We left the casino early in the morning and began the long haul through the state of Mississippi. Not wanting to miss out, I had chosen the Great River Route along Highway 61. If we were visiting the Deep South, we were really going to experience it. And how often do you get back to Mississippi? Hopefully never.
We were visiting the sites listed in Road Trip USA, our travel bible. We were in Delta Blues country, but didn’t see much evidence of musical history, apart from the crossroads where Robert Johnson is supposed to have sold his soul to the devil. In Leland, the birthplace of Jim Henson, we found a Muppets museum.
In Onward, Mississippi, the book led us to a country store on the side of the road, which bills itself as the place where the teddy bear was born. We decided to stop in and take the obligatory photo. It ended up being a good introduction to rednecks and their deep, burning hostility towards northerners. I stepped into the store, watched the two hicks at the front table turn slowly to glare at Jay, and I thought, this is the part where they say, “Y’all ain’t from around here, is you?” as the first few notes of Dueling Banjos play in the background.
We got out of there quick.
That was just a precursor to Vicksburg, however. This pretty much sums up the town:
Vicksburg is home to one beautiful, surreal attraction, however. It’s called Margaret’s Grocery. The South is full of shrines and personal tributes to Jesus, but this one beats them all.
The book told me that the grocery was run by an old preacher and his wife, and that the preacher was known to come barreling out of the store to testify to unsuspecting passers-by just like us. Jay and Heather were unaware of this, so I was hoping that he would make a showing especially for them. I was meandering slowly around the yard, photographing everything and gaping in amazement, while Heather stood nearby, asking repeatedly if we had had our tetanus shots. I was gawking at a display featuring charts about Jesus’ life with hand-scribbled notes and broken mirrors, when I heard yelling. I thought, “Awesome, it’s the preacher.” And I was so wrong. Here’s a photo I took of the crazy hick as the car went peeling away down a rural highway:
There’s not much else to be said about Mississippi except that maybe they need to move past the whole ‘War of Northern Aggression’ thing, and they’ll all be a lot happier. I know that we were happier to leave the state that afternoon, although backwater Louisiana wasn’t much better. The drive through the bayou used to be one of the most beautiful in the country, and now it’s known as the chemical corridor. It’s great. We suffered through traffic in Baton Rouge, and were relieved to finally reach our hotel in New Orleans.
Well, maybe I was a little nervous about the hotel. During my last extended phone conversation with the proprietor, he had virtually assured me that I would be killed by rednecks in Mississippi. He went into graphic detail, something about being tied to a tree, raped, etc. I laughed, and he yelled, “Why are you laughing? That’s what those people do!” So, needless to say, I was feeling a little weird about running into this guy at the hotel. Luckily, he was occupied when we arrived.
Jay and I took a walk around the Garden District that night. It was beautiful. We discovered that we were around the corner from an old cemetery and the Real World House, and right on the trolley line on St. Charles Avenue. Perfect.