November 28, 2020

Joe Rogers: Mississippi road trip potholes

My Mississippi road trip is in the books now, and I hope you’ll read about my mostly happy adventures here and in Oxford Magazine in the near future.

Wait’ll you hear the dirt a Tupelo woman dished on Elvis’s dad …

Meanwhile, a couple of the less happy notes.

First: We famously bill ourselves as the Hospitality State, and with good reason. Almost without exception I got the kind of smiling, friendly reception we’re known for.

But …

A Sunday afternoon found me in downtown Vicksburg, trying to rustle up a beer amid the exceedingly dead surroundings. I settled on a place where I could hear people inside, but couldn’t see them.

I went in. Heads at the bar turned and gaped, silent. It was as if I were one of Grant’s boys in blue, come to loot the silver and have my way with the women folk.

Unfazed, I walked up by the bar, peered to see if there were any brews on tap, and continued down a ways to look into a back room. At that point the bartender, a blonde clearly of the suspicious type, inquired as to my intentions.

I said I was new to the place, and was simply having a look about.

“Would you put your backpack over by the door, or on one of those tables over there?” she responded. Apparently, warmth is not in her job description. Nor did my commerce seem welcome.

At this point I should note my attire: shorts, gym-style T-shirt, sandals, and the aforementioned backpack, a polyester Eddie Bauer model that housed my cellphone, notebook, pens and other tools of the writerly trade.

I did not look menacing. I looked like a 64-year-old third grader.

And yes, I could have complied with the bartender’s instructions.

What I did instead was reverse course, walk back out the door, and think to myself that people are a hell of a lot nicer in my Mississippi.

The other tale involves not uncongenial people, but an unfortunate animal. A mockingbird – the state bird, as you know – chose to fly eastward across Highway 61 just as I heading south outside Vicksburg.

I can tell you that a two-ounce songbird does not fare well in a collision with a 3,000 pound Nissan Sentra traveling at 65 miles per hour. The resulting THUMP! is surprisingly loud, and heartbreaking for all involved.

(Insert appropriate Harper Lee line here.)

Nor did my mood improve later when, stopped at the visitors’ center for the Vicksburg National Military Park, I glimpsed the feathery remains still attached to my grill.

Perhaps you’re the kind of person who finds it easy to remove an ex-bird from your automobile. I am not. So I set out toward Clarksdale the next day determined to quickly find a mechanic shop or some such and inquire as to the going rate for bird-from-grill extraction.

Instead, I came first upon the Vicksburg Animal Shelter, and proceeded there in hope of assistance. Surely its folks would provide a sympathetic solution for all involved.

But I never had to inquire. An inspection after I pulled up outside the shelter showed that the bird, so painfully evident the day before, was now absent.

I chose to believe that divine intervention allowed it to fly away.

I don’t want to hear your theory.

Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com or on Twitter @jrogink.