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Wednesday, August 03, 2005 ISSUE #374
 

Mississippi River running low on water, high on comedy

# 374, August 3, 2005

ABOARD THE AMERICAN QUEEN: You folks have probably seen the Mississippi River, either from an airplane at 30,000 feet, or while driving across a bridge. But you can't say you're really acquainted with this river until you have been in the middle of it on a boat. Now I'm not making light of the floods of 1993 or 1927 or other years when people were wading in it ten miles from the shore.

I don't have to sell you on the idea that this is a great river. Mark Twain already did that. What I am suggesting is the next time you think about going on a cruise in the Carribean, or Mediterranean or even the Nile, well, you might want to cruise in our own home waters first. You can't find any home waters that's more American than the Mississippi. After looking over this river from one end to the other, then you can explore the Ohio, or Missouri, or Tennessee or even the Tombigbee.

To give you an idea of the draw this American Queen has on folks, we had 'em from all over. California, Florida, Washington state, New Hampshire, Texas, Alabama, everywhere. June and July were the hottest on record in New England, yet we had folks from up there. Imagine a family sitting around the dining room table in New York or Boston a month ago and saying, where can we go for a week to escape this heat? Louisiana! One family has 22 members together for a reunion on the boat, and six days into it they're all still speaking to each other and having a great time.

There's a lot of comedy on this steamboat. You folks know I would never resort to bathroom humor, but the following two signs were, in fact, in the bathroom of every stateroom, on little placards. One said, "Conserve Water". Say, aren't we on a river? If this was a camel safari across the Sahara, of course I'd conserve water. The other one read (and I'll let you ponder on this one yourself, without interruption), "Do not put anything in the toilet except toilet paper."

This comedy, if any, belongs to the American Queen. This is not Rogers' comedy. Now, of course we know what the signs mean, and we don't mind using the same towel for a few days to save laundry water. And nobody is going to intentionally try to flush their cigarette butts, or baby diapers..., or Depends.

Speaking of conserving water, this mighty Mississip is mighty low. There's a drought along most of the river and a lot of tributaries. Naturally there's just as much water going out the lower end as ever, but not as much coming in. It's harder for a boat this size to find a place to dock. At Vicksburg we had to pull in a few miles downriver and take a bus to the historic Civil War battlefield. In Natchez we got a good history lesson called "Southern Road To Freedom", presented with passion and great music. St. Francisville has antebellum homes and Cajun Country flavor.

Well, if this dry weather continues into fall, they'll have to put wheels under the barges. That would add a new meaning to the phrase, Rollin' Down the River. Of course if it don't rain, there won't be much grain for those barges to haul.

Of course there's a little news this week. The Highway bill, the Bolton appointment, steroid use by what everyone knows as a great baseball player up to now. And the Space Shuttle repairs being completed with the aid of duct tape. (Apparently they neglected to take along baling wire.) But all this news will have to wait till next week. The President and Congress are on break, so right there is the first good news of the month.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

"(The Mississippi) is a beautiful river (here at Davenport, Iowa). There is just as much water in it here as there is (farther downstream), but not as much mud. Down there it don't flow; it just oozes along with just enough water in it to keep the mud moving." WA #152, Nov. 8, 1925

(Will's words are in bold; I added the rest to complete the story.)

In 1935 Irvin Cobb and I made a picture together called "Steamboat Round the Bend." John Ford is the director. "In the story, we play steamboat captains, he and I, and we have a race. He is the captain of the Pride of Paducah, and I'm the admiral of the Claremore Queen. If this news gets back to Claremore that they had a big stern- wheeler named after 'em, it'll be a surprise to them.

Irvin Cobb's been on a riverboat before, and he's kind of our technical director, too. He's familiar with it. See, I was never on one of those things before, and he tells us how to act, and not to walk off when the thing has left the shore.

The movie is set on the Ohio River, just above where it empties into the Mississippi. But being Hollywood, we made the movie entirely in California. For the Steamboat race, we went up to Sacramento to work on the Sacramento River. We could have worked on the Los Angeles River, but they'd have had to haul the water too far." Radio broadcast, May 19, 1935


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