Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot

The pursuit to answer eternal questions

A fixture on Airline Highway the LaPlace Dragway held twice-monthly races for nearly 28 years.

Dear Julia,
Before my brother and I came along, our parents used to enjoy going to the drag races in LaPlace. Mom especially liked the “funny cars,” the ones that reared up as they took off. It has been about 30 years or so since the track closed and I’m not sure how long it had been in business. Do you know when it was established or why it closed?
Kevin Schmidt
New Orleans


Touted as “the South’s finest dragway,” the LaPlace Dragway opened for business on Sun., May 6, 1962. Gates opened at 8 a.m. while the race card began at 1 p.m. Races were held twice monthly – on the first and third Sunday of each month.
On Sept. 8, 1963, 28-year-old Robert Lee “Bob” Lace of Dallas was fatally injured at the speedway. While running time trials, Lace lost control of a Class AA dragster owned by Ray Austin of Hurst, Texas.
The last checkered flag came down at the LaPlace Dragway on March 23, 1980. N.G. Pearah, who had owned and operated the track since the mid-’70s, had planned to expand the successful venture, but the real estate market had changed a great deal since the drag strip’s early days.
When asked to renew the 35-acre site’s 10-year lease, Pearah declined, pointing out that residential subdivisions encroached on the once-rural property, leaving no room for future track expansion. An Airline Highway fixture for nearly 28 years, the dragway then closed and the site was listed for sale. At the time, Pearah was searching for a new location for the track and was hoping to acquire for that purpose more than 100 acres near Slidell.



Dear Julia.
Freitag’s bakery on Galvez Street and Tulane Avenue, now long-gone, used to make fabulous Russian Cake, which my grandparents pronounced ROOSH-en even though they said RUSH-en when they were talking about the country or its people. I recall Russian Cake as being dense and moist. It was a sheet cake and was always tinted red and had white icing and colored nonpareils on the top. It may have had jam or rum in it. It is rare to see Russian Cake these days, but years ago every neighborhood bakery seemed to have its own version of this old New Orleans favorite. Can you tell me about this traditional local treat?
Ed Scurror
River Ridge


As early as the 1910s and ’20s, local bakeries, such as Odenwald and Gros, were selling Russian Cake. The reason why the cake often seemed to vary, even when made by the same bakery, was that its ingredients varied each time it was made. Bakeries would gather together their unsold or stale cakes and crumble them up, mixing the crumbs with thinned fruit jelly, and sometimes other flavorings such as rum and anise. The moistened leftovers were then pressed under heavy weights until they set. Unless someone has ready access to an industrial kitchen, massive amounts of leftover cake and heavy weights that can be left in place overnight, it’s probably more practical for them to seek out ready-made Russian Cake than try to make it at home.



Dear Julia and Poydras:
Love your articles and love your magazine! Look forward to it every month. Please keep up the good work.
Being a part-time Ventura County resident (where Perry Mason’s creator practiced law before retiring to Temecula), as well as a crossword aficionado, I feel it my duty to point out the recent misspelling of Mr. Gardiner’s first name, Erle. Julia, you may blame it all on Poydras, whom I’m sure made the error after a couple of beaks full of demon rum. By the way, if Poydras feels like trading in rum for tequila, and is up to flying west as far as California, I would be happy to put him up and introduce him to Casper, the cockatoo at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. I am certain the two of them could get into all sorts of mischief, flirting with the bikini-clad females at the pool and such.
Lisa Schewe
New Orleans

            
Good news Lisa, Poydras has accepted your invitation. He plans to arrive at your house Christmas morning, in time for dinner, and to stay until Mardi Gras. (Which is late next year.) He hopes to have recovered from his latest bout of influenza by the time he gets to California, but he says he’s coming anyway. He asks that you please have an inhaler available.
Yes, it’s “Erle.” Thanks for setting us straight but I don’t think alcohol was involved. The inadvertent error most likely resulted from the problem Poydras has whenever he tries to touch-type and gets his talons caught in the keyboard. He is much better at “hunt and peck.”



Dear Julia,
I grew up in the 1950s, so Mr. Bingle looms large in my memories of Christmases past. I especially liked the original TV spots and remember not only Bingle (then a marionette operated and voiced by Oscar Isentrout) but Al Shea as Pete the Penguin and Stocker Fontelieu as Dr. Walrus. When I heard, in the early ’80s, that WVUE was making new Mr. Bingle shorts, I was overjoyed at the prospect of seeing these familiar characters once again. However, when the series debuted I was appalled. Not only had the voices changed but the sweet little flying snowman with holly-leaf wings and ice cream cone hat was bloated and virtually unrecognizable. Do you remember anything else about this re-styled television Bingle?
Allison Hannigan
New Orleans


On Thanksgiving Day 1981, Channel 8 (WVUE) ran the first of 12 new four-and-a-half minute live-action shorts featuring the Maison Blanche department store’s seasonal mascot, Mister Bingle, and friends. Sid Berger and Cindy Reiss, both of Peter Mayer Advertising, produced the shows which Times-Picayune entertainment critic Benjamin Morrison described as “clever, colorful and fast.” Set design was by Candy Davey. Alice Tweedie, who had worked with Jim Henson, designed the new puppets and played Miss Holly. Adam Cohen both operated and provided the voice for Mr. Bingle while Mark Mekelburg and Peter Gabb played Pete the Penguin and Dr. Walrus, respectively. Meteorologist Bob Breck had a few cameo appearances, as did newsman Steve Ozenovich. The shows were cute, but for some of us who remembered the original television spots the soft sculpture rod puppet’s design had only a vague resemblance to the beloved character and was just too different to accept as the “real” Mr. Bingle. The revamped Mr. Bingle seems to have quietly faded away.



While filming under an oil-drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico, LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences captured what may be the world’s first look at a living oarfish swimming.

Dear Julia and Poydras,
I am intrigued by recent news of the oarfish washing up in California. Do you happen to know if those weird deep-sea fish are native only to the Pacific Ocean or if they have ever been found in our own coastal waters?
Alex Washerman
Lakeview


Oarfish (Regalecus glesne) most certainly live in the Gulf of Mexico, and Louisiana State University has the high-definition color video to prove it. In 2010, Mark Benfield, associate professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, and others were working with the SERPENT project, when they happened upon the unusual fish. SERPENT is an international project in which the academic community, using technology and deep-water expertise from partners in the oil and gas industry, can access and study the deep-water environment.
While filming under the Thunderhorse oil-drilling platform, their remotely operated cameras captured what may be the world’s first look at a living oarfish swimming in its natural environment. The high-definition film of this brief deep-water encounter garnered worldwide attention. The serpentine fish, with its distinctive red head crest raised – was observed swimming by undulating its long dorsal fin.
 

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