Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Star is Born

One of the nicest discoveries running out of Tupelo, Mississippi is the Natchez Trace. This road less traveled follows the path traced by migrating animals, Indians, conquistadors and pioneers moving west. About midway along the trace you come across French Camp, established in 1812 by a French merchant who sold wine, beer and Cheetos to travelers needing to restock their supplies.

It's easy to slip back in time at this little stop. The boardwalk goes to the "package store". That's "liquor store" in Mississippi-speak.

We found these three men replacing a worn-out hardwood floor in one of the cabins. This old "new" floor came out of a textile mill in North Carolina.

These men are part of a corps of volunteers who travel the country doing work at historic sites such as this.

We wonder if our home in Sedona would qualify. Probably not. But it does need some work.

If you're one of those people who harkens for the simpler life, you'll sure find it here. Of course, the nearest WalMart is no more than twenty miles away.

Europeans are interested in this sort of Americana. The shorter fellow is from either Portugal or Italy. One of those places over there. He's a photographer putting together a coffee table book on the Natchez Trace. Here's he's getting a release from one of French Camp's living history participants. Paul says he was playing Frederick Douglass but looked more like Walt Whitman.

And here, less than a half-hour from French Camp, you'll find that WalMart. Welcome to Kosciusko (kos-choos-koe), a town named for a Polish officer who became an American Revolution war hero: Taduesz Kosciusko. We called it "Cuzco", as in Peru. That didn't fly well.

We spent the night at an RV park near town and did our best the next day to play the part of tourists (actually, Kosciusko is a pretty place) but we were both bushed because of a pounding rain all night long. Paul said it sounded like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich holding forth on the roof of the all-new for 2010 2285 Lance travel trailer with slider.

Among the sites worth seeing is the world-famous "think tank" the
Cato Institute. It's in a strip mall, right next to Dollar General.

Kosciusko has fewer than 8,000 residents but four billion fire ants. This is one of their mounds.

Daisy started digging. Not good.

This is not a big town but it has 72 Baptist churches. Here's the two-page listing. You are solidly planted in the Bible Belt. Oh, there's one Catholic church.

We were there just as the Easter Passion Play was being presented. It's something that the whole town turns out to see. (Presented by a local Methodist church.)

But what probably brings most visitors to Kosciusko is that this is the birthplace of Charlie Musselwhite, world-renowned harmonica virtuoso. Born here in 1944. Never heard of him???????

Well, you've probably heard of this woman...

Down Oprah Winfrey Road....

You'll find the birthplace of this woman, born in a tiny farmhouse on the outskirts of town in 1954. Oprah lived here for six years before moving to Milwaukee.

Even as a little girl she showed great promise.

This was once the church where...

Oprah had her first audience. As a child, she recited "The Resurrection of Jesus" in front of the congregation one Easter morning.

Roots run deep and Oprah hasn't forgotten her hometown. Despite her billions of dollars and world-wide fame, she occasionally visits Kosciusko. She gives back to the community and funded the five-million dollar Boys and Girls Club.

Lots of bling, Mississippi-style here in Kosciusko.

On the road out of Kosciusko, you come to the fair city of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, Mississippi that is. Made infamous by the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers. No smart ass statements can be made about this. It is simply interesting to pass through these places that we've heard so much about.

The film "Mississippi Burning" was based on the ambush and murders of the three men by the KKK. The FBI employed the services of the Mob in "coaxing" confessions out of the killers. No kidding. Look it up. But despite the strong-arm tactics, only recently was one of the klansmen finally brought to justice.

What, a Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia, Mississippi? Like so many places we've passed through in the South, there's a sizable Mexican population living and working here.

From Philadelphia we moved onto the small town of Russell and the heroic dog rescue we mentioned earlier. Then it's down to the beautiful Gulf Coast at Dauphin Island, Alabama, close to where much of "Forrest Gump" takes place.
Gotta run. Taking Daisy to the beach. Adios.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Doggone....Dog Found!

We'll dispense with the usual "all-new for 2010 2285 Lance travel trailer with side-slider being towed by the"....Oh...there we went again. You get the idea since you never can get enough of the all-new for 2010 2285.... I gotta slap myself.

