Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 58: Flopping for Jesus

Jackson to Terry. 19.9 miles/1012.1 total

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sittin’ in a bar, tippling a jar in Jackson
And on the street the summer sun it shines.
There’s many a barroom queen I’ve had in Jackson,
But I just can’t seem to drink you off my mind.

Well, not exactly. But I did think of the Stones and “Country Honk” today, since it was the only song I could recall offhand that referred to Jackson.

I leave from north Jackson, between the Natchez Trace Parkway and Interstate 220, heading south on Highway 49, which is called Medgar Evers Drive here, down through the bowels of the city and out the other end, to just north of a little place called Terry. It’s cloudy and damp, but not raining. Temperatures in the high 50s going up to 60 or more. The better of my two current pairs of walking shoes has finally dried from the rain up in Yazoo City, and I’m pleased to be wearing them again today. Nothing like comfortable shoes.

I spent the last two days visiting my nephew and getting acquainted with my three lovely great nieces, whom I had never seen. A very enjoyable time. My nephew, Pieter Teeuwissen, has recently been appointed the city attorney for Jackson. A real rising star in the Mississippi legal firmament, I must say, and a very competent and honest guy, and a damned good lawyer, from what I can tell.

Yesterday my nephew and I went up to Indianola to the B.B. King Museum, a great place, well done. Worth a visit if you’re in the Delta, as much so as the one in Clarksdale. It’s built behind a cotton gin that he worked in when he was young.

There’s hardly a corner of the State of Mississippi my nephew hasn’t been to, either to try a case or involve himself in some legal matter, so spending a couple of days with him was an education in Mississippi law and politics.

During my time in Jackson several people have asked me why I'm taking this walk. It’s the simplest and most natural question in the world, yet I am always at a loss to answer it. The fact is, I don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t think I ever quite knew why I was doing it. I’m just doing it. But I ought to have developed a pat answer by now.

So let’s talk a little about Jackson. It was named for President Andrew Jackson. Originally it was settled as LeFleur’s Bluff by a French guy named Louis LeFleur, and also was known as Parkerville. It was the choice for a state capital more centrally located than the original capitals, which were by the Mississippi River, in Natchez and Washington.

Jackson has a population of about 175,000, with a metropolitan area population of over half a million, which puts it on a par in that respect with Grand Rapids, Michigan. Of course as a state capital it has a bit more going for it than Grand Rapids does. There’s the state capitol, for instance, which I visited on Friday. Built in 1903-5 for $1.8 million in back taxes collected from the Illinois Central Railroad, it’s a plush and well-turned-out beaux arts building, very large and stately. Lots of marble, fancy woodwork, carpeting, curving staircases, all that. Three domes, skylights, a rotunda. Pretty typical, architecturally, of statehouses built from 1875 to about 1925 (which is most of them). And like all state capitols, it’s open to the public, free of charge.

As also happens in a number of states, there’s an older capitol, too, turned into a museum. Standing at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and State Street, the Old Capitol was built in about 1840. It sustained wind damage from Hurricane Katrina, so the governor wangled some federal money from the Bush administration and got the thing beautifully restored. The Old Capitol was where Mississippi voted to secede from the union, and where it passed the constitutions of 1868 (a racially progressive one, at the insistence of the federal government) and 1890 (in which segregation was formally imposed and the curtain came down on any limited progress African Americans had made down here). The Old Capitol is one of the few antebellum buildings of consequence that remains intact, due to the fact that the Union army burned Jackson pretty extensively (yes!). In fact it became known as Chimneyville, because chimneys were about the only thing left standing after the conflagration. Another pre-war building that survived is the Governor’s Mansion, which General Sherman used as his headquarters after the north occupied the city. One of the few times a decent guy has lived in that house.

I turn off of Medgar Evers onto Woodrow Wilson and then Bailey, where I begin to head straight south. This street is less commercial and more residential, and lined with churches on both sides. This morning their parking lots are filled with worshippers. Churches right and left. Wells United Methodist Church, Ebeneezer Missionary Baptist Church, Greater Mt. Sinai Baptist Church. There is one hell of a lot of good real estate being used up by churches, all for only a few hours of action a week. Some of the church names are really quite interesting, though: Crestwood New Life Church, the Greater New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church (the Reverend William “Dynamite” Albritton, Pastor), the Wings of Faith Cathedral Church of Deliverance (Bishop Roberta L. Porter, Pastor), the Old Strangers Home Missionary Baptist Church, the Pathway of Life Church, Inc., the Evangelist Temple House of Refuge for All Nations Church of God in Christ.

