Posts Tagged With: the South

Louisiana Americana

Today, we were in Northern Louisiana to see some Americana.

Our first stop was West Monroe – Duck Commander country. I expected a really small, sleepy town. West Monroe and neighboring Monroe together make a pretty good sized city that is far from sleepy. West Monroe has a population of about 13,000. Across the Ouachita River to the east is Monroe, which has a population of about 49,000 people. These two little towns feel like one town to me. For my fellow Californians, population wise, these two towns combined have a few thousand less people than our home town of Redondo Beach.

Duck Commander Headquarters!

Duck Commander Headquarters!

For a Monday morning in January, I was surprised to see so many people here. Lots of cars, and a real cross section of people. Everybody was taking pictures of the building and the infamous motor home where Uncle Si served up his Vietnam Beans! The building looked somewhat smaller than I expected, but once we got inside, it felt pretty large. None of the TV characters were present when we were there. I wonder if they ever come out and make an appearance?

Duck Commander Store

Duck Commander Store

We bought a few items, including one of the cheaper duck calls. It was great fun. Judging by how many people were in there buying things, I suspect that the Robertson clan makes a pretty good amount of money off of this place.

Heres the Motorhome. I was temped to try to peer in the windows, but didn’t want to get that close.

Duck Commander Mobile Unit!

Duck Commander Mobile Unit!

There were people working on the shipping dock nearby, behind a sign that said “Employees Only.” I think they must shoot the actual show on the other side of the building, as I don’t remember seeing the store entrance before. Who knows – they might have the building set up as a sound stage somewhere.

It was fun making a visit here. I’d recommend it to Duck Dynasty fans.

Now we turn to a little darker piece of Americana.

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I have always been interested in the dark underside of American history. The crime wave of the early 1930s is one of my favorite periods, and I’ve read quite a lot about John Dillinger, the Barker/Karpis Gang, Pretty Boy Floyd, and others of that time.

Then there was Barrow Gang. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. As with many others in my generation, the 1967 film about Bonnie and Clyde really captured my imagination. I was in 7th grade when I saw it. This movie created quite a sensation at the time, which is kind of funny when you contrast it to the “flower power” movement going on at the same time.

After the movie became a hit, new books on Bonnie and Clyde with movie stills on the cover started showing up, and the older books about them in libraries became pretty hard to get – a waiting list to check them out was the norm.

Most of what I read about Bonnie and Clyde was from the older books, published long before the hysteria. The best of these was a book about Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who was instrumental in taking them down. This was the first time in my young life when I realized that historical movies coming out of Hollywood rarely tell the whole truth.

The real Bonnie and Clyde

The real Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde were not romantic, misunderstood people, as the 1967 movie and the 2013 miniseries suggest. They weren’t “Robin Hoods” either. They were very dark hearted, cold blooded killers.

One cannot make a case for them being good at what they did, either. Compared to John Dillinger, who carefully cased banks, planned well, pulled off fairly complex jobs, and rarely killed anybody, Bonnie and Clyde were pikers. The Barrow Gang rarely robbed banks. More often than not, they knocked over gas stations and grocery stores, hauling in amounts that were generally $100 or less. They were good at killing people, though, racking up about 14 murders in their brief career. Most of the victims were police officers.

Many people in the 1930s cheered on the desperadoes like John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, because they were widely perceived as being decent people forced into breaking the law by the depression. Not so with Bonnie and Clyde…..people knew they were dangerous psychopaths who would kill innocent people at the drop of a hat. My Grandfather told me a little about them after I raved about the 1967 movie in front of him. The Barrow Gang ran a rampage through Iowa, and the people living there at the time, including my Grandfather, were scared to death of them. Buck Barrow was killed near Dexter, Iowa in 1933, in a big shootout that also left Bonnie, Clyde, and W.D. Jones wounded.

After I learned all of this, was I still interested in Bonnie and Clyde? Yes, more than ever. Part of the reason for that was the fascinating accounts of their crime careers and the hunt to capture them that I read in the older books. This really gave me a feel for what Depression-era America was like. Another part was the pictures – those taken by the gang and lost in one of the shootouts, and other pictures that have showed up in books over the years. The pictures the gang took are very famous and can be seen in books and all over the internet. The infamous “cigar” shot of Bonnie is part of this group of pictures. These pictures are a window into a time which is now long gone.

Gibsland is a small town just south of I-20 on old Hwy 154. I don’t know if it was ever much of a town, but today there isn’t much there. There is one small street (Main St, of course) that has a handful of buildings on either side, plus a couple of ruined buildings.

