Magnolia, Mississippi to Tangipahoa, Louisiana. 18.7 miles/1110.4 total
Monday, January 11, 2010
It's late. After 10 a.m. I'm leaving from the roadside south of Magnolia, Mississippi, heading down Highway 51 to Tangipahoa, Louisiana. It's a day of lasts and firsts. Last day in Mississippi, first in Louisiana. First day walking in the new year. First day back from winter vacation. Got into New Orleans on Saturday, then went immediately to a hotel to sleep off the the tranquilizer I took for the plane ride. Yesterday took a leisurely ride up here and picked up the motor home in Summit, a few miles north of McComb.
My fear was that there would be damage to the plumbing because of the hard freezes they've had down here over the past week or so, and that turned out to be the case. There's a leak in the plumbing somewhere, and once things thawed out the water all drained out. The good news, I think, is that it's back by the water pump where all the drains are, and easily accessible. The other good news is that all the plumbing in this thing is threaded PVC--no metal or epoxied plastic--and therefore fairly easy for someone like me to repair, assuming I can find all the leaks. The bad news is that I don't have any water for now. But this morning I made do with the drinking water I bought last night, heating some of it up on the stove. I just don't feel like fixing it right now, and I still have to find a place to fill up the tank, so I'm waiting until I get to Hammond, a much larger city than Amite, where I am now.
This morning as I walk it is about 35 under cloudless skies and will probably get up to about 45 or 50. Plenty of frost and ice in the areas that are in shadow.
Coming back from the Michigan winter I'm struck by the greenness of things down here. The bushes, the pine trees, the myrtles and holly bushes everywhere. It occurs to me that spring is really just around the corner down here. Winter's lease hath all too short a date, to paraphrase the Bard.
At just under eight miles I come to the first town of my walk, which as it turns out will be the last town in Mississippi. It's Osyka, which the sign says was founded in 1858. We all know what that means--a railroad town. Thinking about all the railroad towns I've gone through on this trip, starting with the succession of them in northwestern Indiana, it's amazing to contemplate what a revolution of building up of infrastructure took place in this country in such a short time. Most of these "western" railroads were build within the decade of the 1850s--really in the period from 1853 and 1858. Literally hundreds of little towns and thousands of miles of track. It's hard to think of a six-year peacetime period in this country in which so much has been done. Think of the clearing of the land, the leveling of the road beds, the manufacture of the steel for rails, the cutting of the timber for ties, the gravel, the water towers, the platforms, the stations, the villages--all within a period that is barely longer than Brad Pitt has been with Angelina Jolie. There's been nothing like it before or since in terms of sheer volume of frenetic activity. By contrast, our highway system took several decades to build.
On the other side of the tiny village of Osyka is a sign meant to be viewed from the south, that says, "Welcome to Mississippi. It's Like Coming Home." Or leaving home, in my case.
So I enter Louisiana, and Tangipahoa Parish. The sign says, "Welcome to Louisiana," and underneath the fleur-de-lis, it says, Beinvenue en Louisiane. Now I must call on my French speaking readers to enlighten me here, but I always thought the correct pronoun to use after beinvenue in this context was a, not en. But then, I am really no expert. Is this an older form?
So in the early afternoon I bid adieu to Mississippi. Time for a few statistics. I spent a long time in Mississippi. I first entered it on November 15, walking for 16 full days and two partial days in the state, for a total of 317.3 miles. On the full days I averaged 19.8 miles a day. I picked up $1.62 from the side of the road in change, and was offered a ride 24 times. In the all-important category of roadkill, the leader was possums, with 53. Then there were 21 birds; 16 dogs; 14 frogs; 12 raccoons; 11 armadillos; 7 snakes; 5 skunks; 3 each of deer, squirrels, and turtles; 2 bobcats; and one cat, mouse, rabbit, and coyote.
On the whole the people of Mississippi were kind and deferential, with a tendency, in the convenience stores, to call you "honey," "darling," "dear," or some similar term. Patronzing perhaps, for you cynical types, but to a lonely guy on the road, generally welcome. I must also acknowledge the kindness of the Reverend Kenneth Patten of the New Life Apostolic Church, who gave me a place to put my motor home for three weeks, and indeed the good people of Clarksdale who let me keep the motor home at the Coahoma County fairgrounds during Thanksgiving.
