Tag Archives: Natchez

I Cannot Go where Love is Not

Natchez, MS

Magnanimous.
Magnanimous.

Courtney is magnanimous – money flowing, love.  He says, “I’m gonna take y’all out t’night an’ I don’ wanna hear no shit about you can’t cuz…”  I cut him off:  “Not a peep out of us.”  Smile.

It’s The Corner Bar again.  The same bar we met.  The same bar where the newspaperman told us we “needed to show [him] how we do what we do.”  Music is playing; it’s beautiful; I don’t drink but Courtney’s buying.  “Colorado Bulldog,” I order and the bartendress looks like she’s going to punch me in the face.  “Can you make a White Russian?” I say trying to wipe away her scowl.

Now she looks like she’s going to kick me in the face.

“Good.  Make that in a tall glass.”

She does.

“Now fill it with Coke.”

She looks like there is something on my face.

“I swear to god it’s good,” I promise.  “Tastes like a root beer float.”

She serves; it’s good; and from here on out I’m known as root beer float boy.

Ole Miss is playing South Carolina on the TV.  Ole Miss fans (the whole bar) are hooting and hollering:  “C’mon you gol’ darned mother f—er!” and “aw shit that’s a personal fowl” and “ you gotta be sh— what the god damned…!”  Ole Miss loses.  Grown men are crying like babies.  The bartendress serves root beer alcoholized floats until I am as the Germans say blau.

“Don’t break the seal!” a woman shouted to me one time in a bar.  I was on my way to the men’s room; she stopped me.  “If you break the seal, you’re drunk,” she implored and tugged on my arm.  “Huh?” I said and did my thing.  She was right – after your first pee, you’re usually drunk.  I stumble out of the bathroom where grown men are cursing Ole Miss to high heaven, throwing tantrums – “goddamned number 4! knocked off by the gol’ damned South Carolina, gol’ damned hump me with a hose!”

“Ryan, you want another?” Courtney says.  Magnanimous. And we’re off to what’s next.

Courtney is drunk too, and if you are a member of law enforcement, not driving.   “I’m gonna drive you to The Castle,” he looks devilish.  Dunlithe Mansion – the most famous of the Natchez antebellum mansions.  Columns all around, front, back, sides… all… columns.  It is the eye candy in front of The Castle Restaurant, and we pass it on the drive in.

“Dig me,” Courtney explains.

“What?”

“It’s all about ‘dig me.’  It’s all about who can build the best shit, who can look the best.  Take my house.  Looks good, don’ it?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit, that’s like having twenty-inch rims.  This house [the Dunlithe]

Dig me.
Dig me.

is like having 24-inch rims.  Ain’t no difference between them.  Shoot!  These old, crotchety white people think they’re different than blacks with their bling bling.  No difference!  None!  It’s all about ‘dig me’ – who can look the best.”

Once again Courtney has taken my breath away with his insight.  It won’t be the last time he has laid me silent tonight.

The Castle

“Hey Ryan, this is Miss Miriam…”

“Oh dear!  Courtney don’t be bothering these nice young gentlemen…”

Gentlemen?

“Ah now, Miriam, listen, Ryan, this…”

“Stop!”

“This hot young thing…”

“Courtney!’

“…I used to work for her.  She is the sweetest lady…”

“Courtney!  All right, now what are you boys doing?”

“We’re paddling the river.”

“Oh!”  She covers her mouth, then her heart.  “That’s… my, that’s…”

“I know.”

I’m drunk.  I have no filter.  For some people that’s a bad thing; but, for me it tends to make me more soulful.  “I’m so glad I ran into you boys,” Miriam says.

“Shit,” I say, “we are complete fools next to you, madame!  We are nothing!  Thank you for allowing us the pleasure of talking to you, mademoiselle!”

Madamoiselle, if you please.
Madamoiselle, if you please.

She’s laughing now.  Flirting in French gets ‘em every time.

Miss Miriam’s husband was a son of a bitch.  He cheated on her and made her life a living hell.  He’s dead now, and she tells us that it’s hard getting over him; and, though I’ve never met him, I want to strangle him.  F—ing good, I think, if I knew where it was I’d pass this drink through my kidneys and empty it out on where Mr. Miriam’s is now. I offer Miriam a drink.

“Oh, Ryan, you dear, no, I’ll get you one though.”

