My dad loved a good deal. He thought people who wasted money were fools. Like buying water. Imagine! I can hear him laughing now. “Water? Well just turn on the tap!” Well he would be glad to know that in small town Mississippi there is no market for bottled water. No suckers here. Unless you were a local politician in the 70’s when Wal Mart swept through the region and sucked all the retail off of Main Street. To be sure, the towns were already dying but all that is left now are the fading signs and locks on the doors.
We did see serious smokers for serious barbeque behind or next to every house, and we are never far from signs commemorating Mississippi’s deep Blues heritage.
We rode through the towns of Shelby and Shaw and there was just not much left. Barely an awning left to protect us from the rain.
Stringtown was shaping up to be the same. All commercial buildings were long gone but the Mt. Gaza Missionary Baptist Church was still standing strong this morning when we decide to stop for services. Bishop Max Lenard was in the pulpit. He welcomed the two Lycra clad guests in the back and had us introduce ourselves and our pedaling justice cause. Seemed fitting that the sermon was based on a letter Apostle Paul wrote from jail. It is clear that the people left in Stringtown are looking out for each other in a beautiful way. That small congregation of 13 this morning passed the plastic collection bucket twice and collected $504.00 for the poor and the church and then dug deep again and did a spontaneous collection for the young church member going off to serve as an intern at a state hospital in Jackson. “She needs gas money and something to eat, come on now let’s help her out. “ $80.00 additional was collected before we all gathered at the back, visited and then left the church.
Back on the road we were slammed with a driving sideways rain that soaked us to the core. Eventually we made it to Greenville where the folks at the laundromat insisted that the only places to eat were the fast food franchises at the edge of town. No, nothing open downtown. We tried anyway. Winding through residential streets on what we learned was the Black side of town. Italian place was closed. Local diner was closed. On Washington Street we tried again, “Any idea where we can get a meal?” “Is this an Indian restaurant?” we asked the two gentleman standing outside. “No, but there is a Barbeque place over there on Walnut.” Was it our searching eyes? Our slow effort to move on? Maybe it was just Tandem luck. Suddenly we were invited into the gathering and we were drinking beer and mixing with all the guests at BJs graduation party. Folks of Indian, Bangladeshi, Black, Old Southern and Midwester Cyclist descent – all sharing an amazing meal and our stories. Jessica was especially excited as Indian food is her favorite, and we have not come across much saag or makhani in the past two weeks.
BJ played defensive tackle and is in great physical shape. He either wants to study law or physical therapy at college. He may well return to Greenville and help restore it to greatness.
We had every intention of leaving town after an hour at his wonderful party. But the beer. And the second helping. And the need to go to the river and see the beautiful American Queen.
Plus there was the 100% chance of rain coming before we could reach another town. So we stayed in our new favorite Mississippi town of Greenville. And we do not make that claim just because the local TV station just tracked us down and interviewed us…
You can watch the interview here.