Jan 5-6 From Natchez, MS to Gainesville, TX
Driving through Mississippi and northern Louisiana, we were struck by the economic hardship and lack of public services in Scotlandville, Sugartown and other small rural communities. They seemed to have only God to get them through. Every half mile, next to collapsing wooden shacks and trailer homes, there was another Baptist church with a tiny cemetery. “Seventh Day Sabbath OBEY GOD’S LAW” warned a billboard. Boo Paul’s Assembly Building stood tall as an impressive outpost of the Calvary Missionary Ministry in the middle of Louisiana’s rural oil and gas fields.
On the radio, everyone was talking about Jesus. White church elders debated different ways to avoid sin if you had unnatural (homosexual) feelings. “He rose spiritually and gendered!” insisted one man. On a black Gospel radio show in Jena, Louisiana, the preacher said “I’m going to keep trusting God despite contradictory circumstances.” He invited everyone to meet down at the church this Saturday, to participate in a NAACP voter registration drive. “The only way you can make changes is at the ballot box,” he said.
It was hunting season, and we met burly men in full camouflage gear, driving their muddy all-terrain vehicles and trucks into roadside gas stations with next-door cafes. “Deer and duck processing” shacks offer their services with hand-lettered signs. The Butt Hot BBQ looked like a popular spot, featuring a giant homemade billboard of a pig with flames coming out of his rear end. We passed the Concordia Pawn and Gun shop and the Sunflower Baptist Church. Acres of of cotton fields were barren for winter, but there were posted notices offering “We Buy Pecans,” and “Crawfish” with a phone number to call. Catahoula, LA showed a certain pride, or was it stubbornness? with two barbershops along its short main street.
Sleek megachurches lined the road as we crossed over into Texas at 1:40 p.m. We found lunch at Jim’s BBQ and Catfish place, with fabulous pulled pork sandwiches, peach cobbler, triple-sized ice teas, and hunting trophies on the walls. The temperature was finally thawing out, climbing to 57 and then 62 degrees!
As we continued north toward our B&B in Gainesville, the car wreck billboards were getting more insistent. “When Everyone Forgets How to Drive, We Won’t Let You Down,” promised State Farm Insurance. ““In a Jam? Call Sam,” said another huge sign. Our favorite simply stated in gigantic letters, “Blessed are Those who Mourn,” with a Bible verse citation and an attorney’s phone number.
We finally understood what all this was about, at around 5:30 p.m., driving through the gigantic ring road outside Dallas. I was minding my own business, driving in the far right lane of a congested eight-lane divided highway, where everyone else was zipping around, changing lanes with a gotta-get-home-NOW–for-dinner intensity. Our northbound side of the highway was moving pretty fast, but the southbound lanes were crawling at a near standstill. All of a sudden, in the breakdown lane to our immediate right, a big black car came whizzing right toward us, at a high rate of speed. He was using our northbound breakdown lane as his route south! We stayed on course and managed to avoid a head-on collision, but it was a bit of a nerve-tingler that we weren’t going to forget anytime soon. It was actually the second time on this trip that we were nearly erased by another driver. In Tennessee on Dec. 30, huge trucks were racing to Nashville meet their end-of-the year deadline. We were passing a huge semi-trailer at about 75 miles an hour, when he decided to move into our lane. I was able to keep driving on the shoulder, hitting the brakes hard to pull behind him.
This cross-country trip was not for the faint of heart. The long haul driving days like this one from Natchez to Gainesville required a 100% cold-blooded focus on what was directly in front of us, without regard to the past, the future, or the charms along the countryside.