So I’m writing this on my sister’s porch (I don’t know where she is) in the middle of the remnants of a hurricane, under the most ominous yellow tornado skies I’ve ever seen…I forgot to mention that my sister lives in Oklahoma. If I don’t finish this blog, you’ll know what happened to me.
In any case, I left Baton Rouge very early yesterday morning--which seems like an eternity ago. After the aforementioned Waffle House stop--Forest and I headed to world famous Natchez, MS. The town used to be a thriving economic center on the Mississippi, but ance the Bole Weevil hit in the early 20th century, it caused a tremendous depression in Natchez; this meant that no homes were built in the 1920’s in Natchez because the economy was so depressed. Instead the citizens maintained all of their antebellum homes, and so about 40 of them remain there today, and the town itself is quite charming, in contrast with Vicksburg.
Vicksburg, is the most destitute “city” I’ve seen on my trip so far. The downtown area has next to no charm (1920’s buildings and hotels). If you had about $20 million, I think you could literally buy the entire downtown as there are very few businesses left. The only draws to this place are the interstate rest stop and of course the battlefield (which is pretty impressive as far as battlefields go). It was here that I crossed the mighty Mississippi river for the first time, though I had flirted with it about a dozen times so far that day.
I crossed back into Louisiana and entered an area of the country known as the Louisiana delta. Betsy looked this up for me, apparently you can call a flat, fertile area, a delta, even if it is no such thing. To call the Louisiana delta flat though is almost a misnomer. I stood on top of a levy and could just about see the curve of the earth. Goats are apparently a popular farm animal around these parts, and I saw multiple “door museums” which sell painted doors. I also saw probably a dozen enormous oak lined driveways leading to doublewide trailers--I should have taken a picture of that.
And finally Arkansas. For all the crap I’ve given Arkansas in my life, it has honestly been my favorite state on the trip so far. I got to the state having no real clue where I was going or what I was going to do for 24 hours in the Land of Opportunity. I was thinking the Clinton Museum since he is my boy, but I wasn’t entirely sure about that.
I decided to camp out on Lake Ouachita (WA-chit-AH) in central Eastern Arkansas very near the boyhood home of Mr. Clinton, Hot Springs. On the ride to Ouachita, I listened to about 5 hours of Razorback radio analysis of their home opener against Tennessee Tech. At least ten times, somebody called in and reminded everyone in the state that Tennessee Tech is not Georgia--which I had been confused about the first seven times at least (side note--I was listening to the radio because I am out of Bill Simmons podcasts, excluding the two part one on Beverly Hills 90210 which I actually started listening to I was so bored, and I’m also out of This American Life pod casts--if anyone knows another good pod cast let me know).
Lake Ouachita is absolutely breathtaking. I tested my camping skillz out which are going to need a little bit of help before Yellowstone. I ate beanie weenies, Vienna sausages, and fruit snacks. I was not desperate enough to crack open the spam yet. I went to bed really early and was awoken at about 11 to water dripping on my face. Evidently there was a hurricane? I was not totally unaware that there was a hurricane in South Texas, but in Central Arkansas? Also, evidently, my rain fly on tent leaks--perfect! The leak was not too bad, and I had put my backpack in my car, so only half of my belonging were absolutely drenched.
The morning was overcast and calm. I went fly-fishing and swimming in the lake (it was the most perfect water temperature I have ever felt--Billy you know how picky I am about this, imagine Tate -1.5 degrees). I packed everything up, got in my car and it began pouring, again. This was fortunate though, because it meant that the ranger was too lazy to get out of his cabin to come and get my money.
From Ouachita, I went to breakfast in Norman, Arkansas (take a look at some of the town names in Arkansas, they are all borrowed from other states, Norman, Atlanta, Nashville--it‘s pretty amusing). Norman is a town of 423 people (Wikipedia) nestled between the bustling metropolises of Mt. Ida (2007 AA State Champs in football according to the billboard that welcomes you to the town of 981--begging the question why they were in AA to begin with) and Glenwood (p. 1751). I think it’s safe to say that the place I stopped for breakfast in Norman is the only restaurant in Norman, so it shouldn’t kill the story if I don’t remember the name of it. In any case, it was the greatest breakfast I may have ever eaten with possible exception of Porterhouse brunch--if you ever find yourself in this restaurant, you must order the Norman Omelet. When I walked in, an old timer asked if I was looking to buy a horse. I said that I was not unless it could make it to California. To which he asked how quickly I wanted to get there. I struck up a conversation with the four patrons in the restaurant, and when they heard that I what I was circumnavigating the country, one of them asked if I was doing so on foot. I sort of scoffed at the idea, but then the waitress pointed to a signed picture of some country musician who had indeed walked into their diner one day on his journey by foot to Tennessee. Another picture on the wall was of a patron who had biked from Chicago to Los Angeles camping along the way. Needless to say, I was not the newest thing Norman, Arkansas had seen; I did not get my picture on the wall.
After breakfast, I headed to Murfreesboro, site of the Crater of Diamonds state park, the only public diamond mine in the US. I went in with high hopes of finding a 2 karat diamond and thus being able to avoid having to buy one later on in life, but I soon realized that the people there were just about as interesting as the toil of sifting through buckets of volcanic soot. The people I stood next to while I was seeking my treasure, I’m pretty sure came to the park to talk about their lives to whomever would listen. I grew bored and moved over a few benches to a group of ladies with a dog. They knew what they were doing. They were dressed in knee high rain boots. They came with lunches prepared, and most impressively they came with their own sieves and shovels. One had already found a diamond today, and they hadn’t even looked through their dried rocks yet, which is apparently when the vast majority of diamonds are found. I ended up with a lot of quartz after my two hour attention span gave way, and I went back to the resident expert to see if any of my silica was in fact carbon--it was not. I asked if he had seen any diamonds yet today; he said he had not. I told him that a lady next to me had found one, and he asked if it was the lady with the dog. Evidently, she and her gang come to the park 5 days a week. She had recently been laid off, and her friends were retired. They treated diamond mining as sort of a cross between a quilting bee and a serious bridge game. They didn’t talk a whole lot, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Post script: there is an urban legend that a man paid for his son’s education by diamond hunting at Crater of Diamonds park--whether this is true or not, I don’t know.
From Murfreesboro, I drove to Oklahoma City through torrential rain, and I am now in a posh studio apartment above my sister’s garage. The road’s not for everyone, I must admit. Nights like these in queen beds are especially hard.