at anchorages between La Place and the mouth of the big river 100 miles south. The hammer-and-sickle is a regular part of life on the Mississippi.
The consensus among the people here in St. John the Baptist Parish seems to be that Medvid got a raw deal. Most of those interviewed said American authorities never should have made the young Ukrainian sailor return to his ship after he jumped for freedom the first time down in Belle Chasse two weeks ago. But they were relieved that the incident ended yesterday without a major confrontation in their river port.
"This parish has enough troubles without getting it on with the Russians," said councilman Romney J. Wilson. "The unemployment rate here is 30 percent. The grain elevator is going strong now, and we have to load those Russian ships to keep it that way. I tell you, I feel a whole lot worse about Japanese cars coming in here and taking jobs away than I do about us loading grain for the Soviets."
The Mississippi River is one of the great romantic place names of American life, but the people who work along it seem uniformly realistic. They understand their connection to the rest of the world. They load yellow corn for the Soviets and sorghum for the Iranians even though they might wear "Russia Sucks" and "Nuke the Ayatollah" buttons in the privacy of their riverfront bars and clubs.
And they understand the ways of sailors. Medvid might have been jumping for freedom, or looking for a good time. The patrons of Duke's Club could accept it either way. Duke's is the riverfront bar where Cargill workers hang out. It's on Highway 44, just over the levee about 200 yards from where the Marshal Konev was docked.
"They all come in here," said Diane Duke, known to her customers as Mrs. D. "We get Filipinos, Norwegians, Yugoslavs, French, English, Korean. The Russians come in here only once in a while. They are officers, and they sit over there at the counter and are real quiet. But usually the Russians and the Greeks just stay on their ships."
"You're crazy, Mrs. D!" said a Cargill worker named Butch. "There's Greek writing all over the bathroom door!"
"Is that right?" asked Mrs. D. "Well, I don't see very much of the Greeks. The Filipinos are the best. Very friendly. They shop at our stores and stay together like a family. The Koreans like to use the telephone on the wall over there. They are always calling long distance back to Korea. They stay on the phone for hours. The Japanese like Coca-Cola and potato chips. The Spanish just drink. The British are the worst, for some reason. They aren't very friendly."
Mrs. D. said all the seamen drink Budweiser. "It is the No. 1 beer for every nationality," she said. "And they all look for women here, even though we don't have any. They have to go to New Orleans for the prostitutes. If that Russian had jumped off here looking for one, he'd have been sorry."
"Some of the other ships take care of that when they stop in New Orleans on the way up," said councilman Wilson, who moonlights at Cargill. "They pick up the women there and let them ride up to here for four or five days. You see the prostitutes coming off the pier."
Most of the sailors are well-behaved, at least in Reserve, said Mrs. D. "There ain't all that much swearing and fighting around here," she said. "They stay to themselves."
"Yeah," Wilson said. "The only thing that kills them is the highway."
"Hoo, boy, that kills 'em dead," Butch said.
"Yeah, they kill plenty of them out there on the highway," Mrs. D. said.
"Ten or so a year right out there on the highway," Wilson said. "The sailors will be walking across from their ships in the dark, and people just run 'em over. Most of the time it's hit-and-run. They walk the streets, and we kill 'em. We kill plenty of 'em that way.
"Medvid's lucky he didn't jump here, like I say. First, he won't find a woman and then he'd get killed on the highway looking for asylum. Hit-and-run on the Ukrainian. Poor guy. They should have let him stay, though. The guy's banging his head on the rocks to stay, and they send him back."