But seriously, we had driven down from Tupelo, south through Mississippi to Nanabe Creek RV Park in the town of Russell, outside Meridien. We were ready, of course, ready to destroy everyone and everything in our blog as we are wont to do but...

... we got our comeuppence when I went in to pay the camping fee and discovered we were passing a counterfeit twenty. First one off our printer.

But really, we think we picked it up at an ATM in Sedona but don't know for sure. Since the park owners didn't call the FBI on us we figured they were pretty good folks. Little did we know how good.

The next morning as Paul was walking Daisy, he saw this, which he thought was initially a sheep grazing by a little creek. Turns out this was no sheep, but a dog. Looked like a mix between a Pyrenees and a cocker spaniel. A beautiful little creature in obvious distress. He thought it had been hit by a car. It could barely move but was quivering. Paul didn't want to approach it which would only add to its stress and there was no one else around to do anything about it. But he wasn't about to leave it there.

Fortunately the RV park owner, David Harper, was there at that early hour and knew about a woman who had come by a week earlier looking for her lost dog. David is a dog owner. So Paul and David, lovers--that is of dogs--took some of Daisy's expensive Beneful dog food (and Daisy was happy to oblige) and used it to calm and coax this hungry dog into David's arms....

and then into Paul's.

David with Beneful.

This dog obviously hadn't eaten in a week. She was skin and bones under all that fur.

Oops. This is a shot of the dog's rear end. Got in accidentally so ignore it.

So now the search is on for the lady who came by a week ago. Possibly the dog's owner?

(That's the Tundra in the background.)

David unlocked his office door so he and Paul could warm the dog in front of the heater. It was a cold morning--notice Paul's ski jacket.

Inside, David called his wife who described the pickup truck driven by the woman with the lost dog. After hearing the description, he gave a knowing nod, jumped into his own truck and drove to a house a couple of miles away.

While David was gone and I was snapping pictures to document the rescue mission, Paul was trying to score with this woman and lure her into the all-new for 2010 Lance 2285 with slider.

Actually, this is Michelle, the grateful owner of little Addie, a dog she rescued as a twelve-week-old pup almost sixteen years ago. Addie had wandered off a week-and-a-half earlier and simply couldn't find her way back. Michelle had posted fliers in town and that morning had put an online ad on the website She just wanted her dog back.

These sorts of situations usually don't end this well. Michelle couldn't thank us (and David, the bigger hero) enough. Little did she know we were passing bad bills and had to high-tail it out of town because the sheriff was on our trail.

What nice folks these were and what nice folks we have encountered throughout the south and we will never say another bad word about them again. Damn! What are we going to do for blog material?

Stories about Daisy and the all-new for 2010 2285 Lance travel trailer with slider and the matching tow vehicle (dare we say "Tundra") are getting a little tiresome.

'Course I can always talk about Paul's Activia kicking in in the morning. Now there's a story you don't want to her.

Anyway, in our next blog we are backing up to revisit the hometown of Charlie Musselwhite and someone else you probably know. Gotta go. Paul's buying me dinner. Bye.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Miss Me Yet?

Why is Daisy all fired up about getting out of her cage? Because...

...we are in Tupelo, Mississippi.

And the '04 Tundra with crew cab and Vista snugtop camper shell, pulling the all new for 2010 2285 Lance travel trailer with side slider (not seen here), was not about to miss the chance to roll into Tupelo because...


This town is all about Elvis and years after his premature demise, he is still the big draw.

Here's the simple little house he was born and raised in and that his dad built for just a couple hundred dollars.

Later his dad installed this powerful, 40-thousand watt air conditioner for $12,000. So powerful it blew all the windows out of the house and blew Elvis all the way to Memphis.

Here's a statue of Elvis with his first guitar at 13. This would be 1948. In the foreground you see me holding Daisy who by this time is already getting over the Elvis thing. She's more focused on a squirrel over there.

With the price of gas going up, we couldn't afford to go into the house. It was the only part of the walking tour with a fee.

And, then there's even an Elvis "Walk of Life". I was most curious about this plaque noting that Elvis's dad was in prison in 1938. Wuh?

