Mississippi Stories: Where Time is Slow as MolassesPosted: May 29, 2012
It’s been several months since my last post on The South Will Blog Again. You’ll have to forgive me for my absence. I went and found a full-time job. Funny thing about blogging…you have a whole lot more time to do it when you don’t have much else to do. So in any case, it’s been about ten weeks on the new job and I’m pretty settled in. I do have less time to draw cartoons so I’ll be posting most likely only once or twice a month instead of weekly.
Nevertheless, I have resolved that the South will indeed blog again. In any event with new co-workers, many of whom are “sectionally challenged” (from the North that is), I have had a new batch of people to tell my Mississippi stories to. And that reminded me of this blog and that I have a worldwide forum for them.
So this will be the first part in a three part series based on my observations about life in that misunderstood state of Mississippi. I was both an outsider and an insider there. I wasn’t born in Mississippi, but long time blog followers will know I was schooled there. And by “education” I really mean in the art of storytelling, cuisine, blues music, flasking it, and SEC football…you know all the important things in life. Along the way I learned to see the charm in the little quirks that tend to annoy those from the outside, especially from those states that have lots of snow, traffic, and frowning people.
Of all the things that tend to annoy first-time visitors, especially from up-North, is how %@#$ slow things are in Mississippi. And in my little way, I’m here to explain how it all works. So sit back and enjoy the story and cartoons, and forgive my little mistakes, I am after all, a bit out of practice.
– Southern Blogger
It Takes Time to Spin (a) Yarn
People in Mississippi love to talk. And perhaps that’s why I fit in so well down there. I love to talk…I mean seriously I can talk and talk and talk and talk. I even get paid to talk hours on end. One of the nice things about Mississippi is that people take the time to speak to one another, swap stories, tell lies, and then tell some %$#@ lies on top of that. In fact, its the most story-telling place in the whole country. More writers and musicians come from that state per capita than anywhere else. Mainly because there’s not much else to do, and as I’ve blogged before, Yankees will pay you a whole lot of money to make up crazy stuff as long as you throw in some moonlight, magnolias, and talking fish (see Faulkner, William).
Now where was I? Oh yes getting side tracked talking too much about people who talk too much.
In any case, one of the keys to social success in the Magnolia State is learning how to navigate the world of conversation. You run into it right away when you get off the highway and come to a Mississippi Welcome Center. In my personal experience nearly all welcome centers in the state are staffed by older ladies with big hair who offer you fountain Coke or coffee, and have a wall sized portrait of Elvis.
My last visit was in 2010. I crossed into the state from Alabama and went right up to the counter for my free Coke and conversation. Sure enough an older lady with big hair welcomed me. The first thing you might hear will be “welcome to such and such county, Mississippi”. Certainly the second question will be “where are you from?” This question can certainly be answered incorrectly. Depending on how well (or poorly you answer) you will be asked about how long you plan to stay. It’s sort of like customs.
In my case I said “Virginia” (usually good), “South of Richmond” (better), “I went to Ole Miss” (great unless its a State fan), and “I really love Mississippi, it’s a second home”. To which I was simply told “welcome home”. So I passed. I also got two more refills and ended up hearing the lady’s life story, discussed football season, and heard about the crazy local radio preacher that comes in once a week (yes to the visitor center in his own town).
Now either you get that ritual or you don’t. But in case you are unenlightened I just passed a test. No doubt my license plate was called in and various sheriff’s deputies, hotel staff, waitresses, and storekeepers were alerted that I was “good people”. They are networked like that.
That’s because I took the time to not be in a hurry. Just imagine answering those questions wrong and then being in a hurry to get through the welcome center. Yep…you’re getting pulled over son.
These are the conversation rituals, and when business is occurring, even when business doesn’t seem to be occurring you are being sized up.
Way back in school, for my senior research paper I had to interview someone important to my topic. Before I could do the interview in person I had a phone interview (which had the “where are you from” question). After driving to the man’s home, I had to meet his Mrs. who served me a plate of Mississippi mud pie (which is fantastic), compliment her, refuse seconds, then take seconds, and further compliment her, followed by the man of the house discussing college football, then high school football, then more college football (in that order) before proceeding to business. I got the interview and an A on that paper.
Slow down…sit a spell…pay attention to the conversation. Keys to survival.
Well…That’s Just Earl
See friends, some people are never gonna get what I just said. They are usually in a hurry and won’t slow down for nothing. And they’re even the type of folks that would try to correct the double negative I just wrote. These folks are called Yankees. Now I mean no offense, it’s just the way they are. When you go to the North, people are walking real fast, like their pants are on fire. They have to walk fast to catch public transportation, to get to their corporate offices, or to get to their cars real fast so they can sit on the highway real slow. Yep that’s pretty much the entire North. You don’t have to go there just take my word for it. When have I ever exaggerated on here? In any case if you are really curious just go to Atlanta. It’s kind of the same thing.
Now as for Yankees in a hurry. Don’t be in Mississippi. Repeat. Don’t be. You can’t do it. What I mean is this…either you are going to be driving along real fast in the back county and get pulled over for driving over 56 in a 55 zone with the wrong state’s license plate…or you’ll run into “Earl”.
