If you average it out, we heard about 43.67 rounds of gunfire for each of the 70 miles we cycled yesterday through rural Mississippi. The numbers are skewed somewhat by someone or someones in the last 10 miles deciding to test the self-defense, or possibly squirrel-hunting, qualities of his rifle on full automatic. It was loud and it was long.
Think of Bonny and Clyde (who actually met their fully automatic demise in Louisiana, at the hands of state troopers) pulling over about a half mile ahead of you to make a cellphone call. As you cycle into a mild headwind the cops, rather than applaud the safety-minded couple, open up with their machine guns, and the percussive sound carries instantly to your delicate ears. You let up slightly on the pedals, not because you're tired - though you are - but because some primitive spider sense tells you that ahead there be darkness and mayhem. Yet you're so damn powerful and you had such a head of steam that before you know it you're right up on the scene and the noise is deafening. Holding up your passport, the troopers pause for perhaps two seconds as you slip through the scene, wheels running over so many brass cartridges that it feels like gravel, then the hellish uproar starts again behind you, the leadwind providing an unexpected but useful counter to the headwind. Cycle easily for about another half mile and pull over. Good. That's how long the person or persons with the probably-illegal gun or guns was shooting yesterday in Mississippi.
It's been raining a lot but, like Charlie Chaplin reaching down to pick up a quarter just as the girder swings overhead, we have, for the most part, kept flukily dry. We'll pull into a Dollar General for peanut butter and, while arguing over extra crunchy versus merely crunchy, the skies will open for an hour. We'll get to a campground with a place to set up the tent beneath a cat on a hot tin roof and, within five minutes of crawling inside, there'll be meteorological lions, and tigers, and bears - oh my. On the days when we do get wet, I feel such smug satisfaction at what pathetic-yet-remarkably-tough figures we must present, imagining people in every passing car saying "Those poor bastards...", that it's almost worth the sopping layers of discomfort to be able to clench my jaw and nod curtly to a passing motorist - the movie-in-my-head panning slowing across my chiseled features, soft focus. Some people will do anything for attention; with such heroic self-delusion are presidential bids launched...
We crossed into Sweet Home Alabama a couple of hours ago - no gunfire yet. Confederate flags still dot the landscape and pickup trucks but, not surprisingly, we've met with little extreme prejudice in the South. We were having a pleasant conversation with the owner of a restaurant a couple of days ago, and I asked how the business was going. "Yeah, it's mostly good," he said "but the other day a "n"-woman called up the food inspectors to say there was a roach in her grits." Well, call me a naive, Obama-loving-liberal, but the absolutely casual way he said the "n" word kinda stopped my heart for a second, pleasant expression frozen on my face. Did I say anything? Did I call him on it? I did not. I just felt sad and a little lesser-than.
Okay, now I'm totally bummed out from remembering the encounter. Time to tell you my favourite joke:
I told my wife she was drawing her eyebrows too high.
She looked surprised.
That's better. If only everything were so easy. See ya.