The Deep South – March to April 2008

The Deep South
We started out from New Orleans by heading over the river and into the state of Mississippi. Our plan was to stay on the Gulf Coast. All the way from Louisiana to Florida, we were directly on the gulf, the beach and the ocean just a few steps away. The Mississippi shoreline was still undergoing a recovery effort from Hurricane Katrina, which hit in August 2005. Houses that had once stood on the water’s edge were vanished, torn from their foundations. Only pieces of stilts remained. Some of the beaches were still damaged and closed to the public. A lot of the road was under construction. It was like that all the way to the Alabama border. Because Mississippi’s gulf coast is very narrow, it took us only two days to cross the state. We slept in Biloxi at the house of several Yankee volunteers who had come to help in the recovery effort.

Alabama is also very narrow on the southern coast, and it likewise took us only two days to cross the state. We stayed for two days with Carolyn and Morris in the town of Grand Bay. They sure were a stitch. As Stephane put it, they are “the world’s oldest roommates!” They lived together in the back of Carolyn’s junk store, where Carolyn had lived since her house burned to the ground. In her mid-50s and sporting a gray ponytail, Carolyn was the biggest chain-smoker I’d ever met. She welcomed us warmly, emphasizing that she and Morris were not a couple.

Morris was also in his mid-50s and also sported a gray ponytail. He worked at the naval shipyard in Pascagoula during the week and played in a band on the weekends. He slept in the bunk bed in the tiny and cramped room that doubled as a kitchen. Carolyn cast him as a Casanova, a dog running after the ladies.

They were both talkers and spoke to us about everything from the area’s history to its geography, religion, and politics. For example, “A lot of people in Alabama are redneck and uneducated.” About the election, people who disliked the federal government’s handling of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort will vote democratic, but will not vote for a woman. “If Clinton wins the election, a lot of people will go walking into the Pascagoula River, hand in hand, singing.” Meaning, they’d rather kill themselves than have a woman president.

About the Civil War (because this is still a topic of conversation in the South), “The Civil War was all economics . But let’s not talk about the Civil War. It was too recent.”

On religion: “In the South, you can’t throw a cat without hitting a church!” (this was one of my favorite ones). Morris explained how members of a congregation might disagree on an issue, then fight and split into separate churches. His case in point: the small “Mayberry” town where he had lived in Mississippi where there was only one paved road (Main Street), one convenience store, one post office, and one police officer (Bobby Sam, who was always found asleep in his patrol car), but 12 different churches! He had witnessed many car chases up and down Main Street, like in the “Dukes of Hazard.”

Carolyn and Morris were like an old married couple, always picking at and teasing each other. The dynamic between the two of them was highly amusing and we got non-stop laughs. Most of the picking was initiated by Carolyn. Some typical Carolyn / Morris conversations went like this:

C: “You’re a big baby.” M: “No, I’m not.” C: “Yes, you are.” M: “No, I’m not.”
C: “He’s a prima donna / dog / womanizer…He likes young woman…You’re going to have another child and I’m gonna laugh at you!” M: “I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction!”
M: “Don’t swear at me.” C: “I didn’t. I called you a dumbass.”
M: “Men stay pretty long.” C: “You’re gonna DIE…TODAY.”
M: “You’re nasty to me!” C: “You ain’t seen nasty yet!”

Carolyn pokes Morris. Morris says, “Don’t touch me!” Carolyn continues poking. What a pair!

From Carolyn and Morris’ in Grand Bay, we biked over quiet, backcountry roads past marinas and through the town of Bayou La Batre (the famous shrimping town of Forrest Gump’s friend, Bubba) and on to the very small town of Alabama Port, from which point there was a ten-mile stretch to Dauphin Island. The stretch was on an extremely narrow strip of land, bordered on one side by the Mississippi Sound and on the other by Mobile Bay. Pelicans flew overhead.

We left the island by ferry and biked east along the Gulf of Mexico towards the Florida border. The last 20 miles or so were very built up – one hotel or condominium complex upon another. From the coast, we headed to Pensacola, battling a 30 mph headwind. We biked through the Pensacola Historic District and up on the Scenic Bluffs.

We reached the city of Crestview the following day, where we stayed with Karen and her boyfriend Mitch. Mitch was a real character. He said to us, “I’m very red.” I’m not sure if he meant redneck or confederate, but I believe he meant both. There are some good Mitch quotes, but perhaps the best is when he said he didn’t want to sleep in his mother-in-law’s bed (we were staying at her house while she was out of town). Why? Talking about Karen, he said, “I don’t want to bang her in her mama’s bed! And there’s going to be a lot of banging going on tonight!”