“Colorado Bulldog,” I tell our waitress/bartender.

“Oh my god!”  Her face lights up.  “It’s been so long since I’ve made one of those!”  She looks like she wants to kiss me in the face.

Miss Miriam gives me a hug and tells me she wants to follow our journey but she can’t because she doesn’t use internet but will call, but I can’t remember if I gave her our number – the night is hazy and so is my memory of it.

Dunlithe is large and wavy on the drive out.  Dig me, I think to myself.  Dig me.

Back at the ranch, Courtney’s wife is angry.  He was supposed to spend time with her tonight before she left for Jackson in the morning.  He didn’t; he spent time with us.  “What’s she gonna do?  Divorce me?” Courtney asks.  “No,” I say, “probably not.

(Before you judge the cat, I saw him make his wife breakfast no less than thrice, tell her he loved her no more than 800 times and pretty much convinced me he was the coolest, best husband around.  That’s why she wasn’t going to divorce him.)

“She’ll get over it,” Courtney assuages us.  We’re about to walk up to the carriage house, our guest home, when he stops up.  “Boys,” he says, “listen.  Y’all are going to make this movie and there’s something important you need to know – make it about the people.”

Way ahead of ya on that one.

“No, listen,” he says reading my mind.  “You make it about what matters – love.  Look, Jesus Jones — I used to play in a rock band.”  He’s told us this before. “I remember we were doin’ this gig down South, and we got a copy of Rolling Stone and on the cover is:  Jesus Jones – The Savior of Rock and Roll.  The Savior of frikkin’ rock and roll.  C’mon.  I guess he could have been, but the problem was he believed it.  When he was just makin’ music, he was fine.  Remember the…”

“Riiiight here, riiight now,” I sing.

“Yeah!  That’s it!  That was his only hit!  After that, he was nothin’.  Nothin’,” he marks.  Courtney gets deeply, deeply silent:  “You boys need to focus on your work – nothing more nothing less.  You focus on making movies that matter, just like Jesus should have focused on his music.  That’s all he needed to do; instead, he bought into it – savior of rock n’ roll,” he mocks.  Same thing happened to me,” he says and looks away.

Courtney’s band was to do a photo shoot with Rolling Stone in the 90s when the lead singer got cold feet.  Courtney sighs: “Didn’t want to be portrayed in that light, he told me.  What the hell does that mean?  Focus on your work… don’t take it seriously… just play, just play.”

Courtney, I promise you… to just play.

St. Francisville

Courtney has dropped us off in St. Francisville, and good thing too.  The river slows way down between here and New Orleans; and, if we are to make our Oct. 5 deadline, we’ll need all the help we can get.  The river between St. Francisville and Baton Rouge passes by like a droning song.  Phil and I paddle unceremoniously.  It’s work now; it’s good work, but it’s work.  Paddle, one two, paddle, two three, paddle.  The miles pass on.  A certain amount of effort is required to produce a certain amount of result, a success guru once told me; and, I know how many paddle strokes will be needed to make it to the Gulf – more, one more, and one more.  Stroke, to Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge

Phil and I have not been getting the press coverage I would have liked since St. Louis, and I am not happy.  “I don’t know what to tell you,” Phil offers sympathetically.  I’m still mad; I want someone to blame – my vibe, myself, something.  But nothing.  You win some, you lose some.  In Baton Rouge, we’re about to win big.

Bam, an email comes back – “We want to cover you.”  Bam, a cell call comes in – “Ryan, where are you on the river; we will meet you under the I-10 Bridge in Baton Rouge.”  Two big-city reporters want our blood, and I am happy.

Baton Rouge is beautiful.  In the words of Allen Tumey, “Our Capitol Building sticks up like a penis.”  I laugh because Allen is 60 years old and shouldn’t be saying things like our capitol building looks like a penis.  I laugh because he’s our reporter for Channel 9 and shouldn’t be saying these things in front of important interviewees like Phil and myself… snicker, snicker, snicker.  I laugh again when Allen is watching Chris Nakamoto, the bigger, scarier and younger and cooler and hipper reporter from Channel 2 (the big boys in Baton Rouge TV news) finish up their interview with Phillip.  Allen leans into me.  Chris’s hair is perfect and spiky; his shoes are 400 dollars.  Phil tells me later his cameraman’s sunglasses were $200.  Allen is wearing New Balances and doing his own camerawork.  “I have something up my sleeve,” he whispers.  He winks at me, and I hope to God he’s straight.  Chris comes up and shakes my hand.  “Great interview, Ryan,” he says.

