Whenever we meet new people and tell them about our annual road trips, we’ll talk partly about the famous attractions and the Very Important sights, but sooner or later we make a point of mentioning the expected “biggest ball of twine in Minnesota” sort of roadside whimsy and bafflement. Some places are more self-aware of their kitsch levels than others. Some places stop just short of posting “STOP HERE FOR PHOTO OP!” signs begging you to drop in and go wild. We’ve seen a few places that go all the way with full-on shameless billboards dozens of miles in advance. (Wall Drug, I’m looking in your direction.)
U.S. Route 90 through Biloxi runs near the Gulf of Mexico and features a pair of souvenir shops ready to sell you Mississippi memorabilia, provide all the beach gear you’ll need for your extended near-ocean stay, or just let you hang out with their marine life collections — all of it colorful, most of it inanimate.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This year’s trip began as a simple idea: visit ostensibly scenic New Orleans. Indianapolis to New Orleans is a fourteen-hour drive. Between our workplace demands and other assorted personal needs, we negotiated a narrow seven-day time frame to travel there and back again. We researched numerous possible routes, cities, and towns to visit along the way in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. We came up with a long, deep list of potential stops, but tried to leave room for improvisation…
When you’re driving eastward from New Orleans, your first stop is Souvenir City, which chose simple obviousness over oddball creativity in its name…which, well, tells you what you need to know.
Two full floors are stuffed with swimwear, beach toys, merchandise from the various Southern cities and hot spots in the vicinity, and thousands of other potential impulse purchases.
If you brought kids who love animals, Souvenir City has a display case full of live hermit crabs that you can pretend is a free zoo. I wouldn’t recommend petting them, but that’s your call to make as a parent.
Honestly, at first I (somehow) overlooked the gallery of “HERMIT CRABS” signs and the mega-hermit crab dangling overhead, and thought this was a case full of empty shells. It took a few seconds for my eyes to focus and spot signs of life, crawling and floundering and stepping on each other’s heads.
Not far down the road, the same company has another location called Sharkheads. Same merchandise, slightly different aesthetic.
Whereas Souvenir City is on the side of US 90 away from the Gulf, Sharkheads is right next to the beach and, you’ll note, has been rebuilt atop super-sized columns meant to withstand future natural disasters. Should the community be struck again in the decades ahead (may God forbid), there’ll be one less business needing to be salvaged from scratch — maybe even serve as a haven in case of emergencies. And they have their own hermit crab tank, so that population will live on.
Together Souvenir City and Sharkheads are a positive sign that the southern American coastline is once again open for business, prepared for visitors, willing to cater to your travel needs, and ready for its closeups in your future vacation photos.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]