….they say, in order to find yourself, you must first be willing to get lost. Actually, I don’t know who THEY are, but I guess I’m the one who made up this cock-a-mamie idea while trying to sound like a philosophical genius. Either way, it at least made enough sense to me to pack up the hippie bus, Zero, and several cans of Mexican corn and hotdogs and hit the pavement once again to FIND. “Find” being somewhat of a loose term as “what exactly I was looking for” was not as relevant as simply getting lost and seeing.
It was a Monday morning and those usually kind blow, but this one was good in that we were headed through Pocahontas, you know – where the teepee is – or was – it’s a Dollar Damn General now (!). As we bussed along, we passed a familiar face that belonged to Lauren Rhoades from Sweet and Sauer based in Midtown. She was smiling big as we passed because she was delivering a hella ton of product to the peeps over at Two Dog Farms in Flora. (They really just have two dogs as both I and Zero carefully checked.) Two Dog Farms was started by a guy named Van and his lady. They lease 16th section land and grow rad stuff on it that goes all over Mississippi and to the New Orleans area. They hooked us up with a bag of English peas and sent us on our way. We dropped by the downtown area which was quite quaint with that classic old school downtown look full of landmark businesses and a few newer businesses that were likely started by the next generation or two who loved that area and wanted to come home to grow a family or business. Cool places like the Blue Rooster, Bill’s and the Flora Butcher rounded out the town. I hoped the smoky meat smell there would soak into my clothes and make Zero jealous but I walked out really just regular smelling.
Bentonia showed up under our tires next as we headed north on 49. We stopped by Hall of Fame and ordered a burger and okra, but got fries instead ‘cause the lady said “okra always takes 25 minutes and sometimes more”. A very unassuming place but busy to say the least. Tourists kept falling out of the sky from Mississippi locals to the European kind. “These folks sho’ don’t get in no hurries”, said a local patron who called herself Lady Ella – a local who knows the ropes in this town as well as north, east, south, and west of this blip on the map. We finally got our vittles and chewed savoring every last bite dreading the end of the burger. This place lived up to her name fo sho as Ella would have prolly said if she would have been here when we got done but she was in a hurry to get to the laundromat as someone stole her “dad-blamed socks” last time.
After that awesome start to what was gonna be a good Monday – we stopped in to see the nice folks at Downtown Marketplace in Yazoo. They were the first to write an order with us from tour #1 and we just wanted to say thanks. Zero held court right outside as he sat in the bus and barked without breathing for a solid 15 minutes. The passersby just thought he was cute and missing his “person” but he was really just mad that he saw the rawhides I hid earlier and wanted one right that second…or he was maybe upset that the speakers were playing Journey outside (that’s enough to make anyone upset). He calmed down when Billy Idol fired up the streets as old ladies put a little more pop in their step.
Indianola happened next. Again, a cool downtown with nostalgia and new, The BB King Museum and Indianola Pecan House. A sleepy town full of people that know you might not be from around here but nonetheless seemed to respect that you came to their corner of the world.
We headed east to Greenwood and ended up in the downtown area which was nicer than nice having all of the other stuff that downtowns have in addition to the Alluvian, rad murals, and some really fly gnome art that had popped up by an anonymous artist. It was a lil ghosty being a Monday but grand in goodness with history and pride for the Delta. We stayed at Tallatchie Flats that night and camped out next to the river. Billy Whittington hooked us up and even let us use one of the shacks for showering and ordered a hundred shirts to boot. We cooked our can of Mexican corn and Country Pleasin’ sausage and chilled on the porch of the once sharecropper shack. The full-ish moon owned this particular night as Zero had just finished a barking match with some coyotes that were off in the distance and who were not really even talking to him anyway. The train was also in the distance as you could sorta hear & feel the rumble of it getting closer and then farther away. That moment froze in time as I will never forget how cool my best friend was when he laid on a porch with the moon and sounds of nature, technology, and life all happening at the same time. Times like these. Anyway, the next day, we went down Money Road and saw the old church graveyard where blues legend Robert Johnson was thought to be buried. A little further down the road was the grocery store where Emmitt Till’s story unfolded as a black man who whistled at a white woman. It was a surreal moment to try and picture that setting… less surreal to want to understand why such a tragedy like this happened at all. I could not help but feel shame from what others had done in the past. Man playing God and calling the shots over others was never the plan.
