Tuesday, June 5
Counties: One (Hinds)
Miles: 8 on the day, 125 overall
Time out on the bike: 51 minutes on the day; 15 hours, 33 minutes overall
Today is tour day. We are in the capital of Mississippi, a place I associate most with a long night of intemperate drinking with a high school friend a dozen years after we graduated Glendale High School.. I’d gone through a job interview earlier in the day. I was freshly divorced from my first wife and traveling with the woman who would become my second. It was the 20th century. I viewed Jackson then through Welty-tinted glasses and the bottoms of a Faulknerian serving of alcohol.
I did not get the job. Thank goodness.
This day I am much more sober, much better rested, somewhat less at loose ends. We rise at our leisure and check our bags with the valet. The tandem I stow, with the assistance of the valet, in a locked closet within the parking garage adjacent to the hotel. This service is available after I slip a Jackson to the valet. It means the lock I lug around in the panniers is merely useless weight I am pedaling across the state to build muscle.
I bring my raincoat, though it won’t be used today or on the week.
I am thankful for all the things we have with us and do not use. They all represent bad things not happening. No rain. No power-drained electronics. No stolen bicycles. No mechanical breakdowns. No injuries.
There are places to go today, but not by long pedaling. We live in a capital city. We like to visit capital cities. I take pleasure when we wander around in the public buildings, gawk at the portraits of dead white men I don’t know from periods of American history I do.
So here we have George Poindexter, governor of Mississippi when the Missouri Compromise was enacted by the U.S. Congress. And there is William McWillie, resident in the Governor’s Mansion when Dred Scott was decided. There were other governors depicted with names less evocative of traveling circus sideshow freaks. In another building, more dead white men preside from the walls, including Chief Justice Harvey McGehee, who sat atop the judicial heap in Mississippi during the entirety of Harry Truman’s administration on through to LBJ’s election – that covers some seriously troubled times in the arc of race relations and awesome constitutional tumult. Chief Justice McGehee died, age 78, in Yazoo City six months after I was born in New Orleans.
Do we build grand public buildings any longer? Is there any interest in beauty, in trying too hard, in extravagant spending on gold foil and marble columns, on brass fittings and cut glass? Mississippi’s old Capitol is lovely. Charming women, volunteers, greet us when we walk in. We have the run of the place, pretty much, and chat up legislative staffers stationed behind desks right out in the echoing expanses of the rotunda, each on their respective chambers’ sides. I try to drum up a bit of fellow feeling among civil servants, but get only discussions of relative humidity as experienced here in Jackson versus our Tallahassee home. The Legislature is not in session. Statute books haphazardly line the walls of legislative committee rooms, as if staffers regularly run over to do a little research mid-hearing. Misshapen rugs cover up tangled audio and computing cables.
A new-ish Supreme Court building juts elevated from grade to the north – this is clearly the work of a security committee – and its stark Greek revival boxiness surrounds an interior layout that began by accommodating magnetometers, moved on to the orderly flow of people being searched and scanned, and proceeded thence to warm hardwood walls very possibly containing spaces used by real human life forms. The dramatically arced courtroom seems to ache for a corner where none exists. Instead, acoustic engineers and white-balance videographers won all the arguments, including a requirement the windows – a heinous concession to bad audio and washed out images to begin with – be covered by sound-dampening and light-blocking shutters at all times.
Oral arguments are scheduled after lunch. A judicial assistant, or deputy clerk, nervously asks after our business and hastily, ungraciously, encourages us to go elsewhere and instructs us to not disturb anything at all before we do.
We amble around and about, remarking on the unremarkable Eudora Welty Public Library, a building beneath the beauty of her prose. We circle around the gallery of Mississippi’s Hall of Fame, a collection of chosen worthies, elected during a quinquennial vote of the Board of Trustees of the Department of Archives and History. They actually use that word: quinquennial.
There are nice portraits of William Faulkner and Miss Welty.
We hoof back to a spot behind the supreme court building, chow up a burger and fries, and head back to the hotel. In mid-afternoon we pedal in street clothes 8 miles out past the city limits into the beginnings of the flight pattern. The motel where we stayed was 100 meters from Interstate 55 and 120 meters from a Cracker Barrel. That is a story for tomorrow, recounting a long ride of joy and ease.
More pizza and sports viewing this evening in the demographic shadow of the county line, the urban flight sprawl of the north. This night, Florida State University’s softball team wins the national championship.
To the highlight reel! Episode 3 video here.