Brown celebrates 10 years ‘downtown’

Published 10:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Downtown Karla Brown celebrated the 10-year anniversary of opening her tour guide and shuttle service in Natchez on Thursday by inviting all of her friends, namely everyone, to her business office inside Franklin Street Relics.

“I didn’t know if I’d make it to 10 weeks, yet here I am,” said Brown in the same joking manner she often uses when speaking to friends, customers and random strangers.

Hers is the kind of personality you might expect from someone who makes a living by driving people from the airport to Natchez and back. During bicycle season, her clients have been those who ride the full-length of the Natchez Trace one-way, and she will transport them back to their starting or ending point at either Natchez or Nashville, she said.

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On these long trips, Brown loves learning about people’s lives, telling them about historic parts of the city and recommending to them places to eat and shop during their stay.

However, when some casually ask how she first came to Natchez, many like to hear Brown’s story. Her first-time setting foot in Natchez was in the middle of a walk that lasted two-and-a-half years and 9,000-miles, through 35 states and 18 pairs of shoes.

The day after she graduated from high school in 1981, Brown became the “research rat” of experimental brain surgery at University Hospital in Seattle to end the seizures she endured throughout her childhood.

She had spent the first 18 years of her life in her hometown of Scio, Oregon, suffering from epileptic seizures and taking 21 medications every day to help control them.

In 2001, she set out on a 9,000-mile journey across the country on foot to celebrate 20 years of being seizure-free.

“I’m convinced without a doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t had that surgery, one of three things (would have happened to me). Number one I would have died from a seizure, number two I would have committed suicide; or number three I would have been institutionalized.”

That was the journey that landed her Natchez 20 years ago.

“I literally walked into this town,” she said.

Nancy Hungerford, who was the executive director at the Natchez Children’s Home at the time, found Brown a place to stay and several speaking engagements.

Brown stayed through Hurricane Katrina, working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and later took a job in Alaska. In June 2013, Brown found herself looking for work again in Natchez. The first place she tried was Magnolia Bluff’s Casino, before it first opened.

“They had this 15-page application and on the very front was every job in the building,” Brown said. “There was no listing there for a shuttle driver, so I wrote in shuttle driver and put a checkmark by it.”

That venture evolved into “Downtown Karla Brown,” which is now not only a shuttle service but also holds tours introducing visitors to the many fascinating people and places Brown has met in her 20 years of exposure to Natchez.

She then encourages those visitors to advertise Natchez wherever they go and continues to boast about the town in her travels. She created a T-shirt with her trademark slogan, “Nothing Matches Natchez,” to wear along the way.