The Mississippi South of Winona
Clarksdale, for example, a little south of Memphis, near The Crossroads of Highways 61 & 49, is a wonderful mix of Black & White but jarring sensibilities. For starters, Clarksdale is in Coahoma County, the poorest county in Mississippi – and Mississippi the poorest of 50 states. Then there’s the old Five and Dime store, now a brightly lit Wi-Fi café with condos on top, the only place open on Yazoo Avenue (the main street) – even though it’s 2 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. But right at the edge of town at the end of main street’s 3 block run, just on the other side of the tracks, is Red’s Juke Joint. Here’s the story of those 12 hours, written-up in under three pages.
First we noticed the desertion. Then we saw the Wi-Fi café was open. Then we found the only motel in town had a room to rent, so back to the café with a room for the night. As we’re parking, this sombrero wearing skinny old white guy comes running up. “Oh hey! I see your from Minnesota – your plates – just wanted you to know you can rent the condo upstairs!”
Rich and I, two retired guys, were on “a talking with the locals” trip, taking Hwy. 61 all the way from Winona to New Orleans. Our goal was to uncover the cute lady historian working at the local history museum – who we never found by the way – but we did meet some great people while looking, including the poet laureatress of urbane St. Louis and the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes strikers in Memphis. But on to Clarksdale because we’ve heard about Red’s.
This sombrero fellow, then, in one breathless minute, discloses that he grew up in Wisconsin, oversaw plantations in Honduras for a living, loves the Blues, has made one of the upstairs condos (which he owns) into an art museum, voted this last election for the first White Mayor of Clarkdale in 40 years, and “for sure, you really want to meet my girlfriend Maddy and I hope you want to stay here tonight.”
We disclosed we already had a room – “. . . maybe tomorrow night – but yes let’s see the art museum.” While touring the art museum, we learned so much more about Win (the sombrero fellow) – he kept chattering away – and the stuff we learned just about made us want to barf so much we couldn’t wait to leave. Rich and I only had one rule (besides not getting into each other’s hair) and that was to always count to ten before discussing any of the locals we met. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10….
…..Win was a proud white supremacist with a machete from Thailand amongst his ancient art work collection. His collection worthy of mid-town Manhattan – befitting someone fancying himself living the life of a plantation owner, even today, – “. . . but boy!” he told us, “can these boys play the Blues right here in the old cotton fields back home!”
I was already at the door, ignoring his yippy dog, Maggie (wearing a bow tie), when Win started wielding the machete, telling Rich “You don’t know anything about Thailand! The reason they lasted so long as a country is because they are such a vicious people!” Rich, despite my cautioning otherwise, had been trying to dispassionately let Win know we thought he was a racist pig. Rich leaves with me, telling Win “It’s because the Thais knew how to win the peace without fighting.”
Tomorrow: The Next Few Hours