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Plucky 2006

About The Trip

Day 1
New Orleans to Natchitoches

Day 2
Natchitoches to Hot Springs

Day 3
Hot Springs to Branson

Day 4
Branson to Little Rock

Day 5
Little Rock to Memphis

Day 6
Memphis to Tupelo

Day 7
Tupelo to Birmingham

Day 8
Birmingham to Montgomery

Day 9
Montgomery to New Orleans

overview | accommodations | journal
September 1, 2006: Day One Overview
Start: New Orleans, Louisiana
Click Image For Full Size
End: Natchitoches, Louisiana
Miles Traveled: 295
  • Britney Spears Museum; Kentwood, Louisiana
  • Delta Music Museum; Ferriday, Louisiana
  • Cane River Zydeco Festival; Natchitoches, Louisiana
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    Natchitoches Accommodations
    The Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast
    125 Pine St.
    Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457
    Maison Louisiane
    332 Jefferson St.
    Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457
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    Daily Journal
    Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnddddddd…..we’re off!

    Believe it or not, we actually left pretty much exactly at the scheduled departure time of 8:30am. Oh, yes; Rick has it all plotted out in the Big Book O’ Fun, complete with detailed maps, car games, CD lists, and more, more, more! Why so early? Well, we had to be there right at the doors of the Britney Spears Museum in Kentwood as it opened, don’t you know.

    The drive out of New Orleans is both a humbling and exciting one, a city still damaged in so many ways but obviously deep in the rebirthing process. Everywhere you look are signs that big things are happening, slower than it should be of course, but happening nevertheless.

    Mary & Rick outside Mary's New Orleans house next to the PluckyMobile
    If we haven’t stressed it enough, you need to come to New Orleans for a vacation and soon, not only because the bulk of the tourist areas that you’ll see are just fine now (thank you very much) and you can have a typically wonderful Big Easy time of it but because it’s a great way to support the city.

    Mmmm, Pie

      Anyway, armed with our local favorites Hubriq’s pies and some powdered donuts, we hit the road and aimed the PluckyMobile toward Kentwood, Louisiana, just off Interstate 55 near the Mississippi border.

      Kentwood is more than a wide spot in the road but not much more, with an uncomfortable mix of new (fast food drive-through or three) and old (much of the main street area appeared abandoned.

    Located a block or two from those mostly empty storefronts sits the Kentwood Museum, an impressive opening to our journey though Kitsch and Introspection Land. Turns out the Museum is not dedicated to their home town heroine exclusively, though three rooms and counting are devoted to ephemera from her busy life. There is an entire room detailing all local military involvement, plus a few shelves of unlabeled antiques. But you don’t care about that. You care about local girl made good.
    Home of the Britney Spears Museum

    A little old lady, somewhat hard of hearing, but full of local pride for her establishment, let us in, and had us pause in a darkened room while she explained that the first thing we would see was an exact replica, in miniature, of Brit’s stage set up for her HBO concert special a few years ago. The whole thing was done by a fan over the course of six months and comes complete with working lights, music, and a doll in the center of it “on loan” from someone else’s collection. When he was done with it he looked at it and said “What am I going to do with this?” and donated it to the museum.

    Past this physical manifestation of the concept “Too Much Time On One’s Hands” are cases full of photos, magazine covers, random awards (some trophy from MTV probably being the most noteworthy), platinum records, and the like. There’s nothing here that you can’t probably see a photo of on a random Britney Spears fansite but seeing it all in several rooms, piling up on itself like an Ebay logjam was fascinating.

    Then the kitsch value fades away and the whole thing turns suddenly and unexpectedly poignant in the last room – a recreation of Britney’s childhood bedroom complete with her bedroom set and a framed photo of a still innocent-appearing Justin Timberlake. Seeing this average teen girl’s bedroom with the stuffed animals and dolls made us look back at the photos of her through her short life and career, seeing how she has somehow gone from this fresh faced girl full of possibilities to the much-mocked, haggard, pudgy tabloid figure of late.

    Consider that right outside is a small town most notable for its quick access to a freeway that can take you somewhere bigger and better and suddenly you see someone who has achieved a dream of success and escape, and at the same time someone who has been nearly absolutely corrupted (which we do not mean in a moral sense, but in terms of identity) by where she went.

    Yes, we got philosophical at the Britney Spears Museum. Who knew?

