November 2007

A Pie in the Hand is worth Two in the Bush

  Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi & back to Texas

aka:  Rick and Kathy eat their way across the South

Hmmm, now, where were we?  Ah, yes, waving goodby to Fred and our friends in Nacogdoches, and turning our faces to the East.  

DSC 0008-18

Nacogdoches sits not far from the Louisiana border; Shreveport is roughly an hour and a half away.  Leaving Texas behind, we were quickly accosted by our old friends, the Crye-Leike Real Estate Company, the largest in 4 or 5 states.  We think this is possibly the funniest company name in all the kingdom; it rules at least Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.  I suspect they are doing a lot of crying these days, what with housing prices being in such a terrible state.  No end of junky property for sale (probably not a fair assessment…..).  We quickly moved on into Arkansas, stopping at a great little pie shop in Fort Smith, only to find out they had closed an hour earlier.  Bummer.  So we whisked ourselves up Scenic Highway 7, which is, very.  An early delight was the little town of Dardanelles, home of the Sand Lizards (go Lizards on the signs); Lizard Pride said the Taco Bell window.  Across the Arkansas River, we paused in Russellville at Pelton’s Whattaburger, the most famous of them all, and justifiably.  It was Saturday afternoon and the joint was jumping with folks gathering food to carry them to the Razorbacks game; we were surrounded by dark red shirts-caps-banners – all with hogs all over ‘em.  Next stop, Conroy, outside of which was the Toad Suck Park; we couldn’t EVEN imagine what that was all about.

The next day was the beginning of standard, not daylight, time.  This caused consternation:  one of us was worried places stop serving breakfast at 11:00; the other because we would be missing an hour at the museum.  Different agendas (that Kathy, she does like her feed…heh, heh).

We were headed for Little Rock, for a couple of reasons.  We wanted to visit the Clinton Library, mostly, but also get a feel for this area; we like Arkansas and are looking for places to spend a bit of time.  The library was awesome; we really enjoyed it for its fresh approach, willingness to address uncomfortable issues, and sense of humor.  Post-library visit, we had a great dinner at Shorty Smalls (you had to be there…..); we had hoped to eat at The Whole Hog, but it closed early that night.

Leaving Little Rock, we moved on to Stuttgart, the self proclaimed Rice And Duck Capital of the World, where we had breakfast in a Quonset hut at the Little Chef; which lived up to its outstanding breakfast reputation as noted in our Road Food book (our most-referenced reference book in the coach).  Stuttgart, is home to Mack’s Prairie Wings – America’s Premier Waterfowl Outfitters (is it hard to get the shirts to fit right on those little ducks???).  Now we aren’t sporting enthusiasts, in case you hadn’t already figured this out.  But this place is amazing, and, we suspect, very well known throughout the United States.  We stopped because of the humongous duck outside, but that was only the beginning.  It is, among other things, a clothing store, and will sell you any kind of clothing you can imagine, all in camouflage – including very sexy lingerie, large supplies of heated wader socks, trophy dusters, etc., etc., etc.  We were boggled.  It was a great browse.

The countryside in south-central Arkansas is mostly open fields and bayous; dirt, cotton (some still to be harvested), soybeans, pecan trees, stuff like that.  Trucking eastward, we spent a few moments in the middle of a boggy area checking out the Louisiana Purchase National Monument.  The monument marks the baseline for all the territory acquired in that exchange; and became the baseline for ALL western land sales.  This is pretty significant.  Every piece of property in the west has its boundary lines based on that one monument.  It was established in 1815, as land was being surveyed in order to award it, in part, to soldiers who fought in the War of 1812.  We thought the exhibits were pretty damn cool.

Kathy New  7835

Near the Arkansas-Mississippi border is an area called Crowley’s Ridge.  So named because of a civil war guy, it’s (about) 300 miles of north-south bluff that parallels the River and is mostly undeveloped woodland.  It had been recommended as an area that was very scenic, and also full of small, funky, historic towns.  We wandered around among trees in full fall color, with balmy days and chilly nights.  We turned right at Turkey Scratch, and a bit further along found ourselves passing a small Forest Service park with campsites among the trees.  Great spot for lunch; hmmm, let’s spend the night.  We did; it was great; we were beside a small lake with its own resident heron; what’s more to want?  The next day we ended up going through Helena, Arkansas, home of the King Biscuit Delta Blues Festival in October and a really good blues museum; Helena was one of the true birthplaces of Delta Blues, and a real hopping spot back in the ‘30s.  We puttered around for awhile, had lunch at Granny Dee’s (served by herself – “no fast food around here, no sir; everything cooked fresh”).  Granny Dee didn’t have too many teeth left, and most of those were capped in gold; she was a true delight.  A nice visit.