“Thanks.”

“We’ll let you know when it’s up.”  He nods at Allen.  “Allen.”

“Chris.”

Chris and his nicely-frocked cameraman are off in a clean, white news van.  Allen pulls his camera out of the back of a Toyota Camry.

“I’m going to film you guys on the water,” he says.  “The Port Allen Police Department is going to take me on their boat so I can get some on-the-water shots.  Like I said, we’re friendly in the news business, but I don’t have to give my secrets away.”  Devilish, not gay.

The Port Allen Police Department zooms their twin-275HP motors by us like we were standing still.  Allen gets his shots.  The police wish us well, and our day in Baton Rouge is done.  Devilish.

Side note:  The news pieces ran in Baton Rouge and were excellent.  Both Chris and Allen did an excellent job.  They even ran the piece several times and several people even 100 miles downriver came up to us and told us they saw us on the news.  Terrifique!

Scathing Friction

South of Baton Rouge, Phil and I fight in the boat.  I am being too negative.  I am; it is true.  But I don’t like him calling me out on it, or I don’t like how he calls me out on it.  We fight.  It is vitriol – the worst we’ve had.  We really want this trip to be done.  We are tired of one another, tired of the boat, tired of the water, towns, people, everything.  Though we love it, we hate it.  A teacher once told me that the opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.  This trip, this life, this boat has been anything but indifferent.  It has been life, good or bad, through and through.  Those twenty minutes of fighting were ugly, really ugly.  That’s all I want to say about because it hurts too much to talk about.  I was possessed, a demon – mad and angry… devilish – the bad kind.  When we got to shore to camp for the night, we said nothing and got in our tents.  I looked at the roof of my tent.  I’ve got to stop this, I thought.  I don’t know whose fault this is, but this has got to stop.  I just… can’t do it anymore. The next morning, I planned to offer an apology, but the pain-body as Eckhart Tolle likes to call it (sort of like an angry demon that can travel from body to body) has traveled to Phil.  He’s angry and spiteful and I am not.  Downstream he snaps at me and tells me that we need to be on the other shore.  Where yesterday I blew up, today I calm down.  I take in deep breaths and am not angry.  “That’s cool” I say.

“Yur goddamn right it’s cool!”

“Yes,” I say and am not fake calm; I am real calm.

“You wanna always fight and I’m…”  Blah blah blah, vitriol, vitriol, vitriol.  I face the pain-body with calmness.  I do not get mad at Phil.  I can’t do this anymore, I promised myself yesterday and keep the promise today.  Phil lets the demon escape his body, and we are levity itself for hours and hours.  We paddle on and find a group of Cajun fisherman hooting and hollering and throwing catfish into their nets.  They offer us beer and tell us to turn our cameras on them because “they gon’ be mov’ee staws!”  One big ol’ Cajun self-labeled “Cracker”

Ooooooeeee, Cracker, you gon' be on duh Cineplex!
Ooooooeeee, Cracker, you gon' be on duh Cineplex!

says, “OOOOOEEE you gon’ see me one day on the Cineplex!  Shoot!  A’least get me on PBS!”  Cracker shows us his dog, Chopper, whom he gets to play dead for 7 minutes straight, and frowns when I throw the stick for Chopper who fetches it.  A nice but dirty Cajun has gaps between his teeth and points my eyes out into the “wawtuh wheah you gon’ see a sink bawge; duh sink bawge kin just throw them big ol’ smokestack lookin’ things into the wawtuh, an’ he don’ hav’ tuh use no ankuh (anchor).  An’ den ooooh lookey here!  Das a big ol’ ship a comin’!”

And so it is – a big ol’ HOLY CHRIST! ship.

“I never knew they could be that big on the wawduh, um, water,” I say.

“OOOOOO,” he says, “dey jus’ gon’ get bigguh!”

G U to the L to the P.
G U to the L to the P.