Cleveland was coming up on the map. It was time to let Zero get back out to inventory the local scene and leave some of his own inventory. Afterwards, he chewed a piece of rawhide I had hidden back in Yazoo. As we headed to check out the town, Swoon, our bus, decided she didn’t wanna crank. A couple of testosterone-filled, young, kinda redneck boys showed up and tried to help us out but to no avail. I ended up cranking her with a hammer and a screwdriver from under the bus and got her to a local place called Lance’s Auto. These guys were awesome and ordered us a new starter. Zero got to stay in the bus while it was on the lift. You could almost see his eyes do like in the cartoons – they stayed on the ground as he went up in the air. He would later confess to thinking he had just had an out-of-body experience where he may have seen the light. That light was really just the spotlight they had in the ceiling but we are gonna leave that alone and let him keep his story as he saw it. After the “sorta” fixin’ rif raf, we hit the town and enjoyed the Grammy Museum, Mississippi Grounds coffee shop, Hey Joes, and Delta Meat Market among other smaller shops on the square (that prolly really wasn’t even a square but a strip). “Keep Cleveland Boring” is what the stickers say as seen on a couple of bumpers and street signs.
From here, we headed north towards Clarksdale where we had a hookup to stay in the fields of the Shack Up Inn. We first hit the downtown area which is pretty nice. We sticker-slammed and put business cards in door jambs of prospective businesses and then took photos of the local art on walls and poles and anywhere that had it… meanwhile the bus had to stay cranked – oh, yeah, we didn’t actually get it fixed yet as the starter was coming in tomorrow, but Zero kept his sharp squirrel tooth out (the one on the left side that got jagged on a bad bone a few years back) to protect our rolling home as well as all of the cool stickers we had acquired along the tours. After we got to Shack Up, a guy named Jeem, who used to live in LA, showed us where to plug in. We camped out under the stars, of which there were many, and prolly a few new ones too. The Mexican corn came back out along with some pork filets we found at McDade’s for $2… don’t worry, we were gonna eat fast before they expired. It was another relaxed night away from dodging bullets as we tend to call it in Jackson. The night felt like a scene from Dispatches from Pluto (Richard Grant’s book).
A good morning always comes right after a good night and I crawled back under the ole bus and re-crunk her with the hammer and screwdriver… south we headed back to Cleveland to get that starter. While waiting on the install, Zero and I went over to the gas station and chewed on a biscuit and I drank typical gas station coffee made likely from the Delta’s finest dirt. Shortly after we finished, a man walked by us and asked if we were hungry as we were sitting on the sidewalk. I told him thank you and that Zero had just gotten out of jail and we were contemplating our next move.. Zero complied with the story (or really just kept cleaning his butt from an earlier inventory drop). The nice fellow moved on and we finished doing follow-up emails to hopeful clients. Upon getting Swoon back off that lift where Zero previously had that “experience”, we took advice from Chris Myers in Jackson who told us on SpaceBox that we should stop in Merigold and see McCarty’s Gallery and restaurant. It was quite cool to see that a restaurant buried deep, deep in the Delta in rural Mississippi, that didn’t even have a sign and had never advertised, could be such a huge hit. The smell from that place was an involuntary time warp to back in the day at my Grandma Edith’s kitchen. I didn’t eat there because Zero and I were living on chips for lunch but I smelled so good when I left there that Zero gave me the whole shakedown sniffin’ he usually gives me after I have been petting other dogs. We soon got back to Clarksdale or CLxDL as I dubbed it and realized those chips were not cutting it and hit up Abe’s BBQ and then back to the downtown area to meet Bill Luckett. He’s a lawyer who used to be the Mayor. He co-owns Ground Zero with Morgan Freeman and was gonna listen to me try to hustle him for the tee shirt business. I did just that and made my way to their juke joint to meet with their manager and get more info in order to place a bid for their business in the future. Outside were plenty of tourists, as expected, from the states and Europe. It’s funny when you think about it, as having lived in NYC and time in London, you never really meet Europeans there… only in Mississippi. They watched me slam stickers on the front of the building as Zero barked from the bus. We headed from there to Meraki Coffee House a couple of blocks over. This was a rad place as it was