AT A TRUCK STOP SOMEWHERE IN MISSISSIPPI
Interstate 55 jets us straight north out of Jackson toward the gambling mecca of Tunica and the big city skyline of Memphis, just over the Tennessee line. But here at the Pilot truck stop, a motorcycle club has just roared in for a pit stop, instantly monopolizing all the pumps. There must be about 25 of them, all garbed in the same black leather jackets emblazoned with an iron cross and the logo “Hells Lovers, Louisiana.” Some have added a skull for decoration. Hmm, is this anything like the Hell’s Angels? Perhaps up from the Big Easy?
They are mostly African-American. Big, beefy guys (and at least one woman), many bearded, some shiny-pated, polite and jovial. Lots of banter as they escape the extreme humidity, piling into the air conditioning of the Taco Bell and settling down in pairs and fours to dig into chalupas, gorditas and Meximelts. At the counter, a biker in a do-rag pays from a black leather change purse attached to his outfit by a thick steel chain. Another hobbles across the fast food restaurant with the aid of an enormous whittled walking stick that appears to have been a tree limb in a former life.
We detoured to Jackson for my wife to visit an old friend whom she knew from church back when she was a teenager. They have kept in touch via Facebook, text message and email for years.
I’d never been to Jackson, and the name evokes certain images in my ignorant mind. Southern belles, magnolias, catfish and ham, Johnny Cash and June Carter duetting about the contempt bred by familiarity. “We’ve been talking ’bout Jack-son, ever since the fire went out…” Eudora Welty, Faulkner, John Grisham, Freedom Riders, The Help.
On the way in, around Mobile on Alabama’s Gulf coast, I got online to look for a place to stay the night. Red Roof Inn, Econo-Lodge, Motel 6. The usual suspects. The reviews of the economy chains in Jackson were guarded at best on Kayak and were truly horrible on Yelp. Filth, rudeness, noise, safety issues. “Maybe we’ve gotten beyond this,” I suggested to my wife as I took the uncharacteristic step of reserving a $100 room at a Holiday Inn Express downtown. The clerk on the phone provided impeccable customer service and we quickly and easily were set with exactly the room type we were looking for. Let’s just say that when you have disabilities and particular requirements, getting what you need on the first try is nothing short of extraordinary. “Southern hospitality,” I told my wife. I was pleased as punch.
At dinner with my wife’s friend and her partner, my eyes were opened a bit. They asked where we were staying in Jackson. We told them. “Ooo, better remove all valuables from your car,” we were warned. Umm, that would be a tall order, as everything in our car is valuable to us — you know, our clothes, for example. We began entertaining visions of having our car windows smashed, repair bills, insurance claims, premium hikes. “Well, better take in anything that you can sell to buy crack,” our friend warned us.
And so, deflated, I procured a luggage cart and wrestled it out of the lobby as we proceeded to load every suitcase, tote bag and shopping sack out of our car. The cart was so heavy that I was unable to maneuver it and had to get a staff member to handle this task. We are keeping this cart in our room overnight, I thought. No way are we unloading all this junk just to have to pile it right back up in the morning. Crackheads of Jackson, you suck!
The Hell’s Lovers have finished their meals and begin filing out of the truck stop, ready to roar away and hit the road, as are we. Safe travels, biker dudes.