Who’s Earl? Well “Earl” (don’t forget the quotation marks) is every guy I’ve ever seen in a broken down pickup truck along the highway. Usually “Earl’s” truck will have more colors on it than a rainbow…that is if a rainbow was seven shades of rust. “Earl” might be missing things on his truck that in other state’s would be needed for inspection…such as working brakes, an accelerator, or a license plate. But the funny thing about “Earl” is this. You can bet he will be going 40 miles under the speed limit, and you can also bet that nobody is gonna care. That’s because everybody around there knows “Earl” and they’ve planned their trip around him.
And if you try to pass “Earl” and you aren’t driving an ambulance, well then you are going to see some flashing blue lights in your rear view mirror. (“Earl” won’t because he doesn’t have one). Then you will meet the deputy with the mirrored sunglasses. His name is “Roy”.
So don’t be in a dang hurry. Plus “kid’s is playing”. Understand?
Some Folks Don’t Get it
Still, you can be sure that some people won’t slow down for any reason. Let’s say they get past the welcome center without having a conversation, and even pass “Earl” on the road without getting pulled over by “Roy”. They’re still going to run into slowness. That’s because Yankees at some point will get hungry and have to get food from a chain restaurant. Big mistake.
Everyone from the Deep South knows that our fast food places are the worst in the country. Bar none. Look, we don’t admit to being bad versus the North at a lot of things. Not when it comes to beauty pageants, liquor, hand to hand combat, hunting, fishing, and college football (the important stuff). But we’re real bad at fast food.
See the secret is we are better at sit-down diners, roadside cafes, and barbecue pits. For some reason food service in the South is faster in those places, and the meat cutters, ticket takers, and waitresses still have time to hear your life story and tell you theirs. Yet on the other hand, our fast food establishments will always be super slow and lined up out the door. That’s because Southerners don’t work very hard when they can’t carry a conversation. And chains, which are all headquartered in New York, always write the training manuals wrongly. An obvious exception is the Southern based chain Chick-Fil-A which combines fast food with good ole Southern charm. “My pleasure”.
But back to the point. Every Mississippi town no matter how insignificant has a Dairy Queen. And the DQ will be broken down, and have only one person working the register. That person will also be on drive thru, the fry cook station, the ice cream station, and be the manager. Get the point? It’s not worth it.
Now locals who do end up in the long line ahead of you know it’s going to take a while. And they know they are unlikely to get what they asked for. Just pay, take it, eat it, and remember to go to Smedley’s BBQ next time. But then there’s always one highway Yankee. This person will be instantly spotted. They will have on their Red Sox or Yankees gear, have a ruddy face, and a snide angry look to them. At some point they will sigh and huff and puff about slowness. About ten minutes into their slow burn they will attempt (futilely) to rally the other customers to their side. Then when at the counter they will explode into a full fledged rant with no effect. Southern fast food workers are impervious to this form of criticism as it will not make them work faster. Then the icing on the cake is when the Yankee asks for the manager, realizes that the 19 year old that spilled the cherry sunday on the floor is in fact the manager.
Again, you have been warned.
So there’s science behind this?
Yes, I’m glad you asked. There is in fact a scientific formula to why things in Mississippi run so slow. In has to do with the ratio of Mississippi heat and humidity, times the personality of the person that is in your way, which is quantitated by the amount of bourbon to the second or third power, and then sub divided by the time of day and quantity of fried food the person consumed. It’s all simple arithmetic people.
Seriously…have you ever tried to move fast when it’s 116 degrees? And I’m not even factoring the heat index. You will die within minutes if you try to exert yourself under such conditions. That kind of heat melts asphalt, evaporates tires, and turns all show poodles into hound dogs. It’s got that kind of power. To survive, slow down, find you some shade, sit down, relax, and grab some iced tea or lemonade. At that point you can brush up on your conversation skills.
So in the end it really is a matter of things being too hot to move fast. It’s science…not quite the Gospel…but still…it’s stuff up on the chalkboard.
So is there a way around all this?
Yes sadly there is. You can drive around the state (recommended if you’re gonna be rude about it), have a car faster than “Roy’s” (unlikely), and don’t stop to get gas, food, or pee. Then and only then can you beat the slowness.
Well… then there’s one more method that’s worked for Florida, Atlanta, Northern Virginia, and Charlotte. You can just move there. Someone, I think it was US Grant during the Civil War, figured out that the way to beat the South’s greatest weapon of heat and humidity was through the air conditioner. It’s sort of like the atomic bomb of North-South relations. With air conditioning, Northerners have been able to survive in the South (in their compounds) where they can drive as fast as they want, order fast food, watch hockey, vote liberal, and do all kinds of crazy stuff we in the South don’t understand.
But somehow I think, all the air conditioning in the world won’t get you past the “Big Hair lady”, “Earl” and the manager of the Duck Hill, MS Dairy Queen. At least I don’t hope so 😉
Well, friends it feels good to be back blogging again. Next time check the site out I as discuss part two….all about blue laws (and how to get around them).
– Southern Blogger