Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


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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Musical Interlude: Delta Blues Festival

| Fri Aug. 13, 2010 1:09 AM EDT

Why Fact-Checkers Drink: According to lore, this is the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where blues legend Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a total mastery of the guitar.Why Fact-Checkers Drink: According to lore, blues legend Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at this crossroads in Clarksdale, in exchange for a total mastery of the guitar. Or maybe, as the gentleman in front of Church's Chicken insisted, it was the crossroads a little further up the way. Or maybe, as some say, Johnson never went to any crossroads at all. Or maybe he did, only to discover that there was no Devil to sell his soul to anyway. Or maybe it was all just an elaborate metaphor (Photo: Tim Murphy).Clarksdale, Mississippi—In the rare moments when we're not battling wildlife and evading the revenuers, we do try to have a little bit of fun on this trip. So last weekend, we took a detour through the Delta to catch a little bit of the (free!) Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale.

Anyway, here's Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm:

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The View From My Windshield: Swamp Monsters

| Thu Aug. 12, 2010 4:41 PM EDT

The Last Thing You'll Ever See: Alligator, Mississippi--You'll never guess how the town of Alligator got its name. No, seriously. Giant murals notwithstanding, the town's actually named for a nearby lake, which, in turn, is kind of shaped like an alligator. But that's not what's interesThe Last Thing You'll Ever See: Alligator, Mississippi—The little Delta town of Alligator gets its name, as you might expect, from the monstrous 28-foot reptile seen above, which halved the village's population over a terrifying one-week period in 1907. No, actually, it's a bit less interesting than that. Giant mural notwithstanding, the town's actually named for a nearby lake, which, in turn, is kind of shaped like an alligator. Voila. In 2008, Alligator elected its first-ever black mayor by 10 votes, 37–27, on a platform of change and a new swimming pool (alligators not included). The full story, via the Telegraph, is actually pretty fascinating.

"So What Do You Think of the South?"

| Wed Aug. 11, 2010 10:49 PM EDT

Oxford, Mississippi—For most of the month I've spent in the South, it's felt as if we were just collecting the raw ingredients (sometimes literally) of Southern culture—a revival meeting here, some historical revisionism there, a splash of moonshine and hospitality after dinner; Oxford, home of Ole Miss, William Faulkner, bookstores, good music, and even a few liberals, feels like someone's finally taken the time to cook a nice meal. It's the South simultaneously at its most introspective and its most defiant.

In other words, it's the perfect place to consider a question that's been nagging at me—and asked of me, time and time again—since we first crossed the Potomac a month ago: What do you think of the South?

My answer is colored, as you might expect, by the conversations I've had. There were some consistent complaints, for instance: Many of the folks we stayed with were college-educated coastal transplants who came for the jobs but wanted out (a few were Southern-grown but still, in a way, looking for something bigger, be it Asheville, or Austin, or New York City). Invariably they would complain about the social traditions—all the pretty young women are already married, or looking to get married quick, or not married at the moment but dragging around a couple of kids; you can't meet anyone new unless you're active in a church or a rotary club; you can't talk about politics—ever; you can't buy liquor on Sundays; you can't buy liquor at all; some of the conversations you hear when people drop their guard and run their mouth will freeze your Yankee blood. And so on.

A Sense of Where We Are: Oxford Town

| Tue Aug. 10, 2010 12:02 PM EDT

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Oxford, Mississippi—Expect a longer post on Oxford; it may be the single most complex and fascinating place we've stopped in the South. For now, though, I'll just offer up a question: In the last half century of American history, has anyone had a more improbable career arc than James Meredith?

After successfully becoming the first black student at Ole Miss in 1962 and then getting shot while walking across the state, Meredith went on to work for bigoted North Carolina senator Jesse Helms, and endorsed KKK leader David Duke's campaign for governor of Louisiana. The closest comparable I can think of would be Eldridge Cleaver—from Black Panther icon to protege of Glenn Beck's idol, W. Cleon Skousen—but I'm not sure that really comes close. Anyways, let me know who I've missed in the comments.

A Good Idea at the Time: Drive-Through Daiquiris

| Mon Aug. 9, 2010 9:09 PM EDT

Natchitoches, Louisiana—Ok, this is a terrible photo. But you know what else is terrible? The concept of drive-through daiquiri joints.

Our guide in Natchitoches (pronounced "Nachos," I think*) told us the two most Natchitoches things we could do—other than go on a B&B-crawl—would be to go to a Chevron and buy meat pies, and then wash them down with drive-through daiquiris. What could go wrong?

I kind of admire the sheer audacity of the drive-through bar. And to be sure, there's a certain novelty and convenience factor: You just roll on in, place your order for small, medium, large, or "family size" (not a typo), and wait for your change; it's really the only reminder in Natchitoches that you're still in the same state as Bourbon Street. But the drive-through daiquiri place also feels a lot like cigarette ads circa 1960, when they'd have the little animated magical pony (or whatever) imploring kids to buy Marlboros. I ordered something called "Skittles";—"Purple Pill" is also quite popular. Both sound like their target audience is only just getting into chapter books.

All of that's kind of a sidecar to the primary flaw, which is that you're served a delicious, cold, slushy, alcoholic beverage in a styrofoam cup, with a straw, in your car. And so, invariably, are your friends, too. You're also probably really thirsty, because the average August high in Natchitoches is 153-degrees, and, like I said, you have this giant, delicious, cold, (occasionally family-sized) slushy beverage that tastes like liquified spiked sour patch kids, just sitting there, a foot-and-a-half from the steering wheel and melting fast. None of us broke any laws, rest assured. But they certainly make things easy.

On the other hand, if you drive an hour west of Natchitoches with your Purple Pill, you'll be in the great state of Texas, where, as MoJo reported in March, cops can arrest you for drinking while you're still in a bar. So it could be worse.

*Actually, Natchitoches is pronounced "Nack-a-dish." Just like it looks. As for its sister city, Nacogdoches, Texas, I have no clue.

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