Phil and I paddle on.  The demon is not here, has not been here for some days.  (We’re in New Orleans now!  Go us!)  I think about Courtney, Baton Rouge… people.  All ways of thinking and being, they are. One stroke, two three stroke.  A certain number of strokes will get us to the Gulf.  How many to go?  It doesn’t matter.  I’m here; this is now; Courtney is Courtney; I’m me, and Phil is Phil.  We are… us, moving, flowing, life.  What will happen when this is over?  How long will the film take to edit?  Matters not.  I can take life one stroke at a time.

Rednecks are not Southern – Part I

“Show me how y’all do what you do!”

Imagine this man without a goatee, with glasses, with a skeptical squint and with a constant askance of just how the hell you get complete strangers to talk to you on camera; and, you'll know what we went thorugh our first 2 hours in Natchez.  Ben, you've got to be the most interesting reporter we've talked to on this trip, and that's saying a lot.  Thank you for a wonderful AND INTERESTING time.  Natchez Democrat, hope we can use this photo!!!
Imagine this man without a goatee, with glasses, sporting a skeptical squint and constantly asking just how the hell you get complete strangers to talk to you on camera; and, you'll know what we went thorugh our first 2 hours in Natchez, MS. Ben, you've got to be the most interesting reporter we've talked to on this trip, and that's saying a lot! Thank you for a wonderful AND INTERESTING time. Natchez Democrat, hope we can use this photo!!!

I have no idea what to tell him, no idea how we do what we do.  We normally ride up into a town like a couple of scraggly ruffians and people start asking questions:  “What’chall doin’?”  “Are you guys bikers, paddlers, runners, killers?” “You guys smell horrible, will you please leave my place of business?” But a reporter for the Natchez Democrat in Natchez, MS wants to know how we get people to talk to us, and I feel like a total tool for not knowing exactly.

“Um, we pretty much just let the Universe bring us people,” I say.

He’s not having it.  “I’m going to follow y’all ‘round,” Mr. Reporter Man says, “and y’all just do what you normally do.”

Normally we would paddle for days on end until someone pulled up beside us in a boat, asked us what we were doing and offered to put us up for the night.  We would then film, eek out the quirkiness of the family or person in question (via my insightful and incisive questioning, ahem) and that would be the footage we will use when it’s time to make a movie about people on the Mississippi River.  But this man wants a demonstration of God’s power, and he’s on a deadline, so God better start working fast.

“How ‘bout that guy?” he asks.  It’s a young black man cooking sausages on the street.  Natchez, a beautiful town, is surrounded by a humidified haze as the sun goes down.  “Um,” I say, “I guess I could ask him.”  I feel like a total dork.  I really can’t come up with a definable method we use to get people to interact with us, nevermind get them to invite us into their homes.  People just tend to show up.  I know I can go up and say, “Heyyyyyyyyyyyyy, cookin’ sausages?  Coooool.  So like what do you think of a couple of guys paddlin’ down the river, cooooool, n’c’est pas?”  He will either grunt or fart and look at me like I’m nuts, or he will start talking and introduce me to his boss who knows a guy who knows a guy who will put Phillip and me up for the night.  It could go either way, and I’ve always felt more comfortable when God was flipping the coin.  But Ben (an excellent reporter by the way; thank you, Ben, for an awesome interview and photo session, did you get my good side? J) is asking me to force things; and, though I don’t like it, I’m going to ask the Universe to pick up the pace.

Prayer timmmmeeeeee! I say to myself.  So like look, God, we need a goddamn demonstration of your power, send us a dude who is interesting on camera, has a cool house, an interesting life situation, and more importantly can give us showers and breakfast, so we can show this here reporter how exactly 11 Visions whoops some documentary-making ass.  Cool?

“Cool!” God said (his voice sounded a lot like the one from the Charlton Heston version of Exodus) “Thou shalt go to a bar and order a beeeeer!  And also don’t steal, lie, or mess with other people’s wives.”

“Aren’t there seven more?”

“Will you just get your ass to a bar for the love of Christ!”

Geez, God is testy today.  To a bar we go.

“Where’s a bar?” I ask Ben.

“Weeeelll,” he says.  “Where y’all were was perfect; there’s a saloon right off the river.”

We ain’t on the river! “Anywhere closer?”

“Weeeeeeellll, there’s the corner bar right over there.”  A nice-looking hole in the wall with a green awning.  That’ll do.

