Friday, July 25, 2008

The Causeway Two-Step and The Last Exit

Ah, yes. I know that I'm back in the land of dreamy dreams and the former playground of the Kingfish. All I need do is scan the recent headlines dealing with the Causeway Commission, the agency that maintains what used to be the longest bridge in the world. It is a tangled tale of alleged inebriation and suspicious behavior on behalf of enforcement officers in the way they handled an incident with the mayor of Mandeville, where the 24-mile span ends on the North Shore. Both small and large players have paid the price in terms of losing their jobs over the fallout from this fiasco. And now comes news that the former police chief of Kenner will reap a huge financial windfall in the coming years. Where to start? Should I talk of Tulane football star Eddie Price, Sr.? Price, who later joined the NFL's New York Giants, was the Green Wave's gridiron hero from 1946 to 1949. His 1948 single season and career rushing records still stand on the books as the greatest at Tulane, my alma mater. When Price retired from the world of professional sports, he literally set up shop at the edge of the Tulane campus, the scene of his former athletic prowess. A small eatery, beer hall and pinball joint, Eddie Price's was the gathering place for Tulane and Loyola students who wanted to relax, smoke cigarettes and enjoy a burger. A number of pinball players there attested to some alleged minor form of gambling going on where numbers of games would result in payoffs. It seemed a little shady at times, but it was business as usual there for many years and Tulane never seemed to have many problems with its former star running the place, which also sold some grocery and convenience items, if memory serves. In 1972 all of that changed. The night manager was shot and killed in a robbery attempt gone bad and Eddie Price, Sr., overcome with grief, soon closed the popular spot, making an opportunity for another small eating place located two blocks away up Zimple Street to take over the lease at the corner of Broadway. As a result, The Boot became the established late night pub adjacent to the Tulane campus and has been a fixture there for over 30 years. It was only a few years later that Price died of a heart attack at the very young age of 53. I've often thought that the shooting at the place that bore his name may have contributed to his demise. Fast forward a few years later and the name of Eddie Price, Jr. begins to make the political rounds, his popularity fueled by the legend of his dad's gridiron performances. Price, Jr. was elected to several low level offices before becoming mayor of Mandeville. A few months ago Hizzoner crashed through an unopened gate in the toll plaza of the Causeway and drove off with his lights off on his city-furnished SUV. He was pulled over by two Causeway Police officers a bit up the road and, despite admitting to having had a few drinks and exhibiting behavior consistent with drunk driving, he was never arrested or even required to take a field sobriety test. Instead, he was allowed to call someone to drive him home and move his car. Officers checked with their supervisor and he woke up the Causeway Police Chief to inquire what to do with the man whose signature appears on the bottoms of their paychecks each week. Later, it was alleged that Price had been stopped on at least one other occasion and allowed to drive off despite being inebriated. Eventually, one of the officers resigned. Two others were disciplined and later fired. The internal investigation lauched by
Causeway Police Chief Felix Loicano found him at fault partially, even though all he advised the supervisor to tell the officers was to be discrete, but do their duty. When it was all over Loicano was compelled to resign. Price agreed to pay for repairs to the toll plaza gate, thought to be at least $600-$700 and was issued a citation that cost him another $250 or so. The public outcry was so great that Price thought it best to turn in his city vehicle. Yesterday, Loicano's successor was named: none other than former Kenner Police Chief Nick Congemi, Jr., who had a tempestuous battle for mayor of Kenner a few years ago and retired. The thought of heading up another police department and a $90,000 a year salary proved too tempting to Congemi to stay out of consideration. Because of a nepotism law in effect at the Causeway Commission, Congemi's son, an employee for less than a year, will be forced to resign his post so that his dad can accept his new position. Meanwhile, Mayor Eddie Price, Jr. is the butt of jokes with labels like "Fast Eddie" and he is still in power with no apparent problems. Meanwhile, at least five people will be out of jobs and the beat goes on. It's all part of politics as usual as the Causeway Two-Step is all the rage these days.
Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor whose "Last Lecture" inspired millions and who bravely fought pancreatic cancer for the past two years, finally succumbed to the deadly disease earlier this morning at his Virginia home. He was just 47 and leaves behind a grieving widow, two young boys and a toddler daughter. For those of you who did not know about Pausch, I strongly suggest you search his amazing life on the Internet. My dad died as a result of pancreatic cancer, so anytime I see someone in his prime struck down by this virulent disease I am especially saddened.

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