Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Red Neck Riviera

Beach Wildlife
The Gulf Coast. I dropped down off I-10 at exit 50, on the advice of two ladies at the Mississippi Visitor's center. The first little town was Ocean Springs. Its downtown area is a street full of up-scale craft stores and art galleries, restaurants, and a chicken that wanders in and out of the stores.

The ocean is right there, with soft sugar beaches and at least on Monday, no wind or clouds.

Further down the road is Biloxi. Some large casino-hotels block the view of the ocean, but there is also an enormous public beach. At the fishing pier, a sign commemorates the "wade-ins" that were part of the sometimes violent Equal Rights protests of the 50s and 60s. It was an all-white beach (not just talking sand here.....) and it took 10 years for black people to legally go there. There are signs of the past all over the south, plaques talking about the Civil War, the home of Jefferson Davis is in Biloxi and streets named for him. At the same time there's a Martin Luther King Blvd and the same signage on the struggle for equality.

The reality of the south that I experienced is a comfortable existence between many peoples, and plenty of indication that black and white isn't much of an issue any more. I saw bi-racial couples, people of several ethnicities eating at the same tables, and public access is granted to everyone. I'm sure racism still exists. In North Carolina, my friend pointed out a restaurant where they wouldn't serve me if I weren't the right color, presumably white. But other than that, and a few Confederate flags and bumper stickers on big trucks, I didn't see much evidence of overt racism. And in fact, black people struck up conversations with me, and vice versa, with no indication of nervousness or constraint.

Empty beachfront property.
Along that coast, east of New Orleans, an entire city appears to be missing. From Biloxi all the way to New Orleans, the landscape a hundred yards off the coastal road is full of old oak trees but few buildings. Lots of foundations and for-sale signs, but not many homes or businesses. Katrina was six years ago and the rebuilding has been slow to non-existent.

A fellow who was fishing on the pier told me the insurance companies didn't pay people for the loss of their homes because they didn't have flood insurance, and it was water that destroyed the homes. That whole strip along the beach had once been beautiful houses. Everything was wiped out when the 10 foot tall storm surge came up. The homes that have been rebuilt are now up on columns with parking and storage in the open space beneath. Some look like Antebellum mansions, only up one level with large impressive staircases leading to the first floor landing. Looks great from the front but rather odd from the sides.

I spent some time along the Mississippi beaches, got my pants soaked, and was almost pulled out to sea a couple of times by large strong waves. Would have killed my camera! A front was moving in and by nightfall the rain was so fierce the windshield wipers couldn't keep up. I pulled into a Hampton Inn. December is their desperately low season so I got a beautiful suite for a nice discount. It was lovely to have a bathtub to rinse out the salty and sandy pants, enjoy a leisurely evening and watch TV for the first time in a while.

Bottle tree in Ocean Springs, Miss.
Popping back up to I-10 and going into the next state, I began to notice there are five things of major interest to people in Louisiana, based entirely on signs and billboards:

1. Food. Crawfish, shrimp, catfish, gator, frog legs, BBQ, deep fried turkey, hush puppies, boudin and cracklins. Restaurants everywhere claim to be the most Cajun, the best southern cooking, just like gramma's......

2. Fishing and hunting; gun stores, bow ranges, classes for concealed-carry of hand guns, boats, RVs, and signs pointing out access to lakes and the ocean.

3.  Gambling. Casinos appear to be everywhere, even the Love's Travel Center loves to have you come gamble in their little slots parlor.

4. Sex: Adult Superstores (Batteries Not Included), Titty bars, and Gentleman's Clubs are to the right or left at every other exit!!

5. And if life is miserable, unfulfilled, or loaded with guilt (see above), there were plenty signs pointing the hell-bound soul to Jesus.

Public art in Ocean Springs.

Sure Thang.....another place to come and stay longer, hang out on those incredible beaches, and eat more crawfish etouffee.

Some big waves when the front moved in.

A dead jellyfish washed up on shore.