Biloxi - Pressey`s Pieces

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Biloxi - Pressey`s Pieces
Biloxi After ten years of pouring money into our little grain farm, the Red Bandana, our books showed an unexpected surplus. We spent it immediately on a brand new 1985 GMC Wrangler half-­‐ton. A trip from Winnipeg to New Orleans would suffice, we thought, to find out whether our new toy was a good deal. So, in late November, we took off to explore the Deep South. As we transitioned from the Prairies to the Ozarks we started to appreciate that life in these parts was a bit different from what we were used to. But our first, really distinctive, impression of the South happened in Baton Rouge where, after booking into a motel, we went to relax at a nearby pub. The place was in an uproar. Several young men, beer in hand, were whooping it up as they surveyed a huge container filled with what, to us, was a strange mass of little red creatures. The owner, noticing our bemused looks, shuffled over and explained. “It’s the first day of crawfish season and we haven’t tasted fresh crawfish for along time.” “Well, if you have some for sale we’ll join the festivities,” we replied, “but you’ll have to tell us how they are eaten.” A young celebrant, apparently overhearing us, waved and hollered, “Oh it’s easy—just watch” at which point he stuffed three or four of those critters, shells and all, into his mouth and crunched vigorously. Then, without hesitation, he washed it all down with the beer that remained in his bottle. To complete his performance, he calmly placed the empty on the bar, turned toward us and smiled. Had he bowed, we probably would have applauded but we were too dumbfounded to think of an appropriate response. **** New Orleans was all that we had imagined it to be. We had booked a stay at the Cornstalk Hotel in the French quarter. The hotel, it turned out, was once a grand home—nearly two hundred years old—that had been converted into suites. The cornstalk fence that fronted the building lived up to its boast and we stopped often to admire its intricate design. The lady who ran the hotel provided us with our first experience of Southern hospitality. She showed us to our room and lovingly pointed to several pieces of antique furniture and the huge feather comforter on the bed. But before departing, she invited us to park our shiny new truck in the yard because “it isn’t, you know, all that safe out there.” We did all the tourist things at a pace that much too exhausting. We dined at the Court of Two Sisters, were entranced by the acrobatic skills of the street dancers, were captivated by jazz at Preservation Hall, viewed the City from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, and meandered through one of the famous New Orleans cemeteries. **** We needed to slow down so we decided on a trip to Biloxi. Why Biloxi? Because, for me the name had taken on a magic quality when, as a toddler, I had watched (or imagined?) a minstrel show performing in our village. Black faced performers sang and danced to loud music on a brightly lit street in front of the local hotel. And the word “Biloxi” was on everyone’s lips. We took the smaller road out of the city—one that hugged the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The bayous quickly became uninspiring but the occasional dwelling was so different that we would stop to get a closer look. Home was a hybrid shack built with the rear anchored upon solid ground but with the front protruding over the water and perched on hefty wooden poles. A veranda provided shade as needed but a spacious deck left room for an old stuffed rocker, for some fishing gear, and for one or two hooters to stretch out fully as they lazed in the sun. If one yearned for a rustic paradise, this was it! **** If I had imagined that, upon arriving in Biloxi, we would be engulfed in joyous merriment, I was mistaken. The place was dead! There was not a black person to be seen and certainly there were no banjo-­‐strumming minstrels to greet us. Still, all was not lost. We shed our shoes and started to stroll on the beach. Within minutes, we heard someone call to us. We turned and saw a TV cameraman running to catch up. He was excited. “How are you? Where are you from? And would you mind if I filmed you? I’m from the local news channel and I need a clip for tonight’s show!” We were from Winnipeg, in Canada, we told him and watched as he became more excited. No, he didn’t know where Winnipeg was but the West Edmonton Mall had just opened and he was bound to go there as soon as he could afford the trip. Of, course, after such an assertion, only a cad would turn down his request. So, we screwed up our courage and forced our middle-­‐aged bodies to cavort in the sand and send whatever message he needed to convey. During idle moments, I wonder whether those TV signals ever escaped their earthly bonds. Are they still hurtling into endless space and time and, if so, is there a better way to be immortalized? Left: Scrawling the sand message “Winnipeg, Yay!” Right: Cavorting. Not the same beach but you get the idea Alexander Pressey, May 2013