Lost deep down in the South

Six states conquered; ten cities befriended; countless towns encountered, from ghost-filled to Hipsterville; 2000 miles cruised; disgraceful scores of calories added; bourbon and sweet tea over consumed.

Scenic mountainous drives and breath-taking lakeside spots of Tennessee; alligator-ample swamps of Louisiana; towering stretches of under appreciated coastlines of Alabama; nights in the notorious ‘hood’ of Atlanta and in a spooky antebellum home in Mississippi; the longest bridge over water in the world; topped with more fried stuffs; and many more, all mastered in a 9-day ride.

People often ask me why I picked the Deep South for my road trip. For most, the Southwest US is a rather more preferred destination: the likes of Grand Canyon, the Horseshoe Bend, the cactus trees, the deserts, and other wide arrays of Iphoneographic delights.

One may very well assume that I went for the culinary experience. That’s true, sort of.

But ultimately I wasn’t the type to gently nod my head after gulping a spoonful and colourfully narrate to you in a metaphor-infused sonnet what sort of alchemy each ingredient brings upon each plate. Don’t expect that here. I just ate for the sake of eating.

So that’s that.

Although if you really must know about the food then, yes, the fried chicken in itself alone made the trip worth it. My healthy skepticism of stereotypes was brutally defeated when it came to fried chicken.

The main intention of this trip, though, was for me to observe and absorb the culture, the lifestyle, and the romance of this unique and unparalleled part of America and the world.

Having lived in the grand cosmopolitan setting of New York for two years, I found myself to be quite a distance away from the rural ambience, the backbone of the country, or some may claim, the “Real America”.

“If you didn’t make it down to the South then you haven’t reached America yet,” apparently, according to a pleasant, thick-accented, lumber-jacket-wearing Mississipian I crossed path with down near the Delta.

Depicted by the media, this so-called Bible Belt region is infamous for its daily orgasms for guns and big trucks, rigorous church attendance, and a puritanical conservative political ideology: an outright u-turn from the progressive Northeastern lifestyle that I have gotten so used to.

This interest was also bolstered by the ongoing political events in the country.

In an election cycle so vicious and controversial, accumulated with the further polarisation of the two main political parties; I was curious about how much the culture and the way of living in the Deep South really influences the unapologetic conservative ideology of its local residents.

Also, in addition to witnessing first hand the cultural attitude so conflicting to the likes of the Big Apple, another incentive was to fervently explore the region that is known to be the poorest parts of the world’s richest country.

While looking at a country’s well-boasted treasure may provide some understanding of that place, it does not us tell the whole story.

Admittedly, the great cities of America do a decent job at persuading that the US is “the greatest country in the world”.

But does its less impressive parts provide a strong enough spine to really complete such a confident argument? That was the question I was after.

24/7 Wall Street has Mississippi as the poorest state in America. Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisiana, are third, fourth, sixth, and seventh poorest, respectively.

According to the latest information from the US Census Bureau, the median household income in Mississippi was at $39,680, compared to the $73,971 of Maryland which ranks as the richest.

Poverty line there tipped over 21 percent whereas the other four hobbled just below the 20 percent mark. That means that on average one in five person I met was in shortage of food or proper shelter.

Typically, one does not really hear about how under developed America is, or about the hardship of its struggling people: only the ostentatious lifestyle of New Yorkers and such.

This trip was meant to examine America beyond the accomplishments and prosperities of the celebrated New York, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley. It was supposed to dig into the lesser extravagant and exaggerated parts of the Union.

I’d very much hope to be able to share with you, through a couple of articles exploring into specific states and cities, all the new experiences I had gained, the knowledge I had attained, and the culture I had absorbed on this Deep South journey.

Should this be your cup of tea then feel free to follow me on Medium!

P.S. Below are some handpicked and instagram-edited pictures for your reference.

Our very reliable friend: the Ford Expedition. I can’t comment about her performance as I did not drive one single mile. For the entirety of this journey, I settled comfortably in the passenger seat as the designated navigator/fun-fact-finder.
Stepped back into the cotton-picking era Antebellum home. Rothhill House at Natchez, MS.
Always tried to keep up with the news. Not a lot on world affairs in this local outlet. However, its opinion articles were indeed very interesting e.g. “Why Donald Trump will make the world a safer place.”
A quick detour towards Jackson, MS on our way down to New Orleans. The true undeveloped America.
Alabama and beaches? Never thought I would coalesce these two words into one sentence. An absolute beauty.
Houses in a Louisiana swamp, only reachable by boat. Most locals sail out to catch gulf crabs during the day. Who would think this picture was taken in America? Mekong would have been my guess.
A coffee shop at the Poncey market in Atlanta. The market is the posterboy for the city’s vigorous gentrification effort.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Says a Southerner whose definition of beauty is definitely different from mine.
One for fellow political nerds. When the anti-slavery Abraham Lincoln became President in 1861, states in the South, those whose economy relied heavily on cotton, broke away from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. Lasting from 1861 to 1865, its first capital was Montgomery, AL. Here I visited the office of its one and only President, Jefferson Davis.
Lake Ponchartrain causeway, north of New Orleans. About 24 miles long. At one moment any land cannot be seen.
New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Its recovery effort has been cherished and its mayor, Mitch Landrieu, has proven immensely popular. However, heavy storm still sees the city facing a Bangkok-style flood.

And sure, some food pics. Because why not.

Best of them all: Gus’s fried chicken shack at Memphis, TN.
Prince’s Hot Chicken is not far behind. Nashville, TN.
Humongous Gulf oysters at Wintzell’s oyster house, Mobile, AL
Two hours in the queue for this. Chargrilled in garlic and butter. Acme oyster house, New Orleans, LA.
Fried thin catfish accompanied by anoversized, in-seasoned soft shell crab. Middendorf, LA.
The reason why we detoured to Jackson, MS. Pork ear sandwich.
A true Southern comfort. Loveless cafe, TN.
These guys won world BBQ championship apparently. Memphis BBQ Company, MS.
Fried green tomatoes. Started off as a why-not-try dish but soon turned into an every meal essential.
The mighty: shrimp and grits. Homegrown, Atlanta, GA.
Yup, pancakes. Pancake Pantry, Nashville, TN.
Bottom dish is the fried gator by the way. Yummy. Cochon, New Orleans, LA.
Like what you read? Give Prom Vikitsreth a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.