The Corner Bar

Lights, camera, action.  It’s picture perfect.  Just what we were looking for.  Everyone is middle-aged.  Awesome, I think, middle-aged people generally

  1. think we’re crazy
  2. want to do what we’re doing “and if [they  were] just a little bit younger and had a few less kids [they]’d do it too in a heartbeat”
  3. have disposable income to buy us beer and food and god knows what else
  4. own their own homes, have already booted their kids out and are itchin’ to fill those extra rooms even if it’s just for one or two nights

Through the door, it’s a long walk to the far end of the bar top.  We sweep the length of it like movie stars.  Every head turns as Ben snaps pictures – his digital SLR, a telephoto lens.  “What in the hell are these guys?” they think, and I respond, We’re movie stars, duh.

We take our seats.  Men, black and white, with golf hats, golf shoes and rolls of cash hit on the only female bartender.  “It’s kinda like the rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird,” Courtney Aldridge, the man, who in two hours will put us up for the night, says.  “Y’all are unusual – the only game in town worth watchin’.”

Ben is asking me with his eyes to work some movie magic.  Shit, um, I guess I could…  “Order a damn beeer!” God says again.  To the bartender!  “Howdy, ma’am!  My friend and I are paddling down the Mississipi River.”  More heads turn.  Maybe I know how to do this after all.  “And we would like to know what beer specials you have.”  Big smile on my face – goddamned if I don’t know how to do this!  “Well,” she says, “it’s happy hour, so you got domestics for $1.25 and imports $1.50.”  “Bud,” I say.  “Guinness,” Phil says.  Ooooo, got an extra quarter to go fancy I guess – drunken Irish bastard!

Black men in Polo shirts are eyeing us.  They could work. Elder women on the far side of the bar.  “What’s he doing?  What’s he doing?” Snap, snap, goes Ben’s camera.  A balding post-baby boomer with a nonchalant gait walks past.  Headed to the john are you? “Hey my friend…”

“Hey, yourself,” he cuts me off.  “Bikers, are you?”

“Nossir, paddlers.”

Courtney - on right.  His friend and colleague - William - on left.  I know Presbyterians are pretty open, buddy, but I talk to God personally, and HE REALLY DISAPPROVES OF YOUR SMOKING!  LOL.
Courtney - on right. His friend and colleague - William - on left. I know Presbyterians are pretty open, buddy, but I talk to God personally, and HE REALLY DISAPPROVES OF YOUR SMOKING! LOL.

“Figured as much.  You got wading shoes on.  Bikers don’t wear wading shoes.  I biked all across France; wouldn’t be caught dead wearin’ shoes like that.”  Ben is ultra-interested now.  He can’t believe that we’ve gotten someone to talk to us and is snapping pictures like a madman.   “Tell us about Natchez,” I say, and Courtney, who will make us tomato basil grits with Vine Brothers Sausage in the morning, says, “Well, shoot, I’ll tell ya about Natchez,” and forgets about the bathroom entirely.  “Natchez is an artsy town.”

“Figured as much,” I say, “I told Phillip – this is my friend Phillip – paddlin’ up here that this town had a different feel than Vicksburg.”

“Oh it totally does,” Courtney says.  Ben eases his shutter speed off to a slow crawl, more interested.  “Vicksburg fought the Union soldiers like hell.

Vicksburg:  Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.  Natchez:  My give up, my give up.
Vicksburg: "Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin." Natchez: "My give up, my give up."

We didn’t.  Their citizens dug holes in the ground to escape Northern shelling.  They put their furniture and pictures down there to decorate the ‘place.’  They ate rats, killed dogs in the street for food as General Grant tried to starve ’em out.  Shit, when Grant rolled up on Natchez, we put our hands up and said, ‘We give up.’”  Damn, this is interesting.  Thank you God; I knew You’d come through for me – Ben is still amazed! “Natchez was settled by Northerners.  They wasn’t gonna fight.”  Courtney turns the questioning on me:  “How far y’all paddlin’ down?”

“Started in…”

“Minnesota, din’ ya?”

