In the RV I have visited two cities in Louisiana – New Orleans, and Baton Rouge. I’ll be spending a week in Lafayette and another in deep Cajun Country in February, for Mardi Gras. So, on my trek from Asheville, North Carolina to Austin, Texas (where I am spending the month of November), I thought I’d spend a week in Shreveport to get another perspective on the state.
“Why the hell would anyone want to spend a week in Shreveport?” asked some south Louisiana friends. I reminded them that I am not on vacation; I am temporarily living in each place I visit. Sure, if I had only two weeks of vacation to spare a year, I probably would not spend one week of it in Shreveport. But hey, I’ve got the time.
I rolled into town and set up at Diamond Jack’s Casino RV Park, in Bossier City. For those of you who may not know this, Bossier, pronounced Bow-sier (the second syllable like the end of Hoosier) City sits directly across the Red River from Shreveport. The area is now commonly called Shreveport/Bossier City, and the metropolitan area population totals about 500,000 people.
One of the first things I like to do in a new city is to drive its downtown core. I was more than a little dismayed at what I found in downtown Shreveport. Texas Street, arguably the most inhabited and populated street, could use a good power washing. One of the most famous buildings on Texas Street, the courthouse,
was awash in a sea of people who were down on their luck, to put it mildly. Large portions of the storefronts in downtown are closed and boarded. The Strand Theater, a 1920’s Vaudeville theater, renovated and reopened in 1984, host to Shreveport’s live theater and music,
is directly across the street from this crumbling eyesore.
The scent of rot and decay accosted my nostrils as I took the photos.
I was quite surprised by what I was seeing. Wasn’t Shreveport rich with oil and gas dollars? I went back to the rig and googled, “What the fuck happened to Shreveport?”
Google is so literal. Along with lots of hits for porn sites, there was this Reddit string about moving to the Shreveport area. I’ll let you peruse that at your leisure, but by and large the comments were less than flattering.
Like most cities, Shreveport’s history is volatile and complex. It started as a company town in the 1800s at the intersection of the Texas Trail and the Red River. During the Civil War it was the capital of Louisiana for two years, after two other locations fell to the Union. By 1914 the Red River was no longer navigable through Shreveport, so there went the port trade. But, oil and gas were discovered, and the city was a boomtown in the early 20th Century. By the 80s, that busted. In 2008 more natural gas was discovered, but the price of natural gas fell. The General Motors plant closed in 2012. This city cannot catch a break.
Ten years ago, the Louisiana Boardwalk, a shopping and dining development on the Red River, held great promise.
When I visited, there were more shop workers than shoppers. Buffalo Wild Wings, which overlooked not only the Red River but also the Long-Allen Bridge, commonly known as the Texas Street Bridge, closed. A Buffalo Wild Wings. With a view. Closed.
Now Shreveport relies on it service industries, namely medical care and casinos. Shreveport is the center of the Ark-La-Tex region and is home to the university medical center and three other major hospitals. As for the casinos, I was unimpressed. I visited Diamond Jacks, where the RV park is located, Margaritaville, and Boomtown. Margaritaville is the newest, but its luster is beginning to fade. The others were grimy and full of deferred maintenance. None of the gamblers I saw were playing with money they could afford to lose.
As usual, I went in search of local flavor, in the form of food and drink. All the magazines and internet lists said Herby K’s was not to be missed, and The Shrimp Buster did not disappoint.
What did disappoint was getting there, through more decay and urban blight, in an area once known as The West End. A friend moving to Shreveport for work warned against traveling there at night.
Then I went in search of a dog park for the furry copilots. The GPS took me to a rundown office on a busy commercial/industrial road. No one was at the Shreveport Dog Park Alliance. Its website touted a park opening in Summer 2016. I was there in Fall 2016. No dog park yet.
The good news about Shreveport is that the standard of living is almost 15 percent lower than the rest of the country, the median house price is $100,000, and the average commute is 17 minutes. Despite this good news, I won’t need to return.