Thursday, January 01, 2009


Well, he looked mean, but he wasn't.

We left Tennessee, um, I guess it was yesterday morning, and stayed uneventfully near Birmingham, AL overnight. There were no amenities other than electric, water, and sewer hookups at that campground, but for $15, what do you want?

So this morning we left AL, and drove across the lower part of Mississippi towards New Orleans.

I swear this trip is cursed. We stopped for diesel fuel, and on his walkaround check Steve discovered a broken spring hanger on the camper. He got a car-repair/welder's business card from the truck stop. He called, the man was willing to service our rig on New Year's Day, and the fun began.

This was somewhere in Southern Mississippi. We drove to where the repair guy said he'd meet us. We waited. A man approached our truck on foot, making eye contact and waving. He had old dirty clothes, a grizzled 3-day beard, no teeth. Steve said, "I hope that's not our guy..." The fellow came to Steve's window and held out his hand. Steve shook it and said, "Are you Joe?" "Naw, I ain' Joe," the man said. "You jus' look like nice folks an' I didn' get no Christmas presents and I spent las' night in a cardboard box an' I bin wearin' the same cloes 4 months and I'm jes' lookin' for someone t' help me some...." Sounds like how I'll be living a few months from now, only in a thin nylon tent instead of a sturdy box, but we gave him two bucks and wished him well, and closed the window.

Soon the real Joe arrived, in a vinyl-top Cadillac that had seen better days. It had a lot of missing parts.

This is the car-repair guy? Yup. He looked at the broken hanger and said, "Yeah, I kin fix 'at, y'all follow me." Journey didn't like him much, growled and whined. Come to think of it, I don't think Journey's ever seen a black person. Forgive me for saying "black" but no doubt Journey just saw a black man, I mean literally a man who was black, and this gave her pause. Plus, I don't care if someone calls me a white woman, but let's get on with the story.

So Joe drives his has-been Cadillac through a maze of back streets through questionable neighborhoods where some people had bars on their windows, others were boarded up, and most had plastic or duct tape where one or more of their car windows had been.
After a number of turns, we arrived at Joe's repair establishment.
The next-door neighbor's front yard, car's rear window replaced with tablecloth.
There was a lot of debris in the yard. You can't really see this, but the weight plates back there behind the mirror say "Gold's Gym." So did the weight bench. No doubt Gold's was getting new stuff and sold their old equipment for a reasonable price.

OK, on to the dog. The repair yard was fenced, and inside the yard was a pit bull chained to a dog box with a chain big enough to hold the Titanic. Just for good measure, there was barbed wire on top of the fence, and along the bottom edge, razor wire, in case anyone including the dog tried to dig under it. No one was getting into this yard.

I like dogs. I watched this pit bull for awhile, noted his body movements as he watched us, and decided to go a little closer. He wagged his tail happily (not stiffly, a defensive sign) and had a friendly look in his eye. I approached cautiously.... you know, pit bull on a monstrous chain in a junky repair yard and all... and he sniffed my knee. I offered my hand and he sniffed it, but then his expression changed and I felt a curl of anxiety and withdrew -- I didn't want him to smell fear or whatever it is that dogs do. I figured he smelled Journey on me. He looked like he'd seen his share of fights. Scars on his face. I backed off.

A few minutes later I went back. He sniffed my hand again, and licked it. Again his expression changed and again I backed off.
This went on a few more times, each time a little more contact until he finally let me scratch him under the chin.

Awhile later he was rolling on his back for a belly rub. When I'd stop, he'd get up and press his body weight against my legs, almost knocking me down just by leaning. He liked me a lot. He slumped to the ground in sorrow when I turned to leave after the welding was done.

You can see the razor wire along the bottom of the fence, and the barbed wire at the top.

So Joe, who was a really nice guy who complained teasingly that I was "spoiling" his dog, spent two hours fixing our broken hanger, on New Year's Day when he probably would rather have been watching the Rose Bowl, and only charged $100. We gave him an extra twenty. He thanked us and smiled that the dog was going to pout the rest of the day wondering where that friendly lady went. He said not many strangers try to pet his dog.

I liked the dog.
We got to New Orleans three hours later than we'd anticipated. Like I said, the trip is cursed. This is our second try at a winter in New Orleans. The first time we started planning it, Katrina hit.

We'll see what the winter brings.


Dee said...

I liked your story. All the characters you met in Mississippi are quite familiar to me. You are very brave to approach that dog and make friends with him. I am sure that you made his day. It is good that these "inconveniences" have not been terrible.

Jade Lady said...

I've never travelled thru that part of the country before. Sounds like quite an experience. My Lord, you are very bold to have befriended the dog. Sounds like the poor guy is lonely. This all sounds like it's a chapter from a good book. But, then again, that's why I love your blog! Happy New Year to you. Hey, have you ever seen the movie - A love song for Bobby Long - it's set in New Orleans - just saw it, and actually, that's what your post reminded me of. Great movie...

ShirleyPerly said...

Ellie, you are such a good writer!

I enjoyed this post very much. Both the dog and its owner turned out to be quite different from what they appeared to be at first glance. I don't think I would have handled with either as well as you did.