Later we crossed the Mississippi and paused for awhile in Clarksdale, MS.  Helena, straight across the river, is a real backwater today, but Clarksdale is a happening town, with blues going most nights and plenty to see and do.  We wandered around, but it was a Tuesday, and no music that night, so we settled for fresh coconut cake (no pie to be had, the bakery, once again, having just closed) as an après-lunch snack, passed up the Cheapo Depo (the local mattress outlet) and moved on to Oxford, a real destination town.

Oxford is one of the prettiest towns in the old South.  Home of Ole Miss, its racist background has yet to be completely buried.  But it has lots of huge ole trees, big ole houses, and a lovely square with a pretty courthouse.  We’ve visited here before and told you about it.  But this town deserves many visits, at all times of the year.  This time through, the Faulkner House had completed its renovation, and we were able to tour the house he lived in for many years.  It’s lovely but unpretentious, on acreage that is open to the public for walking and picnicking.  We really enjoyed wandering around.  It was a lovely afternoon and the trees were stunning.  But no pie to be found (feelin’ sorry for us yet?).

On to Tennessee.  We were headed for the Nashville area, to visit old friends.  We approached from the south, skirting Memphis (why do we always skirt Memphis?  One of life’s great mysteries…..), noting that there was still a little cotton in the ground although most fields had been cleared.  We took the turnoff to Bucksnoot, bent toward Brentwood, and were there.  Two days later, after a great visit that included tourist-ing in the area, we headed off again.  The tourist stuff had centered around a visit to the only home of President James K. Polk that is still extant.  We had a great tour; this guy did more than you remember.  The house was neat and we enjoyed ourselves.  We stopped at Stan’s Restaurant for lunch afterwards, and one of us tasted turnip greens for the first (and probably last) time; guess who….. and all of us enjoyed, finally, some great chocolate pie. 

We zipped through Pikeville, further east, stopping for a few hours with more old buddies.  Pikeville is in the beautiful middle part of the state.  This is OLD Tennessee; the town boasts the oldest operating jail in the state, and an outstanding rib joint.  We ate well.  It was a short, but great visit.  Our friends here are craftsmen, and their work is lovely.

DSC 0035-24

We had to get going because we had to be in Columbia, South Carolina shortly.  Yes, back to the factory where we had picked up Trav’ler this spring; you HAVE been paying attention.  We had an appointment to deal with a pesky water leak.  Made it on time, and were also lucky enough to catch up with some great friends from Maine who just happened to be passing through on their travels.  We had a good visit; they are the folks who have the lighthouse off the Maine coast – and Daisy, the Great Dane.  They’ve just bought a brand-spanking new Airstream trailer, all shiny and silver.  It was fun to see them, and we reaped the benefit of their knowledge of Venezuela, gained when they spent time there in the Peace Corps and on subsequent visits.  Good friends.

After Trav’ler finished up, we went to visit Savannah, never having been there.  Cutting across South Carolina is kind of boring; this is plantation piedmont and then lowlands.  Lots of cotton and lumber harvesting, but not much else.  We saw our first sign for Boiled P-Nuts.  We went thru Smoaks to Yemassee to Ruffin (Ready?) with the Bogator’s Garage (an alligator on the sign).  We bypassed Coosawhatchie.  It was balmy mid-November in the high 70’s, but a sharp cold rain was expected shortly.

We hit Savannah, just across the state line into Georgia.  What a lovely city!  Have you been there?  Such a treat.  We had the misfortune of being there during the predicted cold snap, which put a bit of a damper on wandering the old part of town, but we enjoyed ourselves nevertheless.  All the locals had hauled out their scarves and heavy coats, taking advantage of the only cold weather they expected to see all winter.  They looked quite elegant.  We spent one day indoors at the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum; this is a good spot.  These were the folks who were stationed in England during World War II and did the bombing runs over Germany.  They have a good story to tell, and they do a good job.  Don’t miss it if you get the chance.

