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Can you hear me now? - Bob Paslay

In case you missed it on the news earlier this week, the town of Mink, La., population 15 households, now has phone service.

It cost BellSouth $47,000 for each of the 15 phones to connect Mink, 100 miles south of Shreveport, to the rest of the world.

It was such an exciting time that one of the residents received a phone call from the governor to congratulate her on coming into the 21st Century. Then 45 minutes after that call, the resident said she got a call from a telemarketer. Welcome to the world of communications.

I admit it. I Iove the hot, steamy, French world of Louisiana. My regret is that I have not been to places like Mink which apparently are constantly changing. The issue is whether they are changing for the better. Residents who want to throw off the past stereotype of the state hate stories of how third world parts of the state are. They say that people only know the state from movies like "Southern Comfort" and "The Big Easy." They only know about people like Huey Long.

Yes, the gators, the Creole cooking, the people like Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen, the vampires of Anne Rice, are what first attracted me to Louisiana. It is like no other state, still holding to French law and soaked in history.

My friend Ann Green and I went to Mardi Gras one year and stayed in Baton Rouge with friends of hers. I admit I loved the state capital building, even though it looks like an office building and not a capital. Yes, I walked down the marble hallway where Kingfish Long was fatally shot and the holes made by the bullets are still in the marble walls. You can still put your fingers in them and I did. Long looms as one of the most interesting characters in American political history. Part rogue, part sincere small town politician who rose to great heights, charming and mean at the same time. If you have not read "All the King's Men" or seen Ken Burns' documentary on Long, treat yourself. Long believed, or said he believed, that "every man is a king." He said America should share the wealth, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Long seriously considered a run for president on the "we're mad as hell and we're no t going to take it any more" theme. Some of his supporters even speculated that FDR had him done in because he didn't want to run against him.

To remind you briefly, Long was instrumental in having someone thrown from his job and the man's relative, a young doctor, waited for Long to emerge into this long hallway at the capital and opened fire. Recent writings speculate that Long was actually shot by his own bodyguards with bullets ricocheting around this narrow hallway. With Mardi Gras wrapping up next week, the Travel Channel, as usual, will be wallowing in the lore and mysteries of Louisiana and this fact, coupled with the Mink news of phone service, has me thinking.

As I said earlier I am not always sure that progress is a good thing. We see a wonderful stream and hear the sound of water rushing over rocks and see fish swimming calmly down the stream. We come back three years later and see condos being built.

As the woman in Mink has already discovered by her annoying telemarketer call, there may be a time in the future when they long for the quiet of no phones ringing. America has grown up too fast for me. Gone or going are the days when you pick up the phone and reach someone. Now there are public relations people who stand like a giant wall between the person and yourself. And there are annoying recorded buffers that require 30 minutes of your time and the dexterity to punch button two, then three, then option eight, then two again.

If we really want to help the people of Mink, and we do because we have fallen in love with them without even knowing them, then each of you go out to the mall and buy them an answer machine and mail it down to them.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald and can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .