Red carpet never out of place here

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Natchez can be an overwhelming place.

But it’s not the heat and humidity, the local politics or a spate of recent crimes that can leave you feeling buried.

No, those things — though important — aren’t heavy enough to burden the overwhelming traits about which I’m talking.

Our truly immense hospitality was on show once again last week, just ask the folks attending the American Association of State Highway and Transportation spring meeting.

“It’s like you built this town just for us,” AASHTO employee Sheri Johnson said.

“I have been teasing the Mississippi Department of Transportation, saying, ‘Somebody, please be mean to me.’”

Though Ms. Johnson might have been surprised by the smiles and friendly faces she encountered, those of us who have lived in Natchez for any time at all certainly aren’t.

If Natchez is our name, then hospitality is our game. It’s been that way for decades.

And, though Ms. Johnson was probably joking, she practically hit the nail on the head.

Natchez, in many ways, was built just for tourists. The Mississippi River made us that way.

Our city was destined, from the beginning, to be a stop along the way for the visitors on boats, barges and even rafts floating down the Mississippi.

Though Native Americans, French settlers, British rule and Spaniards all lay claim to the early foundations of Natchez, it was a later group of people that survived and thrived — the hosts.

From the less-than-honorable establishments Under-the-Hill that learned how to attract customers with money to spend, to the far more upstanding early women of Pilgrimage, Natchez has long known how to roll out the red carpet.

And of course, our former mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown showed off his Natchez upbringing last week.

Brown and his staff organized the grandest of Natchez weekends for the members of AASHTO — a group of which Brown is president.

If you missed the show you must have been sleeping. Balloon race, Angels on the Bluff, Pilgrimage and fine dining all rolled into one fun-filled weekend for Brown’s guests.

I’ve never been to an AASHTO spring meeting, but I can’t imagine another town topping what Natchez did.

Did the whole affair cost just a bit too much? Most definitely.

Has Brown ever been known to go overboard? Many locals would nod an affirmative.

Did some of the concerted cleanup work that led up to last week’s conference seem a tad on the silly side? Some of you surely think so.

Was it all worth it?

That depends on how many people Sheri Johnson talks to about her trip.

Say, for example, Johnson and each of the other 300 conference attendees went home and told three of her closest friends how great Natchez was.

Quickly, 900 people have heard good things about Natchez. If only one third of those people ever came to Natchez, the AASHTO conference would have doubled its economic impact.

Natchez rolls out the red carpet, flashes the smiles and truly cares about those who visit our city, but we do it for a reason. Tourism keeps Natchez afloat.

Centuries of history made Natchez a tourism town. No elected official, smokestack industry or cranky citizen can change that overnight.

And because of that, we must do our best to continue overwhelming each and every guest.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or