Formerly Canefield's Cafe

Formerly Canefield’s Cafe

Bonnie and Clyde ate their last meal at Canefield’s Cafe. The building still exists today. It houses the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, which is run by L.J. “Boots” Hinton. Boots is the son of Ted Hinton, one of the officers that participated in the ambush. The museum is definitely worth a visit. Boots Hinton is a really interesting guy. He LOVES to talk, and will answer any questions you might have. After paying the fee, he takes you through a door into a simple theater, and puts on a DVD about the Barrow Gang. The first part of the DVD is a short modern film, with lots of good info. The second part is an old film (I would guess 1930s) about Bonnie and Clyde. I’ve seen parts of the old film before, but never the whole thing. It was worth watching.

After the DVD, you are free to browse through the museum, which has lots of interesting stuff. Pictures, newspaper clippings, items taken from the “death car”, and pieces of memorabilia from other incidents in the career of the Barrow Gang. I would say 45 minutes to an hour is a good amount of time to spend in there.

The actual death scene is south about 8 miles on Hwy 154. It’s a spot with a gravel turnout on each side of the road. Watch for the sign that says “Historic Marker, 1 mile” – it lets you know you are getting close.

Bonnie and Clyde Marker

Bonnie and Clyde Marker

The marker is very badly damaged. The edges are all chipped away, the victim of souvenir collectors over the years. There are also bullet marks. I’m wondering how the shooters enjoyed the ricochets that must have happened when they blasted away at this thick piece of stone. The wood framing on the lower right side of the picture is for the new marker, which is under construction. I think they need to make it out of something stronger than stone.

Driving down the road from Gibsland to this site is an experience in itself. It’s kind of eerie. The feel is completely different from the interstates we’ve been traveling most of the time. It’s narrow, and it makes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. The vibe wants to slip into the 1930s……until a 2008 Silverado cruises by.

I expected the death site to feel sad. It didn’t to me…..I’m sitting here wondering why. Perhaps it’s because I know that these people aren’t really worthy of mourning, even if we are fascinated by them.

Tomorrow it’s off to the Texas Hill Country.

Categories: Life on the Road | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vicksburg by car

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Laura and I did a driving tour of Vicksburg today.

We started out driving around in the downtown area.

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There were many very interesting old buildings, some from before the Civil War, and many that appeared to be replacements for buildings that were destroyed in the Siege of Vicksburg. These were still very old – circa the late 1860s to the 1880s. It would be very charming, but unfortunately many of the old buildings are really run down. Some are so badly dilapidated that they look unsafe. Others just need a little paint and clean up. Very few buildings looked like they are getting the love they deserve. This was very sad to us. The downtown area has a dying feel to it, except for one or two streets. Many of the houses had For Sale signs on them.

There were some jewels there, though. Look at this old theater:

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Hopefully, some people will come along and spend some money on the town.

After the downtown tour, it was a short drive up Clay Street to the Vicksburg National Military Park. This is a huge park, with many displays and monuments. Coming to Vicksburg is worthwhile just to see this park.

The park has a Visitor’s Center and Museum, but most of our time was spent on the “driving tour” which snakes around a large battlefield. There are markers everywhere, and monuments to fallen soldiers put in place by states that took part in the battle. Illinois has the largest of these memorials, but many states have built very nice monuments here, including the home state of Mississippi. Here is the Illinois memorial:

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Another great feature of this park is the USS Cairo. This is a partial reconstruction of an Ironclad that was found in the Yazoo River in the 1950s. It is the only partially surviving Ironclad that we have. There are pieces of the real boat held together by a modern skeleton, so you get the feel for how large this ship was, and get to see many of the real parts of it. It appears that most of the boiler and piston assemblies survived, as well as the framework for the paddle wheel, and various other pieces. I’ve really got to hand it to the National Parks Service for making this happen. Here are a few photos:
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Finally, there is the Union cemetery. It’s difficult to walk around in this section, but you can drive through it. Here is one picture, but it doesn’t do the scale justice. There are thousands of graves here. The casualties weren’t all that huge by Civil War standards, but due to the surrender of 29, 495 Confederate soldiers, this battle took a lot of men out of the conflict, and was the turning point for the war. It cut the Confederacy in half, and gave control of the Mississippi river to the Union.

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Well, that does it for Vicksburg. Check it out some time!

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Car Trip Part 2 – On the road to Gibsland

imageLaura and I have somewhat of a love affair going on with the south.

