Smile Politely

Day three on the road: Morgan Orion in Mississippi

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yesterday was a long day. We slept Sunday night in a loft at the house of Kids Are Goats, and had brunch with him at a Mexican place in Murfreesboro called Carmen’s.

The food was surprisingly good. Morgan found it particularly delicious. We got breakfast plates, involving eggs, avocadoes, beans, and the like. I believe Morgan’s dish (below) was called Huevos a la Mexicana.

We left Murfreesboro in the middle of the afternoon, when the sun was at a strong angle to the car. You can see Morgan was struggling to keep the sun out of his eyes while driving; he commandeered my hat for the purpose:

We stopped in a small town in Tennessee for dinner. I was in the mood for rice, so we found a place called Asia Garden in a strip mall. It looked like a typical low-quality Asian buffet from the outside, but the doors were blacked out, so we weren’t sure if it was open or not. When we opened the door and walked in, we were both so surprised that we burst out laughing and walked back outside.

What had looked like a shitty small town buffet was actually a swank new restaurant; it was equipped with public access laptops, massage chairs, and flat screen TVs. Weird. Pretty awesome, but weird.

We ended up staying and eating there, of course. The food was okay. After dining, we returned to the open road. We journeyed for a few more hours before arriving in Oxford, Mississippi. That night, Morgan didn’t have a show. Instead, we were going to see Andrew Bird at The Lyric.

A couple of my classmates from high school, Micah Berman and Rachel Hurley, are currently living in the Mississippi Delta and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, and they were in Oxford for the concert as well. Morgan and I met up with them during the show.

Afterwards, we walked a bit through downtown Oxford. I thought the architecture was very charming.

Morgan and I were staying in Clarksdale that night, which is very close to where Micah and Rachel are living and working. So, we all stopped at a Sonic in Oxford (Morgan and I got a vanilla shake) and then moseyed down the highway together. They drove us all the way to the Shack Up Inn, where we were spending the night.

* * *

This morning, Morgan and I were awakened by a rapping at the door.


“Ungh.. hello?”

“Housekeeping! Are y’all staying over or checking out?”

“Checking out…”

“How long d’you think it’ll be??”

“Um… *mumble mumble half an hour?*”

“‘Scuse me?”

“Half an hour?”


Right. So, we had to get ourselves together somewhat quickly. I mentioned to Morgan that I had heard bats hanging out outside our windows during the night, but he hadn’t heard them. It was a shame we had to leave so quickly; at the Shack Up Inn, you literally rent a historic shack at the old Hopson Plantation (workplace of Pinetop Perkins, and home to the first fully-mechanically-produced cotton crop).

Our shack, the Robert Clay shack, was lovely, and very spacious.

Before we left, Morgan took time to draw a picture and sign in the guestbook.

When we were about to leave the plantation, I gave Micah a call. He said that it would be cool for Morgan and I to stop by his work site in Tutwiler, so we drove down the road and found the Habitat for Humanity volunteer center.

We found Micah, tool belt and all, inside a partially-constructed house. I was afraid we were getting in Micah’s way, but he insisted that he wanted to show us around, so we left the worksite and walked through the 2500-person village.

Like much of the Delta, Tutwiler is totally beat. Micah said that there is “no money” there, and you can see it, walking down the town’s main drag. It looks like a ghost town; most buildings are closed or collapsing.

One such building was the Tutwiler Funeral Home, where Emmett Till’s body was prepared for its return to Chicago in 1955.

Behind one of the main rows of buildings, there’s a series of murals near the train tracks.

There’s a train that’s been sitting on one of the tracks for a while, with no clear plans for departure. Micah said that it was safe to climb on the cars, so we did.

Of course, the town isn’t all crumbling and dead. As Micah told us, after a Tutwiler clinic was featured on 60 Minutes, donations came pouring in from across the country. With that money, a community center was constructed, complete with computers and a gym. So, there is some hope for Tutwiler after all.

After we parted ways with Micah, we headed back to Clarksdale in search of food. We went to Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club, but it was closed for the day.

We continued wandering about, and passed the crossroads of US 49 and US 61, the location where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil. Close to this intersection, we came across a catfish place, which was what we had really wanted all along.

We split a large catfish dinner, which included three fish, some coleslaw, fries, and hushpuppies.

Finally, after our meal, we were ready to get out of the Clarksdale area and head to Jackson. Morgan’s show was at a café called Cups.

The crowd there was not as interactive as the one in Murfreesboro had been, but they were very generous; this was by far the most lucrative stop on the tour so far. The venue was generous too-they paid Morgan, and we got free tea and coffee.

After the show, we went to a Kroger with two members of Cornelius Rex, the band who had opened for Morgan. We picked up some ingredients for pasta, and then followed our hosts to their apartment.

The rest of the evening involved pasta preparation, Clerks II, and lots of Led Zeppelin, but it’s over now (thank God-I’m quite sleepy). We have to sleep on a couch, but it’s better than nothing.

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