Rails Across America, Part 1
I just spent seventy-two hours in Yazoo City, Mississippi, seeing, learning, and doing absolutely everything I can. Leaving this place after what seems to be a short period of time, I feel I have learned an impossible amount about this town of 11,403. The town was once a vibrant place that has fallen on hard times; once a lumbering and industrial city, now home to several passing interstates, a growing of complex of federal prisons, and a punctured lung of a main street. I could tell you the story of the Yazoo Witch, who burned the town to the ground in 1904 or why Simmons Catfish Farm spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building a levee around its perimeter. I could tell you much, much more (if you’d be interested, of course).
Here’s how I got here: I’m a twenty-year old rising junior at Middlebury, and I’m taking trains across and around America for seven weeks.
It is in the same way that I could enumerate any number of reasons why my brother would eat all the family’s strawberries—from gluttony to hunger—that I can attribute my motivation for embarking on this trip to myriad causes.
Each of my reasons for taking this trip is, to a degree, honest and valid. Among the ones I am aware of:  escapism;  domestic exploration, because I’ve been abroad but America is still the world’s greatest;  patriotism and a search to understand my identity as an American  a love for small towns, which are unfortunately evaporating everywhere;  academic interest.
Here’s what I’m doing: To give my travels a specific and defined purpose, I am planning to write a report that compares and contrasts eight small towns across America. More details can be found here. The eight small towns in the order that I will visit them are as follows:
1. Yazoo City, Mississippi
2. Cadillac, Michigan
3. Astoria, Oregon
4. Trinidad, Colorado
5. Fort Madison, Iowa
6. Malvern, Arkansas
7. Connersville, Indiana
8. Wells, Maine
As the previous hyperlinks suggest, I’m chronicling many of day-to-day activities, interactions, and epiphanies on my blog, though with an unfortunate lag of a couple days.
Additionally, I will be writing regular dispatches here for Middlebury Magazine throughout the course of my trip, which I will structure as prose summaries of each town I visit.
I’m an economics major, so you can readily expect that my investigations and descriptions of these towns will be noticeably tilted by this “follow-the-money” instinct. With this said, I am overdue to write a piece on Yazoo City and will have another about Cadillac, Michigan, where I’m just now finishing my three-day stint.
I will get these out ASAP. Please do send any comments, questions, or miscellaneous feedback, no matter how critical, mundane, or celebratory it might be.
Editor’s note on July 30: Earlier versions of this dispatch included the incorrect name of a municipality in Maine. The correct name is Wells, Maine.