    By the way, the town elders won't allow photographs to be taken inside the museum, which totally ruined our road trip scavenger hunt item of a photo of one of us next to a lifesize cutout of a famous person. They cost us 25 points!

    Mary, excited about the whole Mississippi thing
      Our hostess gave us explicit directions both to Britney’s childhood home (and favorite burger joint) and her current residence, where her mom and sister also live, but despite their clarity they bore absolutely no relation to the town itself. This either says something about her directions or proves that if we ever did make it on “The Amazing Race,” we would be hopelessly lost within the first ten minutes.

      We finally shrugged and returned to our planned route, which took us to into Mississippi, a first for Mary and Rick.

    We cut across the southwestern portion of the state to Natchez for lunch at Mammy’s Cupboard. This was pure roadside attraction as advertised, a three story tall replica of a classic Mammy figure, although speaking of figures, she was much more lithe than Hattie McDaniel. There was a line to the door, and the menu that promised daily specials and “gourmet” sandwiches on homemade bread was not exactly what we were looking for as a start to our story of What We Ate During Plucky Survivors. As we have said, our mantra has been “The first cheeseburger will taste like freedom.” Rueben sandwiches and chicken pot pie don’t taste like freedom; chicken pot pie tastes like chicken.

    So we headed back to town, figuring we would ask the people at Cora’s Cake in a Jar, our next stop, for suggestions for barbeque or good burgers, when Mary spotted a ramshackle drive-thru donut shop (three of our favorite things!) and Rick proved his Dukes of Hazard driving skills by turning on a dime even without the aid of a confederate flag painted on the roof or Jessica Simpson sitting on someone’s lap.

    Mammy's Cupboard

    We bought two hot glazed at the appropriately named Donut Shop (501 John R. Junkin Dr., Natchez, MS; 601-442-2317) when Mary spotted a chocolate log and asked “What’s that?” to which the lovely counter girl said “We fill those to order with custard, lemon, chocolate, or cream.” Rick exclaimed: “This is my idea of heaven,” and a custard filled version was soon in our hot little hands.

    We asked this angel from heaven if she had any suggestions for good burgers and she replied, “Homemade burgers? E&T’s does them from scratch.”

    Hunting for our first offical Plucky Surivors meal. It was good!

      She gave us directions and we suddenly realized she was directing us back toward a shopping center we had noticed on the way into town with a store called “Dirt Cheap” and we realized it was all meant to be in some strange way.

      Five minutes later, we were looking at a sign that promised not just burgers but also barbeque and featured pigs, and THAT is how we wanted to start Plucky Survivors. And five minutes after that, we were looking at a heap of barbecue and a big hamburger at E and T's Bar-B-Q Heaven (US 84/US 65 Junction, Natchez, MS; 601-304-2300).

      Alas, Cora’s has gone out of business, which the nice people at the malt shop helped us confirm (yes, there were no cakes, so we had shakes instead).

      Meanwhile, we discovered the PluckyMobile had a dangling bumper rubber skirt thing something (no, we didn’t take automotive class in school, how’d you guess?) and it turned out we were three minutes from the East Buick dealership (250 John R. Junkin Dr., Natchez, MS; 601-442-9121) and a nice man named Dustin who crawled under it and stuck it back on while we entertained him with stories from the Britney Museum. Nice town, Natchez. No cakes, but enough else (pretty houses and scenery, friendly people, excellent ‘que with sweet red sauce) that we would want to come back.

    From there, it was to Ferriday, LA, home town of Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, and Jimmy Swaggart, those motley cousins, and the Delta Music Museum, set in an original post office complete with brass postal boxes, and featuring decent exhibits on a rather random collection of prominent Louisiana and beyond musicians. It’s free, but buy a small something on your way out, as they do a far better job with labeling and contextualizing than the Kentwood Museum and Britney Spears Shrine. Plus, Ferriday appears to be a perfect example of small town decay; its brick building Main Street is largely abandoned in favor of big box chains, and it deserves some oomph to help it recover.

    Inside the Delta Music Museum

    After Ferriday, we hit what we thought was going to be a meandering but uneventful drive across some Louisiana back highways and byways. Little did we know. You see there’s this program called Microsoft Streets & Maps and it says there’s a road there, but it doesn’t actually explain what the road looks like. Now we know… it looks like this.

    And that was the very beginning. It got worse. The comment was made that in movies when people drive down roads like this it ends poorly. Luckily there was no banjo soundtrack--just the sound of gravel pinging off Rick’s deductible for the rental car. We hope no one from Enterprise is reading this.

