ROAD TRIP USA 2010: ALABAMY BOUND (VIA ARKANSAS & MISSISSIPPI)
One of the more odd aspects of writing a blog, particularly one that has been going for a while, is the sense of entitlement that many of the readers seem to develop.
“Why aren’t your pictures bigger” They squeal?
“Why don’t you have a search function?” They implore.
And on and on and on and on.
Our usual response is a gentle but firm suggestion that they should go and insert their heads up their own rectums and, that if they are so concerned by the failings of DH, they should stop reading and set up their own blogs. For the record, we have never, don’t now and never will care what anyone else thinks about the blog.
The clue’s in the strap line.
“It’s not much, but it’s ours”
Why am I banging on about this now? Because, some of the most regular comments I receive are when post about my travels and people feel the need to complain that there are not enough food shots and too much of the other stuff I see along the way.
“This is supposed to be a food blog” they helpfully remind me.
Well, they are going to kittens over this particular post, because, there are precious few mentions of good food contained within. There’s a very good reason for that and that's because, during our journey from Tennessee through Arkansas to Alabama, there was precious good food to be found.
There was plenty of “Q, of course with inviting looking shacks littering the highways and byways as we drove over a thousand miles. But (and I may never use these words ever, ever again) a man can only eat so much BBQ, and after our double dosage in Memphis, I was all ‘Q’d out. Thankfully, if there was not much good food to be found, there were plenty of other things to keep me occupied while I wondered about the source of the next half decent meal.
We left Memphis and headed south towards Arkansas. After a three or so hour drive we pulled up in the small town of Hot Springs, which is famous for two things. One is being the former home of President Billy Jeff Clinton. The other is for being the source of the restorative natural hot springs, which give the town its name. It reminded us of a British seaside resort which has fallen out of favour. It was obvious that it had once been a fairly prosperous town, but now most of the hotels looked worn and shabby and most of the famed bathhouses on Bathhouse Row had been turned into museums. Fortunately, a few remained and Neal and I spent a couple of hours soaking in tubs of increasingly hot mineral water until we resembled California prunes.
We had made a decision at the start of the trip to try and find some more unusual places to spend the night. Which is why, as the sun began to sink over the Arkansas horizon, we pulled into the Bar Fifty Ranch near Bismarck. For the princely sum of $45 for the two of us, the owners allowed us to stay in one of a row of rooms used by the cowboys, which had communal bathing facilities and a stunning view over the two thousand acre ranch.
Not that we had much chance to enjoy it as we had set our sights on an early start and by 7.30am the next morning, Bar Fifty was little but a fond memory and a view in the rear view mirror of our Chevy Malibu.
Next stop was the poorest state of The Union and the home of the Delta Blues, Mississippi. To be more exact, Clarksdale Mississippi, the town that John Lee Hooker, Ike & Tina Turner and Robert Johnson called home and also the town where the aforementioned Mr. J is reputed to have sold his soul to “he who walks backwards in return for some serious skills on the guitar.
En route from Arkansas to Mississippi, we pulled off the highway for breakfast (“hurrah” shout the food blog fans) Southern breakfasts are a quirky affair. Some aspects, the eggs and bacon, make perfect sense. Others, like grits, are quite frankly some crazy mixed up shit to be serving a normal person in the morning. I know that they are akin to polenta, but I wouldn’t want to eat that at 7am either and certainly not mixed with butter and sugar. Much more to my liking were plates of biscuits (very much like a UK scone) topped with sausage gravy. In any event, along with some juice and pots of good coffee for Neal and at $7 a pop, it was filling enough to make sure we were not going to thnk about food until supper time.
Which gave us plenty of chance to concentrate on Clarksdale’s main attraction, The Delta Blues Museum, which featured lots of portraits of the men who invented The Blues and lots of pictures of men who claim to have invented the blues. There is another huge prize for the person who can identify the song from which the lyrics in picture #12 are taken.
Our accommodation for the night was organised by Neal. The Shack Up Inn is an old plantation that has become a destination for travellers who want to skip the usual motels and stay in its battered old shacks fashioned from the homes of former sharecroppers. It was air conditioned, at least and certainly made a difference from the XX INN, with their thin sheets and equally thin walls. However, I am still bearing the scars of all the huge bites a variety of interesting insects took out of my so sweet flesh that evening.
Dinner that evening was in what appeared to be the only decent restaurant in town. Madida is part owned by Hollywood star and Allenesque philanderer, Morgan Freeman. The menu is an odd mix of southern staples along with French influenced dishes that showcase the chef’s time spent at restaurants in Avignon. Madida provided a very decent meal indeed, including a particularly memorable plate of frogs legs, but at prices that would be more suitable to Manhattan than to a town where they appear to be still saving to buy the one horse.
After dinner we headed up the street to the Ground Zero Blues Bar, also, I think co-owned by Mr Freeman. It was a night where local “talent” could take the stage and show us what they could or couldn’t do. One woman who styled her self as “Heavy Sugar” thought she was Janis Joplin. She wasn’t, so after two gassy beers, we headed back to the Shack Up Inn to compare insect bites.
Another early start the next morning saw us leave Mississippi and hit the road for Alabama. We had chosen as our destination, Montgomery, for one reason only. In 1955, a 42 year old woman, Rosa Parks declined to give up her seat on a segregated bus when requested to do so by a white bus driver. She was arrested and taken to jail. It was a minor, peaceful action which had enormous consequences and which led to this unassuming woman becoming “The Mother of The Civil Rights Movement”.
On the sight where she was arrested, Troy University have worked with local donors to build a library and a small but moving exhibition. The forty minutes we spent in there reading the story of the Montgomery Bus boycott that followed Rosa Park’s actions were some of the most enjoyable of the trip and we both admitted to wiping more than one tear away when we walked back out into the sunshine of the empty downtown streets.
So, as I threatened, there was not much food in this post. But, I make no apologies as there was not much food to be had. However, the trip through the deep south was definitely worth the effort for the sights, the people and to pay homage to the actions of one small, brave African American woman who changed the world.
I can promise all the bleaters that there is plenty more good food to come in the next few posts because, we are off to the best eatin’ city in the whole of the USA.
New Orleans here we come.