I cross Fortification Street, heading down into the center of the city. The tall buildings of downtown are coming into view. A railroad underpass is strewn with broken glass and empty 32 ounce bottles of Cobra malt liquor. Private security guards patrol the fronts and parking lots of churches, to protect cars while their owners are inside flopping around for Jesus.

Bailey has turned into Gallatin Street. At Amite I pass a large bus station behind the Hotel King Edward. I cross Capitol, then turn right on Pearl, and over to Terry Road, which I’ll be on for the rest of the day.

Along the way I am joined for a bit by a fellow traveler, a guy in coveralls who had been working on engines or something like that. We chat as we walk, and he asks me if I can spare 60 cents. I am struck, as I was up in Coahoma, by the relatively small amount of money he asks for. Ten years ago in Hartford the panhandlers were asking for a minimum of a dollar. I guess this is the land of reduced expectations. I give the guy a dollar or so in change. We share bits of our stories. He is originally from Gary, Indiana. We finally part when he starts walking a bit slowly for me. I really need to pick up my pace to finish by dark.

I’m passing the playing fields of Jackson State University. Terry Road crosses Highway 80, and I’m more or less out in the country again, although I think I’m still in Jackson. This is a middle class arrondissement.

Today is a momentous day for me, in that I have passed the thousand mile mark. That’s roughly the one-third point of the Big Walk to California. It’s taken me 57½ days of walking to get this far, 17.39 miles per day, on average.

Up hill and down dale I go, passing churches of God and churches of Christ and churches that are holier than me and more sanctified than thou. I could be in just about any place in the eastern part of the country on this two lane road now. Brick ranches, two-car garages, brown pine needles, acorns and rust-brown oak leaves lining the roadside and the ground in the patches of woods between houses. Cars and trucks for sale out front by the road--$1950 o. b. o., new tires and brakes, new exhaust, low mileage. RUNS GOOD. Churches breaking up the lines of houses, side streets with more of the same. Subdivisions with phony English-sounding names, evoking hills, glens, meadows. Brownish gray asphalt, cracked, snaking and gently rolling. Discarded bags, mattresses, compact discs, bottles, Bud cans, Busch cans, dead animals, dead wood. No trespassing, hunting, fishing, private property. KEEP OUT. Only I know where I am and I’m not sure. Anyone lived in a little how town.

The KFC box says “Life Tastes Better,” and I’m thinking, yeah, life certainly tastes better than KFC. Better than that watery/greasy skin that comes off in one piece and those little lungs or pancreases that stick to the ribs to help you remember that you’re eating a dead bird, for Christ’s sake.

I’m in the suburb of Byram. Things keep getting more affluent. Nothing like this in the Delta, that's for sure. Then I’m in Wynndale, where I pass the Wynndale Presbyterian Church and the Wynndale Steakhouse, neither of which is open at the moment. Now I'm verging on Terry and the motor home.

When I get back to the car, up in north Jackson, a pissed off man is waiting for me in front of his cleaners, where I parked. The place was closed so I took a chance, but he came in and took offense at my trespassing on his property. He bawls me out as I get into the car to drive it onto the dolly. "I called the police and had them check out your car," he says angrily. Yeah yeah, I think, as I apologize and leave. Then this evening my nephew calls me to tell me that the guy did call the Jackson police. They ran my Michigan plate and found that it was registered to Peter Teeuwissen. The officer happened to know my nephew personally, and called him to tell him that she thought someone had stolen his identity. He told her it was his uncle's car, and to tell the guy not to worry, that I would be there to pick it up later in the afternoon. I think the guy was upset because she wouldn't have the car towed. What a stroke of luck that this should happen here in Jackson. Jesus must have been watching over me.


Anonymous said...

Some suggesions for a pat answer as to the why of this business: 1." To see if I can do it"-you've used this before on the trip, 2."To record a ground level narrative of early 21st America, its people and places", or 3. " For personal reasons that I don't care to get into"-Better than none of your damn business but it still could give you trouble with local police or homeland security.

Personnally, I think 2. fits you best and characterizes you as a latter day Tocqueville. Very classy.

Anonymous said...

1. Even if you don't know why you are doing it, what on earth ever gave you the idea to do it in the first place and how did you decide on the course you are taking?
2. Did you ask your nephew his opinion of the pro-Confederate symbolism that still exists in his state?
3. What is "flopping for Jesus" supposed to mean? /mlg

Johnny Cash said...

Joaquin Phoenix "Jackson" Walk the line soundtrack

June Carter said...

Johnny, it was Joaquin Phoenix AND Reese Witherspoon.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to Jackson... Johnny Cash