“Yes”

“Goin’ to New Orleans.  Yeah, you’re only about the tenth guy I’ve talked to that’s done that.  I put up guys like you in my house all the time.”  He pulls out a Marlboro Light, sparks his Zippo and looks like he’s about to fall asleep my story is so boring.  “So y’all just order what you want to eat.  Y’all want steak?  I’ll order it – hey, Mary, get these guys some steaks!  Y’all want mashed p’tatas?  Mary!  Get these guys some mashed tatas.  Biscuits?  Mary!  Salad?  Mary Mary Mary!  Y’all’ll be set.  Who’s this guy?” he asks referring to Ben.

“Reporter.”

“I’m Ben Hillyer…”

“I know who you are,” Courtney says like he’s looking at a crushed bug on the sidewalk.  “I gotta take a piss.”  He’s gone.

“Sooo, Ben,” I say, “that’s kinda how it works.  Um, I hope…”

“Ohhh, no, guys, that was perfect, can I get a few shots of you guys in the boats?”

“Yeah, you can,” Courtney says returning.  “I’ll give you guys a ride down there.  You’ll come to my church tonight where there’s a little cookout, shit, my wife’s calling, hey baby!  What’s up?  There’s these boys that’s gonna stay with us tonight paddlin’ the river?  Well, you’ll meet ‘em tonight?  You boys killers?  Naw, honey, they straight.  I love you.  Get in the car, boys.  Nice to meet you Ben,” and he’s out the door while I stand there with one thought in my head:  God, You work in mysterious ways.

Ben Gets His Shots and is Satisfied

Ben takes our pictures at the boat launch while Courtney backs his King Ranch pickup down the ramp.  I try to say to Ben something like, “So this is how it all works,” but I know it’s bullshit.  I have, Phillip has, we have nothing to do with how this all works out.  It just does.

D’Evereux Mansion

Pretty badass, ain't it?
Pretty badass, ain't it?

Back at the bar, Courney has too many interesting things to say to include in one blog post, but we learn that…

  1. Rednecks are not just Southern; they’re everywhere.  “You take a look at Natchez, you’ll scarcely find a redneck.  They just ain’t here.  Good education here, and we’re 53% black and poor as shit.  Rednecks – shit – L.A.’s full of ‘em.  Redneck is just a socioeconomic mindset limited by I.Q. and opportunity.”  That, my friends, is about the best and most insightful definition of “redneck” that I have ever heard in my life.  Maybe, indeed, I am speaking to God.
  2. “You can be who you want in Natchez.  Hell I have several gay, OPENLY,” he marks, “gay friends in Natchez.  We don’t care.  It’s a liberal town.  You should talk to our local golf pro, Tom, sittin’ right over there…”  Tom, one of the older black men in golf hats, hears us talk about him but deliberately decides not to turn around.  If he is the saint Courtney says he is, he cannot turn around, will not seek the spotlight and indeed stares squarely at the television.  “Tom was here during the sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement.  Hell, he sat in!  My family was friends with his.  My daddy had KKK burned in his front yard just cuz we was friends with black folks.  It was a f—ed up time.  But that’s how it was.  Natchez – settled by Northeners back in the day.  We weren’t like the rest of Mississippi.  Poor as shit ‘cept for a few millionaires who made it big in cotton, but we had culture.  And that’s the big difference.  Rednecks?  No culture.”  I really want to pick Tom’s brain; I want to know what it was like being black in Mississippi in 1962, want to know how he became the golf pro, but it’s time to go.  I go to shake his hand.  “Courtney had tons of nice things to say about you,” I tell him.  “Who?” he asks, and “About me?” he asks, and “Yes” I say, and I know he’s a saint.  But before we go Courtney offers us…
  3. Katrina.  We’re getting ever closer to one of the biggest debacles in U.S. disaster-handling history.  It’s a sore point for everybody.  It’s a political bombshell.  And we’re getting closer and closer to the gaping wound – we’re getting closer to New Orleans.  Courtney offers no politics – he has a personal story to tell:  “I put people up,” he says.  “I own five houses in town, and I don’t like renting ‘em out, but when Katrina hit, shoot, I put tons of people up.  They had nowhere to go.  Clients of mine who I hadn’t talked to in years found me off of an old invoice when their home was destroyed.  Natchez had ‘em in the convention center, kids and all, living on pallets – they had their entire possessions in pillow cases – I found ‘em and put ‘em up in one of my houses.  Couldn’t stop there; had to do something.  Put five more families up.  I mean these weren’t poor folks; these were people with jobs and insurance who lost everything.  Where do they go?  I had to do something.”  Courtney, I think, must be a saint as well. Politics now:  “Yeah, Bush fucked up.  Of course he did.  But so did [now ex] Govenor Blanco and Mayor Nagin.  They had the busses in place to bus people outta there – I mean, shit, 60% of New Orleans doesn’t have a car! – they NEEDED to be bussed out of there – so Bush thinks Blanco’s handling the busses and vice versa and it’s a big f—in’ mess!  Ridiculous.  Bullshit.  It’s just people, man,” Courtney adds at the end.  “I usually vote Republican because I’m fiscally conservative, but you gotta do somethin’ for the people – that’s just a no-brainer.”

