||It is said that our strongest sense is smell. There's something about the smell of oil burn-off in the refineries of southeast Texas that brings truth to that notion. This roughneck area produces some of the nastiest smells, tastiest food, meanest football players, most interesting people (Jimmy Johnson & Joplin for starters...) and one of the best Saturday night dancehalls in America with one of the sweetest bartenders on earth, Bernice "Bea" Jaqneaux.
Some years back, I convinced some of my less bright friends from Dallas to roll down for a Gulf coast weekend respite at a funky place questionably dubbed Paradise Island, just south of Port Arthur. I figure it's called this since the refineries are due north of this place about two miles and the Gulf breeze comes from the south during vacation season. It gives testament to the fact that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. The Ritz Carlton it is not, but fun, it is. This is down and dirty, 'I don't care what I smell like but I hope I smell better than some of my friends', fun. Dinner usually consisted of a mandatory trip to, The Boondocks where you eat fried catfish and then go out on the back porch and feed the leftovers to the trolling alligators. Evidently it was far enough out in the boondocks that no one else could find it and it has since closed. Then there's Sartin's, once in Sabine Pass, but now relocated in Nederland. Their specialty.... all you can eat fresh Gulf barbecued crab. As Billy Gibons would say, "Have Mercy!" Don't get confused though. This isn't Texas (or Memphis or even Carolina) barbecue. Nope, this is their own concoction. I pressed one of the waitresses a few years ago and she broke down and confessed the recipe was little more than crabs coated in Sexton's Zestful Seasoning and then deep fried. Sounds gross.. tastes awesome. Add some fried shrimp, fried fish, fried frog legs and, of course, fried hush-puppies and french fries and this gastronomic grease bomb serves as the perfect primer for the main event of the evening, Cajun dancing at the Rodair Club, back up in Port Arthur.
We head over to this spot and grab one of the long family-style tables. Seeing as we simply don't look local (Cajun, that is), we draw quite a few stares. This ain't no tourist joint. Some incredible Cajun band cranks up and the whole place gets up and starts dancing like crazy. The whole place except us that is. Well our waitress, who's got to be in her late sixties, handles our first tray of about a dozen plus beers, one-arm-over-head style, like it was made out of paper. She slings it down and drawls out in this strong cajun accent, "Why aint cha' dancin'?" I volunteer that we would pretty much look like morons trying to dance like them since we've never Cajun danced before. She suggests that we pretty much look like morons just sitting there and jerks me right out of my seat and says, "Honey... we fix dat rat nahw!"
The next few hours showed us city boys and girls what a real party queen was all about. None of this sophomoric competitive collegiate stuff we were weaned on. This was a south Texas oil field "get up and holler 'cause it's the weekend" get together and we were fortunate enough to stumble upon it. At the epicenter of this semi-controlled bedlam was, of course, Bea Jaqneaux.
Well that sweet little lady's more than twice my age
but she can bop me 'till I drop
Goin' first up 'then back, round and round
I like to never thought we'd stop
Accordion blowin' to a back-beat bass
while the washboard filled the air
The whole place was shakin'
like an old school-bus
but none seemed to care
You better tighten up those laces and buckle up your pants
Because you ain't ever moved at all
until you've learned to do Bea's Dance
( from Do Bea's Dance)
I learned a couple of years ago that Bea passed away and I just found out that the Rodair Club has since closed it's doors as well. It's a shame because I really wanted to go down there and sit in some weekend. Such nice folks...
Time moves on and those great places like Rodair that touch our lives often disappear, but the memories that they leave with us last a lifetime. Vaya con Dios, folks from Rodair...and thanks for touching me and my friends. We still talk about that night.