I swung through Tennessee without paying it much mind (I’d been there before and this trip was about new experiences) and continued to the town of Oxford, Mississippi. I’ve always thought of old Southern towns as being a little backwards and lacking the kind of curated beauty that you can find in more modern small cities. But in Oxford I learned that simpler doesn’t always mean worse. Oxford is centered around a single square that holds most of the activity for the town. Dotted along the square are three of the best bookstores in the country as well as a couple restaurants and places to shop. It doesn’t have the greatest selection since only so many stores can fit on a quarter mile, but the quality is awesome and you can almost feel the history around you.
It also helps the the square is gorgeous. Especially on a day like the one when I visited—brilliant Sun shining but humidity and heat kept at bay by the Spring—where nothing seems like it can go wrong. Anybody looking for the old-time life where a town’s citizens all know each other and greet one another with handshakes and smiles will be happy here. I’m not sure that’s exactly what I want, but it definitely is intoxicating to see the sense of community that relationships like these can establish. It’s basically the opposite of that robotic city feeling where you can walk around the streets for two months on end and never see a person you know. In Oxford, you’re bound to see somebody know, it’s up to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.
I had another stop father South in Mississippi that day, skipping along the highways toward Lemuria Books in Jackson. It was on this drive that I saw one of the weirdest sites of my cross-country journey. Minding my own business, cruising a little over the speed limit I approached an overpass that had a couple cars whizzing by. It was just another ordinary highway site, so I didn’t think anything of it at first, but then I looked again and realized that the highway was not only occupied by cars. Coming along at a full gallop, a young man was riding his horse along the streets, seemingly just looking for some fun. I guess that’s life in Mississippi?
When I did get to Jackson I wasn’t impressed by much more than their bookstore. It seemed like the town of Jackson was created just because an abnormal number of highways crossed there on the map. All I saw was concrete in every direction and, surprisingly, not even too many shops or stores. Even the shops that did exist (like Lemuria) were hidden away in complexes that disguised the beauty of the store’s interior. It wasn’t until I actually found the entrance to Lemuria inside the indoor shopping complex that I started to get excited.
Not finding much to stick around for, I decided last minute to do a little exploration and drive to Vicksburg to see the Mississippi River. The way my route worked out I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to see the Mississippi on the way back and when I eventually crossed it in Louisiana it’d be in the form of a delta rather than the more vaunted river version, so I was excited for an excuse to catch a sunset along the nation’s greatest river. As expected, the Mississippi delivered in full force; the sun splaying reds, greens, and purples as an unforgettable backdrop to a beautiful scene of nature. Even in itself Vicksburg had a lot to offer. Full of historical monuments dedicated to an important Civil War battle and relics saved from the river’s history, Vicksburg added a little glitz to its package as well. Follow the Mississippi and you quickly find a couple casinos in one direction and some bonafide nightlife in the other. Having driven from Tennessee early that morning and wanting to grab some sleep to prepare for New Orleans, I hadn’t the energy to partake in the festivities, but it looked like a rockin’ good time.