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Maurice, LA
NOVEMBER 2005
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Maurice, LA @ National Geographic Magazine
By Calvin Trillin
Photographs by Bob Sacha
You'll have to slow down for the speed trap, so you might as well stop in Maurice, Louisiana, for a bite to eat. Thanksgiving turducken, anyone?

If you mention Maurice, Louisiana, to people in the surrounding area, three widely known institutions tend to dominate the ensuing conversation. One of them is Hebert's Specialty Meats, a stuffed-fowl specialist that has become particularly famous in recent years for turducken—a turducken being, whether the laws of nature argue against it or not, a stuffed chicken inside a stuffed duck inside a stuffed turkey. Another is the City Bar, which has been in the hands of the Trahan family since 1927 and employs as its mottoes "World Famous Saloon" and "Not Just a Tradition but a Lifestyle." The third is the Maurice speed trap.

Some residents of Maurice wince when the speed trap is mentioned. Others smile. "You're coming from Lafayette toward the city limits, and you can just see those back lights go on," I was told by one resident, who, even though she has been ticketed herself, couldn't help but grin at the thought of all those city people slamming on their brakes.

Although Maurice is mentioned prominently on a website called Speed Trap Exchange, the wincers would say that, strictly speaking, Maurice does not operate a speed trap. The police cruiser is in plain sight—often parked in the median strip of Highway 167, a double lane that, about eight miles south of Lafayette, becomes Maurice Avenue for three miles. The speed limit is well marked—65 down to 55 and then, quickly, down to 40. Also, I was told by officer Marvin Menard, the Maurice policeman who often does the ticketing, many more tickets are given for driving an uninspected vehicle than for speeding. On the other hand, Menard cheerfully acknowledges, he will ticket for any sort of violation. Some people in town refer to Menard as Speedy—although when they're stopped by him, they presumably refrain from using that name or from asking if it's true, as legend has it, that he once ticketed his own mother.

Like the speed trap, if that's what it is, both Hebert's and the City Bar are on 167. In fact, virtually all commercial activity in Maurice is on Highway 167—two other bars and three restaurants, one of which, a po'boy shop called the Villagers Café, serves fried potatoes for which I would risk a costly encounter with Marvin Menard any day of the week. So are both of the Catholic churches, dating back to the days when many small towns in south Louisiana had a diocesan church for white people and a mission church for black people. So is the only stoplight. In fact, for those who visualize a small town as having at its center a compact little shopping district, Maurice might seem less like a town than a stretch of highway. 

Maurice must have felt more like a town a few decades ago, before Maurice Avenue got widened into a double lane and before Lafayette began creeping relentlessly along 167 toward the southern border of Lafayette Parish, as if stepping out to the beat of "March of the Strip Malls." Maurice is just over the line, in Vermilion Parish, and traditionally it looked more toward Abbeville—the Vermilion Parish seat, which is about eight miles south—than it did toward the much larger city of Lafayette. Its motto is still "Gateway to Vermilion Parish," but a lot of its residents now get on 167 every morning and drive to work in Lafayette.

The mayor of Maurice, Barbara Picard, who came to town as a bride 50 years ago, told me that when she arrived, the place was populated by people named Picard or Broussard or Trahan or Villien. All of those families are Cajun—descendants of the French settlers driven out of Nova Scotia by the British in the middle of the 18th century who eventually found a home in south-central Louisiana. Until recent years, the way a new house might come to Maurice was that some young Trahan, say, would build on a lot his mother's cousin had inherited years back from a great-uncle named Picard.

Maurice is still palpably Cajun and still full of people living where their families have always lived. The City Bar, now run by the fourth generation of Trahans—Matthew Trahan, who is also chief of the volunteer fire department—is next door to the office of a dentist named David G. Trahan and down the street from Trahan's Barber Shop. One restaurant, Mr. Keet's, got its name because the owner was named Keith, and that comes out Keet in a Cajun accent. Soop's, a restaurant run by the Hebert family next to Hebert's Specialty Meats, has as its chef's special, for $13.95, a classic Cajun mélange: seafood gumbo, shrimp-stuffed bell pepper, crabmeat au gratin, shrimp étouffée, french fried potatoes, green salad, and bread.

But outsiders are coming to Maurice. Its first large subdivision was just completed. Matthew Trahan, who used to be able to lead his men to a fire with no more instructions from the dispatcher than something like, "It's out behind Cat Broussard's house," told me that of the 25 or so families who have already moved into the subdivision, he knows only one.

I wouldn't expect him to know a high percentage of City Bar customers. In the morning the people sitting at the bar might be workers on their way home after a couple of weeks on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico—City Bar is open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., except on Fridays and Saturdays, when it remains open until 3—but at night the crowd runs heavily to young people from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Gradually, from the mid-seventies to the mid-nineties, City Bar removed the cardrooms it used to keep for the older gents who would come in from the country on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings to play booray, a card game much favored by Cajuns. Now it's a large room dominated by beer signs and a couple of pool tables. City Bar still features the Cajun Bloody Mary as its most famous drink, but all I saw anyone drinking was light beer.

Hebert's Specialty Meats remains Cajun enough that co-owner Junior Hebert cooks lunch for the staff and, in his other life, plays the accordion with a Cajun band called Junior Hebert and his Maurice Playboys. Although turduckens have brought it a lot of publicity, Hebert's still describes itself as "Home of Deboned Chicken." During the most recent Christmas week, Hebert's deboned and stuffed 7,500 chickens. People drove to Maurice from all over the area to acquire a bird that was stuffed with corn bread dressing, say, or shrimp and rice dressing, and was about as difficult to carve as a pound cake. The smart ones slowed down at the city limits.

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