In the South, there are two ubiquitous monuments to a new economy, Wal-Marts and casinos. Both get, at best, mixed reviews.
Near Biloxi, Miss., stands Beauvoir, the last home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Presiding over the "presidential library" is Merle Hammack, a retired school librarian, who refuses to cede an inch to Yankee disparagers of Davis. She has watched the sleepy coastal town blossom with casino wealth.
Merle Hammack: "Casinos are good and bad. More employment, so the kids don't have to leave home. But there is also rising crime, but you don't hear the media talking much about that."
As strange as it seems, the Bible Belt has loosened up a few notches to get fat off casinos. John and Susan Sungelo, retirees from Forest Park, Ga., are now peripatetic motor-home dwellers -- last month in Texas, now at a state park near Carrolton, Ga., next month in Washington state.
Susan Sungelo: "We love Wal-Marts. You can park overnight in their lots for free. And we love casinos. They treat you right. They're cheap, good food. Cheap. Free entertainment."
Harold "Lucky" Odum lost an Orlando job in hotel management to the economy -- and now says he's more than happy guarding the doors at the Treasure Bay Casino -- a fake ship tied to a fake castle -- on Mississippi's gulf coast. Jeff Prusinowski is Treasure Coast's vice president.
Lucky Odum: "The casino employs 950 people, and these are good jobs. Ninety-nine percent of us enjoy the work. You can't fake loving people. We don't have crime and prostitution, like Nevada and Atlantic City. A lot of churches frown on this. But there are four or five large Catholic churches around here, and they don't have any qualms about gambling."
Jeff Prusinowski: "I worked as an engineer at TRW Automotive in Louisville [Miss.] until the plant closed, and then began as a blackjack dealer at a casino. Took advantage of education to move up. This is night and day compared to the automotive parts business. This is entertainment. It's glamorous. I hate to see industry go away. That's not good. But I'm glad I landed in casinos."
For some, like Eddie Dixon, president of the Marshall County, Miss., Board of Supervisors, Wal-Marts are a sign of progress.
Eddie Dixon: "There's been lots of changes around here. Why the Wal-Mart is now a Super Wal-Mart. That shows we're growing."
For others, they're a sign of decay. Joe and Jeannette Taylor own Avenue E, an antique and curio shop in Apalachicola, Fla. Sitting in a restaurant next to Avenue E, when Jeanette mentions Wal-Mart, people at nearby tables shake their heads and mutter, "NO!"
Jeanette Taylor: "We don't want to become over-commercialized. People here would not be interested in a Wal-Mart. They kill local business."
Joe Taylor: "It's 53 miles to the edge of Panama City. We can put up with the drive if we want to go to Wal-Mart. We're proud that both of our grocery stores, the IGA and the Piggly Wiggly, are locally owned. If a Publix came, I don't think we'd like it."
We ran into Mike Jones of Acona, Miss., as he was launching his boat for a little fishing. He has personal reasons to fear Wal-Mart.
Mike Jones: "I own a convenience store and a tobacco discount store. They're building a Wal-Mart near my store. First three years, a new Wal-Mart sells below other Wal-Marts. If their design isn't to put people out of business, that's what happens."