Considering the slim chance you have doubts, a ride through the Southern countryside looks no different during a coronavirus pandemic than at any other time.
I made one of those jaunts the other day. I hardly saw a soul, and the ones I did see didn’t look as if they knew of the pandemic. And if they did, they certainly didn’t appear to give a darn about the worldwide threat.
The optical view along U.S. Highway 82 through rural southwest Georgia appears as it does through Mississippi and Alabama. I’m talking about the course that begins at the foot of the new Mississippi River Bridge west of Greenville and continues on through the Mississippi Delta from Leland, Indianola and Greenwood to Winona and Starkville before entering Alabama in the village of Reform (hometown of former Ole Miss quarterbacking legend Doug Elmore) and waving at Tuscaloosa before Georgia beckons.
“U.S. Route 82 is an east–west United States highway in the Southern United States. Created on July 1, 1931 across central Mississippi and southern Arkansas, U.S. 82 eventually became a 1,625-mile route extending from the White Sands of New Mexico to Georgia’s Atlantic coast near Brunswick,” reports Wikipedia.
Here’s how it is best described: Rural America. And, please, you folk with visions of grandeur sheltered in place anywhere in this region, don’t retort with any notions that you reside somewhere other than Rural America. You do not.
The walls were crashing in on me. I had mowed the yard twice that week and scalped the pasture worse than the haircut I had gotten a few days before. I had painted a bench. I had planted more tomatoes. I had watched network news over and over again. I fertilized, watered and mowed again. I sprayed for ants.
A ride through the countryside of these deep Southern states brings little more than a fresh set of tall pines and stately oaks to view. There is not a lot of new perspective to gain, even if you’re open to one.
Life is going on just about the way you would expect in these hinterlands.
As for the dreaded virus, I defy you to visit almost any place of business in Eufaula, Ala., where I ended up on this trip, to find more than a few people wearing a mask to keep themselves and others from being infected.
I don’t mean to pick on Eufaula, a southeast Alabama city of about 13,000 people which has got to be one of the prettiest, most quaint towns anywhere in America. There are enough homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places to make Washington, D.C., ashamed. Many of them date to the early 1800s.
Eufaula claims to be the “Big Bass Capital of the World,” thanks to two off-Chattahoochee River lakes, one of which Alabama shares with adjacent Georgia. The U.S. Corps of Engineers-controlled Lake Walter F. George’s 46,000 acres are banked in both states. Some of the South’s most acclaimed bass, catfish and “croppy” (Georgians’ pronunciation; different from my Mississippi’s of “crap-pee”) emerge from those lakes.
That area of Alabama has been fairly successful against the coronavirus with one of the lowest infection rates going. However, the story is much different when you enter Georgia from Eufaula. Georgia’s country people are more stubborn and independent in their thinking. The rate of mask-wearing is even lower than Alabama’s and that’s saying something.
Blakely, a town of about 5,000 near us, has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus, with almost 250 reported infections and nearly 30 deaths. Yet, go to its parking lots and observe the maskless citizenry.
That’s the way it is in Rural America.