Well, West Baton Rouge,
The time has come for me to say goodbye. It’s been nearly three years since I first stepped foot in The West Side Journal’s office, but all good things must come to an end.I will be leaving Louisiana for my home state of Washington where I plan to pursue a master’s degree in digital communication at the University of Washington.
I have been looking back at a lot of my previous work at the Journal since I made plans to leave. The first “letter from the editor” I wrote in 2015 talked of a pervasive sense of change that seemed to be accumulating at the time. Aside from the obvious staff changes at the Journal, there was a sense of something much bigger taking shape. It was obvious in that letter I didn’t know what exactly was changing, but my prediction was true.
A lot happened in West Baton Rouge Parish, the West Side, Louisiana and in the country at large since I have been working here.
I remember designing the newspaper late at night on Nov. 8, last year,
election night. I went home at 6 p.m. for dinner and so I could see the results for who would be president. I mocked up two drafts of the newspaper, one in case of a Clinton victory and one in case of a Trump victory.
We all know the rest. A lot of things changed that night. Many people were elated. Many, not so much. The major presidential upset was not the first change, nor the last. There was also David Vitter and Gov. John Bel Edwards the year before. The whole drama was too good to be true: Vitter, embroiled in scandal, clad in a business casual camo jacket, side-by-side as Duck Dynasty majesty Willie Robertson endorsed him. And who the hell was this funny looking John Bel Edwards guy?
It seemed an unlikely win, but then again, here we are.
Politics on the West Side has also been entertaining. The Port Allen voters elected a majority-black City Council for the first time in the city’s history. Mayor Joey Normand left his post as longtime Brusly Mayor. The School Board passed a major millage to increase funding for new schools and employee salaries.
There was also the flood.
I knew when I moved to Louisiana there would be the threat of natural disasters, but seeing one first hand was eye opening, and somehow not at all shocking. Last year’s flood was a total mess, but the thing that stands out to me was the swiftness and focus with which people – residents, first responders and volunteers – moved to clean up and move on.
If I have one regret it’s that I never saw any of our local high school sports teams take it all the way this year. We have come very close with a couple teams. Despite the shortcomings, you can see the magic kindling. It is a process that requires years of work, good coaching and maybe a little luck. Who would have thought a bookish 20-something from out-of-state would become so emotionally entangled in high school sports? Not me, that’s for sure.
But I don’t want this letter to be a “Greatest Hits” album. As I pack my belongings into boxes and load up my truck for a 5-day haul across the country, I’m reminded that there is still a LOT to look forward to.
If I’m not driving across a brand new bridge to Port Allen on my next trip, I hope to at least see something under construction. Keep fighting for it. West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot once said to me a new bridge was probably the biggest factor for quality of life on the West Side (and likely in the greater Baton Rouge area) in one of my first interviews with him. Traffic impacts every aspect of life on the West Side, he said. I believed him then and I think the same is true now. We are beyond the point of Band-Aids.
However, a new bridge isn’t just about traffic. It’s about the future of the entire metropolitan region. Development in West Baton Rouge isn’t on the way. It’s already here, and it’s going to keep forcing its way through the front door one way or another.
There are people who read that sentence with a sense of despair or resistance, and there are those who read it and step up to the challenge. Be one of the latter. That doesn’t necessarily mean start shoveling dirt for a 10-story apartment complex on River Road. But rather, meet the challenge with new ideas and solutions for growth. How can the community improve? Better yet, what can you do to improve it?
I’ve learned a lot of things living in Louisiana, but learning how to be an active member of a community is one of the most important, I think. I have West Baton Rouge to thank for that.
So that’s it. My final letter from the editor. I sincerely hope my work has been informational, or at least entertaining. You won’t see my bopping around the West Side anymore. I won’t get to harass anymore unsuspecting victims on the levee for their opinions on the latest gossip. But I will be online on Facebook and Twitter (@quinnwelsch) if you want say hi.
It’s been great. Thank you all.