Unfolding the Map
We've crossed another state line with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) and are now in Mississippi. When I lived in Louisiana, which for quality of life ranked pretty low on the list of all the states, I often heard "Well, at least we aren't Mississippi." However, Mississippi has some interesting places and history. I often lamented not visiting the Mississippi Delta region to learn about the origin of the blues, or driving the Natchez Trace. That's the beauty of traveling through this book - we can with some imagination. Click on the thumbnail of the map to find where we are now situated, and feel free to comment and let me know how you're doing as we travel along.
"I missed the turnoff to Sucarnochee, Mississippi, and had to enter the state by way of Scooba on route 16, a road of trees and farmhouses. The farmhouses weren't the kind with large, encircling porches and steeply pitched roofs and long windows you used to see, but rather new houses indistinguishable from wet-bar, walk-out basement, Turfbuilder-Plus suburban models."
Blue Highways: Part 3, Chapter 6
It's a great name for a town - Scooba. I couldn't find any information on how Scooba got its name online, but I'd really like to know where the name came from. I get mental images of Scooby Doo the cartoon dog, or perhaps some 1940s crooner singing "Scooba dooba doo...." But I'm pretty sure that none of those apply in this case. In fact, looking at pictures of downtown Scooba, it seems like it might be a pretty depressed place. The downtown looks like a Wal-Mart hit it - literally. Many small towns in the United States have suffered a long slow death due to the advent of big box stores on their outskirts, strangling and killing small businesses in America's downtowns. That's the price of progress, nowadays.
Another price of progress, which LHM alludes to in his quote above, is the absolute lack of creativity in modern housing. You know what I'm writing about. In town after town, suburb after suburb, development companies build housing tracts. In those tracts, the houses all look like they came from the same mold. It is like a giant hand with one model of a house laid them out on curvy suburban streets, almost as if monopoly houses were put side to side. Same color, same lines. It's boring.
I've lived in Milwaukee from 1986 - 1995, in neighborhoods where every house was unique and had its own character. Many of the houses had exquisite details both inside and outside, as well as leaded decorative windows. Each had its own personality, it's own quirks, and they were interesting to live in. That's not to say that there weren't suburban housing styles on the outskirts, but within the city, the houses were interesting.
In San Antonio, where I lived from 1995-2000, you could find the cookie cutter houses on the outskirts of town. But in the older sections of the city, the houses were all different from one another, each with its own flavor and own way of presenting itself to the street and the world.
In New Orleans, where I lived from 2000-2004, there was a LOT of character there. Shotgun houses (so named because their layout meant you could shoot a shotgun through the house without hitting anything) that looked small from the street until you saw that they stretched straight back, living room to bedroom to bedroom to kitchen. Wrought ironwork fencing festooned with different motifs. Balconies that overlooked the street which were great if it happened to be on a street where a Mardi Gras parade passed by. I loved the different characters of the houses there. It was almost as if you could give them a name and if they could talk, the stories they would tell.
Albuquerque, where I currently live, with its adobe and faux adobe housing - built to stay cool during the hot high desert summers and to take advantage of the sun's rays for heating in the colder parts of the winter.
But these pre-fab tract houses are different. To me, they have no life, no soul. It's part of the blanding of America. This is not to say that the people who live in them are soulless, lifeless beings. I understand why these houses exist. They are cheap, and for people who are buying their first house, such dwellings are what they can afford. To live in the areas where I like to live, where the houses are not pre-fab but have their own individuality, one must either rent or pay a lot of money. In my neighborhood in Albuquerque, houses are very overpriced due to the quality of the area and a housing bubble that never really quite burst here. To buy a house here, one must be willing to pay a lot of money. Okay, it's not like California or New York money, but it's a lot of money nonetheless.
However, I refuse to live in a boring suburb. I like being around the active city life, not out in some cul-de-sac somewhere. I like being able to walk or ride my bike to stores and restaurants and theaters. I enjoy being close to things to do, and not necessarily have to drive to them.
I really hope that Scooba hasn't become, like so many of our towns, dead in the center. Cities may provide excitement, but small towns are America's soul. Cities are like the flashy clothes we put on to excite others and ourselves. But towns are like jeans and button down shirts - comfortable. If they die, I'm convinced that America's connection with itself will also die. We don't need sameness, we need unique towns with vital centers, and places to live within them that reflect how individual we all are. We should treasure uniqueness and creativity when we run across them, whether we live in cities, small towns like Scooba, or in that crazy looking house on the corner.
If you want to know more about Scooba
Next up: Philadelphia, Mississippi