The day we left the weather brightened, and we had a beautiful morning out at Fort Pulaski (Civil War – fell quickly; what more do you want to know?), lunch on Tybee Island (expensive but delicious crab cakes; of course he didn’t), crossed back into So. Carolina (DO pay attention!) and breezed into Beaufort.  We were heading toward Raleigh, No. Carolina.

DSC 0082-22

Now Beaufort (BEW-fert, not to be confused with BO-fort in Georgia), is worth several days all by itself.  It’s old, small, historic, and in great shape.  Right on the coast, it was a major port at one time.  Now it’s a tourist destination that’s not too touristy.  As we drove around, Rick commented on the fact that this whole area is less than five feet above sea level and we wondered whether the many for sale signs on the wonderful old homes were a reflection of concern over the possible effects of global warming.  We didn’t spend as much time in Beaufort as we would have liked, as there was a parade that had blocked off most of town and nobody was going anywhere.  We finally pulled a U-ey and left.  But we’ll be back.  This place is a jewel.

Have you ever driven on I-95?  For us it’s the most uninteresting, least well maintained, boring road on the East Coast.  It travels the main corridor between New England and Florida.  Always busy, always pressure on the driver, but a good way to make tracks.  As we were interested in covering some ground today, in order to make tomorrow more pleasant, we braced ourselves, told Trav’ler to pick up his heels, and off we went.  Well…..yeah, we covered ground; but we didn’t like it and at the end of the day were happy to jump off again and settle back into our normal easy pace.  

DSC 0067-20

That easy pace included a visit to Cheraw, SC, home to Dizzy Gillespie; there is a really cool statue of him in a pretty park, surrounded by graceful overhanging trees.  It was a nice tribute, with plaques commenting on various significant moments in his life.  We were glad we visited.  And Cheraw is indeed a lovely small town.  

Across the North Carolina line we stopped for breakfast in Rockingham, juuuuust beating the folks coming in after church.  And they came in droves, telling us we had found a good spot to eat.  It was fun watching the waitresses jump to it, taking care of these people in short order.  They would come in, sit down and order, and then get right to their food as it arrived; this was a busy day for folks, and there also was a line out the door of their friends waiting their turn.  We left with “y’all come back now” ringing in our ears - we do love the South.

Heading towards Raleigh, we traveled the piedmont area of the Carolinas, and found ourselves on US 1; we wondered if this was the old Post Road that goes all the way up into New England?  Didn’t have the map available that would have answered the question.  In any case, it was a pretty road through pretty countryside; a nice entry into the Raleigh area, where we were to spend a few days, including a grand Thanksgiving dinner, with friends there.

And Raleigh was stunning; in full fall color, with more trees than a person can count.  We remembered our friends surviving an enormous hurricane in the early 90’s, during which zillions of trees were lost.  Couldn’t tell it by what we saw, which says a lot for how many had been there before.  If you’ve never been to this area, take the first chance you get.  Raleigh is a lovely city, the state capital, and part of the research triangle; colleges, museums, sports, it’s all there – tons of it.  Many cool opportunities.  We had a good visit, celebrated Rick’s birthday in great style, ate (plenty of) turkey and fixings (and pies), checked out a new exhibit at one of the museums, and sadly waved good-by.  

DSC 0080-19

We hoped, upon leaving, to head further north, into Virginia and Washington, DC.  But ole man winter got ahead of us.  We had been enjoying week after week of balmy Indian summer sunshine, but it suddenly ended with threat of a very cold snap and wet weather.  So instead we went more westerly, into the mountains.  Yeah, yeah, but these are low mountains and we would go through quickly and get down the other side before the weather arrived.  We got as far as Boone, NC where we visited with a friend, survived a very wet night and next day, and realized our water leak had survived all attempts to date to smother it in goop.  So back to Columbia, where we were very quickly re-gooped and sent on our way with promises to make good on any further attempts we had to make (we were NOT going back to Columbia yet again!).  (PS: this one did the trick, no more leaks.)

