Newly elected Governor Robert Kennon, Lafourche Senator Clyde Caillouet, and State Representatives Richard “Dick” Guidry and R.J. Soignet, were off to Baton Rouge to legislate their campaign promises.
An old saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for”, which is especially true in politics!
Louisiana voters like reformers occasionally but only in small doses and keeping promises carried political consequences. Kennon tried unsuccessfully to get elected again, and Clyde, Dick and R.J. did not survive the next election. Only Dick would later make a successful come back.
One day he called and said, “Come spend a few days in Baton Rouge with me. A new law we passed might involve a job for you.”
Did I want a job?
At the time I was a self-employed band leader making twice what the job I had just quite paid, but being both employer and employee was problematic since I was deficient at both, so off we went. I think that Dick was jealous of the carefree and happy life I led and he wanted to nip that in the bud. Dick always looked out for me.
The law was the “Drivers Examiner Law” requiring that every driver take a road test and an oral or written exam with a certified examiner to obtain a license. In the past, licenses were only a revenue source and were issued at D.M.V. bureaus or in the front seat of State Troopers squad cars, no questions asked, just two bucks, please.
Dick had been chosen to open the first office and hire the first examiner and guess what? That would be me. I was sent to Baton Rouge for two weeks of intensive training, was issued a uniform, stationed at Golden Meadow Town Hall and a new adventure began.
Most of my early customers were students getting their first license. I could have made them jump through hoops to get it, but that was not the case with adults who for the first time had to take a written or oral exam and a road test.
My oral exam was given to my fellow Cajuns who could not read, write or speak English. I don’t recall anyone failing those. I explained to my supervisors that although they might be illiterate, Cajuns were pretty smart. They bought it. The large numbers passing the written exams were harder to explain.
One day a distant relative looked very pale as we boarded his pickup truck for the road test, driving us to the Catholic Church and back to the Golden Meadow Town Hall.
On the way, my client went off the highway 5 times, (the church was only about 3 city blocks away). He was visibly sweating and nervous. Upon arriving at the church, I said, “Stop”.
Fearing for my life, I continued, “I’ll walk back, just meet me at the Town Hall.”
I got there before him and his license was already written out. He thanked me and paid the fee.
I had bent the law my first day on the job! My conscience was shaken, but not as much as that poor old man see-sawing on and off the road on his way back home. I heaved a sigh of relief. What’s next, I wondered?
One day a young lady had filled out the written exam and I was grading it. One of the questions was, “You are driving and the traffic light turns yellow, what you do?” Her answer gave me a joke I could tell the rest of my life: “Stomp the accelerator, speed up and try to make it!”
Certainly a failing answer, but she was pretty, I was young and what the heck? She got her license.
As she was leaving she looked back and I guess wondered why I was practically on the floor laughing with tears in my eyes, because to her, that was the logical answer and logic and good horse sense were, to a Cajun, a most valued asset.
Next column, one of the last straws that caused me to make a career change after a few months on the job. Incidentally, Dick Guidry did not find the incident as humorous as I.
Posted on Tue, August 4, 2015
by Leroy Martin, Contributing Writer