- Where We Started: Vicksburg, Miss.
- Where We Ended: Memphis, Tenn.
- Miles Driven: 320 (3,001 total)
- New States: Tennessee
- Total States: 9 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
A small ragtag force, facing long odds and unrelenting pressure from the opposition, holds its ground and continually frustrates its opponent before eventually giving in to the overwhelming opposing force. Seeing that we spent much of Thursday in the historic Civil War town of Vicksburg, Miss., you might think I'm talking about the Confederacy's experience there. Actually, I was referring to my alma mater, The American University, which nearly took down highly touted Villanova in the NCAA tournament before fading late.
It was another good NCAA showing for the Eagles, who were making their second straight NCAA appearance. I attended last year's NCAA game, in Birmingham, Ala., but didn't want to disrupt the FHMA journey by driving to Philadelphia this year. In fact, being that we were in the middle of a long drive from Jackson, Miss. to Memphis when the game started, I wasn't sure I'd see any of the game. I decided I'd see how the first half went, and if things were looking good, I'd try to find a place to watch. After failing to find the game on the radio, I set the Blackberry up to refresh ESPN's scoreboard every 15 seconds and -- while speeding up I-55 -- "watched" AU open and extend its lead. When they were up 10 at halftime, I announced that we were stopping somewhere -- anywhere -- to watch this game. If a home invasion was required to get access to a TV, someone's door was getting kicked in. Joan -- who, to put it lightly, is not a sports fan -- not only tolerated this sudden change of plans, but took an active role in finding a place where I could watch the second half.
The hope was that we could find an Applebee's or TGI Friday's or some place where we could both eat and watch the game. But it soon became clear that, like Dorothy, we weren't in Kansas anymore. The small interstate town of Winona, Miss. had no good options. So we decided to continue north and take a chance with Grenada, Miss., the birthplace of Trent Lott. It looked like a decent-sized town, and we figured there had to be someplace there to watch the game.
The early returns weren't good. We drove past and peered into a number of dining establishments, but none had both a television and food that appeared edible. Finally, down a side street in Grenada, Joan spotted what appeared to be a small sports bar. By now, the second half had just started and AU was up 14, so panic was setting in that I was going to miss a historic victory. So I gunned it into this "sports" bar, only to find out none of 12 TVs in the place were showing this obscure little event called the NCAA tournament. After some slightly panicked begging, one of the bartenders -- with all of the urgency of one of those vacationers in the Corona ads -- switched one of the TVs the AU. And, pretty much as soon as that happened, everything came apart for the Eagles.
I was alone in this mission, by the way. Joan long ago decided being seen with me when I'm watching one of my sports teams play is a bad idea, so she stayed in the car. When we're home, Fred and Hank often spend entire Jets games in the yard for their own safety. So they all stayed in the car. Joan read her Kindle and the beagles snuck in an extra hour of sleep, presumably because 18 hour a day isn't already enough.
Now, this sports bar probably doesn't see a lot of strangers. There were about 10 pool tables in use and one poker table surrounded by locals, and I was the only person there by themselves. And, since I wear my emotions on my sleeve, I was soon attracting attention. Maybe too much. As it became clear the game was going to end badly, I feigned a trip to the bathroom and made a beeline for the door. Joan asked me how the game went, and after I gave her the same look Roy Scheider gives Richard Dreyfuss in "Jaws," when Dreyfuss asks about the fate of Robert Shaw, we headed for a mournful dinner. But a big thumbs-up to the Eagles and Coach Jeff Jones, who have now gotten us to the promised land twice.
The day began back in Vicksburg, Miss., where we explored the terrific Vicksburg National Military Park, which commemorates the battle, siege and Confederate surrender of this key Mississippi River port. The surrender of the town, which came one day after the Union victory at Gettysburg, turned the tide of the war decisively in the Union's favor, though the carnage would last almost another two years.
