South Mississippi has its hooks in two college students from New Jersey. They love it. Except for one thing.
“Who’s walking in this heat?” asked Victoria Principato, when we told her the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge had become popular with walkers.
“You guys are nuts,” Caitlin Boyle joked.
And the weather was actually mild for late August with the noontime temperature in the mid-80s. The students had just been to Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian and Long Beach as part of their tour of 25 cities aboard Amtrak trains for the National Association of Railroad Passengers. And they were about to eat at Murky Waters after visiting the shops in the Gulfport depot and taking in the view from the Great Southern Club. The Coast was their final stop. After visiting Biloxi and Ocean Springs, they’ll drive to Hattiesburg to catch the train to New York on Friday.
There are places where there is no cell phone service and that might freak out someone. But after a couple of hours you really start to enjoy it. It’s kind of stress-free.
What did they learn about America along the way?
“It’s really big,” said Boyle, who’ll start graduate school in engineering Monday at Catholic University in Washington. “It sounds silly to say, but you see so much of the country from what they call the flyover states. You go through there, you meet the people who are from there. Just driving through you see how amazing and beautiful the country is.”
And train travel, they learned, is a great way to unplug and meet people.
“There are places where there is no cell phone service and that might freak out someone,” said Principato, a senior at Catholic University in Washington. “But after a couple of hours you really start to enjoy it. It’s kind of stress-free.”
The first night was in Bay St. Louis.
“A really beautiful town,” said Principato.
Both said they had no preconceived notions about Mississippi, so their visit wasn’t influenced by the stereotypes Mississippians worry about.
“We came in with a clean slate,” said Principato. “Open minds.”
They were a few surprises.
“I did not know there were beaches in Mississippi,” she said. And there was the flag hubbub, which they encountered in Bay St. Louis, where locals showed them a design they would rather see than the controversial one with Rebel Flag emblem in its canton.
“It looks beautiful,” Boyle said. “I don’t know. Whatever you all decide on.”
One reason for the stop was to promote the return of Amtrak to Mississippi, which hasn’t had a stop since Katrina. A push is afoot to return that service. Since there are no stops, they had to drive in from New Orleans to Bay St. Louis on Thursday.
“We’ve learned so much about the people and about these businesses and how amazingly they would do with a train stop in their town,” Boyle said. “It’s a beautiful place. We definitely see ourselves coming back. Next time by train.”