"All the way to Jackson, I don't think I'll miss you much."
"Jackson" by Lucinda Williams
The only thing more depressing than Lake Providence, Louisiana in its usual state of entropy is Lake Providence all decorated up for Christmas. It would be something straight out of Dickens if Dickens had any black folks in his stories. This cheery thought occurred to me as I drove down US Highway 65 last Sunday en route to a court appearance in Jackson Monday morning.
I was in a pretty good mood despite the bleak winter landscape of the Delta. All brown and flat with an endless horizon. Just like it has been since I first started making that drive 30 years ago in an old Chrysler my mother bought me to take to law school. I was in a pretty good mood because court would be a no-brainer sort of proceeding that even I couldn't screw up and I would get to see my friends that live there.
I like Jackson. Always have. In fact, I strongly considered moving there about 15 years ago or so after I met a woman that lived there. That a long-distance courtship was a pretty crazy idea on both our parts became more apparent with the passage of time and the relationship became harder to sustain over a distance. On the other hand, I have a friend whose husband has been detailed to another city for the time being. She says it kinda works for them. Whatever. It didn't work for us.
Jackson is a lot like Little Rock. Or, it used to be more like Little Rock than it is now. Jackson has changed over the years I have been hanging around down there. And not for the better. Jackson is a lot like Little Rock in that it is easy to get around in despite the seemingly endless construction on I-55 that bisects it. Rush hour traffic on I-55 makes 630 here in Little Rock look like a country lane. I can't recall a time I've been out on 55 when I haven't seen the aftermath of some kind of traffic accident. Logistics aside, the people in Jackson are friendly, it's a great sports town and there are good restaurants. Beautiful women abound in Jackson. No kidding.
But like I said, Jackson has changed over the years. In the first place, violent crime in Jackson is absolutely through the roof. Much worse than Little Rock. As I am made to understand it, Katrina forced a lot of the New Orleans gangbanger types up the interstate to higher ground. As a result, people are getting whacked and robbed at an alarming rate. When I am in town I usually stay at any one of a number of hotels in the North part of Jackson which has always been considered a safe part of town. No more. One of my friends suggested that I stay in Flowood about 10 miles East of there "where it is safe." I stayed where I usually stay despite her advice just because I figured she was being an alarmist.
Turns out maybe I should have listened. As I was getting dressed Monday morning I saw on the news where the front desk of a hotel around the block from where I was staying got robbed Sunday morning in broad daylight. I will bear this in mind next trip.
Other differences: Jackson's Mayor is a certifiable loon. He is currently on probation for carrying a gun on school property. He is out on bond while facing charges of damaging a duplex that he contended was a crack house. Oh, and his Probation Officer is pissed off at him. Jim Dailey never made that kind of news around here.
Just from watching the local news I deduced that Jackson's racial climate is even more poisonous than what obtains here. Having said that, I can't imagine how you undo a generation's worth of institutionalized racism. The local nuts who wear their Civil War drag down at Mount Holly to celebrate David O. Dodd's birth (Or death. Whatever. I can't keep it straight.) like to imagine Little Rock as part of the Old South. Nonsense. Little Rock has but minimal relevance to the history of the Great Cause. Jackson is the Old South. And it still has the hangover in the form of racial enmity that seems far more pervasive than what you find here as bad as things are here.
I got downtown early on Monday and decided to walk around to see what had changed since the last time I had been to court there a couple of years earlier. The answer: not much. Downtown Jackson is tiny. Capitol Street is about 5 blocks or so in length. There is a beautiful Episcopal Church across the street from the Courthouse. North of it lies the Governor's Mansion, as handsome a structure as you are likely to see. There is a great diner across the street from the Federal Building that serves a great plate lunch where we all went after court. I was encouraged by a friend to try the liver and onions. I declined.
Not that Little Rock is exactly Manhattan but there's stuff going on here that is not-and will never-go on in Jackson. At least not until they elect one of their own President and he or she decides to build a Presidential Library there. The effect of the Presidential Library on real estate in downtown Little Rock is incalculable. Downtown is cool again for the first time since the early sixties. High dollar condos (who's buying these damn things anyway?) and high rise hotels are going up everywhere. A new ballpark will be ready to go in the Spring. The River Market is jumping every night. Ain't nothing like that going on in Jackson.
Still, I like Jackson. I made happy memories there. And there are people there that care about me. The kind of folks who call me when I am on the road to make sure I am OK. That's always nice to know in case I ever get run out of town. You always have to have a backup plan.
But I am glad I live in Little Rock. And I am glad that I didn't make last week's trip burdened with a broken heart unlike the poor thing in Lucinda's great "drivin' and cryin' song" about a girl's sad trip from Lafayette to Jackson. Because driving through Lake Providence is depressing enough as it is even when you are in a good mood.