Courtney has us back in his King Ranch.  Rain falls and the windows are up.  “This place is a f—in’ mess; I been livin’ out of this thing for weeks,” he says.  “Drove to Fort Worth and back yesterday, meeting with some clients, fourteen hours in the car, yeah,” he says looking at my wide eyes, “I know.”  He swings us by his church.  Presbyterian.

“Scottish, are you?”

“Psst.  No, might as well be, ornery as I am.”  He lights another Marlboro.  “Cookout is done, know you boys had them steaks at the Corner, just wanted you to meet some church folk.  No matter, let’s go to bed.”

The drive to Courtney’s house is long and slow and rainy.  I feel good.  I’m in the arms of a saint, I think.  A saint who drinks and smokes and uses the F word more than I do (can you imagine!) and seems about as interested in us as a dog in its own butt, but through that relaxed exterior offers us room and board and food and pearls of wisdom.

As we pull up on D’Evereux Mansion, I think about Ben.  Damned, Ben.  I guess there is a method to this madness.  But I’ll be damned myself… if I can put it into words.

Stay tuned for Part II,

Ryan

I Can Sleep on Windy Nights

An old story I read as a child told of a farm-hand who promised the farmer when he was hired, “I can sleep on windy nights.” The farmer didn’t understand what he meant until the night of a terrible storm in which the farmer was certain all his hay would be blown away. His new help slept peacefully through the storm while he rushed outside and was instead surprised to find that everything was already secured. When you’re prepared for the storm, you can sleep through it without worry.

Well, it’s been a-stormin’ here in Mississippi. Not a day (or night) goes by it seems without at least an hour of driving wind and rain. But Ryan and I have been remarkably able to sleep at night without worry. Between the both of us we have established a certain level of comfort with the elements.

Just south of Helena, Arkansas, I managed to leave half of my tent poles high on a ridge above the river. I didn’t notice this loss until we camped in near darkness later that night and I had to improvise by propping up the tent with wire ties and my tripod. The reduced ceiling height of this new arrangement felt like sleeping inside a large plastic bag (i.e. very claustrophobic)! A new 8’x9′ tent purchased in Vicksburg restored my standard of living for the final few weeks of the  journey. Ahh, sweet comfort!

Ryan would be very happy if our boats were tied up this high every night.
Ryan would be very happy if our boats were tied up this high every night.

Ryan’s not comfortable at night unless the boats are well above the water line and tied down securely. I’m perfectly happy if they are at least 18 inches above the water, but I let him choose how high we will put the boats up each night. In this case, it’s probably good that he is so concerned because that may save our boats one night when the water actually rises above my level of comfort.

Both of us have succumbed to not worry about the rain anymore. The only essential items which cannot get wet are the camera and laptops. Since these items are always kept wrapped in plastic, protected from the rain, storms can come and go without us ever having to think about these possessions getting destroyed.

MP-00016-C
D'evereux Mansion, Natchez, Mississippi

Other items like the tents, sleeping bags, and pillows are in a constant state of being soaked. “My pillow smells like piss!” is a common complaint ringing out in the night. My sleeping bag is often wet, but fortunately it’s warm regardless of how wet it is. Ryan reminds me nightly to just think of it as a giant warm vagina. Uhh, right…

But tonight we don’t have to worry about rain at all. We’re sleeping at the D’evereux Mansion in Natchez, Mississippi where we are the welcomed guests of the mansion’s owner. There is a large comfortable queen bed in the guest room. I’m on one side of the bed zipped up in my sleeping bag while Ryan propped himself up on tons of pillows on the other side. It’s windy outside, but tonight we’ll sleep just fine.