Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hattiesburg to Tuscaloosa

Due to the previous evening's cruising, we had already picked out the spot for the morning meal: Shipley Do-nuts, which caught our eye due to the appealing, donut-shaped sign. Once inside we ordered coffee and another delicious fried breakfast. We asked how long it had been open as we marveled about the open floor plan which allowed full view of the frying operations. They had been there about 30 years. We sat down to consume our treats as some of the early Sunday morning traffic trickled in.

One gentleman, clearly well-known to the staff, ordered a donut and a carton of milk and sat down near us, all the time speaking loudly and cheerily about various Jesus-related things. He proceeded to cut his donut into 1/6ths with a plastic knife and then eat it with a fork. I guess that's one way to savor your food for a bit longer, but it just seemed wrong.

After eating we took one last pass through town, mainly to see if the Coney Island Cafe had opened up, as they were advertising blueberries for sale on their window. It wasn't, and as we were stopped at a stop light on our way out, a truck full of what looked like construction debris pulled up next to our car and the guy motioned to Jack to roll down his window. He said "I got shit flying off my trailer all over the road, man; I really need a cigarette!" Jack was sad to have to disappoint him. We should probably carry cigarettes around with us at all times so we can spread good will wherever we go. You never know when they'll help you out of a jam.

As luck would have it, we encountered a fruit stand/market not too far out of town. We got some blueberries there as well as some "cane syrup", the purpose of which is unknown to us but it looks like light-colored molasses. Due to my reprehensible diet over the past few days I immediately launch into berry eating when we get back in the car and stain my tongue a deep bluish-purple.

The problem with looking at maps is that you get intrigued by places simply because of their names. It was thus with Hot Coffee, so we detoured off the route to check it out. The town was nothing more than a crossroads with some houses, a shuttered grocery (which, according to the sign, was in "Downtown Hot Coffee", and a general store advertising that they were the welcome center for the town. Obviously the path to Hot Coffee was more well-traveled than I had anticipated, judging by the guest book that showed visitors from as far away as Japan. As Jack took a look at the merchandise I cornered one of the two women working there and asked her about the "hoop cheese". She generously gave us a thin slice to try, and it was mild, cheddar-like and tasty. I would've bought some if I had had any means of keeping it cool. Jack did get a t-shirt and mug, and I got some recipes that included cane syrup as an ingredient, so all was good. And since I know you'll ask, they did look like they were set up to serve free coffee to visitors, but the pot wasn't brewing when we were there.

Up the road a piece we stopped off at Dunn's Falls.
The mill seemed to have a termite issue so it felt a little treacherous walking around in there, perched high on a bluff over the Chunky River. We hiked around a bit in the withering midday heat and I took off my shoes and dipped my toes in the cool water, but it was hot enough that we were looking forward to getting back in the car to take advantage of the AC.

Jack's spotty memory of things he had written down to do on the trip included this intriguing tidbit: that the Queen of the Gypsies was buried in Meridian. It was a good stopping point for lunch anyway, so after we grabbed some Mexican food we cruised around a bit until we found what we thought was the right cemetery. Given that there was no one else around we parked on the main road through the final resting place, and headed off in separate directions to try and find it, shouting back to each other when we encountered something interesting. In the end, though, we couldn't have missed it: it was covered in beads, photos, dead candles and other detritus. In what was a major sacrifice for Jack, he allowed me to take the fruit pie purchased a day earlier in LA to give to the Queen, in hopes that she would make the rest of our trip as interesting as it had been thus far.

A little while later we crossed over into Alabama and through the town of Eutaw, the town square for which contained a massive yet empty turn of the century municipal building. Not too much further along we encountered an abandoned schoolhouse buried in the scrub by the side of the road and decided to check it out. We wandered around among the rotting furniture, broken glass and collapsing roof, enjoying the eerie sensation of a place where something bad must've happened, or they would've salvaged more of the stuff out of it. Anyway, that's how I chose to interpret it. We didn't explore the basement, which I'm sure would've held even more treasures.

We arrived in Tuscaloosa near dusk. We took a couple loops around the city evaluating our motel options and eventually settled on the Masters Inn for a very cheap price. The room was clean and quiet and smelled of a recent chemical bath, all reassuring signs for a place of this price. We drifted off to sleep to the aromas of Pine-Sol and bleach.

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