Jul 28, 2013

Random roadside observations: Louisiana and Mississippi

I've been meaning to share some memories from my recent road trip to Louisiana and Mississippi (notably Vicksburg) with the Young Curmudgeon.  I had promised such a trip to him for his high school graduation present, and it delivered countless memories and father-son bonding moments. 

Of course, long hours on the road produce varying levels of boredom while on the interstate.  I usually much prefer the roads less traveled, but sometimes you have to acquiesce to time constraints if you want to maximize your time at any given location.  Still, those stops along the way, mundane as they may seem at the time, can yield some interesting memories.

Fortunately, our itinerary took us off I-55 occasionally, and the way back kept us on U.S. Highway 61 (aka “The Blues Highway”) throughout Mississippi, so we didn’t have to see too much of the same thing twice.  Plus, we actually got to go through a small town or two that had yet to be bypassed by the modern highway system.  That’s where you discover the real America. 

Anyway, to the point of this blog entry, here are some of the things that stood out to me while on the road.

The people at the Mississippi Welcome Center on southbound I-55 are, in fact, quite welcoming; however, you’re basically out of luck if one of its vending machines steals your money.  Honestly, who is going to go out of the way to call the vendor’s number – which isn't toll-free – and request their $1.50 back?  And you may or may not get it mailed to you in six weeks.  That didn't leave a very good impression. 

On the other hand, I will go out of my way to stock up on Faygo at the next convenience store/gas station break.  Peach soda is great for washing down a Chick-o-Stick.  Of course, you can feel your teeth rotting while you enjoy both …   

Back to the Welcome Center – and this was a recurring theme throughout the trip – I know the gun-happy mentality of the South, but do you really have to remind people where it’s just inappropriate to bring your weapons?  Fortunately, the Young Curmudgeon left his Smith and Wesson at home. 

Sign in front of Wesley Ray Elementary School, Angie, La.

A roadside rest area is one thing, but my old grade school?  Seriously? 

A local bar and restaurant in Shaw, Miss.

Now, with a local juke joint I understand the need to make a point. 

Before my most recent drive west on U.S.90 into the heart of Cajun country, I had forgotten how prevalent the sugarcane fields were in the area.  In some places, they literally go on for as far as you can see. 

You also don’t truly realize how much seafood is a way of life in Louisiana until you see the signs for live and boiled shrimp and crawfish for sale every half mile on U.S. 90.   

You don’t expect to see bear crossing signs in the Atchafalaya Basin.  You really don’t expect to see them north of Vicksburg, Miss.  There must still be a concentrated population in the Delta National Forest.

You want to know where to get the best boudin sausage?  Find a carry-out seafood joint within a rundown convenience store.  I got a crawfish boudin for $2.49 at Paul’s Seafood inside the Chevron station in Bogalusa, La., that was phenomenal.  I ate it in the parking lot. 

If there's one place you can probably trust to have good cracklins, I'm guessing Fatty's Cracklins in Woodville, Miss., would be the place.

The modern U.S. 61 bypasses way too many great small towns in Mississippi, like Bobo, Cary, Mound Bayou, Alligator and Hollywood.  Someday, I plan to devote an entire trip to following the Mississippi Blues Trail and really exploring these great places. 

If you’re headed northbound on U.S. 61 (or U.S. 49 for that matter) and you want to know where the all the pine tree-topped hill country ends and the delta begins, you’ll know the moment you cross the Yazoo River. 

I mentioned the seafood stands.  Nothing beats the fruit and vegetable stands for the freshest of fresh produce.  If you haven’t had Creole tomatoes, you need to try them. 

Hopefully, these words and images will interest my faithful followers for blog entries to come.  We sure had our share of great food and attractions to cover in the coming days.  Stay tuned, and please be patient, as my next road trip – to Crestone, Colo. and several places in between – begins in four days.

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