a non-profit that worked with students and the arts. After we did a couple of hours coffee-drinking and doing notes, we headed over to the CARES Clarksdale to see 100+ dogs who had been rescued. Zero was quite tweaked at my handing well over 100 treats away to others. Every dog was nice and so were the peeps who ran this doggy hostel. We discussed a tee shirt project for the future and headed back to Shack Up with a few extra treats for Zero. After another canned Mexican corn and sausage cookout, we headed over the tracks to the Shack Up Lounge and listened to a blues trio, finishing out another great night in the Delta. The next day brought us back downtown to Grandma’s House of Pancakes where we had more of that great bacon that is completely cooked and pretty ok pancakes. It was tough to leave CLxDL as we enjoyed its art, pups, peeps, and vibes.
We rolled into Batesville an hour or so later and promoted in their downtown area. It’s places like here as well as places all over that have great downtown areas and make me wonder why don’t we have this much action in our own downtown in Jackson.
From here, we went a bit norther to Sardis and Como and then crossed I-55 into the north hill-country side of the state as we were headed towards Coldwater. We loved this part of the drive the most as the bus surfed the hills and valleys and turns. We stopped at a roadside store, gassed up, and got a couple of potato logs as one is expected to do at a place like this and met a slick fella named Charles. He was the local info bank and town talker. We enjoyed time with his folky wisdom and headed out towards Holly Springs, New Albany, and Tupelo, all of which had great little downtowns that are vibrantly full of locals frolicking to the beat of life in Mississippi. Oh yeah, in Tupelo, we stopped by Main Street, the first store that gave us a shot back 25 years ago with our first account outside of Jackson.
Swoon’s oil light was starting to flicker as we headed towards the outskirts of Oxford. Vivian and Walter Neil, who used to live in Jackson, now have a spread out here and graciously put us up for the night in their field, right next to the chicken pen and just down from their Oxford Treehouse Gallery. This was another one of those hookups from SpaceBox where someone saw where we were going and made a connection for us (thanks Anne Scott Barrett). The night was rad as we first got a tour of Walter’s workshop full of everything in the world to work with, wood or metal. We did our cook out thing again – now getting a lil burnt out on that canned corn and then laid out under a black sky hidden by thick trees with intermittent stars, likely the same ones from CLxDL, and fell asleep to the sounds of a distant dog barking continuously for an hour and for reasons unknown. It was now Friday and I was looking forward to one of those big fat cinnamon rolls from Bottletree Bakery on the square in Oxford. I conspired new ideas while drinking a lot of coffee as I sat at the low bar up front while watching the students scurry out everyone else’s orders. I skipped the tee shirt hustle here as there are plenty of screen printers, but did quite a few sticker slams to be safe.
We rolled south to Taylor and realized that this area is quite rich in artists as a hidden pocket of sorts. Many of the artists really just live here part time and split with places like Memphis and L.A. The Taylor Inn was a pretty rad place with the Big Truck Theater right next door. I was bummed that Taylor Grocery was closed and there would be no catfish lunch today but that just meant that I would get to eat at the famous B.T.C. Grocery in Water Valley instead. On the way to Water Valley, I saw a field full of Jackasses and right next to that, a chicken farm of sorts. Up until this point, I always thought that cocky jackasses looked like certain business owners in Fondren vs actually being nice lil’ animals. Anyway, we eventually got to WV and saw that it had the historically set downtown we were expecting as we had seen on Blue Magnolia Film’s documentary. We stopped by Bozart’s Gallery and the Violet Valley Bookstore trading stickers and then headed over to get coffee at Trusty’s. Apparently the Trusty name had been a part of Water Valley for decades. Zero then got to play outside at a pocket garden area while a local onlooker quizzed me about my bus. I finished out my time in WV at The Crawdad Hole. Heavens-to-Betsy, as some say yere in the south, that place was aaawesome ! I murdered out a bucket of shrimp, crawfish, sausage, potatoes, corn, and hot tamales. I got this killer meal for free as the owners, Justin and LuAnn Showah, hooked me up for agreeing to take Finn, their slightly timid 15 year old daughter to see Beach House a little later that night. She was under age and needed an adult to accompany her – somehow I got asked instead.