By now we knew we wanted to stay south where we could pretty much count on warm weather.  So we trekked across Georgia.  Suddenly, there we were, coming into Midville on GA18; we were confronted with a choice of going left to Swansboro, right to Waynesboro, or continuing on to Wadley; life on the edge.  But wait, there’s more!  We circled through Box Springs, but went south of Po Biddy Crossroads (we promise to catch this one next time!).  We picked up jams from an old farmer we’d found on another visit; he’s just a kick in the pants, the old coot.  He got a big hug from me, which earned me a strong look from his wife.  Fun for all.  

Georgia, as you probably know, is deep in the middle of a drought; the Governor has been holding prayer meetings, trying to get special attention.  So far it hasn’t worked; their reservoirs are very low.  We stopped for a couple of nights at one of our favorite Corps parks, in West Point, on the western edge of the state, and it was still lovely but certainly not what we had remembered.  On a positive note, the last time we’d been through, West Point (a tiny little bit of nothing) had just won a bid to have KIA come and build their cars there; this visit we could see signs of prosperity, and buildings going up, and construction of the plant had begun.  Good for them!

Crossing into Alabama, we were making straight for Birmingham, home of Demitri’s BBQ (and very special icebox pies).  One quirky moment, we were in the little town of Millen and noticed, at a traffic light, that the road to the left was called MLK Blvd, the one to the right Barney Street.  An interesting juxtaposition, we thought.  Post-Birmingham, we passed through Tuscaloosa (Roll, Tide!); Greensboro (the Catfish Capital of Alabama); and Coffeeville (home of the prison where “The Green Mile” was filmed) while listening to the BBC discuss West Indies cricket scores on XM Radio; it was surreal.  

South-central Alabama doesn’t have much going on.  We kept moving, on into Mississippi.  There, we discovered the hamlet of SoSo (seemed a bit disparaging, but accurate); Taylorsville (which had, the previous evening, cinched the  state championship – Go Tartars!); were offered swamp-boiled P-Nuts (get ‘em here!); and had a lengthy discussion of whether there were more banks or churches in evidence as we wandered along…….

DSC 0078-18

After a night at another old favorite, the Grand Gulf Military Park along the edge of the Mississippi River, we dropped through Natchez and crossed into Louisiana.  Rick still doesn’t like this state, and I’m beginning to agree, particularly the rural areas, which tend to be very poor, very dirty, and show no pride.  But maybe we’re missing something.  Many sad looking little towns.  Saw a sign FRESH COONS.

We trekked on, across the Red River and into Natchitoches, which will always be lovely, and then crossed into Texas and back to Nacogdoches, from whence we had left on Hallowe’en.  You may remember the Foretravel is stored here; we had a few final clothing/equipment changes to make, final hugs to give to our friends, final Hepatitis B shots to get, and now we were finally off to Mexico and new adventures.

Well, almost.  We wanted a couple of days in Austin, which did not disappoint us: some great food and a chance to see a band we had discovered in Canada a couple of summers ago (I know, in Canada???? – these folks are Austin-based).  They are local kids doing a pretty fine job of making good.  It was fun to see them and they were astounded someone would track them down like that.  You can catch them most Thursday nights at the Waterloo Ice House on 6th street.  They’re hot.  The Austin scene told us college life was alive and well; full beards and sideburns rule these days, at least in the South.  We also enjoyed a very nice visit to the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library located on the UT campus in downtown Austin. There was a lot more to that man than may have been apparent to the casual observer, and the library is well worth a stop.

We are now heading for the border, hoping to pick up mail in Falfurrias, see some friends in the McAllen area, take care of last-minute shopping, and cross into Mexico December 11th, just in time for my birthday on the 12th.  We are very excited to be starting this next phase of our life adventure, and we realize we owe a real debt to several of you who have served as role models for us.  You have been a real inspiration and have shown us all things are possible; you just have to open your mind and be ready for what comes your way.  In case you don’t know who you are, our thanks to Whit and Jan Baines, Doris and Max Roth, LeNan and Rod Thompson, Kathy Christiansen, Gloria and Ed Helmuth, Syd and Sharon Lee, Mabelle Lernoud, Carol Pinnell, Jacques et Elisabeth, Anne and Lawson, Frank and Taylor; there are many others, of course, whom we’ve met along the road and I’ve forgotten.  We wouldn’t be on our way without your help and example.

We wish you all a wonderful holiday season.  We hope to be somewhere on a beach south of Cancun by Christmas; think of us!  We love you all and wish you could come along.  Rick and Kathy 

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018