    It really wasn’t as dramatic as all that but at least you know now when we said back roads, we meant it. We feel it has upped our road trip cred enormously.

    Along the way, starting just outside of Kentwood but continuing through the journey, we engaged in a cutthroat game of Cow. The object of the game, as explained to us by some random website, is to count the cows on your respective side of the car, the person with the most cows at the end of the trip wins. But wait… there’s a spoiler. If a cemetery pops up along your side of the route, your score is wiped out and you have to start over.

    Who knew there were so many cemeteries along roads like that in Louisiana and almost all of them would be on the passenger side of the car? Bad news for Mary until a final surge just before Natchitoches and a driver’s side cemetery wiped out Rick leaving the final score at 89 to 0. Rick has demanded best out of five.

    The journey across both the southwest corner of Mississippi and northern Louisiana was varied and interesting enough that we never got bored. Rolling hills gave way to pine forests to prairie to cotton fields with still stately antebellum manors punctuated by the occasional river or bayou or body of water. We come from the topological sameness of Southern California and just from this first day alone we know we’re somewhere different.

    Despite our gravel strewn pathway we arrived in Natchitoches a little earlier than we expected and are staying at two of the dozens of local B&Bs, for which the town is famous.

    Rick stayed at Maison Louisiane, a late 1800s Victorian located on the main street a couple of blocks from the historic downtown district and virtually across the street from the house used in the filming of the movie “Steel Magnolias” (much of which was filmed on location here, as Rick will attest since it’s one of his favorite movies). It’s done with simple good taste as opposed to the extravagance often found in similar establishments, which isn’t to say it isn’t beautifully decorated, just not overblown. The impossibly high ceilings and the exceptionally good and modern bathrooms (Jacuzzi tub, WooHoo!) made us instant fans.

    Downstairs is a parlor, a couple of dining rooms, a modern kitchen, and the Library Room in which Rick stayed. Upstairs are three more bedrooms ranging from moderately sized to luxurious, some with fireplaces and private bathrooms. Out back is a separate studio apartment.

    All lovely on every level, falling squarely in that rarely hit Bed & Breakfast sweet spot of nice but not fussy and comfortable but not overly familiar.

    Mary stayed at the somewhat better known Queen Anne house just two short blocks away. It is more opulently furnished and thus more eye candy if that is the kind of Bed And Breakfast experience you are looking for. The furnishings are rich and luxurious, heavy woods and fine fabrics on the antiques (only a few of which are as uncomfortable as you expect antiques to be). The downstairs features a parlor and dining room plus another Library room that Mary occupied. Upstairs more bedrooms and baths all done in a more traditional Victorian style.

    We like them both very much and feel that there’s room in our life for both of these places depending on moods or whims.

    Meanwhile, we got to chatting with the owner of Maison Louisiane and learned that she and her husband only recently moved here from California, following her husband’s own health issues. They left really good jobs and careers for an entirely different way of life, and it made for an interesting counterpoint to the start of our day with Britney contemplation. The impulse to flee a small town or return to a small town is the same, but from opposite ends of a value system.

    Natchitoches and Fried Banana Pudding

      We spent the early evening strolling the main street of Natchitoches, with its well preserved, almost New Orleans-style brick buildings featuring wrought iron railings and balconies, all strung along the Cane River Lake (apparently, there is a kind of lake that is called a river. Who knew?).

      We had the famous local meat pie, which Rick found bland and Mary found too spicy, which probably says more about her chemo mouth than the actual nature of the pie itself. This was accompanied by a bacon cheeseburger (What? How else can we award a prize to the best one?). Then it was off to the local Zydeco Festival, along said river lake.

      To everyone’s disappointment, the live acts aren’t until tomorrow night, and the DJ didn’t really suffice. But one of the food booths had—are you ready?—deep fried banana pudding on a stick. That’s a trifecta for us; fried, on a stick, and something we didn’t even know you could do that to. It ended up being more deep fried banana flavored dough than anything else, but you aren’t hearing us complain.

      All in all, Mary and Rick agree, a great first day to Plucky Survivors. We’re having a blast so far and really appreciate the e-mails we’re getting from folks coming to the website (some with recommendations of good burger joints along our route – these people obviously know us well already).

      Tomorrow, Bonnie and Clyde, alligators, a tiny town, and Spa City Blues. Our update will be posted late Saturday night.

      Thanks for reading!

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