I wanted to like Mississippi. It’s got a cool name. It’s in the south. It’s next to Louisiana. But it didn’t start well. We left Florida and headed to a campground just outside Jackson, with the idea of leaving the trailer for a few days somewhere warm while we drove up to Nashville to stay in a B&B. The forecast was for the mid 70s; we arrived in the low 50s, with a wind chill that took it down to near freezing. Arriving at the state reservoir campsite, we were greeted by a sign warning us that no alcohol was permitted on site, enforced by a $100 fine. This and the presence of on-site ‘Reservoir Police’ gave us some pause for thought, since we’d loaded up on rum in St. Augustine. Fingers crossed full-scale trailer searches weren’t part of the day job for these guys (who looked nothing like a Tarantino movie either), though as they were busy playing with the smallest chihuahua we’ve ever seen, the risk seemed low. So it was cold, the site was uninspiring, and I was generally pretty grouchy about not being in Florida any more. Lucky John.
It wasn’t all bad. We decided to venture into the state capital and found a great old fashioned diner lunch at Brent’s Drugs in Jackson. Featured in both the book and the movie ‘The Help’, Brent’s has an original interior and the biggest and best fried chicken sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life: N.B. Do not go into a place like this in the south and say to yourself “I’ll just have something light, like a sandwich”.
We also stumbled on a great free tour of the Old Capitol Building, which has been restored beautifully following Hurricane Katrina. This gave us an insight into the history of the state, and particularly its constitution, which has long been the subject of conflict – they only incorporated the 13th Amendment (which, in short, abolished slavery) in 1995. I was intrigued by a bulletin board inviting Mississippians to post their ideas for new amendments to the constitution. Amidst a lot of proposals about improving roads (John has not stopped carping about the state of the roads here), were the contradictory requests “Allow gay marriage” and “No gay marriage!”. I’m not sure what the Mississippi constitution currently says on the matter, but it appears state residents are confused.
Other than the Capitol Building, we couldn’t really find anything else open in Jackson, despite a lot of beautifully restored and maintained old buildings. We’ve subsequently been told that it can be a bit of a dodgy place in areas, which might explain why the girl running a card shop we popped into opened the door to us with a key and locked us inside while we browsed. Still, no harm no foul and we went on our merry way without incident.
Jackson is also the place where James Meredith, Martin Luther King Jr and friends ended their ‘March Against Fear’ in June 0f 1966, a peaceful protest intended to encourage black voters to register amidst racial tensions in the state. Meredith was shot along the way, by a white gunman, and as John and I stood on the spot where the 15,000 crowd had assembled at the end of the 220 mile march, it really sunk in how recently these events took place.
A big plus for Mississippi is that it marks the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a scenic road managed by the National Park Service, which follows an historic route north to Nashville. Leaving our trailer with the reservoir dogs, we started on our road trip north, on what is a beautiful and virtually empty road in early February. We stopped off en route to see the town where Elvis was born, Tupelo, where we enjoyed lunch in Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, chatting to an old man who, when John commented on the unseasonably cold weather, signalled his agreement with an entirely straight-faced “Uh huh huh”. Maybe the King is back in town..?
The rest of our journey up the parkway would take us to Nashville, which deserves its own post so more on that later. We returned last night to our trailer, safe and sound despite the cold, John having followed more good advice from Steve and drained the tanks prior to leaving. Unfortunately a few late nights and the effects of Tennessee whiskey led to us waking up this morning with colds, yet being unable to take to our sick bed as the trailer was going in for some work on the brakes, necessary before we start on the big distances out west. If I thought the day was going badly, it was about to get worse.
No sooner had we dropped off the trailer, in the midst of a sudden storm, our phones started beeping tornado warnings. We pulled off the interstate in driving rain and lightning, into a shopping plaza, and ran inside the nearest building, while tornado sirens screamed all around the complex. We found ourselves in Dick’s Sporting Goods, where a very enthusiastic young man tried to sell me trainers. Soaked to my skin, freaked out by the sudden weather change (we have been keeping an eye on this after Florida), and feeling like I should never have got out of bed, I was cursing Mississippi.
Of course, everything turned out ok. The tornado warning got downgraded to a watch that would last for the next few hours so we decided the nearby cinema was a better shelter than a store selling hunting equipment. We spent the rest of the day ’til the sun came out watching Star Wars, drinking coffee, and planning our escape to Memphis tomorrow. Mississippi isn’t all bad, but I’m already looking forward to a return to Tennessee (though maybe less whiskey this time) and maybe a visit to Graceland to continue the Elvis theme. There are a few places in northern Mississippi that John wants to see because of the blues connection, so there’s still time for me to come around…