We got back to OX and hit The Lyric to see one of my favorite bands ever. Sounds of Ceres was the opening act (they were from Brooklyn !) and then Beach House came on and killed it for 2 hours. What a perfect end to a perfect tour and to the project as a whole. I then dropped off Finn, who would likely be fast asleep soon, as she partied hard at her first concert… I would be driving for the next 3 ½ hours back home to see my better half and pups – it is a VW bus remember. Tonight was now today and I had a 9 year old dog birthday to celebrate with Zero’s spawn – Luna (aka DJ Chubby Squirrel) and Magpie. As I finally pulled up at the house, oil light still flickering, I realized that I had just completely a heck of an education on Mississippi and that I would continue to foster this new appreciation forever. It was 3:30 a.m. as the fog was ligting from a previous light rain and the same moon from a few nights ago likely was saying “I brought you home safe, now rest easy”.
So, that was it, the end of the tour that showed me the realness of Mississippi, its folk and its art. A year’s worth of wondering and planning to take this jorney or research, development, and just a little bit of play had come to life and was now filed as a great memory. The success of the time was being with Zero as well as quite a few new tee shirt printing relationships. We also made new friends along the way. The trip was not the easiest at times as cold calling is tough when and where you have no credibility as you are kinda like a fly buzzing around someone’s food. Doing the tee shirt hustle is kinda like being a vacuum cleaner salesman going door-to-door and kinda like being a drug dealer in that, whether you meant it or not, you were likely stepping on somebody else’s turf.
However, at least a dozen or so of those doors opened giving us a chance to prove ourselves, thus allowing us to grow as we set out to do. I used an old thumb-counter that my Grandfather used when he was a bus driver, that counter landed on 629 total stops made to promote. Other fun numbers of the trip were that I spent exactly to the dollar $497 on food, petro, repair, and of course stickers and a Beach House tee shirt. 10 nights and 12 total days, 8 cans of Mexican corn, 1700+ miles (95% back roads), hit 0 potholes (outside of Jackson of course), fed only 1 parking meter, 0 run-ins with buttholes and saw countless works of art. I visited towns with names such as: Birdie, Darling, Coffeeville, Hot Coffee, Looxahoma, Alligator, and Hushpuckena. I also learned that in a sense, farmers are artists and that they must never look back… otherwise their rows would not be so perfect.
The failure, if there should be such, with a trip like this was not getting to meet all of the folks I should have met and not getting to do all of the playing Zero and I wished to do. There was a lot of great food and food places along the way that got traded for that canned Mexican corn – later I wished I would have eaten everywhere along the way. Thanks to all of you who followed this journey, gave us suggestions along the way, and helped us find safe places to camp for the night.
In wrapping up, I would definitely say that this was an experience of a lifetime as I got a much different inspiration than maybe I was looking for. I also learned that if you dig and pay attention to this great place, you might realize that Mississippi is much more indie and open minded than it gets credit for…
Zero’s last thoughts were that at least dogs and cats just growl, bark, and sometimes bite it out and then move on. Why can’t humans try to maybe do the same (without all the biting) and just move on to learning from each other and their differences rather than subscribing to the division that the dividers and the media try to sell us.
Our lives seem to be glued by worry and as we all know, worry just steals our days. We should be taking our moments captive.
In the words of Socrates (stolen from Plato), “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
CHANE + Zero
….keep the fuses lit
….live fast, dream forever