Notes On My Trip To Mighty Mississipp(i), Part One
By J. S. Smith
March 5, Lansing to Corinth
A few days off in the cold of early March 2005. Limited funds. A desire to spend some time in a place that was warm. I needed a quick, cheap trip south. This begged the question of where to go. I had never been to the Deep South and wanted to sample some Dixie culture. I also wanted to sample first-hand the political and cultural differences between North and South.
So, with my sights set on Mississippi, I set south. Due to time limitations, I decided to tour northern Mississippi. I would stop in Corinth, then check out some other areas and drive home. If I had any luck, I would be able to make the drive to Corinth in ten or twelve hours.
I had some trepidation as I headed south in my Lansing-built 2003 Chevy Malibu. The hard-core Dixiecrats have a reputation as not having much love for a Yankee. And I, no doubt, am a doodle-dandy of a Yankee, a true blue state progressive with a certain notorious membership card to prove the fact. I had disturbing visions of stereotypical Southern law enforcement (think Buford T. Justice) aroused by the insouciance of my royal blue Michigan plate. But onward I pressed, looking to find something interesting, or at least kill a few days in above-freezing temperatures.
I have generally found that, when vacationing, the getting there is as enjoyable as the being there. This journey was no different. Charm abounds, for instance, in crossing the border into Indiana on I-69. Did you know that you could get discount cigarettes at the Butt-Hutt, for instance? Happily, as I traveled farther into the heart of Indiana, the snow slowly disappeared. By the time I was an hour or so north of Indianapolis it was gone. Another two hours south and I caught a great bluegrass radio show in southern part of state.
Shortly after the bluegrass show’s radio waves fizzled out of range I crossed the Ohio River into Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville, with its industrial skyline, big buildings and warehouses, seemed like a southern Detroit. The large Jewish hospital off the interstate reminded me that this is Justice Louis Brandeis’ hometown. An hour or so later, Bowling Green loomed ahead, the Corvette factory and museum clearly visible from the highway.
Tennessee was next in line. Massive highway construction outside of Nashville puzzled me – do they need four lanes for a city half the size of Detroit? After the construction, Nashville rises like a colossus over the hills. West of Nashville, the cars moved at 80 miles per hour– gotta love that. This was especially welcome because this portion of Tennessee is l o n g – just look at a map. On the other hand, it is bad because this portion of Tennessee is very hilly. This, of course, did not stop me from setting the needle well north of the legally suggested speed.
Three hours later, I stopped to hit US 45 in Jackson. I also got some gas. It was warm and sunny outside, at least compared to Lansing when I left in the morning. On the way back to the car I caught a whiff of Swisher Sweets and Mary Jane coming from a jam-packed 1976 Pontiac. It was getting dark at this point, which was not exactly the best position for an out-of-state traveler. It also did not help me reach my hotel. I had used Mapquest to plot a path to a bed and breakfast in Corinth, but twilight was interfering with my plans.
On the greener side, I caught an oldies show on das radio playing a tribute to the Supremes. Between the various Detroit (and Lansing) built machinery on the highway and Motown over the airwaves, there’s always a little, sometimes rusty, piece of Michigan for the homesick traveler.
And, so far, my Malibu and its thoroughly adequate 3.1-liter V-6 were performing without flaw. Without excitement as well, but on a long road trip, I’ll trade a little excitement for a modicum of reliability.
Unfortunately, Diana Ross was of no help in finding my bed and breakfast. It was dark at that point, but I found my exit. Despite driving around for nearly an hour, however, I could not find my destination. My directions were useless at this point; the obscured street signs were hidden in the shadows of tree-lined, winding roads. I finally found my way to a main road. By this point I was quite hungry. I did not want to eat fast food, nor did I want to splurge on inglorious middlebrow cuisine. I wanted something southern but cheap. Enter Shoney’s, a southern buffet place. How could I resist?
The host took me to my seat and I read a magazine while waiting for my waitress. The waitress plopped down on the seat in front of me with a sweetly southern “Hi!” I couldn’t say whether this was flirtatious or friendly, but my wedding ring counseled me not to explore. I ordered the buffet. At this juncture, I must point out that those looking for a culinary travelogue are advised to look elsewhere; my palette is strictly proletarian and was duly satisfied by the standard issue offerings of Shoney’s.
As I left, I asked the cashier where I could find a hotel. She and the host pointed me towards a Hampton’s Inn just down the road. I opted for the more wallet-friendly Day’s Inn, conveniently located behind a Waffle House, a Southern breakfast chain.
As I checked in, the concierge asked if I was traveling for business. Nope, just a quick vacation. I told her that I’d need a phone to call my wife. “You’re travelin’ without your wife?” she said with some puzzlement. Yup, she doesn’t have any time off. She gave me a perplexed look; I shrugged. I went to my room, unpacked, and called my wife.
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