Horn Lake to Robinsonville. 20 miles/791.3 total
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I am leaving from a grocery store parking lot on Route 302 in Horn Lake, headed west to Highway 61 and then south to Robinsonville.
It’s cold and cloudy. I doubt if it will get much over 50 today. So far no rain, but that could come. It rained all day yesterday, but was quite a bit warmer. This weather feels like what I had up in Indiana in October.
I’m headed into Tunica County, which has been given over to casino development. Several of the major Las Vegas organizations have built casinos there, between Highway 61 and the Mississippi River—Harrah’s, Bally’s, the Horseshoe, and others.
I’m starting to accumulate Mississippi stats in my little notebook. I found my first dead raccoon, and my first penny, with duct tape on one side of it.
One of the things that strikes me about Mississippi so far, as well as Memphis and Arkansas, is the large number of churches. I thought West Michigan was full of churches, and it is, but down here they are on practically every corner. Some of them are little squalid flyblown dumps, but many are well-built and expensively turned out. There is a huge amount of money, and land, tied up in religion down here. Most of the churches, probably 70% or more, are of the “Baptist” type, generally. By that I mean that they practice Christianity with certain things in common, namely, baptism by total immersion, and a congregational form of church governance, with the ultimate authority being the individual congregation, rather than an ecclesiastical hierarchy. Down here, they also tend to be fundamentalist, meaning that they interpret the bible literally. This does not apply to the United Methodists, probably another 20% of the churches, who practice infant baptism by sprinkling and have a modified episcopal form of church polity, and generally take a slightly more enlightened view of the bible.
I’m walking through Lynchburg, another suburb of Memphis. Here Route 302 is five lanes wide and just waiting to be developed by someone other than Baptists.
I spent the day in Memphis yesterday, and went to Graceland. Imagine my surprise and delight when I got there and discovered that there are pictures of Billie Bob everywhere! On signs, billboards, t-shirts, and all kinds of souvenirs.
Here are my impressions of Graceland for what they're worth, and in no particular order. The house itself is smaller than I thought it would be. It’s large, but not what you'd call a mansion. The swimming pool is pretty small, too. The furniture and decorating are very tacky, which is partly because it was last decorated in the 70s, and partly because Elvis was a hick.
Graceland sits on about 13 acres, which is a pretty good piece of land for a house in a city. The other thing that impressed me, as I looked at a number of the outfits Elvis wore, was that Elvis himself was a big guy. A big hunk of burning love. And, I must say, very good looking, at least during the period starting from when he got out of the army to about the early 70s.
In addition to Graceland and its outbuildings, I visited exhibits dedicated to Elvis's army stint, his movie career, and a museum dedicated to his vehicles (some of which were repurchased for the exhibit)—limos, Rolls Royces, motorcycles, sports cars, a John Deere tractor, and the pink 1955 Cadillac he gave to his mother. Also, Elvis's two private jets, the full-sized Lisa Marie and the smaller Hound Dog II. They pack a lot of Elvis into the tour.
Next I went to the Cotton Exchange Museum in Memphis, where I learned a lot more about cotton. I had been told by a guy I met on the road in Missouri that a module of cotton was fourteen bales, and that a bale weighs 400 pounds. But the woman at the museum set me straight on that. A bale weighs 500 pounds, and that’s after ginning (removal of the seeds). A module will yield fifteen bales, so that’s 7500 pounds of ginned cotton. But about two-thirds of the weight of the raw cotton in a module is the seeds. That means that a module of cotton weighs more like 22,500 pounds. That makes a little more sense to me, considering the size of a module (about 8 x 8 x 30 feet).
Cotton is judged and graded on its color and how clean it is, and also on the length of the fibers of the plant, called the staple. Short staple cotton has fibers that range from about half an inch to an inch and an eighth. Long staple cotton, traditionally grown in Egypt, can have fibers of two inches or more. The longer the staple, or fiber, the finer and thinner will be thread, because there will need to be fewer splices. Sheets that have up to sixty threads per inch are made from Egyptian cotton, mostly. Short staple cotton makes thicker and bumpier thread, like the kind used for denim.
