The itch was itchin’ to set back out on the road once again to find the meaning of Mississippi, or at least, what it meant to me… and of course Zero. I was beginning to realize something very important – that Mississippi is quickly becoming a strong new source of inspiration where it had only been Brooklyn, NY for the past 16 years. Don’t get me wrong, Brooklyn will always be the center of my soul since it’s where my heart first felt like it was home, but now Brooklyn has an accomplice infecting me with the much-needed inspiration I’ve been gasping for. The problem with Mississippi, as it seems, might not be what it is missing or its often last place finish, but rather with the negative air caused by those who trash it. We might not be an obvious place to many, but for those who take the time to discover it, it’s at the very least, a very happy place ripe with its potential to creatively come a next big thing one day.
Back to the tour though, getting blown around as big trucks passed by with Zero wearing his big fat goofy dog smile, cheeks flapping in the wind – we knew we were going somewhere important and not just driving around Mississippi. I also figured out that most VW bus owners must believe in God as we all say “Thank you Lord” every time she cranks up.
We were at least hoping to see more of what inspired us on Tour #1 as far as people and places as well as possible the same success in inspiration, ideas for both our stores, and creative ventures, and writing new statewide accounts for our screen print shop – StudioChane.com
We first hit Meridian and were impressed once again that a downtown area was vibrant, especially with the new MAEEX (The Max), their arts and entertainment venue opening the following week. We visited a few cool stores like M.U.M. and Crooked Letter and soon hit the trail on 59 South toward Laurel. It’s pretty chill on this route as there’s just trees and grass to look at for at least 30 minutes. There were no gnarly billboards polluting your need to regress from commercialization.
We soon got to Laurel, just in time to grab lunch at Pearl’s Diner where I got to meet Pearl herself and chow down on bitchin’ plate of fried chicken and veggies. Pearl is a mild-tempered woman that can still break bad when she needs to and says she is getting “too old to be famous”. After lunch while freshly picking chicken from my teeth, we navigated North Magnolia, Central, and Front Streets visiting really cool newer shops like: Laurel Mercantile, J Parker, Adam Trest, Guild & Gentry, Lee’s Coffee Shop, Sweet Somethings Bakery, Handmade+, and The Knight Butcher where Zero got a couple of killer animal bones to chew.
One important thing I realized was that all of these businesses had been there less than 3 years and were part of a new revolution that was happening to the area, much in part to Hometown, the show on HGTV. Even more noticeable though, was the willingness of store owners to just walk outside and meet the strangers passing by. I don’t feel like I am going out on a limb when I say that these were the nicest people I have met in Mississippi so far. There were no potholes, no parking meters, and no excuses why this or that isn’t this or that way yet – just great people working together to make things happen. They all seemed to be living in the now vs complaining of the past or being pessimistic of the future. I think this animal is called progress. Laurel, as just one example, is hope and proof that opportunity is indeed rampant if you just try.
Later on down the road, Zero and I had some killer catfish at Sawmill Fish House in a small community outside of the Ellisville area. We soon crashed a cow pasture in Collins for the night, Zero then destroying one of those animal bones he procured at The Knight Butcher.
Day 2: On the road again (didn’t mean for that to sound like a country song), we landed in Hattiesburg. (I lived here in 1992 for a couple of years while finishing school after being an Architect School Drop-Out at MSU.) Zero took his opportunity to poop on Frat Row after we hustled some screen printing services to the Kappa Sigs (ok – people, I have to come out of the closet here and admit that I sorta did a little of this while in college for a very short stint toward the very very end – simply as a means of selling tee shirts to drunk partyers. It worked as I stayed at quite a few of these places while living out of my car on the road in the late ‘90s, let’s move on – uh huuum). The Burg, as some call it and others loathe to call it (just like you get beat up in California if you call LA the O.C.), is a solidly growing area including Oak Grove and now slowly developing – its downtown area. Downtown was way rad with a new spot recently opening for Southern Prohibition Brewery, coffee houses, and a couple of old train depot buildings bringing in more retail as well. We hit T-Bones, who has it going on for sure, and headed toward Ocean Springs.
This area has been dubbed ‘God’s Country” and offers a strong tourism and plenty of independent businesses without all of the corporate crap we now are starting to see in the creative areas of Jackson. We stopped by Greenhouse on Porter for killer killer biscuits and later met the nice peeps at Paddles Up. We later had a chance to hang out with Tony Difatta, formerly of the Jackson art scene, who now heads up the education department at the Walter Anderson Museum. The museum was very inspiring as well as Walter Anderson’s story – we get the whole lonely artist thing. We also get it now why so many of our creative peers from JXN have moved down for its laidback feel and creative economic opportunities. Prolly nobody has high blood pressure as I don’t think stress or negativity exists here.
