So, just what is down in Mississippi ? I don't know exactly, but here's what I saw from the view of a cracked windshield in a hippie bus sitting next to the world's best dog.
(This tour was a full circle from 22 years ago when I was living out of my car and driving around the country looking for opportunity while trying to find myself.)
Zero and I set out on 1-55 South and first rolled into Crystal Springs where we saw local Jackson sign makers, A+ Signs, doing their second mural downtown. We saw a historic rail-town with a rad bed & breakfast (Wisteria Inn) and Lake Chautauqua. Apparently tomatoes are a thing there as they tout the title of “Tomatopolis of the World” (bet you can't pronounce it). All of this tomato madness has been hyped up by its Mayor, Sally Garland, who is quite a friendly spirit who loves her town.
From there we went through the rail-towns of Hazlehurst and then Brookhaven stopping to eat at the famous Janie's Bakery in downtown – the most killerest chicken-on-a-stick around (Sorry, Penn's). Zero had to go #2 all of the sudden, but got de-railed when the train blew through downtown right next to us and was blowing its loud horn (...he stayed mad about that for 2 days).
We then rolled through Columbia, the original home of Leetha's BBQ (now located in Hattiesburg). Hopping back over I-55, we down-hilled through through Summit where Zero was born 12 years ago in a ragged pen with other flea-bitten varmints. We passed through the Homochitto National Forest with dark blue restless clouds on top of a bleeding sunset – quite surreal to the eye.
Eventually we ended up in Natchez, where neither of us had ever been. Those restless clouds were now ganging up for action and quickly got down to business. We had just enough time to set up camp at the Bluff before we got washed for the next 8 hours. Natchez has a cool breakfast shop called Natchez Coffee Company (great coffee, but skip the beignets though) and several other cool places like Pig Out Inn, Fat Mamma's Tamales, Smoot's Grocery and Steampunk Coffee House. Under the Hill was a cool area with eat places and a killer river view complete with a dock for the river cruise-liner that makes time look still from the early century peeps getting their party on. On the way out, we stopped by Mammie's Cupboard on 61 South and pounded a soup and sandwich in one of the raddest dives ever. Heading back up Hwy 61 presented little one horse towns like Fayette and Lorman who had the awesome Old Country Store where the owner, an older African American gentleman, sang the blues while the crowd swooned in amazement of this impromptu occasion.
Driving through Port Gibson, we saw the big Finger and then we rolled into Vicksburg. I have never really thought much about VB but saw it from a different angle this time. We met H.C. Porter and chilled in the Highway 61 coffee house and saw exceptionally great art in the Attic Gallery upstairs. It was cool to see local Mississippi works from Tony Difatta, Tony Davenport, Ellen Langford as well as other works from regional artists. Whoever curates here knows their stuff. The rooftop bar at 10 South has quite the killer view and the same crew just opened CottonWood – Public House on Washington as well and it is quite a rad looking joint too. Zero and I camped out in H.C. Porter's back alley that night and enjoyed the sounds of a couple of gunshots in the distance (just like home) and mostly happy local drinkers jubilantly passing by on the street from a spirit-filled night of partying.
As we headed still north on 61, the obviousness of tourism traffic had set in I guess since we were in Natchez. We stopped in Onward at the Onward Store and ate okra, gassed up the bus and Zero gassed up the bus too, and we headed to Rolling Fork to Chuck's Inn – a now famous dive and home of the raddest burger this side of any-damn-where. The lady owner there might just be the nicest person I have ever met. Zero hung out in the bus with the windows down getting pet by everyone who walked by. Literally eeeverybody talks to you here. It was very impressive the see how people here are grown up in the sense that color didn't seem to matter. I walked up the restaurant through a huddled mass of local rappers cutting up with some straight up bumpkins and there was love in the land.
As I was posting along the way – peeps would tell me to go here or there. I took advice from a few and landed on Lake Washington in Glen Alan, Mississippi – a micro-sized fishing community with nary a nothing but one store call Bait and Thangs.
From there, Zero and I headed north on Hwy 1 to Greenville to check out their downtown and Doe's. Doe's is indeed as authentic as they come with walking through the kitchen to sit and the down home feels as one would expect from all of the hype.
We decided that Glen Alan was so cool that we backtracked an hour and camped there. A free fishing pole and some gnarly fluorescent green worms weren't quite enough for us to catch the big one though or any for that matter (did catch a log). We fried up some stinky beans and Mexican corn from a can and watched another wicked sunset over Lake Washington followed by the sounds of coyote pups and crickets and the sight of stars galore with no city lights to disturb them.
The next day before heading to Belzoni, we stopped in the next community of Chatham at Roy's Store and had the most bitchin'est biscuits and coffee ever. Belzoni was preparing for the Catfish Festival as we headed to Yazoo City's downtown area and ate at Tom's Diner – another bitchin' burger for sure and we wrote a screen print order at the Downtown Marketplace while the owner was hawk-eying shoplifters...yep, kinda like home.
Heading south on Hwy 49 landed us in Bentonia to check out Hall Of Fame – a stupid-cool little dive on the side of the highway and then on to The Blue Front juke joint. This place was a hidden treasure and one of the last original jukes around the state.
We knew we had crossed the line into Jackson once we hit potholes galore shaking our teeth loose. It was time to come back and get some new brake pads and recharge the pup and bus for tour #2 coming up in next few weeks.
Looking back – I truly can't say that I was expecting to be inspired by a tour through Mississippi, but it was an itch that Zero and I had to scratch. Sometimes you find when you are not looking and this we did. From rail towns to water towns to Delta towns...from fishing minnows to farming silos...from general stores to squeaky doors...from crickets to coyotes – I found inspiration in great folk and organic life. In an odd and welcoming sort of way, it seemed like these stuck-in-time little towns might have been a bit less advanced in their tangible growths, but definitely more advanced in their common affection for one another across all of the lines that divide us in a bigger city like Jackson. Instead of fanning flames, these folk fan flies and it seemed as though maybe they had all just grown up and moved on with the buffet of love instead of feeding off of the controversies that us city-slickers get dumped on our own plates and guilt-fully bring upon ourselves. Maybe, or at least as I saw it, there doesn't so much need to be hope for Mississippi as it's already here. Maybe there just needs to be more hope for people like me and Zero and others who just needed a face-front dose of it to get right in the head.
Yep, The Folks are alright...