The battlefield features thousands of monuments to officers and troops, a restored Civil War boat -- the USS Cairo -- and an excellent driving tour. What was really impressive, however, was how this history is weaved into the fabric of the entire city, not just the military park itself. Even after leaving the park, you encounter statues and troop location markers. If you're into the Civil War, this is a city well worth visiting.
After leaving the battlefield, we went and investigated another of Vicksburg's claims to fame: It marks the location where, in 1894, Coca-Cola was bottled for the first time. This event is celebrated at the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum in the nice, quiet historical part of the city. It's a cool little museum, featuring the story of Joseph Biedenharn, who decided that, because Coca-Cola was selling to well in his store, he should probably bottle it and send it to people who couldn't regularly make it to downtown Vicksburg. So he did it, and casually informed Coca-Cola after the fact that he was doing it. And Coca-Cola said, "Sure, sounds like a great idea." Ah, the innocence of the old days. The museum also features a ton of old Coca-Cola memorabilia, including advertisements, vending machines and old bottles.
From there, it was up Washington Street to get a gander at Margaret's Grocery, a store covered in folk art, including a lot with religious connotations. We took a quick photo, then fled as quickly as possible for Jackson.
In Jackson, we stopped to see the home of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, the field secretary for the NAACP who was assassinated in his driveway in 1963. We then stopped at the old and new Mississippi state capitol buildings before we set off for Memphis and an unexpected stop in Grenada.
Programming note: We decided to head to Memphis a day early because we need a quiet day so we can both get caught up on non-trip-related stuff, and because we're both fans of this city. So we'll hang here today, and then backtrack some tomorrow, and hit Tupelo, Oxford and Clarksdale, Miss. So Saturday's dispatch will be brief, and we'll be back in full force on Sunday.
- Our day didn't start well Friday. We got a late start because I goofed off too much at the hotel before writing. Feeling guilty about that -- and also because I kept Joan from satisfying her KFC fix the night before -- I suggested we go there for lunch. Now, this may come as a shock to every single one of you, but I've only eaten at KFC about three times in my life. So I'm not familiar with how to order there. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't require an advanced degree or anything, but it's a bit different from McDonald's or Subway or other places I frequent more. Joan needed to stay in the car with the dogs because it was almost 80 degrees, so getting the food was my task. But, hey, how hard could it be? I mean, we were both getting the same thing -- a No. 1 meal, one breast with two sides. The following events then ensued: 1) Even though I ordered by saying "I will have two No. 1s," I received two totally different meals; 2) Neither of those meals was the No. 1 as listed on the menu; 3) No one told me that these "meals" don't come with drinks; and 4) Because the service was so bad at this KFC, the line was now almost out the door, making the prospect of waiting in line to fix problems 1, 2 and 3 too much for me to comprehend.
- When I got back to the car, I suggested we go to another establishment to get drinks. Close by, we find a nearly deserted Wendy's, and there's only one person on line in front of me. Yet it still took me 10 minutes to get my two sodas. And, as I'm getting the straws, I see a promotional poster for Wendy's hamburgers that has been sitting under a bright light for so long, it now looks like this:
Now, I'm not sure if you can tell in this cellphone photo, but that meat is green. And unless this is some leftover St. Patrick's Day promotion, I don't think meat comes in green. Finally, after 20 minutes at KFC and 10 minutes at Wendy's, we've managed to cobble together a completely terrible lunch.
- On our way to Memphis, we passed through Como, Miss. This was the small town that Joan went to last year to do a photo project at Como Elementary School. The project, prompted by a 2007 Washington Post story, led to every student at the school getting their photo taken. This may not seem like a huge deal to a lot of you, but the majority of children at this school -- at that time, the lowest-performing school in the lowest-performing educational state in the country -- had never had their school picture taken. Because it was late, we didn't stop, but thought this project was worth mentioning.
- Update on the my bridges post from Thursday: I found this list of the longest bridges in the world on Wikipedia. Already on this trip, we've passed over a bunch of the longest U.S. bridges, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the Jubilee Parkway in Mobile, the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge in North Carolina and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston, S.C.
