US Road Trip Travelog: 2nd March 2005

Probably the shortest drive so far - 6 miles down the I-55 to a Quality Inn near the centre of Jackson. Even though I'm there well before check-in time they find me a room and I can set off for the city. On foot, of course, which causes the receptionist to look at me as if I'm mad when I ask for directions. I'm beginning to think that there are only certain people who walk anywhere (outside the immediate city centres, or on marked trails) in the US:

  1. Very poor people.

  2. The certifiably insane.

  3. Carjackers.

  4. Crazy Brit tourists.

As most people have little experience of the last category, and I don't think I look like the first, I tend to get treated like one of the middle two. I have noticed, not only here in Jackson but back in Memphis, cars hanging well back from the junction - or even jumping the lights - if I'm standing at an intersection waiting to cross. The Police cars also tend to slow down for a look on occasion. It's all a bit strange to me.

The part of Jackson I'm heading for is Farish Street. The guide book I've been using for Highway 61 is called The Blues Highway by Richard Knight. My copy is a few years old - I told you I've been planning this journey a while - but it's served me fairly well so far.

Farish Street
Farish Street, Jackson. One of the buildings on the left is where Elmore James recorded 'Dust My Broom'.

Oh dear. I think the picture tells the story. Farish Street has been preserved in some ways - note the flags and the new sidewalks - but, apart from a few places selling fried fish, it's all boarded-up. Even the highly-recommended blues museum mentioned in the book has gone, and the phone disconnected. There's hardly anyone around and certainly no music. I think I was probably expecting another Beale St or Broadway and this certainly isn't it.

Some years ago I made a pilgrimage to 2120 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago (former home of the Chess label, and also where the Stones recorded some great stuff in the mid-60's). 2120 was derelict, though still standing, and I wondered what would happen to it. Now I understand it's been saved and is being converted into a museum of some sort. Maybe the same will happen here one day.

Nothing for it then but to head for the centre of the city to see what's going on there.

Derelict businesses in Jackson
Derelict businesses near the centre of Jackson.

Jackson is one of the strangest cities I think I've ever walked round, and I'm a big fan of walking around cities. There are - almost next door to each other - dilapidated houses that are still inhabited, vacant lots, restored southern mansions used as offices, and skyscrapers. I didn't think it right to take a photo of someone's house but maybe the photo above will give some idea.

The city centre is just as weird. There's no-one here. The sidewalks are empty and there are very few cars, and no taxis. The only signs of life are the groups of people huddled outside the skyscrapers - almost all government or financial institutions - smoking cigarettes. Apart from the skyscrapers and the restored mansions (mainly legal firms) there are almost no other businesses. No shops, no sidewalk vendors, no cafes, no bars, no restaurants, nothing. It's like a bizarre film set where they left a big bit of the city out. Jackson is the state capital, which explains the skyscrapers and the blood-sucking lawyers but doesn't explain why the place is so completely devoid of life.

In desperation I go into the State Museum. The woman on reception greets me like a long-lost friend and proceeds to tell me, for at least 20 minutes, absolutely everything she knows about the building itself ("It was designed by an Englishman!", as if that'll make me like it more) and the exhibits. I just wanted a quick wander around. The museum itself is fairly interesting but I know by now that Jackson is a complete bust. This is the disadvantage, of course, of a planned route and pre-booking motels - I can't just head off to somewhere more interesting.

When in doubt go for a long walk. Easier said than done, of course, but I choose a mall somewhere on the outskirts and a circular route to bring me back to the city centre. Suitably tired, after a few hours of sidewalks that just end for no reason and dodging traffic on intersections with no pedestrian signals, I find Hal and Mals back in the centre, a restaurant and live music venue. The food is ok - rice, beans and spicy sausage - but the artist playing that night is some folky singer-songwriter who had a minor hit some years ago and has done nothing since (I borrowed the hotel's computer to look him up on the internet a bit later) called Edwin McCain. I think I'd rather practice dentistry on myself. Back to the motel room, then, to listen to some music on my CD player and rest my aching legs.

US Road Trip Travelog: 3rd March 2005 >