Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Clarksdale: A Blue Highway Bust

In Clarksdale, Mississippi...

Rant warning:  I really don't consider this a rant but a rather harsh review of a town that has just sort of let itself go; it could do better, in my opinion.

Since I try to maintain a positive outlook on life, it is rare that I encounter a place in our travels in which I can find almost no redeeming qualities.  Such a place is Clarksdale, Mississippi. This woeful hovel of seediness lies about five miles east of the Mississippi River.  It is billed as the home of the blues, and I can understand why!

My penchant for adventure on blue highways (taking roads less traveled) usually results in our discovery of quaint and interesting places that we otherwise may have missed while grinding along the dreaded Interstates. Occasionally, however, among all that quaintness, we run across a town like this--a tasteless amalgam of depression-era buildings with little refurbishment other than sloppy paint jobs. There is obviously no thought of erecting any kind of new structure here for fear the hapless citizens would think an alien spaceship had landed. The streets are rife with asphalt patchwork and seem to meander without a logical pattern except for a theme of planting a stop sign at every corner. Street signs were missing at a number of locations, making our navigation to the RV park unsuccessful on the first try.  There was no signage at all directing travelers to the fairgrounds and the RV park contained therein.  Even the GPS, usually very accurate, was confused.  I finally had to resort to asking directions, something I only do out of desperation, being a guy.

Apparently, tourists like us are few in number but easily recognized as strangers. This was underscored when we finished dinner at Ramon’s, an authentic dive of a restaurant that served remarkably good food. As I was paying the bill, the very elderly woman at the cash register asked, 

“Where you folks from?”
“Fort Worth, Texas,” I said, electing not to mention that she left out a verb and ended her sentence with a preposition. A quizzical frown came over her face.
“What in God’s name are you doing here?”

Surprised at the question, I remained mute, unable to think of a way to explain in less than fifteen minutes where we had been and why we stopped there.  Sandy, on the other hand, had no such limitation, as she is especially gifted in the art of spontaneous verbal communication with strangers. She will gleefully engage in a conversation with anyone, unfettered by any perceived constraint of time or adherence to just one subject. (I think that’s why everyone likes her better.)  Anyway, Sandy launched into the saga of Phannie’s stay in Red Bay while the old lady looked on with the same blank stare she would have had if Sandy were lecturing about astrophysics. At the end of Sandy’s soliloquy, the old woman asked sweetly,

“So you’ve pulled your trailer all this way?”
About this time, an elderly gentleman, having overheard the conversation, strode from the kitchen and clarified,

“It’s the kind of trailer that people drive, Bertie.”  
She smiled, giving no visible hint that she had any idea what we were talking about. I was pretty sure she had never seen a motorhome in her life.

Our overnight parking spot was in the parking lot of the fairgrounds and overgrown with weeds in many places, where the city had installed, apparently with overdone expectations of tourists, perhaps a hundred RV hookups, most of which had electricity and water and some with sewer.  There was no attendant--just a drop box where you were supposed to drop fifteen dollars on the honor system. The few full hookup spots were occupied mostly by a much older and ragged smattering of towable RVs in various states of decline and disrepair. The occupants of these rigs were obviously long-timers for whom the next step downward would be in a tent or under a bridge. There were no motorhomes among them, and the effect of Phannie’s arrival on the scene was probably not much different from what it would be like for Air Force One to land in downtown Pascagoula, judging from the stares we got.  I don't think they had many transients that could find the place. We finally located a 50-amp hookup some distance from the other residents and parked, surprised somewhat that the water and electricity actually worked.  Then we went to dinner, but not without locking all of the baggage doors in addition to Phannie’s cabin door.  Also, my friends, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, were close at hand.  Why did we elect to stay there, you may ask?  Well, it was late, and choices were few in Clarksdale.

A word about Ramon’s Restaurant:  I found this little dive on Yelp, and it turned out to be a winner. In a rough neighborhood (indistinguishable in Clarksdale from an upscale neighborhood), this restaurant has been turning out wonderful home-cooked food since 1945--finally, something positive!  We had an old favorite, fried catfish and hush puppies, and we ate every morsel.

Ramon's in Clarksdale - Yum!
I'm sure the people here are very nice folks, as exemplified by those we met at Ramon's, but they really could do a better job of taking pride in their town; I hope they will, at some point.


  1. Yesterday, we drove straight through a town just like that in Wyoming. All they had for blocks was porn stores, taverns and liquor stores. Oh yes, they had a town that probably had, at one time, been thriving and full of history. I believe that interstates are the cause of the demise of many towns. It is a shame..

    1. of Rock Springs are like that now, something to do with all the oil and gas guys living in trailers because there is no more housing.

  2. Whew! That was fun!! actually, it really was. So many times we are all writing glowing stories about glowing places and now and then when something creepy shows up those stories get downplayed. I think I have had a creepy or two, but not as good as this one. thanks!!

  3. Got behind on blog reading. We've stayed in a few places like that. I've made sure they are on my do not go back there list.


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