- One observation from our visit to Vicksburg: Were there any bald people during the Civil War? Vicksburg has hundreds of statues commemorating almost every single officer who commanded troops there. Yet, not a single one of them seems to be lacking hair. I mean we had bald presidents long before the Civil War -- Washington, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren. But Civil War generals seems to be almost completely immune to male pattern baldness. In fact, the only balding Civil War general I can think of was Ambrose Burnside, who was apparently so chagrined by losing hair off the top of his head that he decided to grow it extra long on the sides of his face, and thereby gave birth to the term "sideburns." Seriously.
- OK, I'll say it. Our car stinks. We're in dire need of a full, exhaustive car wash. Unfortunately, that entails completely emptying the car, which is more of a disincentive than the actual smell.
- Sign of the Day: "Pentecostal Explosion Ministry," in Vicksburg, Miss. Does anyone know what this is? Even Google could not find meaning in this phrase.
- Interesting pass-through: Bovina, Miss., where large portions of "Mississippi Burning" were filmed.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Self Esteem," by The Offspring. This song -- like many Offspring tunes -- features a great riff, inane lyrics and a good sense of humor. This one is on my short list of great late-night driving tunes, since it's a great sing-along song and will keep you bouncing the driver's seat. This is the best song that's shown up in the random song of the day.
- Most-played albums: Being that we started the day in the Mississippi Delta, it seemed like a good day to play some Robert Johnson. The legend of the mysterious Johnson, who died at 26, is something to behold. In addition to the fact his brief career influenced countless blues, jazz and rock artists, legend also suggests he he sold his soul to the devil in order to acquire his amazing writing, singing and guitar playing talents. The recordings are a bit scratchy, but if you're interested in hearing everything Johnson ever recorded, it's all available on the aptly named "Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings."
- Lunch: KFC, Vicksburg, Miss.: It's a pretty good general rule that, when it takes you 20 minutes to get your food at a "fast food" joint and both orders are delivered incorrectly, you rarely end up pleasantly surprised by the food. This was no exception. Joan's wing was crappy, and my chicken strips were greasy and unsatisfying. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 1 stars (out of 5).The lowest score of the trip. Well earned, KFC, well earned.
- Dinner: Shoney's, Grenada, Miss.: After the AU game ended, we decided to get a quick meal before continuing on to Memphis. And since Joan -- in 24 hours -- has gone from a Shoney's virgin to an addict, we ended up there. Once again, we were both very happy with the outcome. Good service and good, solid food. We both got the buffet to save time, and we both had salads. On one of our three trips, that is. Jim Nutrition Rating: 2 stars (out of 5). This was not a good day for me, I won't lie. I had a real piece of fried chicken and some mashed potatoes in all their buttery glory. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5, on the fast food scale).
- Fries Boycott: I failed. Yes, I could go for a loophole, and say that the potato wedges I had at KFC weren't fries. And I even have some backup on that. But I won't try it with this group, especially since Janet, my nutritionist, reads this blog as well. The fries boycott lasted only three days. I would be a lousy striker.
- Baymont Inn & Suites Memphis East, Memphis, Tenn.: We gave Baymont a shot for the first time on either of our long road trips, and we're very happy. The room is big, comfortable and quiet (other than Hank's snoring). The hotel gets an extra half-star for having gifts for the dogs upon our arrival. The staff is amazingly helpful -- even helping to track down a vet to get a prescription filled for Hank's continuing incontinence issue. Fred, apparently exhausted after a day of excessive posing, decided to hang out under the bed. Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5).
- Eccentric America: If you want to know how we knew about Mammy, Margaret's Grocery or the Jimmy Carter Peanut, this book is for you. Not a whole lot of the things in this book are worth a long drive on their own, but if you're already headed in the right direction, why not stop at the Jell-O Museum?
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: Memphis.
- Tomorrow: Tupelo, Oxford and Clarksdale, Miss.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Little Rock, Ark., and The Ozarks.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO