Edison’s Trait in a Straw Hat – Travel Writing
Been driving some good miles over past two days, straight past Birmingham and stopped by at Tuscaloosa (Black Warrior). Met some sad scenes of tornado destruction. Ended on the bar walk at dark: Tuscaloosa’s young ones and gals thirsty as ever. Went to ‘bed’ early, as usual, while drunkenness poured through the night for the denizens. Awoke crusty as ever, drove to nearby lake to dip, was granted 15min by park lady to “take pictures.”
Ate at German bakery Edelweiss, am surprised by how many Germans live in this town. Last tour of carnage and out.
Almost fell asleep at the wheel, due again to the noon heat, so I promptly pulled over to an exit and chugged a dangerously caffeinated Mountain Dew. Ate can of clam chowder and greens at MS visitor’s center, then on the road for the day.
Wisp across Mississippi, reach the river! At last.
Propitiously decided to drive on Natchez Trace Parkway, very nice drive amidst fields and forests (wasn’t interested in more devastation shots of flooding in Vicksburg). Also got to get “blue” on the Mississippi Highway 61 Blues highway, well-known though I didn’t suspect.
Good people at the Biscuits and Blues (way cooler than the average looks I got the past days in Georgia and Alabama). Am surprised to hear quite a few French tourists, they’re here for the highway too, go up all the way to Memphis.
Breakfast: can of spaghetti meatballs. Met George and his 27-year-old daughter Lydia by the river, as well as Rob and Christine (photographer couple) – tell me about ‘Pimp my Barrel’, ol’ Nellie’s whorehouse, and the Ghost in the Tavern, as told by Miss Bobby..
More on George and Lydia:
We meet by the flooded Mississippi River, on the bench in front of a saloon. He greets me, with a noticeable accent.
A young mother and her son comes up to us and begs for some money, because ‘she ran out of gas’ and needs to get home to the nearby town. I am touched when George gives ten dollars to the mother, although the story was most probably made up (and the boy was eating a recently purchased biscuit). Especially because George and Lydia don’t strike as being particularly wealthy. Oh, he had noticed the biscuit, of course. So I talk to him.
He insists that I take a picture of his daughter (I thought she was a lot younger) by the river. Offers to pay me 5 bucks.
I refuse the money, on the basis he did a good deed. I insist on taking a picture of both of them together. Do so. He hands me the five. Offered again, I take the money, though neither out of greed nor need.
We get back to the porch and chat.
“What’s your philosophy in life?”
“C’est la vie.” Existentialist. Wants a second take. Didn’t think it through, his philosophy is actually:
“Until then…“ A plutardi.
He’s hitchhiked through the US. Some story of a marine friend who dared him to hitchhike all the way to Rio. Ended up not doing it. I don’t know what to make of him. A lot of misleading clues. He’s very intelligent, in teasing and deliberate contradiction to the hick-ness he exudes from below his straw hat. He’s testing me.
“Do you know what a sesquipedalian is?”
I can’t remember. He sneers at the poor job my journalism teachers did. “Have your synapses dried out?” All in a playful, non-offensive manner.
They’re Jehovah witnesses. The First Jehovah witness congregation place – they’re called Kingdom Halls – was on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
They don’t believe in money. Give most of it away. I’m beginning to understand them better.
Daughter’s been a minister for last seven years, volunteering her work to help those in need. Doesn’t care about money, plenty of time later to make it, why not do early what must be done?
I wonder: it’s true, but perhaps it’s a line of reasoning only available to the few who can afford that kind of self-confidence in their abilities. She seems to agree with that point. A math whizz, according to her father.
George studied etymology. As a hobby. Decidely the father-daughter pair are like a good undercover book. Why etymology? George mentions Edison’s trait: English was a boring course when he was at school, because many teacher were – and still are – ill prepared to deal with precocious, individualistic students. So George took up etymology as a hobby one day, “to catch up.”
A Venezuelan camera crew comes to get footage of the flood. The speakerine is immediately attracted to George, who, through the combination of his Southern accent, rounded face and straw hat, seems like the stereotypically ideal portraiture of a Mississippi Man. She makes the same, and wrong, assumption I made. I think George and Lydia enjoy fooling foreigners into that kind of condescending, and erroneous, first impression. The daughter remains very quiet, George doesn’t give them anything. The Venezuelan journalist leaves befuddled.
“You’re doing Deck-a-podge journalism.” He suggests that would be the good name for the blog.
“Send me a picture from Terra del Fuego,” he asks. I will, yes, I will.
Visit a famed mansion. Although Natchez is interesting, I figure I’ll make some way downriver. Pit-stop at St. Francisville, flooded too. Continued drive in the night, despite counter-intuition.
The air smelled sickening. Sure enough, I discovered the heavy petro-chemical industry plants lining up 61 on the way to Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Thought I would sleep by the truckers at a gas station, get some pictures of this in the morning (haven’t yet encountered massive industrial districts such as this one, surprisingly; in this short experience it hasn’t been a predominant – though obviously prevalent and must-include – element ).
I’m awoken by a cop, for the second time during this trip. Drove groggy, thought of stopping by Southern University, heard there was a unique view of the river. Parked in the lot of shady dorm building. Finally decided on leaving (Rule of thumb: once per state. Besides, shady area).
Drove for way too long through streets of outside Baton-Rouge, poor, dark and unwelcoming. At least in my fatigued mindset. All African-American, lone souls walking the pavement through the nocturnal hours. Didn’t know where to set camp. Ended up on the lot in front of a Whole Foods.
Welcome to Louisiana.