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I’ve got this hobby. It’s a difficult one, considering I have but two weeks of vacation time a year. My wife endures my pastime because she loves the goofy souvenirs I bring home. The aforementioned hobby is travel. Not travel in the sense that I have to go find the best beaches in North America, though. I like to travel for travel’s sake, and I like to dovetail my excursions with new American Airlines routes. The way I see it is: Airline folks know travel well, and airline folks who pick the new destinations must know something I don’t. Socrates told us, “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” I’m wise enough to know that anyone who maps new routes for a living knows better than I do. Know what I mean?

And so it was that I chose Lake Charles, Louisiana, as my hobby getaway. I’d been there once before. In 2005, I was a Time magazine reporter embedded with the army in Lake Charles on a search-and-rescue op after Hurricane Rita. I remember thinking that it would take 50 years to put the pieces back together and restore Lake Charles to its intrinsic beauty. What I found was that these folks did it in less than five.

It used to be that Louisiana -- non–New Orleans, Louisiana -- was for a certain type of vacationer: the outdoors people. The state’s license plate should have been an indicator. “Sportsman’s Paradise” pretty much says it all. I was looking for something along those lines with a Cajun, or at the very least, Creole, twist. But I also had two major stipulations for my jaunt to Lake Charles. First, I wanted to see something historic, especially the Victorian architecture this part of the South is famous for. And I wanted to gamble.

To satisfy my first itch, I headed to historic Calcasieu Parish. Lake Charles has some distinct buildings more akin to momentous northern institutions than to the bayou. That’s because the city was settled by loggers from Michigan and Wisconsin. They brought their regional designs and then added some local flavor to them, thereby creating structural hybrids like the Lake Charles column, which is a squared, tapered pillar that was constructed in 1905.

On to the gaming. Louisiana is famous for its riverboat casinos, and I’ve been all over the state on these go-nowhere boats. But I have a new favorite: L’auberge du lac Casino Resort. I love a hopping casino, with the sounds and the smells and the lights and the cheers. L’auberge has all the sensory diversions, but it also has a refined atmosphere and one of the best pool scenes ever, making for a perfect getaway from the hustle that is city life. Plus, the Snake River Grill is housed in the joint. I’d eaten at its sister restaurant in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, before and remembered the food coma I’d gone into after trying a savory buffalo steak. The Louisiana one was even better.

To cap off my adventure, I headed to the Creole Nature Trail, where I saw an alligator in its natural habitat. I also saw ornery snapping turtles and a mosquito the size of an eight-year-old, but that was the essence of the trail; that was the essence of a Sportsman’s Paradise.

So I thank this hobby of mine for the opportunity to revisit Lake Charles and witness the reconstruction. I’ll certainly go back. After all, I still have a week and a half of vacation time, and my wife will soon tire of her oven mitt bearing a picture of an alligator cooking a swordfish.

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Adam Pitluk
Editor