Lacy MacAuley

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a home for my pen, projects, and passions

a Sunday stroll on an oily beach, joined by security guards

On Sunday, my last day in the Gulf area, I caught a ride with an environmental law student, Stephen, two hours outside of New Orleans to a beach where the oil had been making landfall at Grand Isle, Louisiana.

As we pulled up to the beach, we began to see handmade signs about the oil spill. One of the signs that wrenched my heart read, “BP, cannot fish or swim. How the hell are we suppose to feed our kids now?”

A heart-wrenching sign on the road as we drove out to Grand Isle, Louisiana.

We pull up to the beach and walk over. There is a strange chemical feel to the air, and it fills our lungs with a noxious sensation. The beach has a giant set of two orange rubber pipelines running side by side, about two feet in diameter. They look like giant sausages stretching on down the beach into the distance. We assume that they are there to provide a barrier to a potential oil slick that approaches the beach. We climb over the barrier to get closer to the water.

The water had a nasty oil sheen and an odd orange froth. Nothing in the frothy part was living.

We casually strolled a few minutes down the beach, and came to what is the largest oil blob that I had seen. And it looks even larger compared to me!

An especially huge oil blob, especially compared to me!

I’m not sure what it means exactly, but I also saw a tiny hermit crab that was crawling up out of the nastier water, sort of desperate-looking and inept, and another larger crab that was near to the toxins, that was not reacting normally to my movements towards it. This probably meant it was dying right there in the water.

A crab appeared to be dying near to the toxic water.

Finally we had had enough of the sadness and the heat. There was polluted water all around us. Here we were on a beach and we were scared to touch the water. Also, the giant orange pipelines running along the beach sort of ruined what could have been a picturesque stroll on the the beach. We were ready to get going.

We walked over to a wooden bridge that seemed to be designed for people to easily access the beach. We climbed it and hopped off of the other side, over the two pipelines. It was then that we were encountered by two sheriff’s officers, each with his own golf cart, steered by thick, reddened, trunk-like forearms. They rolled up and said, in a casual-yet-malevolent way that good ol’ Louisiana boys can effect with great skill, “Aw right. Y’all have to wait here for decon.”

A hermit crab (upper left) makes an escape from the toxins.

“Sorry? We have to wait here for what?” I asked, putting on my most polite cheshire grin. They may be Louisiana boys, but I’m a Washingtonian: I know it’s best to put on a politician smile.

They asked a few questions which betrayed just how confused the whole situation was. Turns out they weren’t exactly sure who they saw jumping over the pipelines. There was one other blonde woman near to the beach, but I wasn’t about to cause problems for her. I told them I was the one who had jumped the barrier.

“Y’all need to stay put and wait for decontamination. They need to clean your shoes and all. You crossed into the hot zone.” As the officer radioed for help, I glanced back at the wooden structure we had just used to get over the pipelines. There was yellow tape on part of it, but that said “Authorized Vehicles Only.” Were Stephen and I vehicles?

“The hot zone?” I asked. Stephen was standing there, as if for protection, but was staying graciously silent. “We didn’t see any sign telling us not to go there — ” I offered.

The two officers, still quite menacingly forward-leaning, as if frothing over their steering wheels, said that no, there were no signs. But it was unpermitted to cross the pipelines.

I laughed. Somewhere in their cool alligator hearts, they knew that this was just silly.

I asked them how long all of this would take. They said that sometimes “decon” can take up to an hour to arrive. Just for good measure, I told them again that we hadn’t intended to do anything “wrong.” (Is walking on a beach wrong?) I said that we had seen other people go over the other side of the pipelines, and that was the only reason we did it ourselves. (This was true. There were two other large men walking along the beach when we walked up. However, much earlier I had seen them hop over the pipelines and disappear, so I figured mentioning them would be harmless.) The quieter of the two officers then perked up. After asking me where I had seen them (I offered a vague gesture), he sped off as quick as his little golf cart engine could go. We were still standing there waiting when he came back, very prematurely, and saying that he spoke with two men who said they had remained out of the hot zone. I let that one go.

The louder and squatter of the two officers asked Stephen and I our full names, our addresses, our heights and weights, and the color of our eyes. I asked him what he was going to do with all this information. He said that they were just taking names of people who crossed over the pipelines onto the beach, because “there had been some activists around” (Yep, there sure are some activists around, officer, I chuckled in my mind) and they want to have a record of who does and does not actually know that they cannot cross the pipelines. That is, they need a record of everyone they’ve told face-to-face. Real sophisticated law enforcement there, boys.

As we were reciting our personal information, two other security officers in two more golf carts rolled up. These two more or less just stood there, wide-eyed. One of them had a gawking look as if something outrageous were about to happen. Does that guy think we’re going to break into a song and dance number? I thought. Then the situation got even more ridiculous.

Yet another guy rolled up to the scene. Stephen and I had now elicited five people in five golf carts to respond to the crisis – not the oil gushing out of the underground reservoir, but the crisis of two unauthorized persons on a beach! The other men felt silent, waiting for this fifth man’s move. The fifth guy was older and, unlike the others, wore a white collared shirt and a Texan-looking straw hat, mustache, and sunglasses. He was tubby and didn’t look at home in the heat. Sweat was pouring down his brow.

This man hoisted himself out of the golf cart (the first of the men to do so) and walked up to me. Without missing a beat or telling me what was going on, he lunged for my left shoe as he muttered, “Let me just check this here now.” Lucky I have quick reflexes and grabbed Stephen’s arm for balance.

With his bare hands, the Texan-looking man rubbed over the sole of my left shoe. “We tried not to touch anything – ” I offered the man. But before I could say anything more, he was already saying, “Yeah, they look fine.” Then he simply skipped my right foot and smoothed over Stephen’s shoes with his bare hands. “Alright, they’re fine,” he said. We said thank you to the man, and quick as Santa Claus he got back into his little golf cart and began to drive away.

Over the radio, the loudest officer then responded to someone’s question: “Yeah, it’s okay. One of the BP safety guys came and checked them out.” The loudest officer then said those sweet words, that we were “free to go,” and reminded us not to come back to the beach. Again, we said thank you, and walked as quickly and calmly away as possible.

When we got back to the road, the closest place to duck into specialized in daiquaries. The perfect place to decompress after that ordeal.

Needless to say, if touching toxins with your bare hands is what a “BP safety guy” thinks is safe, it makes it that much clearer why the whole oil spill happened in the first place. And if that’s how our local sheriffs treat a “BP safety guy,” it’s clear that BP is definitely running things in that Sheriff Department.

Yet the national news story that comes out of this coastline is how disgruntled people are that they haven’t yet received their compensation check, how disgruntled BP is that anyone would expect them to clean up their mistake, and how much BP is already doing (even though in most parts of the Gulf they are as rare as a snipe).

But it’s not about the compensation checks. The people here know that no amount of money will ever, ever be enough. The people of the Gulf do not want a paltry check that will never replace their incomes, medical expenses, etc. The people of the Gulf want the Gulf back. They want their work, their culture that is played out on the open air of the ocean. They want their identities back. And no amount of money can do that. BP may not understand, but I do and so do the people of the Gulf. LIFE IS NOT ABOUT MONEY. It is something much different and much deeper.

Less than a mile from our brief detainment with five security personnel, we pulled off the road to see an incredibly heartfelt testament to exactly what Gulf residents want. A graveyard to the things that they loved about this place, but will never get back.

Among the things listed are “Brown Pelican,” “Yellow-Finned Tuna,” and “Crabs.”

But also this: “Sand Between My Toes,” “Beach Sunsets,” and “A Walk on the Beach.”

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Filed under: activism, climate justice, environmentalism, human welfare, lacy's life, media, thoughts and philosophies

One Response

  1. […] Follow a trip with Lacy to New Orleans… here […]

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