I’ve never lived down here, but Laura has, much earlier in her life. I know the south only from trips, so far. I would be reluctant to relocate here for a number of reasons, but I always feel more comfortable here than anywhere else I’ve been.

The first focus of this trip was to get back to Florida to see Laura’s father Bob and his wife Marion. The trip from Southern California to central Florida took about 4 1/2 days. We took very little time to look around on the way. We spent about 4 1/2 days in The Villages, where Bob and Marion live. This is a very nice “golf cart” community for seniors that covers three counties. It’s the largest community of it’s type in America.

Central Florida is nice. It’s the south, but if feels more like California to me. That could be because Florida, like California, is a giant melting pot. People from all over the country make a decision to leave their colder climates behind and move south to Florida or west to California. You know you are in the south, because of the spanish moss hanging from the tree branches, blowing in the gentle wind. The humidity is another tip off. Even when the temperatures aren’t that high, there is a softness to the air, and doing even small tasks tends to make you work up a sweat.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Florida and the rest of the South is the people. There are people from New England, the Mid Atlantic, and the Upper Midwest in large numbers. You can tell by the accents, and also by the behavior, which is not always like the “southern hospitality” that you find in Georgia or Louisiana or Mississippi or South Carolina.  I won’t go into that issue here, as Laura has already covered it.

Laura and I had a nice time in the Central Florida area, all things considered. It was great to see Bob and Marion. We got a pretty good tour of the area, and also got to tour a foundry that Bob has been doing business with for quite a few years. He is a contractor, and has been building out their facilities. I sensed a lot of love and respect between Bob and the people who run this business, and they were very nice to Laura and I, giving us one of the best factory tours I’ve ever been on (and I’ve been on a lot while working at Boeing).

Now we are back on the road, heading to Northern Louisiana. Why? Old and new Americana. We will go through West Monroe, which should ring a bell with all of you Duck Dynasty fans out there. Then it’s on to Gibsland, to visit the Bonnie and Clyde Museum. The spot where they met their end is on Hwy 154, about 8 miles south of the town. There is a marker at the spot which, from the look of the pictures I’ve seen, is about as shot up as Bonnie and Clyde were. Trip Advisor has a lot of good forum posts on this area….apparently the roads up there, especially Hwy 154, are very much like they were in the 1930s, making the area somewhat of a time capsule. I’ll let you know if it’s as interesting and charming as it sounds.

Today we are in Vicksburg, Mississippi. We decided to stay here a couple of days, and will be exploring some historic Civil War areas. We will also spend some time in the old downtown area, and in the casino.

More to come……

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The Friendliest Place?

the villages
We’ve just spent a week in The Villages, Florida visiting my dad and his wife, Marian.  They bill themselves as “Florida’s Friendliest Retirement Hometown” and with the disclaimer that they only refer to their fine state and not the other 49, I give you these items:

  • After patiently waiting for a handicapped space to open up, a woman cut off my dad and grabbed it.  My dad walks slowly with a cane and the woman who blithely cut him off moved pretty quickly with no assistance;
  • A very cranky old guy with a distinct New Jersey accent told my husband, “Hey pal, why don’t you walk your dog on your own street?”.  This was said a few mornings ago and might I add, there are plenty of dogs around The Villages;
  • When Marian used a handicapped space in a restroom she was chastised by a woman with a cane and told “you’re not handicapped – I’m going to report you.”  Marian has pretty severe arthritis and qualifies for a handicapped placard, but no, she doesn’t need a cane.

Friendly, huh?

Okay, before you jump on me that there are sour folks everywhere, I know.  And elderly folks are not more sour than younger folks.  But there is something that my dad alluded to and that is a fair number of folks in retirement communities have switched from a “we” orientation to a “me” orientation.

It makes sense – all of their lives they’ve been doing a lot for others – their own parents, their children and spouses and now they are living primarily for themselves.  We went to a financial seminar/luncheon and the presenter said that many more of his clients are deciding to not leave money to their kids, reasoning that they paid for college, grad school and the purchase of a first home and this is . . . enough.

Again, it makes logical sense.  Nobody should be expecting an inheritance to get to the next step in their own lives.  I know people who have done that, and one in particular used to fight with the trustee’s of her dad’s trust for money just to pay her rent.  What?  C’mon, girl, get and keep a job.

But the Me orientation often ends up as a “Me FIRST” orientation and is on display there at The Villages.

One of the cutesy symbols of The Villages is the golf cart – I think to be fair, they should also have a symbol showing a poor shnook being run over by a golf cart – just to put everybody on notice.

Yep – the Friendliest Hometown.

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Categories: Life on the Road | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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