Zero and I caught a wicked sunset while hippie-busing it west towards Bay St. Louis. I was looking forward to paddle-boarding at dusk and Zero was living in the moment destroying some of my beef jerky procured at The Knight Butcher the day before in Laurel. We stayed in the back alley/yard of The Lawson Studio and cooked Mexican corn from a can and fried hotdogs and sketched and then Zero murdered out another hambone scrap from The Knight Butcher (Hows about that for a run-on sentence !). Anyway, I paid for his gluttony most of the night. The next day we got to see BSL in the daylight and hit the promo trail hard again at several of the schools including St. Stanislaus and Holy Trinity School.
Heading back to the east, we decided it was time for another paddle-board session and then we moved on down 90 and passed a familiar couple chilling on the beach side…hmmm, didn’t we meet them on the last tour? As it turned out, we met them a month ago as they were also touring the US from Munich, Germany. Man, how small the world is now.
We got to Gulfport and drank some Coast Roast Coffee, did some sticker slammin’, and then met with the folks at Eat Y’all marketing. (That’s the name of the company. It has nothing to do with actually eating people. They are about promoting all of the great eating in the state.) We will soon be doing a collaboration with them on their merchandising. One thing we noticed was that the Coast is basically like a whole other state for ways I can’t figure out how to explain.
We made our way through the backroads to Picayune – where neither of us had ever been. We chose to hang out with a banded group of punks, skaters, and skater girl cult followers loading up their boards with Chane stickers and then headed on out back toward the Burg again to meet with Brazen Skate Shop about a collaborative skate deck project that promotes supporting our local shops vs the sucky mall shops. This is the cool thing about these tours, as you get to meet many a great folk to creatively work with.. and many of these great towns, cities, or communities have donut places (but way too many cheesy southern boutiques and vape shops) !
We found our way back to that awesome cow pasture in Collins and crashed again to the sounds of coyotes and maybe a few cricikets but mostly frogs…a lot of frogs. All of this nature racket happened after we found yet another fish place called Graham’s – yep, the plate got licked and Zero scored a batch of hushpuppies that did anything but make him hush.
Day 4 has us headed north to Magee where we wrote a couple of screen print orders at Big D’s Pawn and Weeze’s Choppers and ate at Zip’s Café. This place was rad and gave us 2 big fat biscuits with our egg breakfast as we got to learn a few new curse words from potty-mouthed eighty-year-old farmer dudes. These were the guys that usually say “you must not be from around here” and “how’s yer momma an ‘em.”
After our country-cussin’ breakfast, we ended up a bit wester of there in the town of Mendenhall / D’Lo and got to listen to some straight-up folky twangin’ from a dude name Dancin’ Dan the Banjo Man. After we did our door-to-door tee shirt hustlin’ as you do in a town like this, we went even wester than before to towns that we never knew existed and ended back up in Crystal Springs to re-hit a few leads from the last tour. Remember last time I mentioned those guys from A+ Signs and Creative doing a mural? Well, they were putting the finishing touches on it as we drove by throwing rocks, bottle, and cans at them - wait a minute, we got our story mixed up with Ol’ Kenny Stokes’ method of stopping police chases in Jackson – sorry ‘bout that.
That was the last stop on Tour #2 as we put our protective mouthpieces back on headed back through the pothole mines of Jackson. Zero doesn’t really have a mouthpiece but he does clamp down on the seat cushions to be safe.
Here comes the wrap up part where I say “Ultimately what I learned is blah blah blah…”
…but seriously – I have learned way more than expected from the idea of taking these promo, research, and development tours. The reality of rurality is that with each tour, I see where far more people are accepting of others than credit is given. These community people are fortunate to not have the same degree of the media fanning the flames of the past that further divide them. They are who they are and most seem to be confident with their chosen place in a peaceful mix of other God-fearing humans. One trend I heard a lot was, “oh you’re from Jackson… that must be crazy up there” (in so many words however, to keep it PG here).
4 days, 3 nights, 600 miles, and spending well under $175 seems to be the recipe here for discovery and simplicity…and respect for both. The new air in our lungs is quite pleasant with new ideas and experiences that we never really expected to seek or see in that land mass between Mobile and New Orleans. That MASS is critical and full of raw creativity and genuine nature that would seem to benefit anyone else who would take the time to see it.
Above and beyond all of the new screen print accounts, nice people, experiences, and inspiration, the most important reason for these tours is my time with Zero. He’s been my pinnacle of happiness for the past 12+ years now. I love seeing his dog lips flapping in the wind and how he sometimes holds his left paw out for me to hold – knowing he must be thanking both me and God that we are both happy hippies together. Time with Zero is more important than anything now that he is climbing in his days. I choose to think that we will always be best pals and that there is no reality past him being a puppy forever…
-In the words of Anatole France – Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.