May of 2014 had me traveling yet again for work. For this trip, I decided to visit one of the most destitute states in our union during tornado season. Not being from Mississippi, I really had no idea when tornado season took place, but I did find out about a tornado touching down in Tupelo, MS about a week before I was scheduled to travel. This particular tornado took it upon itself to transport the hotel I should be staying at to the land of Oz. The email I received didn’t mention the tornado at all, but it just said that due to unforeseen circumstances they would have to refund me my money. It took a little minor detective work to figure out exactly what had happened, and when I saw the wreckage that was the hotel, my excitement to be visiting the great state of Mississippi grew exponentially.
There aren’t any major airports in the part of northern Mississippi that I was visiting, so I flew into Memphis, Tennessee. I was really excited to travel this way, because Memphis actually has some vegan options! This meant that, for at least my first day of this work trip, I wouldn’t be living off of taco bell or questionably prepared French fries. I drove to my absolute favorite place to eat in Memphis, called the Imagine Café, but unfortunately they weren’t open for brunch that day. While I stood on the front porch to Imagine Café, the contents of my stomach decided that it was the most ideal moment to perform a coup, and take over the rest of my digestive track. I guess the flying/driving/walking had taken its toll, and I worried that if I didn’t find a public restroom immediately, I might actually explode. Not knowing anything else in Memphis, I found the nearest Chipotle, which happened to be inside of a mall, and took the opportunity to relieve myself. I am incredibly sorry for anyone that had to use that particular stall for the rest of the day.
After pooping, I felt refreshed and pounds lighter, which meant it was time to eat. Walking awkwardly like one might do after delivering a child, I made my way to Chipotle and opted for my signature beans, rice, and nothing else burrito. After I spent a few minutes assuring them that I honestly didn’t want anything else in my burrito, I found a place to sit, read, eat and relax. Depending on which friend you ask, they will often refer to this as my bookreado, bookrito, or any other clever combination of reading and eating burritos that they can come up with. It very well be my favorite part of the day; not because I like eating, but mostly because I love kicking back with a book. Once I was done, I started the venture back to my car. The weirdest part of the day was seeing someone I know working at a mall store in Memphis. Why was one of my friends working at Journeys? It turns out he moved down there to be with his mother, which is super sweet. It was great seeing him, but I had to be off to find my hotel and start tuning ukuleles for my work week.
I had to rearrange my first couple of days due to tornado damage. Luckily, all of my stores were still in one piece, but a couple of the employees/owners were bit shaken up. By the third day of my trip, I was in Jackson. The reaction I normally received from people in Mississippi was usually something like, “You aren’t from around here are you, boy?” or some such utterance that made me feel as if I was clearly in the wrong part of the world. I would sometimes reply that I lived on Main Street, because I figured every town had a Main Street. On this trip though, I didn’t hear any condescending remarks concerning my place of origin. I thought I was finally starting to fit in. Mississippi had accepted me as one of its own. That night, I went to an amazing place called Cool Al’s. I can’t stress enough how hard it is to find suitable places to eat while traveling through this part of the country, so Cool Al’s is like an oasis in the middle of the swampland.
While eating my vegan burger with fries and some kind of fruit punch drink, a new customer came into the restaurant. He looked like he could have been an extra from the most awkward scene in Deliverance. I put my head down to try to avoid eye contact, because this guy just felt like trouble. Immediately after he ordered his food, he walked towards my table. I was eating and attempting to tune out the world with my book. The scene played out something like this:
Dude – “You have a lot of tattoos.”
Me – Nervously glance up towards the strange man in overalls. ”I do have a couple.”
Dude – Looks around to see if he has an audience. ”I hate tattoos.”
Me – “Thanks.”
Dude – Standing there awkwardly waiting for me to do or say more. “Mm Kay”
Dude – Slowly walks away, gets his food and leaves the restaurant.
I was thoroughly relieved that he wasn’t outside waiting with a group of friends so they could tell me to squeal like a pig. The rest of my time in Mississippi was spent in hotel rooms. I am great at awkward, but the last thing I want to do is get into a fist fight with a yokel because I have tattoos. That just seems like a giant waste of time.