The woman at the museum also told me that she knows someone who is writing a book about Robert E. Lee Wilson, the guy who founded the town of Wilson, Arkansas. He was once the largest single cotton farmer in the country, with 65,000 acres. I wrote a few things about him in one of these posts. I’m looking forward to reading that book when it comes out.
Kudzu lines the ditches as I approach Highway 61 and turn south. Here Highway 61 is more like an expressway than it was up in Missouri and Arkansas. I’ll take it a few miles and then turn west and pick up Old Highway 61, a more sedate, two-lane road, that runs parallel and goes through the little villages.
Well, I run into a little snag out on Highway 61 about two miles down. A DeSoto County Sheriff deputy stops me and informs me that pedestrians are prohibited on this part of Highway 61. I was not aware of that, and hadn’t seen any signs. It’s not limited access. Anyway, he makes me get in the back seat of his car, after taking my driver’s license to check me out. First he says he's going to drop me down at the county line, about six miles from where we are. I tell him what I'm doing, and ask if he can take me somewhere a little closer. I mention that I was planning to go to Star Landing Road and take that over to Old Highway 61 in Lake Cormorant, so he says he'll drop me off there, which is only about two miles from where we are.
Before he has me get in the car he asks me if I have anything on me he “should be concerned about,” meaning, I think, weapons. I give him my pocket knife, which he holds onto, then he begins feeling the many pockets of my vest.
“Yep, a sandwich. Wanna see it?”
"What else you got in there?"
"Lots of stuff. I'm really harmless."
And on it goes as he frisks me, top to bottom. Then when I'm in the back seat and he’s finished running my driver’s license, he takes me down to Star Landing Road. I try to engage him in conversation, but he isn’t too chatty. I tell him about the motor home in Robinsonville, and the car up in Horn Lake, and try to explain the whole deal, but he's really having a hard time taking it in. Finally he turns to me and asks, “Why? What’s the point?” As always, a good question. Anyway, he lets me out of the car and gives me my knife back and I thank him for the ride and for his courtesy, and we go our separate ways.
So I have another slight gap in my walk, to go with the one I got up on the bridge from Cairo, Illinois to Missouri. At least I can still say that I haven't voluntarily taken any rides. Now I’m heading down Star Landing Road, which a sign says is the Hernando DeSoto Trail, 1541. It's amazing to think that almost 470 years ago some Spanish dudes walked right along here, with those outrageous helmets of theirs.
Now I’m on Old Highway 61, a two-lane road, and it’s about as lonely as it can be. I see what might be a cormorant taking off from some bushes—a large black water bird—so I know that Lake Cormorant is as good as its name. According to the map I go through the villages of Newport and Penton, but I would be hard pressed to say exactly where these places are. There's nothing to either of them. Lake Cormorant isn’t much, but it does have a post office and what was once a store of some kind.
In the distance I see the water tower of the Harrah’s hotel and casino complex, and at about 16 miles I leave DeSoto County and enter Tunica County. This is where all the casinos are, and as soon as I enter the county I’m on Harrah’s property. Old Highway 61 is called Harrah’s Boulevard here. According to the map, in this area there was once a village called Clack, but it probably wasn’t much of anything to begin with, and now it’s all gone.
Just over the county line a fleet of about thirty stretch limousines, black and white, is parked and waiting. The sheriff’s little ride has afforded me some extra time before dark, so I walk another half a mile down to the casino entrance and take the long driveway in. I’m going to try my luck, doing the same thing I did at the casino up in Michigan City, Indiana, which was to play five dollars in the lowest denomination slot machine they have, and quit when I’ve either lost the five or get ahead. About a half hour later I walk out of Harrah’s, warmed up but five dollars poorer.
After about about a mile I reach Old Highway 61 again. I’m in Robinsonville, except that in 2003 it changed its name to Tunica Resorts. There are nine casinos in this vicinity. Locals still call it Robinsonville. The post office doesn’t have any name on its front, but the guy inside says it's the Robinsonville post office. Robinsonville is a little of the old and a little of the new. It has an old village and some new condos and apartments. Plenty of money here now, and jobs for the locals. And plenty of new ways for them to lose their money.