Since it was the middle of winter I went far south, to avoid any snows or storms that might slow me down. I didn't have time to sightsee like I did last trip. I immediately headed south down I-80, which goes all the way to Knoxville, then continued to Birmingham, Alabama (one more state I'd never been in!), and by the second night I was sleeping in Jackson, Mississippi.
One thing I couldn't help noticing in the Deep South: the roadkill. There were dead animals strewn along the highways in all the southern states, some of which looked weeks or even months old. One random stop in Texas I jumped out to take a photo of a speed limit sign (80mph) and looked down to see a skeleton of a deer at my feet. It appears the local counties don't bother to pick them up at all... pretty gross.
Along the way I planned one stop: outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I had read about the "Tiger Truckstop", where the owners kept a large tiger in a cage outside their restaurant to attract business. This I had to see; I wanted to get some video to document it, and let the owners know what I thought of it.
It was easy to find and right along my route. I parked and brought my little Flip video camera and my phone, which has a camera too. I had been warned that these people could be nasty.
There were several buildings including a restaurant and the gas station/quick mart. Sure enough, there was a cage there in the middle of it all, not 100 yards from the highway (see videos below). All the time big, rumbling 18-wheelers rumbled in & out. The cage itself was pretty crummy, and the tiger slept in a barren, dark little cinder-blocked 'house'. I took a lot of photos and some vids, which speak for themselves.
I asked a lady at the counter if the owners were around, and she said no. I asked her to give them this message: I WAS going to buy gas, eat at the restaurant, and purchase some snacks, but now I wasn't going to spend a penny there because they kept a tiger captive in an obviously inadequate and inappropriate place. She said "Everyone's entitled to their opinion" and seemed to not care at all what I thought, and saw nothing wrong with keeping a huge, wild animal in lifelong captivity at a truckstop.
As I was leaving I snapped a few last photos with my phone camera, and the counter lady came out and said something to a big, fat, redneck-looking guy working there. He came up to me and said, "I don't know who you're with, Peta or whatever, but you've got to get out of here." I said sure, but as I walked to my truck I said "You guys lost a customer" and he said "Everyone's entitled to their opinion". Obviously they'd all been told to say that to anyone who decried the fact of their tiger's captivity. They didn't mind if you had another opinion-- but they didn't want you there to state it. He said some other things to me, but most was lost in the highway noise.
Somehow in my Penske rental truck I doubt I looked like a Peta protester, but they still acted paranoid, which is how people who abuse animals usually act to anyone with a camera asking questions about what they're doing. It must not be common there for people to actually state that they disliked the tiger's predicament; I wish more folks would speak up when they see something that looks wrong. It just might let greedy morons like those truckstop people see that perhaps they'd be better off not using animals to attract customers.
Anyway, I also made a detour to Bryan/College Station, Texas, to see some old friends, the Ramseys. I didn't have much time, but they made sure I saw a bit of their town and took me to dinner. Ramsay took me on a tour of Texas A&M, then to dinner at a local seafood restaurant which was very good. I stayed the night at Randal's amazing house, which seems to be almost as full of treasures and interesting objects he's collected over the years as the Smithsonian. He showed me a fascinating assortment of arrowheads, rifles, animal skulls, and all sorts of antiques and other knick-knacks. There was too much to absorb in one visit; I'll have to go back just to see the rest!