We left later than we should have, especially knowing there were flood warnings. The rain had been relentless all day, not the gentle tip-tapping that sounds almost musical; it was muffled, thundering percussion, so you couldn’t forget it was there. But we were having fun, and it was just rain– it’s not like it was a snow or ice storm, which can be so treacherous. Everyone kept saying how we’d have to be careful, but we are Northerners, and thought, “When you don’t have black ice, this is what you worry about.”
We were heading up through the Delta to Leland, Mississippi, less than a two-hour drive. Our contact from the Tourism department would be waiting at Vince’s, where we would have some dinner and listen to live blues before heading to our B&B, the elegant Thompson House. We were looking forward to the live music at Vince’s, to the next few days seeing and tasting the Delta (a trip we’d been trying to take for an entire year), and to this time together.
The windshield wipers swished back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, while the rain droned on, pelting the tinny top of the rental car like mice on speed, tap dancing out of sync. But there was something nice about it being just the two of us, nestled in our car-cave away from the cold windy rain, not thinking about deadlines for the first time in months. The traffic thinned– where did the cars go?– and there didn’t seem to be buildings, or much of anything, really, by the sides of the road.
After about an hour, the rain got more insistent. It was hard to see. I scootched up on the seat, squinting to try to make out what was on either side of us. Nothing. Just fields. Fields of…of water. Was the road just above some kind of pond? I didn’t say anything to Ebo, who was now gripping the wheel with both hands. We didn’t speak; just concentrated on our surroundings. I felt like I could see ahead forever, or maybe not at all: I couldn’t tell, because this place, this land, was flatter than anywhere I’d ever been. And then BOOM! An alarm– a terrifying, huge horn– startled me. I screamed, my heart beating faster than those mice could dance, and tried to make sense of it. It was IN the car. IN my purse. It was my phone! It was a weather emergency alert. I fumbled in my bag, trying to get at it, and BOOM! Ebo’s phone sounded the same horrible noise.
I grabbed the phones and read him the bad news. Hail and lightening storms! Potentially life threatening flooding! Severe tornado alert! Serious danger! Shit. As if to prove the weather alert right, a bolt of lightening just off to the left whipped down from sky to horizon with terrifying force. And then one straight ahead. Off to the right! On our left! We were driving straight into a field of lightening. And all around us was water.
It wasn’t a pond after all. No, it was the fields, flooded so deep the water was seeping up onto the road. Road: as in our pathway out of this. But we couldn’t see it that way, because all around us it was flat, and we were surrounded by bolts of lightening striking straight down like they were bars on a cage. The road had neither a beginning nor end, and no matter how much we drove the horizon looked the same. We were stuck in infinity, or maybe the Twilight Zone.
Flat is terrifying.
Ebo gripped the steering wheel harder, hunched over as if being an inch closer to the windshield would somehow help him see better. I was squatting up on the seat, trying to see if the water was coming up on the road. I thought of my son last year, how his car went into the ocean, and I got really scared.
Every couple of miles we would see a house, set back from the road for privacy. This land is flatter than flat, so I couldn’t really judge exactly how far back they really were. I broke our silence, trying to sound calm. “You know, if the road floods any more, we can just stop at one of these houses.”
Ebo didn’t say a word; he hunched deeper over the steering wheel and stared ahead. A few minutes passed in silence, and the iPhone horns blew again, making me jump.
“Would you please turn the sound off?” Ebo asked.
“It is off. Weather emergencies seem to override it”.
“Disable it. Go into settings–“.
“I know how to do it.”
I looked out the window, wondering when the hail would come and how big it would be. I searched the dark for the edge of the road, trying to see the difference between mud, asphalt and water. We turned on the radio, hoping to get local weather, but it was just garbled voices and static. I brought it up again. “Maybe we should stop at one of the houses.”
Then I looked more closely and realized we couldn’t. Between the road and the houses was water. As in, a pond of water, or maybe a lake. There was no way to get to the houses. We drove on, waiting for the hail.
But then something seemed different. “I think the lightening has let up”, I said.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Ebo responded. The road was changing, too. There were more cars, and houses seemed to be closer together. We could see lights ahead. The GPS said we had only seven minutes to go. We had survived.
We pulled up in front of Vince’s just as Will Gault was about to close his kitchen and Alphonso Sanders had played his last set. We slid into a prohibition style booth, and the food started flying to our table. A man with a sax sidled up to us and introduced himself. John Coltraine came on through the speakers, and Alphonso started to play along to it. Right there, for us. He stayed and talked a bit. We ate, we drank, we looked around the speakeasy-like room and we smiled. It took us a year, but we finally got to the Delta.
Going to Leland, Mississippi?
Where to stay:
The Thomson House, run by Ms. Charlotte Buchanan, a retired judge, who knows everything there is to know about Leland– and, it seems, everyone who lives in or around Leland. The turn of the century home, with it’s generous proportions and stately furnishings, is often booked for weddings. It has wifi, air conditioning and all the other modern conveniences, but the gracious splendor of a bygone era. Rooms range from $125-185 per night and include Miss Charlotte’s home made breakfast.
The Thompson House
Bed & Breakfast and Event Center
111 N. Deer Creek Drive West
Leland, Mississippi 38756
Where to eat, drink and listen to music:
Originally built in the 1920’s, the space has been renovated with prohibition-style booths for dining and a large bar area to listen to live music. The food is more sophisticated renderings of Southern classics.Vince’s 207 North Main Street Leland, MS 38756 662.686.2112