And now on to the new. There's nothing like opening a new spiral notebook and beginning the process of making hash marks in the familiar categories--a penny here, a dead rabbit there.
It was of course the French, led by our old friend Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, who first explored this area back in the 1600s, and named it for the Sun King, Louis XIV. Between LaSalle and the Spaniard DeSoto, they explored a hell of a lot of territory on this continent. And they got to do it in nice cars that were named after them, along with their pal Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, whose car was really the nicest one of all, and is still being made. You don't see anyone driving around in Lewises or Clarks, do you?
The first town I come to in Louisiana is Kentwood, a city of 2,200 established in 1893 and named for Amos Kent. But get this. I'm like oh my god oh my god oh my god. Kentwood is the home of Britney Spears. Now you Britney Spears fans probably already knew this immediately, and when I said Kentwood you were like, Britney Spears. But I was, like, Oh. My. God. No. Way. (But to show you what a loser I am, at first I'm picturing in my mind Jessica Simpson, even though I'm reading Britney Spears on the sign. Then when I get back and look up Britney Spears I'm like Duh!) Well, it turns out that Britney Spears was born in McComb, Mississippi, but was raised right here in Kentwood. Which makes sense, because McComb is probably the closest place with a hospital.
So right now I am probably walking where Britney Spears walked, because maybe one time she had to walk home from the game or something, because her mom was being a butt-head and wouldn't give her a ride and her friend Jen couldn't get the car and this really cute guy left with somebody else on a motorcycle or in a pickup truck and anyway she had to totally WALK. Oh my God. Right here on the side of the road where I am right now.
Aside from the rather dazzling fact that it is the home of Britney Spears, Kentwood is unfolding inauspiciously. In fact, it's a dump, at least the part that runs along Highway 51. And in my experience places like this usually don't have gardens of earthly delights hiding along the side streets. Usually if a place has anything to offer, it puts it right out there on the main thoroughfare. So I have to say that Britney was lucky to get out of here. But then again, I feel the same way about myself whenever I go back to Drayton Plains, where I am from. In fact, I think that unless you're from some dazzling center of world culture, like Paris or Manhattan, you probably feel lucky to have escaped your home town, if you're reasonably sane.
On the way out of town there's a cheesy six-foot plywood obeslisk with lots of amateurish painting on it and some bits of local history written along the base. In 1810 this area was part of something called the West Florida Republic. Then in 1819 Washington Parish was made from parts of St. Tammany Parish. Then finally in 1869 Tangipahoa Parish was created out of parts of several parishes, including Washington Parish. Tangipahoa is from an Indian word meaning cornstalk or ear of corn, or something. So there you have it.
At about 17 miles into the walk I come to another historical marker, this one for the Camp Moore Confederate Museum, just over the tracks. It says Camp Moore was one of the principal Confederate induction centers during what the marker refers to as "the war for Southern independence." Now there's a new low in euphemistic obfuscation and self-deception. Independence my ass. Whose independence? No African Americans, that's for sure. I'll bet with a buildup like that, this museum would be a real barrel of laughs.
I enter the village of Tangipahoa, my destination for today. Behind the green state-issued sign is a special town-made one, a big white job with a red heart in the middle of it. It reads, "Welcome to Tangipahoa, Louisiana. Absolutely No Littering. Obey All Traffic Signs. Established 1853. Welcome. Welcome." Okay, there you go.
But wait. Over to the east of the road, through the pines, there are two water towers. The older and smaller one is in need of a paint job. The larger one is blue and spiffy, and bears this legend: "Tangipahoa. The Place Where Everybody is Somebody." Man, you just can't make this stuff up. Wonder what was in the Kool-Aid at the town council meeting the night they came up with that one?
Over the tracks I can see a restaurant called the Robin's Nest. "Food for the Soul." Which I guess is another way of saying soul food. And I feel like Somebody, especially because the motor home has come into view, along the shoulder. I am somebody who is getting the hell out of here. But I'll be back tomorrow.