En route to Vicksburg, 61 was unbelievably smooth with bare bones traffic. The historian, David, encouraged me to stop at Port Gibson. I drove through the small downtown and stumbled upon the Mississippi Cultural Crossroads which houses humanities and arts programs for adults and children.
Everything from crocheting to knitting to quilt-making to music making.
I met the Reverend Oliver Chambliss. He showed me around and gave me a tour.
I learned quite a bit about his personal life, too, like what brought him to Port Gibson.
Ailing parents "up here" coupled with Hurricane Katrina.
He met a woman; they fell in love and married. Now, they have a son together. His wife wanted to remain connected to her small town -- the city which touts itself as "too beautiful to burn."
Dear General Ulysses S. Grant: Port Gibson has not forgotten.
Reverend Chambliss still owns his home in New Orleans which of course he had to renovate. Now, it painfully sits empty -- waiting for him, his timid wife, and his young son.
I almost did not stop here due to the lack of signage on 61 -- at least in the direction I was traveling. Had I not, I would have missed the beautiful quilts and Reverend Chambliss.
I return on the ultra smooth 61: rural with many bluffs even signs for bears.
I follow a couple of motorcyclists who veer off 61 (making a left) to jump on what I think was 161.
I was glad I did when I saw views of the picturesque Mississippi River which was to my left.
Then, civilization approached by way of casinos. I think I passed four of them on my way to Vicksburg. (In Natchez, I had only seen one.) It seemed ridiculous to see so many casinos in such a small town -- less than 24,000 Vicksburg residents.
When I began my journey into the downtown area, I was not prepared to experience this sense of melancholy. While music from the 1920s thru the 1940s could be heard at the corner of Washington and Veto, visually-speaking, the area cried for revitalization.
True, some businesses blossomed.
However, juxtapose those businesses with the huge and empty Mississippi Hardware Company eyesore.
It greets you right as you enter the famed Washington Street.
Not to mention the other vacant, dilapidated buildings surrounding downtown.
Juxtapose that with the wandering homeless individuals (including a paraplegic veteran in a motorized wheelchair) peppered all throughout downtown.
No other type of emotion could be elicited except melancholy.
I stop and see what appears to be a breakfast establishment: The Mad Baker.
I meet the baker: Felicia. She's also the cook, the cashier, the busser, the everything really.
I order a big breakfast and some delicious cookies.
Red Velvet and Key Lime.
She's famous for her cakes and cupcakes. Just after me, a couple had walked in eager to order a cake.
All together about a dozen or so people were in her establishment.
It was one of the few thriving businesses in the area.
She's open everyday, and she's open early.
Although she hobbled around with a brace on her foot (she had broken a few toes), she made magic happen.
Businesses can do well here, but more should be done to encourage further revitalization.
Unlike what you see here to the right.
Meantime, I remember taking a quick glance at the local paper, and reading about a resident who purchased a burned down restaurant.
He got tired of looking at the scorched building while walking around downtown.
That's what you see.
A working business next to a scorched building... next to an empty building... next to a building for rent... next to a building for sale.
I had a couple of hours before my new housing would be ready, so I headed to the local library.
There, I saw more homeless people.
Can't blame them.
When I ask to go online, I am told that the first hour is free, but every additional hour would cost $1.
I was perplexed.
Up to this point, I had been to several public libraries along this trip, and I had never been asked for money. Yet, the one located in one of the more depressed areas I visited charged money for computer use.
Should I be surprised?
Miraculously, I finish my blog in under one-hour (with two minutes remaining). Next, I go to an empty table and open up a few maps.
A sun-weathered white man comes up and asks if I was headed north.
I tell him, yes, but not right away.
Maybe, I'll see you around town, he said.
Maybe, I replied.
He, too, appeared homeless.
The vacant stare.
I feel hopeless.
I meet my airbnb host, Rachael Ann, a special education teacher. She was still waiting for the bed sheets to dry. We spoke a bit about the area and the homeless population.
Later, we discuss where to go for night life.
I assure her that I can dress the beds myself.
She looked surprised.
I was happy to be in such a large space after being in a tent.
I took a very long shower; I dressed the beds, and I took an even longer nap.
After my nap, I readied myself for a nice meal at the Walnut Hills Restaurant followed by a sunset cocktail at 10 South Rooftop Bar and Grill.
The best experience at the restaurant was the friendly service and the live music while "10-S" did provide the best view overlooking the Yazoo Reservoir.
Later, I run into Chase -- an employee from Steampunk Cafe -- he was in the area celebrating his 30th birthday with his "lady friend."
I take a leisurely stroll back to the giant apartment; I am asleep by 11 p.m.
On Sunday, I awoke quite early.
I did some laundry and left the apartment by 8 a.m.
Back to downtown.
Take more pictures.
Enjoy another Mad Baker breakfast.
Along my walk, I ran into a couple of guys hanging out by the reservoir waiting to go fishing. One of them asked me how I liked how "poor" Vicksburg was.
His comment triggered a longer discussion.
We ended up in a conversation about my observations of the city and his. He blamed the casinos for much of the city's woes. He worked for the state for a whopping $9.00 per hour. I didn't ask whether he had finished high school -- probably because I knew his answer would only fuel my frustration.
We also talked about the homeless population in the area.
Sharing with them assured me that I was not off the mark in my visual exploration of the area.
We said our goodbyes.
Meanwhile, I took these photos overlooking the reservoir.
When I returned to the Mad Baker, I met Felicia's son and her nephew. Devin, her son, prepared my breakfast. The two young men both around 20ish were taking orders, making breakfast, serving it, and bussing tables.
Just like Felicia.
Hardworking families here in Vicksburg.
I spoke with both of them regarding that what they did for fun, and whether they liked living here.
Apparently, there was not much to do here for young people between the ages of 16 and 20.
Most times they go out of town for fun.
After breakfast, I stay awhile at the cafe journal writing.
Later, I head into the heat to take a few more shots of the city.
Then, I approach the B.B. Literary Club.
What does the "BB" represen?
As I am googling the answer, I meet a woman who asks me if I left something.
I respond with a no ma'am and ask her if she could tell me the history of this building.
It was the B'nai B'rith Literary Club -- a former male Jewish club -- opened in 1886 and rebuilt (after a fire) in 1917.
She allows me entrance into the structure to walk around and take pictures. (It now serves as a catering venue.)
I had no idea there once was such a large Jewish population in Mississippi.
I recalled "S-" telling me his dad was Jewish, and I remembered that Rabbi Birnholz (from Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach) also hailed from Mississippi. I also remembered seeing a temple in Natchez.
Then, I began thinking about the exodus of Jewish residents from Vicksburg and wondering whether this served as a precursor for what was to come -- economic plight coupled with desperate efforts at growth (i.e. the casinos).
Just a thought.
How can a town with so much history be forgotten?
Confederate losses, for what?
Again, the melancholy sets in...
I head back to the apartment to take a nap.
A rain storm rolls through town, so I use my tent as a tarp for my motorcycle (to keep it dry), and it works.
I call it an early night.
When I awaken on Monday morning around 6:15 a.m., I make a few cups of tea and do a satisfactory job strapping my backpack to the bike.
I head down Washington and out onto what will soon spill me into 61.
As I pass the Cedar Hill Cemetery, the melancholy returns as do warm tears.
Until we meet again, my friend.