Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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The View From My Windshield: We Ain't Afraid

| Tue Jul. 27, 2010 8:40 PM EDT

States Rights: Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama  (Photo: Tim Murphy).States Rights: America at its best and worst: Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama (Photo: Tim Murphy)Birmingham, Alabama—Forget teachable moments; if you want a break from the national conversation on reverse racism, head to Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham. Just across the street from the late Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth's 16th Street Baptist Church (bombed by the Klan in 1963), the park was the launching point for the student marches in 1963, which broke the back of the city’s segregation regime—but not before Birmingham police broke out the fire hoses, handcuffs, and un-muzzled German Sheppards.

On a programming note, I'm finishing up a longer post on my Civil Rights swing through the South and America's greatest living metaphor, but while the world waits, take a minute to a.) watch this somewhat related clip from MLK’s "How Long, Not Long!" speech, on the steps of the old Confederate capitol in Montgomery, because it's worth watching every three or four months, and 2.) try to come to grips with the fact that the drummer from the Spin Doctors once released a song (with corresponding music video!) about the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Go Spin Doctors!

(Special bonus photo below the jump)

 

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A Sense of Where We Are: Dixie

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 12:15 AM EDT


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The War on Grub

| Sun Jul. 25, 2010 11:07 AM EDT

Freedom to Forage: Can we still buy a 10-zillion calorie chili hot dog at a ballpark in Obama's America? Yes we can.Freedom to Forage: Can we still buy a 10-zillion calorie chili hot dog at a ballpark in Obama's America? Yes we can (Photo: Tim Murphy).Marion, AlabamaOver the course of this trip, we've occasionally heard conservative talk show hosts lament the demise of what I guess you could call the Freedom to Forage: Apparently, the Obamas (they're working together on this one) have unleashed something called the "Food Nazis," who are heck-bent on confiscating all of your greasy, lardy, breaded, delicious grub. It's unclear what their goal is, exactly, but nothing is safe from the Fried Reichnot family restaurants, not school cafeterias, not even ballparks.

Terrifying.

But also, well, baloney. The other day, Alex says he ordered a bacon cheeseburger that came with mashed potatoes and onion rings on top of the burger. That was an exceptional case, but only just so. In Atlanta, we stopped at The Varsity, a local fast-food joint that's become a go-to spot for politicians and celebrities; there were no fewer than a hundred other people in line when we got there, many of whom ordered The Varsity's signature dish: hot dogs slathered in chili and cole slaw, with a side of onion rings (at least Cole slaw and onion rings, can, if they go back far enough, trace their heritage back to vegetables). If this is the best the Food Nazis can do, Obama's not nearly as dangerous as conservatives make him out to be.

Besides, even if we assume Obama wants to ban fried oreos or something, there are obvious political obstacles: If Obama shuts down all of the diners, where will he (and GOP nominee Haley Barbour) go for photo-ops come 2012? What will they eat at the county fairarugula? Logistically, it's just an impossible proposition. So long as the political culture is so deeply connected to fast food culture (to say nothing of the legitimately terrifying food lobby), I think our chili hot dogs, half smokes, buttermilk biscuits, chicken and waffles, cheesesteaks, deep dish, pulled pork, and cisterns of sausage gravy aren't going anywhere. But we'll keep you posted.

Update: Right after I posted this, we drove to Montgomery to watch the Tampa Bay Rays' AA affiliate, the Biscuits. True to form, their mascot is fluffy buttermilk biscuit named Monte (that's him on the right; note that his tongue is actually a giant lump of butter). If Monte doesn't do it for you, check out his sidekick, Big Mo, an anthropomorphized strip of fried chicken. With any luck, Montgomery will have a whole generation of children who grew up idolizing a 1,500-calorie snack. Anyways, let that be further proof, if you needed it, that the South's heart-stopping culinary culture is still going strong.

The View From My Windshield: Peanut Lady

| Sat Jul. 24, 2010 9:48 PM EDT

Delta, Alabama—Blame it on the vegetarians. "My daughter, when she was two, refused to eat meat, but she looooved boiled [pronounced "bold"] peanuts," explains Wilma Alexander, aka "the Peanut Lady." "So we started to give her peanuts to get her more protein."

Not long after that, Wilma started hawking her wares at flea markets, then moved on to  a tent and a pickup truck. Her big break came after she recovered from knee replacement surgery, when a state agency gave her a grant to help build the operation. "They said 'you have a client base and everything,'" she says with a touch of pride.

Last spring, when she lost her her job at a gas station, she turned the stand into a full-time gig. She does a brisk business, considering that she's parked on the grass off to the side of an otherwise empty stretch of state highway 431, in an otherwise empty stretch of eastern Alabama.

So what's the secret to the perfect peanut? Wilma doesn't hesitate: "My method of cooking."

"We had a bold [boiled] peanut man a mile up the road and he didn't hurt our business one bit." And then she lets me in on a secret: "His niece used to come on all the way over here to have our peanuts. She said her uncle just didn't cook them right."
 

The Fifth Beatle of Appalachia

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 11:56 AM EDT

Atlanta, Georgia—From this point forward, we're finished with the Appalachians. Since this trip began 23 days ago, hardly a day has gone by where we haven't passed through the mountains at least once, taking us through all manner of gaps and gulches, hills and hollows, knobs and notches, and whatever other names they might have come up with for mountains and the various ways around them. I like to think we've caught a real taste of the region—a town killed by coal; a county built on contraband; commercialization gone crazy; pulled pork; and some pretty awesome music. But there's one subject (ok, probably a lot of subjects) I've been meaning to write about since we first crossed into Tennessee. And since we're not coming back, I'd be remiss if I let the occasion pass without at least mentioning the lost state of Franklin.

For four glorious years in the 1780s, the northeastern corner of Tennessee, originally part of North Carolina, operated as a quasi-independent state, known as "Franklin" (or maybe it was "Frankland"; the accounts vary). It appealed for statehood under the Articles of Confederation, but, as with most other items on the agenda during that period, saw its application go nowhere, and was eventually folded into Tennessee. The end. It was all over and done with in less than a decade, and to my knowledge there's no Franklin Liberation Front or anything like that devoted to restoring its sovereignty—which is probably for the best.

I can't credit Franklin for secretly saving civilization—its greatest legacy might just be this Americana band—but it's a pretty clear example of how the map of the United States could very easily look a lot different. And there's a bigger takeaway, too: Franklin reflects a volatility in the early republic that tends to get glossed over when conservatives (and whoever else) heap too much praise on the founding founders. Franklin, like Kentucky, flirted with breaking away from the Union altogether if Spain could just guarantee protection and water rights on the Mississippi River. As much as we like to talk about Jefferson and Hamilton, the nation was founded, as much as anything, by a bunch of opportunists who really just wanted cheap land and economic prosperity and didn't much care how they got it—even if it meant casting their lots with another king.

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