And over there is the Assembly of God church where Elvis learned to sing gospel. Out front are typical Elvis fans in their late 60s and 70s, stumbling around, taking it all in. Not unlike ourselves.

And out back, the outhouse, foreshadowing things to come since Elvis met his end, so to speak, sitting on a toilet at Graceland in 1977.

Here's the Tupelo hardware store where his mother bought him his first guitar. He wanted a gun but she bought him a guitar instead. What if he'd received the gun? wonders. We sure wouldn't be in Tupelo.

Where Chicago had painted statues of cows on parade, Tupelo has painted guitars. Another tribute to The King.

Here's where Elvis attended elementary school.

And yes, Tupelo even celebrates where he received his first library card. Do we really need to know this?

But here's the best. Just down the street from where he was born is Johnnie's Drive-In...

...where he ate his fill of bbq, burgers and fries.

Johnnie's is commemorated with a plaque saying that Elvis would wash it all down with an RC cola. He'd call it an R.O.C. Huh? Elvis wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer.

We stopped just to get a picture when a carhop came to the truck, the 04 Tundra crew cab with Vista snugtop camper shell, and demanded that we order something. So we decided, yep, we'll have some lunch.

We said, "How about a couple of hamburgers and fries?" She asked, "Do y'all want the 'all meat'?" And Paul said, "What else would you put in a hamburger?" She said, "We specialize in the doughburger, which is dough and water mixed in with the meat." A real cheap hamburger helper. Locals call it a "slugburger". I couldn't stop laughing.
It turned out to be sort of a so-what mess (see above)...

...but a good burger nonetheless. And here you start to understand how Elvis ballooned up to 600 pounds and dropped dead on the crapper.
But Tupelo's not all about The King. Explorer/conquistador/whatever, Hernando de Soto and his band of gay blades marched through here in 1540 on their way west. De Soto is given credit for having discovered the Mississippi, only to discover that them darn Indians discovered it about 10,000 years earlier.

Tupelo's one of those conservative, bible belt places where MSNBC is blocked on the cable system because it was mean to this man who asks, "Miss me yet?" This billboard is on I-45 between the old and new parts of town. Anyway, Paul's answer to this question was a resounding "noooooooooo". He sounded like a man jumping off a cliff. I just rolled my eyes at the whole thing.

Tupelo's other claim to fame is that it is the headquarters for the Natchez Trace, a four-hundred-mile long scenic parkway that follows a path first traced by migrating animals, then Indians, trappers, pioneers moving west and that fellow De Soto. And since they all followed the path of least resistance, that's where today's two-lane road (the Natchez Trace Parkway) was built. It's administered by the National Park Service and is free-of-charge.
It really is quite interesting and driving it beats the heck out of freeway travel. More about it in our next blog.

Here's a stop right outside town.

You can hike back into the woods.... curious sites such as this. The headstones of 13 confederate soldiers. How they died and why they're buried here is something of a mystery.

And while Daisy was sniffing around Paul picked up a tick on his hand and that was the end of exploring. Had to get back to the trailer to de-louse.

In the newer part of town, there's a monument honoring the Civil War Battle of Tupelo.

Many on both sides were killed but the monument is simple. It's directly across the street from the actual battlefield...

....which the city somehow, in its infinite wisdom, covered over with a super WalMart and a parking lot. That's progress. One wonders when all the old Elvis fans are dead and gone and Elvis is little more than a footnote, twenty or thirty years down the road, what then? Demolish the WalMart and recreate the battlefield? It seems hallowed ground is far more important than 24-hour access to cheap stuff from China.

And how we love to explore and take in the local fare. On the Gulf Coast last year we ate at Hooter's. In Tupelo, Applebee's. Paul ordered fish and chips and asked for malt vinegar. The waitress had never heard of it. Wondered why on earth we'd put vinegar on fish and chips. Time to move on...

Let us add, parenthetically, that Tupelo is a cool place to spend a couple of days. It's clean, has beautiful well-preserved historic neighborhoods and a thriving downtown, two WalMarts, a Sam's Club and is very much worth your time and effort to get here.
But down the road we go. And if you think the birthplace of Elvis is something to see...just wait until you see whose birthplace we find next.