Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Biloxi Blues

We traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi last year at about this same time, a scant two years after two major hurricanes ripped through the Gulf Coast, ripping it all to hell.

So this year we thought we would find a revitalized Biloxi. We did find this new RV park called "Majestic Oaks" that advertised itself as far from the freeway and close to the beaches.
***Biloxi still has a ways to go in terms of rebuilding. While the flattened buildings have been removed and the foundations cleanly scraped, the pace of new construction seems slow. The buildings in the best shape are, sad to say, the huge casinos.

Majestic Oaks is nice, clean comfortable park, no question about it.

But what the brochure should have added was "far from the freeway but close to the runway." It neighbors Keesler Air Force Base...

....with C-130s occasionally buzzing the park, flying directly overhead. We snapped this shot atop 4,000-foot Mount Biloxi--the C-130 strafing us at Majestic Oaks.

And just across the street from Majestic Oaks is this not so majestic liquor store with security bars. To say the least, this is not one of Biloxi's pristine neighborhoods.

But what does Daisy care? She says, "Give me a bowl full of Beneful and a pup to sniff and I'm in dog heaven."

But the park really does make the best of the negatives that surround it, providing poop-scoop stations for dogs (and people)...

...and quite honestly, operations at the air base (that water tower is on the base) cease overnight.

So the Lance, the Tundra and the all-new-for-2010 bling-bling Adventurer bike with tiny tires felt safe and secure for this one-night stay.

The park owners spent thousands of dollars planting these palm trees and what the hurricane didn't nail
a hard freeze this winter did.

A pool, surrounded by spears so you can't get in.

Except for 12,000-foot Mount Biloxi, the park was perfectly level and the roads paved. A great opportunity for Paul to mount the Adventurer bling-bling and drag the poor damn dog all around the park.

And here's another of the mysteries of the deep....south, that is.

How the right-wing politicians down here condemn undocumented workers. And yet most of the laborers and workers in the service industry in Biloxi, at least,

are Hispanic. They were encouraged to come in and help rebuild following the hurricanes. And here they stay, still hard at work. So while Arizona is having a hissy fit over the issue, Mississippi seems quite content to blend these folks into the economy.

And since this whole damn thing is about the dog, here we are leaving Biloxi. Daisy doing what she does best after a drag through the park: sleeping on Paul's lap. We're on our way to Loo-zee-anna.

I know all you are praying that we either hit or (if you like us) missed the big tornadoes that hit the south a few days ago. Like it or not, we missed 'em by three weeks. Yazoo City was just a few miles from the Natchez Trace where we traveled in late March.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hangin' With New-Found Friends

As we began our run for the barn, our return west to Sedona, we pulled into the town of DeFuniak Springs, right off I-10. It was to be just a one-night layover on our way west but we extended our stay another day because we found it a very interesting place.

We arrived following Noah's flood. Florida, like so much of the southeast, is receiving near-record rainfall this year. In the center of town is a spring-fed, one of only two-in-the-world perfectly round lakes. The water level is way above normal...

...as evidenced by this park bench that you had to swim out to.

There's Daisy trying to get to a couple of ducks. Normally she doesn't give a damn about birds or ducks. Her thing is squirrels and cats.

Surrounding the lake are historic old homes that date back nearly 700 years. Like anybody cares. The town was named after an early resident, Fred "Bubba" DeFuniak, a railroad executive.

At the turn of the twentieth century and continuing to this day, DeFuniak Springs is a testing ground for live theater, a sort of Chautauqua south. If a play does well here chances are good it can move to New York's Broadway.
Making DeFuniak Springs a southern version of Peoria, Illinois.
You've heard the expression "if it plays in Peoria". Wonder why we don't hear "if it plays in DeFuniak Springs" because the Peoria proving grounds are no more. Now the tryouts are done down here in Florida.

Do you give a damn about any of this?

Here's another old pretty house. This one predates Columbus. Christopher Columbus.

And still another DeFuniak historic site, where the Florida Education Association began. What? Education...in Florida???

And yep, more Florida history. After discovering the Fountain of Youth, Ponce de Leon moved to DeFuniak Springs and lived out the remainder of his long life in this house. He succumbed to an alligator attack in 1691.

