July 10, 2009
Now and then there seems to be a disharmonious convergence along the Old Bridgeport Road. It's an old road, and although it's a beautiful and generally peaceful place, a lot has happened there and not all of it has been nice. The Bridgeport Road was the second road built after Mississippi became a state, and it was a major thoroughfare through a slave-holding region and saw a lot of violent activity during the Civil War. So there's some karma there. More recently, it saw a lot of acrimonious activity on the political front over the county's failed efforts to bulldoze its high banks and old trees and widen it.
But lately, the road seems to be seeing more activity resulting from the blurring of property lines. I recently posted a comment about the random shooter who stopped this week along the Old Bridgeport Road, which now leads only to my house, after the old section was abandoned by the county in favor of a new, modern road that was built to the five houses at its former terminus. The guy had backed his silver Impala into the road, just inside my gate, and started shooting his pistol blindly into the trees. It's bad enough that I have gun-nut neighbors who shoot AKs and Uzis into hay bales, sometimes at night, which means a person such as I could be killed while reading in bed. But now I had someone coming onto my property expressly to shoot his gun, without a care for who might be around.
When I investigated, the guy hastily put his pistol away (or so it seemed – I never actually saw the gun, just saw him stuffing something into the pocket of his pants). Then he went to get in his car. I hollered at him out the window of my truck, my string of angry expletives, to which he responded, “I’m not just anybody. My parents are in the military.” To which I responded, “I know you’re not just #*&% anybody – you’re somebody shooting a @&$* gun on my property!” He eventually apologized, gave a strange smile, got in his car and drove away.
Then yesterday I was on my way home and when I turned onto Mt. Olive Road, off of which the Old Bridgeport Road runs, I saw an old pickup truck going very slowly, with its tailgate open and a large can of garbage, without a lid, in the bed. It was obvious the driver was looking for someplace to illegally dump his garbage, as people often do on both Mt. Olive and the Old Bridgeport Road. So instead of passing him I followed slowly behind. When he got to the Old Bridgeport Road he turned on his blinker, as did I. I’m sure this confused him, so he stopped on the Old Bridgeport Road, just inside my gate, and started to back out. I waited on Mt. Olive, with my window down, and as he came past he stopped his old, ragged truck beside mine. Seeing the look on his face, which was fearful, I softened. I said, “You aren’t fixing to dump that garbage on the side of the road, are you?”
“Oh, naw, suh,” he said, in the subservient tone of an old black man who grew up in a Mississippi where it was ill-advised to cross a white man, even one who was 30 years younger. “I know that’s wrong,” he said. “This here’s just some stuff from the deep freeze.”
I looked in the back. The garbage can was full to the brim with what looked like spoiled food. “Just taking it for a ride in the country, I guess,” I said.
He looked at me quizzically.
I said “OK, see you later,” and he drove on.
Somehow the fact that he was apparently bent on dumping garbage on my property bothered me less because he was someone who had lived in the area before there was even garbage pickup, when people just threw their refuse in the creek, and I felt kind of sorry that he felt the need to address me as a superior. But still. Any day of the week the bridge over Fleetwood Creek has five or six buzzards roosting on the rails because of all the stuff people dump there. Deer hunters dump their waste there, too – deer guts and carcasses. People leave couches, dead dogs. It gets old.
Having had to defend my turf twice in one week (even if the threat levels were vastly different), I was thinking that for some reason the Old Bridgeport Road was attracting negative attention. First a guy pulls in to pop off a few caps, then I catch a dumper red-handed and end up feeling like I'm the bad guy.
So the next day, I hear a truck approaching my house, but notice that it keeps going, back onto what anyone can see is private land. Mind you, to drive on the Old Bridgeport Road today you have to pass through my gate, which bears a sign announcing that it is private. Plus, it’s hard to get past my house on the road now because of trees downed by spring storms. I have to thread my truck through. All that’s back there is woods and pastures, anyway, and all the land is private.
Hearing the truck pass into my domain, I got in my truck to investigate. And a short ways down the road I came upon a red Toyota and, a short distance behind it, the pickup truck pulling a trailer. The two vehicles were returning from where the road dead-ends, where I had blocked it because of some very destructive trespassers on four-wheelers. Again: There is a new road. The Old Bridgeport Road is closed. There are posted signs. There is a gate. I wish I didn't have to care about these things, but nowadays, you do.
I stopped my truck in the road so the car and truck couldn’t get past. They were trapped. I got out, thinking, maybe this isn’t a good idea, because they’re trapped, they may have a gun, but it turned out to be a lone, young woman talking on her cell. She said she was looking for “the Ellis house,” and asked, “Have they closed off this road?” She was just someone who was lost, and who (and I give her credit for this), would apparently drive her car through a creek if she needed to to get where she was going.
I said that indeed they had closed the road, then explained that she could get to where she was going by driving back to Mt. Olive, turning left and then left onto the new Edwards Road. She began talking loudly on her cell, and I walked away.
I backed into my driveway and waited for the truck to pass. I was surprised to see that the truck had a Rebel flag tag on the front. A white guy was driving, pulling a trailer-load of chairs and what looked like a party tent. It seemed odd, a Rebel flag guy caravanning behind the young woman, who was black, but this is Mississippi. Far stranger things have happened. He gave me a very bemused look as he passed.
All of which made me feel, again, like I was being very territorial, even if it was generally warranted. I consoled myself that I had only been an asshole to the guy with the gun.
Then, yesterday, I ran into Charles Knight, who used to live in the cabin on my place, and when I told him about the guy shooting the gun he reminded me that years ago we were outside and heard a fight down on the Old Bridgeport Road, and when we investigated, discovered a guy beating the crap out of another guy, who was not even fighting back. It looked like the victim was reconciled to taking a beating, which likely meant he faced the potential for worse. And I'm telling you, the guy was seriously beating him. It looked like he was going to kill him. We tried to intervene but they ignored us, so Charles and I each went back to our houses and got our guns, and this time the guys got back in the car and drove away. Apparently the one guy had just driven out to the Old Bridgeport Road to beat the other one up. We were a destination. I wouldn’t attempt to intervene in such a dispute today, because it would be easy to get shot, but then, I did approach a stranger with a gun a few days ago, so maybe I would.
Charles later sat on the jury in the murder trial of a guy who had executed another guy about a mile behind my house. It was a Jackson drug execution. They convicted him.
The day of the fight we had called the deputies, and they came, but several other times I’ve called them about people shooting around my house when they didn’t show up. Neither do the game wardens when I call them. I once called the dispatcher at the sheriff’s office and said, “If y’all aren’t going to come, I’m going to start shooting back.”
He said, “That’ll work.”
So I did. I shot over the heads of whoever it was, based on the location of the source of the gunfire, and they left. I used bird-shot, which isn't dangerous overhead; a bullet, by contrast, even when fired straight up into the air, can kill someone if it falls on them. After that anytime I had poachers shooting near my house, I just shot birdshot over their heads and they left.
I don’t call the deputies anymore. The last time they were out here was for the Pee Wee Redmond incident, which is a story unto itself.
Don't get me wrong, it's actually wonderful living along the Old Bridgeport Road, it's just not like most people think it would be. It's especially nice right now, on a summer night, with the owls calling from the swamp and the fireflies drifting through the trees, and the sounds of crickets and frogs and cicadas. It feel like it's a sanctuary, then, as much as any place can be, and no one is shooting at all.