Tangipahoa to Tickfaw. 19.2 miles/1129.6 total
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
I'm leaving from the side of the road just south of Tangipahoa, heading down to a spot in front of an empty real estate office just north of Tickfaw, a distance of 19.2 miles.
It's 10 a.m., another late start, because I just didn't feel like getting out of bed early today. It was 36 degrees in the motor home first thing in the morning, although I was warm under the covers. It required a leap of faith, as it were, and a quick start of the generator, followed by ten or fifteen minutes of waiting for things to warm up. It doesn't take long for the motor home to heat up, but it also doesn't take long for the thing to cool off.
Still no water today, but I'm waiting until I get to Hammond, a bigger city, where I can take my off day, Thursday, to check things out and find a place to dump the tanks, fill the water, and (I hope) fix the leak. In the meantime, there's plenty of bottled water and a stove to heat it up, so things aren't bad.
It's another perfectly cloudless sky, and it's already approaching 50. The temperatures around here are becoming more seasonal. The January daily average is a high of about 60.
I think I've mentioned before that there seems to be a fad among the young folks in the south of smoking tiparillo-type cigars, the kind my friend Jimmy and I smoked in the hut in back of my garage when we were nine years old. The little ones with the plastic tips. They come either five or two to a package, and sometimes you can buy them singly. I've seen girls as well as boys buy them. Often they seem to be flavored--peach, cherry, and so on. I guess they're cheaper than cigarettes, and if you inhale them you can get a heck of a lot of nicotine for your money. (Nicotine, by the way, was named for Jean Nicotin, a Frenchman who, in 1559, sent tobacco to the Medicis in Italy. No, it wasn't a long-term assassination plot; the stuff was thought to be medicinal.) Another trend I've noticed, based on the discarded containers along the roadside, is the 8-ounce beer can, a tiny little thing. The logic of that one escapes me entirely. What the hell is the point of drinking only 8 ounces of beer? That's not much more than a swallow. So I'm picturing kids, girls mostly, riding down the road, smoking their tiparillos, drinking their dinky little cans of beer.
The first little place I go through is Fluker. In fact, it's so small that I don't even see the sign for it. The next place is Arcola, a little larger. In Arcola I pass a Purina animal feed plant, from which comes the most delightful smell of anise. I'm not sure what they're cooking for the livestock in there, but it sure smells good.
Next comes Roseland, a town of about 1,200, which is the birthplace of the late Justin Wilson, the Cajun cook and raconteur who was on television. Roseland has sidewalks, which is something. They're cracked and choked with weeds, but they are sidewalks, and I like to walk on them when they're available. I always wonder when I walk through a village like this one, and there is maybe 500 total feet of sidewalk in front of a dozen or so houses, just what they were thinking when they laid that sidewalk. Was it a lick and a promise, or part of some grander project that never quite came to fruition, or just a small gesture in the direction of urban comfort, of civilization?
Now here's something puzzling. Zip codes, as we know, go generally up in number from east to west. The zip codes in New England, for instance, start with zero, and the ones in California start with 9. Beverly Hills 90210, and all that. Michigan zip codes start with 48 or 49. Okay, fine. So why is it that in Mississippi, a state that lies almost completely to the west of Michigan, the zip codes start with 3, and in Louisiana, immediately to the south of Mississippi, the zip codes start with 7? One of life's mysteries.
So far the streets of Louisiana are paved with gold, so to speak. From when I entered the state about 24 hours ago, I have picked up four nickels and about nine pennies. That's a hell of a good start. At this rate I'll make enough in change to buy a gallon of gasoline. Or I could buy a couple of those little cigars the kids are so crazy about.
At about the halfway point in today's walk I come to the city of Amite. About ten feet past the sign officially welcoming me to the city is another one, a bit taller, that says, "Jesus is Lord Over Amite." I sincerely hope the state didn't put that one up, but with a wack job like Bobby Jindal as governor, you never know. So anyway, if anything goes down here in Amite, I'm going straight to Jesus. Not putting up with any powers or principalities.
Amite is the seat of Tangipahoa Parish and a city of about 4,000. The business district is laid out on both sides of the railroad tracks, with Highway 51 on the west. Of course the real action is in the mile or so of Louisiana Route 16 that goes west to I-55, where Walmart is, but the downtown is making a decent showing. They still have their train station, but it's being used as a senior center and I think also as the police station. On the way past the station I stop to chat with a guy named Jose who is sweeping the front steps, to ask him how the name of this place is pronounced. Turns out it's "ay-MEET." I would never have guessed that. But when you think of it, that's not too terribly off from the French pronunciation. Assuming there was no accent on the final "e" it would have been "ah-MEET." I'm just saying it could have been worse.
The next five or six miles south of Amite are nothing much, until I arrive at a town of about 1,700 called Independence. Like Amite it's long and narrow, laid out on both sides of the train tracks. The first thing I notice is that the water tower is green, white, and red, like the Italian flag. Then when I get a little closer I see that the tower says that Independence is the Home of the Italian Festival. So I guess this place is, or was, filled with Italians. Sure enough, when I get to the town hall there's a historical marker that says the place was originally called Uncle Sam when it was settled in the 1830s, and that Italians began to settle here and in the surrounding area in the 1880s. Now there's an Italian festival every April. The town is known as Little Italy.
It's hard to get a sense, from passing cars, of the ethnic makeup of a place, except for the obvious black and white thing, but I did get a feeling that there were fewer blondes than you'd expect in a southern town. Italian women--bad hair, bad makeup, bad attitudes. It reminds me, having lived for 24 years in Connecticut, of one of the things I don't miss about that place. So maybe Independence is filled with people from the witness protection program, learning to talk with southern drawls and to put up with ketchup in place of marinara sauce.
A mile or so south of Independence I come to my first real New Orleans style cemetery, with all the graves in cement vaults and crypts and mausoleums above ground, crosses on almost every one. Only these don't have many French names, just mostly Italian ones. Yes indeed, there were and are a lot of Italians hereabouts. The men are all named Anthony or Joe and the women are all named Mary or Rose. Many of the graves have little round photographs of the deceased on the stones. The guys look like hoods and the women look like Martin Scorsese's mother when she played Joe Pesce's mother in Goodfellas. "Why don't you find a nice girl and settle down, like Henry here?" In the photo of one of the men, the guy is wearing a V-neck cashmere sweater with nothing underneath, they way they did a couple of decades back. Around his neck are a couple of gold chains. He's got this menacing look in his eyes, under black brows and salt-and-pepper hair combed straight back. Badda bing. Wonder how he died.