I had a hard time the day I left Jackson, Mississippi. I don’t mean emotionally. I mean a big rig wrecked, shutting down the only highway out of town and I had to find a new route. Emotionally, it was not difficult to leave.
I only lived in Jackson 19 months. I spent four of those months knowing I was moving back home, and three of those four keeping that information to myself. I gave Jackson almost a year and a half before actually writing anything about my time there, out of common courtesy. Well, I mean publicly writing anything. There are several notebooks floating around my room filled with things I wrote while living there. Those words are not necessarily kind, and they will never see the light of day. In the event of my untimely death, I have a friend who knows its her job to burn all notebooks found in my room. What I’m trying to say is, living in Jackson was not my favorite thing. It’s not a horrible place (I’m trying, guys). I met some really great people while I was there. I learned a lot about how to be a producer. I had opportunities at work that probably should not have been trusted to a kid fresh out of school, but I’m thankful for them. I learned a ton about myself: like how much I enjoy living close to my family; how much I don’t enjoy living alone; and that I can find creative ways to enjoy being in places I don’t necessarily love. The last thing being the most important. I don’t hate Jackson… really, I don’t. I don’t wish I’d never lived there.
Jackson is the south that authors write about. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the American South. In some cases it’s what you’d expect from the American South in the 1950s… but the truth is you can find old school mentalities everywhere. I understand that. In some ways the kids who grow up in a community that battles with it’s past daily are luckier than the rest of us. They don’t get to hide from the ugliness. It’s probably why a lot of people from Mississippi will tell you they’re stronger than most Americans. The state takes a beating — in media; in public opinion; on lists of things no state wants to advertise (obesity, lack of education, etc), but its people are proud. You’ve got to admire that… at least a little.
For everything any of us can say about the stereotypical south… for all of the people who said “Really, Jackson?” when I took my first job and moved to Mississippi. For all of the wonderful people I met while I was there, a list of things I loved about Jackson, Mississippi.
1) Beagle Bagel – Before you judge me for listing a bagel shop as number one of my list of favorite things about Jackson, know that bagels are my favorite food. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but based on the number of bagels I’ve eaten on team buses headed to track/cross country/swim meets in my lifetime I’d say I’m close. Beagle Bagel is the tops. It is, hands down, my all time favorite bagel place and it’s exclusive to the Jackson metro area. There are three locations that I know of, yes I’ve been to all three. I don’t have much more to say. Trust my bagel knowledge. I’m not going to tell you to hit the road and head to Jackson just for a bagel. If you ever get a chance to hit Beagle Bagel in Jackson, Ridgeland, or Madison – order the chicken salad on Sundried Tomato bagel. Just do it. Thank me later.
2) Natchez Trace Parkway – Full Disclosure: when I first heard about this my response was “Oh, like the Blue Ridge Parkway?” Everyone I asked had no idea what I was talking about. The answer is yes… sort of. The Natchez Trace is a cool federally maintained parkway that runs from South Mississippi through Jackson and on up to Tennessee. It’s the same idea as the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the scenery is really different. The part near Jackson was just a couple miles from my apartment. Since I was working the nightside shift I spent a lot of mornings running alone on the parkway. In hindsight, that’s probably not safe but I did a lot of things alone in Mississippi and I’m still here! The trace was my favorite spot to see fall colors. The part I could get to on foot weaved behind old town Ridgeland (the suburb where I lived) on one end. On the other side it took me to views of the Ross Barnett Reservoir and trails through a cypress swamp. The trace is still a place I’d recommend to anyone who wants a pretty drive through Mississippi. You can see historic homes in Natchez and some of the state’s best scenery.
3) History – The history! Jackson is a history lover’s dream. I could make a very long list of museums and historic sites I visited while living there. If you, like me, have an unusual affinity for Capitol buildings (highly unlikely, but worth checking) then you would love the Old Capitol museum. It’s the… you guessed it… old capitol building converted into a museum. You can tour the rooms where state legislators voted to secede from the Union in 1861. The building served as the capitol until 1903. It’s old. It’s awesome. You can read more about it here. Another great spot is the Vicksburg National Military Park. It’s not in Jackson, but it’s a short drive and worth it. It’s the site of the Civil War Battle of Vicksburg (May 18 to July 4, 1863). During the civil war Vicksburg was called “The key to the south”… and I’m totally boring you. Read more here. Other interesting spots? Medgar Evers’ home. He was shot to death in his driveway in 1963. The home is a museum now, but it’s also just a regular home in a modest neighborhood. It’s not roped off. It’s just right there. You can park right in front of the house and walk up the driveway. The historic Madison County Courthouse is also on the National Registry of Historic Places. Truth be told, I don’t know a whole lot of history that happened there but the building is cool. It’s also featured in ‘A Time To Kill’ – so I was pretty disappointed when I found out jury duty happens in some plain ol’ 1980s style brick building a few blocks away. Anyway, I could go on and on about the history. Touring historic sites was my favorite thing to do in Jackson. If you’re ever planning a visit, give me a call.
4) M-Braves – If you can’t find anything to love about a place, find its nearest minor league baseball team. I swear on this trick. Go watch America’s Pastime with a stadium full of your neighbors. Most of you won’t really care if you win or lose, but the dollar beers and delicious hot dogs make it worth your time. This is universal, but trust me when I say Mississippi does minor league baseball right.
5) Music – This is the point where I realized this list is not in order of importance. If it was, this would be number one. Also, if I were to give this item the attention it deserves it would have its own post. I can’t do that because I’m not equipped to handle something that big right now. Mississippi’s music history is rich, it’s the birthplace of great entertainers like Elvis and the home of blues. The sheer number of artists (music & otherwise) who’ve come from this place is ridiculous. I’d challenge you to try and find a state that’s produced a larger volume of artists who’ve impacted their art in the way that Mississippi’s have. Even greats who aren’t from Mississippi have written about it.
6) Ole Miss Tailgating – Not really Jackson, but I swear you’ll find enough Clonel Reb bumper stickers in Jackson to make you feel like it’s one of Oxford’s neighboring towns. I love tailgating. Who doesn’t? Tailgating at Clemson is a blast. Tailgating at Ole Miss is an experience. If I were to write down the 10 most southern things I’ve ever done, tailgating at Ole Miss would be somewhere in the top half (near playing football barefooted in a pasture). The Grove is as intense as you’ve heard. People stand packed together under tents until time to flood over to the arch for the “Walk of Champions”. Guys wear seersucker, girls wear dresses. Do yourself a favor, wear a dress. Seriously! And if you ever have a girl friend who is going to tailgate at Ole Miss for the first time, do her a favor and tell her to wear a freaking dress. Nobody wants to be the only person, with a Y chromosome, wearing shorts in the grove. Trust me. Really.
I left on May 23, 2012. My dad and I eventually figured out a backroads path through rural Rankin County. We picked I-20 back up somewhere above Pelahatchie. I never did find out what happened with the big rig. I just got out. I don’t miss it much, but every once in a while I do think I might like a nice run on the Natchez Trace. I guess if I ever do decide I need to squeeze in a visit, I know at least two ways to get back.