Background Music: "Peace in Mississippi" by Jimi Hendrix
     An ironic title for such a heavy song.  It's as if Jimi was playing to the realities he was witnessing (many of which are, unfortunately, still present today) while expressing his wish for peace in the title.
     Also odd timing as Buddy Miles (drummer for Hendrix's Band of Gypsies) passed away this week, rest in peace Buddy!

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Gee, I’d sure love to go to Jackson, Mississippi.” Probably not. It’s understandable. It’s not a big tourist destination. Our main objective in coming here was to visit the capital and largest city of Mississippi, and see for ourselves what Mississippi is like. So what impressions did we come away with? Well, maybe we should start with a little disclaimer. The truth is, this is our least favorite state so far, but favorites are very personal things. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone, or sway someone from coming here- if they really really wanted to. Our lack of enthusiasm for this stop is based on our own experiences. Experience is, in general, formed by circumstance and attitude. Maybe your circumstances and attitude will be different and you’ll think this is the greatest place ever. Anything is possible.

We started with a pretty good attitude- not expecting too much, or not really knowing what to expect. We didn’t think there would be much in the way of entertainment for tourists. Jackson is, after all, relatively small with a population roughly around 184,000. We’ve been to several places like this, though, and have always found things to do or just enjoy the down time- so that’s fine. What we didn’t expect to find, but encountered right away, was a weird “danger” vibe that threatened to change our good attitude to one tinged with paranoia.

It started with the rest area. A couple of miles into Mississippi we saw a sign that said, “Rest Area, Security Provided.” Well, okay, that’s nice because rest areas are always a little shady, but the advertisement was a little different. So was the big security guard post outside the bathrooms- full scale enclosed gazebo with surround windows, complete with armed guard there to serve and protect. We never actually saw him come out of his little gazebo. So does he do a regular patrol or what? “This is Bob to base, we have a no-flusher in stall 3, repeat, a no-flusher.” It just seemed a little odd to us.

We stayed and ate our sack lunch without incident and drove on to our campsite at the LeFleur Bluff State Park. We stopped at the entrance to the park, our way barred by the metal gate and a “campground closed” sign. The security guard opened his little window and hollered out at us, “campground’s closed.” He was about to dismiss us and close his window when we told him we’d made reservations and they were accepted. “There’s been flooding”, he said and stared at us. We stared back. Finally he said, “Okay, well, let me call up there then.” We gave him our name, and he confirmed with someone on the phone that what we’d said was true. “What site are you in?” he asked us. We looked at our e-mail confirmation and told him, “It says site 17”. “Well, you’re in site 15”, he barked at us. Okay, 15, 17, whatever- as long as we didn’t have to try and turn this thing around. We felt like we were being granted entrance into Oz. “You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked. No. “So, when you want to leave the campground, turn right. There’s a WalMart down there, some nice restaurants, stuff like that. Don’t go left. That’s Jackson. You don’t want to go there.” He didn’t explain himself, but instead ended with, “Oh, and if you cross the bridge into Flowood, make sure you go 50 or you will get a ticket.” He said this last part with a smile and then shut his little window, leaving us to open the padlock and metal gate into the park for ourselves. Over the next few days the gates were open, but the “campground closed” sign stayed up the whole time. We never did see any evidence of flooding.

That started our attitude adjustment. The security guard, the almost adamant instruction that we not go into Jackson. Nothing huge in and of itself, but things add up. Over the next few days it was another armed guard at the Cracker Barrell, a person who checks receipts and grocery bags at the WalMart before you can leave, “Don’t Trust Anyone” bumper stickers, and the ever present Confederate Battle symbol on the state flag and statues to “Our Confederate Mothers” that added to our unease. Add to that, two mornings in a row when the local news announced overnight officer involved fatal shootings- both stories questioning the necessity of force- and knowledge that this city is known for a history of racial tension. In the history museums we visited, the Civil Rights Movement and Civil War Confederate history weren’t even mentioned. It wasn’t until we did some on-line research that we even knew how much of that history was made here, and about the violent events that took place.

Needless to say, we left Jackson a little more paranoid than when we got there. Our next stop in Mississippi was Meridian- a couple of hours east. Once we got there, we felt the tension die down. We enjoyed our first night, glad to be in a rural area. We weren’t even bothered by the train that went by at all hours of the night, blaring its horn and so close that we could actually feel it rumble across the tracks. No, that didn’t bother us. Our second day, though, our peace was again interrupted when we stopped at Sonic and witnessed a fight between a homeless man wielding a metal chair and two high school age boys, five feet in front of our truck. So, the tension followed us a bit- we’re hoping we leave it behind when we set out for Alabama.

No, this hasn’t been our favorite state so far. But, it’s been an experience. Maybe someday we’ll visit other parts of Mississippi, and we’ll like them better. We’ll do our best to keep our minds open, and our attitudes on the positive side.

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