As we continued east, we fairly flew over the pleasantly rolling hills, even though we were biking mostly uphill with a headwind. Seafood and oysters had been big on the coast, and as we headed inland, boiled peanuts, pecans, and BBQ were big.

We stopped in the town of Chattahoochee (don’t you just love that name?), on the Georgia border and on the east side of the Apalachicola River. Henry and his wife Lisa, who ran the Chattahoochee RV Park, bent over backwards to be accommodating. Henry would say, “If there’s anything I can do to make your stay more comfortable, let me know…” and “If my campers are happy, I’m happy.”

The annual power boat races in Chattahoochee were cool. We sat on the banks of the Apalachicola River and watched the boats race around the buoys (up to 135 mph) on the course set up for them. Henry had told us that there would be a rowdy and raucous crowd at the campground the weekend of the races. “They’re a bunch of yee-haws, but they’re decent folk…” he said about the town clerks, police officers, and parole officers who parked their trailers next to our tent. Well, they were pretty tame, but a great crew nonetheless (especially Keri and Melissa).

The land turned swampy along the Florida-Georgia border and especially as we neared the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia. We stopped along the way at the Cherokee of Georgia Powwow, where Gray Squirrel shared his herbal pipe and told us of Cherokee history and people in front of his teepee, which was one of many centered around the powwow circle, where the social and powwow dancing took place.

The Swamp is a National Wildlife Refuge comprised of forest, lakes, and islands in a boggy area that was once part of the ocean floor. As we biked the nine-mile Swamp Island Drive, we saw several American alligators laying beside the road, as well as large sandhill cranes in the dense swamp growth and ponds. It was a cool experience.

We stopped when we reached the town of Jesup, about 70 miles southwest of Savannah. I had been having neck and head pain for a month and needed desperately to see a chiropractor. We thought this would be a good place to stay for a week because there was both a campground and a library in town, as well as a chiropractic office.

We planned on staying at the campground for the week, but just after biking into town, a young man named Cory saw us on our bikes and came over to ask us where we had biked and if we wanted to stay at his house that week. I was surprised because we had never been invited to stay with anyone so young. I wondered if he had his own place or if he lived at home with his parents.

As it turns out, he lived with his parents, but they were at Disney World for the week with his little brother, who was on Spring Break. He had the house to himself and he and his friends were making the most of it. They were all bored with Jesup, but no wonder, once I remembered that they were still too young to buy their own alcohol or to go to see friends in bars. Cory had his friends over for a party and I had to laugh when they explained to us about chewing tobacco and “mud boggin’.” Yep, this was truly the South!

I did end up seeing the chiropractor in Jesup. His name was Dr. Alex, and during my first visit, he invited me and Stephane to stay at his parents’ house while we were in the area. I had explained that I wanted to stay for a week of treatment, and he said, “Don’t worry! They’ll love it! And they’ll feed you!”

I was still unsure, but when I saw him the next morning for a second appointment, his parents (Nancy and Rudy) happened to be in the office at the same time and they convinced me that it really would be okay and that they’d be happy to have us. They were both friendly and hospitable and bent over backwards to be accommodating. As Nancy said, “I’m in mom mode!” And indeed she was. She was full steam ahead on cooking, sewing, and baking (each person got their own favorite pie!).

Nancy and Rudy lived next door to the doctor and his wife, Anna (also a chiropractor and Nancy’s daughter). Every evening after work, Alex and Anna came over to Nancy and Rudy’s house for a home-cooked meal and dessert (as was their custom). Alex and Anna both could tell great stories, and we had many a laugh. And Nancy was truly “mom extraordinaire.”

We’ll remember Rudy for his trykking and for his enthusiasm over his Kraftmatic bed and eating a plateful of cookies in the Kraftmatic every evening. Rudy had an almost permanent smile planted on his face and was very enthusiastic about living in Georgia. “We love Georgia!” he’d say over and over. And Sam from across the street confirmed that living across the street from Nancy and Rudy was like living in Mayberry. Rudy would actually say to her, “Hey neighbor!” as he gave her a big grin and a wave.

Both the doctors and their parents treated us royally while we were in Jesup and I even left town feeling better after Dr. Alex’s adjustments. All thanks to southern hospitality.