Behold the historic library. Huh? I know...libraries in Mississippi and Florida? Get outta here.

Now for something really important. We were told the place for lunch was this little hole-in-the-wall called "H & M Hot Dog"...

...a long-time favorite with the locals.

Thems locals.

I had a kraut dog, potato chips, and a Grape Crush. Mmmm.....

Paul had a double super-burger, chips, and a cream soda. The food was great and good for my non-diet. We slipped 'em our counterfeit twenty-dollar bill and went on down the road with eight dollars change in our pocket. Hah! Got away with that one. Or so we thought.

Oh, and by the way, right next to H & M Hot Dog is this dilapidated structure that's being taken over by kudzu. (You do know what kudzu is, right?)

Welcome to the city's democratic headquarters. This is tea-bagger country. Democrats are not a hot item here.

And wouldn't you know, we took a tour of the local bury patch, probably the tenth one on this current road trip.

We found one above-ground crypt that had a mail box alongside it. The grave of a young man who died long before his time and family and friends drop remembrances--cards, letters, even toys--in the box. It was full.

Creepy, but interesting.


At the cemetery the authorities caught up with us for passing the bad $20. We were arrested and forced to do hard labor outside the courthouse. I kid you not, prisoners are not coddled in the deep south (remember "Cool Hand Luke"? ). They still wear prison stripes and are put to work maintaining roads and public places.

And this is the prison facility behind the courthouse where no photos are allowed (yeah, right--like a couple of counterfeiters are going to respect that). This was taken by Paul's outstretched arm outside our cell.

For me, the highlight of any town is a trip to Dollar General. These things are damn near as popular as WalMarts and cash advance shops in this part of the world. In fact, when a new Dollar General opened down here, a newspaper ran a story where one woman said, "I like it cuz you don't gotta dress up like you do at WalMart." (She really said that.)

We trained Daisy to use our new digital camera. She took this picture of us.
I'm in my fancy dress-up WalMart shirt.

And we took this picture of Daisy as a speeding freight came flying through town. The last train in America, by the way, with a caboose. Methinks we've been on the road too long. We're losing our minds.

But seriously, folks, if you're looking for the best-of-the-best when it comes to RV parks, look to the small Juniper Lake Campground just outside DeFuniak Springs.

The park is beautifully maintained and sits right on the lake.

And here, residing majestically at the Juniper Lake Campground is the all-new for 2010 2285 Lance travel trailer with side-slider (sans awning in this pic) AND the tow vehicle, the '04 Tundra with crew cab and Vista snug top shell AND my new mini-fold-up recently purchased (by Paul, I might add...he finally sprung for something. He won't buy me jewelry so he buys me a bike) bling-bling Adventurer bicycle.

We would have liked to have spent more time here because it really is a delightful place.

The owners maintain it impeccably with flowers blooming year 'round.

Bill, one of the owners, is a retired Navy master chief and engineer, and as such is interested in enterprising all sorts of contraptions on the property. He hopes these two small wind machines...

...will one-day generate enough electricity to power the campground. He has a ways to go.

Daisy was electrified by her new-found friends--Annie, an eight-year-old dog of mixed origin......

...and Lady, a fifteen-year-old border collie mix who as a young pup stepped between her owner Donna (her foot seen here) and a cottonmouth and took the bite for her. What a brave dog--man and woman's best friend.

And we wonder, would Daisy ever take a bullet for us? We think not.

Every afternoon, the owners bring out a carafe of coffee and invite campers to do what they do best: sit around and ruminate about not much of anything. Just hang out and enjoy each others' company.

Donna (Bill's wife), feeds the local turtle schools (schools? herds? pods? What do you call a gaggle of turtles?).

It's like the dinner bell has rung.

Oh yeah, there are also plenty of water snakes. Non-venomous. Or so we were told.

These folks like to smoke but don't drink much so gave us a bottle of local peach-flavored wine.

We enjoyed each others' company so much that we headed downtown for more sitting around at a restaurant called "Bogey's". Great spot. And a step up in atmosphere and price than the hotdog stand. We all dressed in our finest. Can't ya tell?

Next stop on our run for the barn... Biloxi, Mississippi. And if you've never gone there, don't.