Originally published February 14, 2014
Last Thursday I began a road trip from my home in St. Cloud, Florida (just south of Orlando) to Memphis, Tennessee. The reason for the trip was a huge audition festival known at the Unified Professional Theater Auditions, or UPTA, where I would hopefully land a job somewhere in the country far from my Central Florida base.
Now, of course, I had been planning this trip for months and while theatre was my main objective and focus, I immediately hit the maps and National Park website to determine what cool things would distract me along the way. Civil War sites being the primary concern. Of course. What did make this journey especially interesting, however, was the fact that I was doing it alone. All of my cohorts had flown to Memphis leaving me to my own wits. I packed light, with lots of canned goods and snacks, so as not to spend dough on anything I didn’t have to. Except coffee. I had to spend dough on coffee.
Anyways, at approximately 5:30 I rolled out of St. Cloud, onto the turnpike and headed north into the darkness with the rising sun as my friend. Along the way I noticed my car temperature plummet from a muggy 77 degrees to a cool 55 in only two hours. Donning my sweater and jacket, I would hardly take them off for the duration of the trip.
My first stop along the way was Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Alabama, where General Andrew Jackson defeated the troublesome Creek Nation once and for all. History aside for the moment, I had to first pass through the hell hole that is southwest Georgia. I first traversed this wasteland in 2011 on the Andersonville trip and again last year for ACTF in Albany (see other posts, please!) and know what I am talking about when I describe it as a section of the country that God forgot. I’ve never been to the deserts out west, but I believe they have some grand majesty to them, framed by rising mountain peaks and a general mythology that speaks to the intrepid spirit of America.
And then there’s southwest Georgia. Desolate, hot, dusty, poor, uninspiring. Not the romantic vision of the South that you think of. No, coming from Florida, this is the back door to the Deep South and it isn’t very romantic. Well, whatever, I got through it and entered Alabama by way of Columbus.
*And for the record, I don’t mean to completely bash Georgia. The north country is beautiful and I love stopping in and around Atlanta when I can. Savannah is another place I would love to visit. Nonetheless, there’s no reason to visit the southwest corner of the state. Ever. Jimmy Carter left it and you should too.*
Now we’ll get to the history. Two hours later I reached my destination at Horseshoe Bend and learned a lot about something I really had never known about.
We all know the War of 1812, but hidden in that larger conflict was another war being waged between competing factions of the Creek Nation (the major tribe in Alabama, and Georgia). The southern Creeks believe the only way to preserve their way of life was to accept the United States as a force they could never hope to defeat. The northern Creeks, however, were known as Red Sticks and were determined to drive the white man from their lands. Boom. Civil War. Eventually this war began to threaten US interests and since we were already used to fighting the British, we decided to send Andrew Jackson down south to take care of the mess. Note: this is pre Battle of New Orleans Jackson. Okay, so what ended up happening was that Jackson with his volunteers COMPLETELY CRUSHED THE RED STICKS. Like, no mercy type crushing. The kind where you burn the village and take no prisoners. (He did spare the women and children, thank God).
As an Andrew Jackson buff, I was enthralled by this history, yet supremely disappointed when I learned that the peace treaty signed by Jackson and the Creek leaders, forced them to surrender all their land (remember- Alabama, and parts of Georgia), including those allied with Jackson! He did not care and stabbed them all in the back… I knew his Indian policy was shitty to begin with, but now I really can’t defend him on that. Yeah… say it ain’t so, Andy, say it ain’t so.
After this very enlightening sojourn, I hit the road again and knew I wanted to get as close to Shiloh, Tennessee as possible. Very quickly I realized I was not going to make Shiloh and decided to shoot for Tupelo, Mississippi instead. Essentially making a diagonal across Alabama, I saw most of the state and came to the conclusion that it’s as godforsaken as southwest Georgia! Exactly the same terrain, but with more road kill and covering the entire state! (I feel I can express all this now because I no longer fear Karma in the form of an Alabama state trooper pulling me over and dealing me a real-life My Cousin Vinny experience.)
Alright, alright, enough negatives. Surely something cool or whatever must have happened in Alabama? Well, when I drove through Birmingham it started to snow. Which as annoying as it was at the time, I think it was the kind of unique randomness you hope for in a road trip. Also, as I was exiting the state I was treated to a really nice sunset. And I think there’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a sunrise or sunset on the open road. Thank you, ‘Bama.
Therefore, as the sun was sinking I was approaching that other pillar of Dixie, the State of Mississippi, and wondered what tomorrow would bring.
Or rather where was I going to stay for the night.
I entered Tupelo not long after dark and checked into an Econo Lodge where I was greeted by a pretty blond behind the counter named Tiffany. And truth be told, I decided on this motel because of her enthralling Southern lilt. It was a beautiful accent but alas, while she was very helpful, I could sense zero interest being returned. Ah well, perhaps I should have put on an accent? Either way, she will always be my Tupelo Tiffany.
Heartache aside, I got settled into the room. And while I traveled alone, this would be the only night I would spend by myself. In hindsight I am very thankful for this. There were a couple of moments that day where I felt pangs of loneliness. And I don’t mean it as angsty or as lame as it sounds. I just mean that when you’re experiencing something as cool as a battlefield you want company to share it with. That’s all. Jeez.
Anyways! I did get settled and realized that I would reach Memphis tomorrow and knew that I had to start focusing on my main objective. I didn’t want to be too distracted from all the awesome history!
TO BE CONTINUED…