Apr 212011

Today, we have an easy schedule of only 80 miles riding. So with that in mind, along with the still steady drizzle soaking the bikes and roads, I decided to sleep in. Once underway, the rain lingered for about the first half of the ride, finally giving way to clear skies. We rolled into our destination, Oxford, Mississippi, before noon.

Oxford is best known as the home of the University of Mississippi, i.e. Ole Miss, and the segregation riots that erupted here in the 1960s. Founded in 1844, Ole Miss opened its doors to 80 white, male students. Thirty-eight years later in 1882, the university admitted its first female student, though the campus was still strictly off limits to African-Americans.

Desegregation came in 1962 as James Meredith, an African-American, had his application for enrollment rejected in 1961. Meredith filed a lawsuit which he subsequently won. Attempting to enter the campus in September 1962, he was blocked by the Governor of Mississippi. Accompanied by federal marshals, Meredith entered the campus grounds on September 30, 1962. The result was massive riots, with two people being killed. The Army National Guard was called in, and Meredith attended his first class on October 2nd. Subject to constant harassment, Meredith successfully graduated in 1964. Talk about incredible bravery in the face of extreme ignorance. Today, Ole Miss continues to be desegregated and boasts an enrollment of 18,000 students.

Despite our early arrival, we tried our luck to see if we could check into the Ole Miss Motel a bit early. No problem as the place was practically empty. The Ole Miss is certainly not glamorous, with a large rectangular parking lot in the center with rooms configured along its perimeter like a giant ‘U’. But the room was cheap, clean and adequate. And the location was fantastic, within easy walking distance of the historic town square with numerous restaurants, bars, and shops.

Once checked-in, we faced a rare luxury: a bunch of spare time. So we gathered up our growing pile of ripe clothes and rode to a small strip mall about a quarter mile east. We found a few open washers at the laundromat and after the machines were loaded, I meandered a few doors down to a barber shop. The place was packed so I took a seat and waited my turn. And waited. And waited. Not that I was being passed over but because of the large queue and the time spent on each patron’s haircut. A solid 25 minutes was spent primping and pruning each head so they would be flawless for their GQ photo shoot. Finally, I’m up and I settle into The Pamper Throne. But I don’t think my rear had a chance to compress the foam padding before I’m done. Non-locals (or maybe it’s just Yanks) don’t seem to get the same attention to detail as those with a southern accent. Or maybe it’s because I didn’t need as much work to look totally awesome. Yeah… that’s it!

The most overrated restaurant in the world.

With  the chores out of the way, we set off for a bite to eat. Which would lead to the biggest disappointment of the trip: Taylor Grocery  in Taylor, Ms. Located about 9 miles south of Oxford, the best thing about Taylor Grocery is the pleasant country drive. In case you don’t know, Taylor Grocery is a restaurant widely known for its catfish, serving in an old building that at one time was a small grocery store. Search on the Internet and the reviews wax poetic on how “This may be the best catfish place in the world.” Absolutely ludicrous! And other claims can be found including the fact that Peyton Manning,  Barbara Walters, and Jimmy Buffet once dined here. It goes to show that just because you’re famous and rich doesn’t mean you know squat about catfish. Let me see, the place is a bit of a dive (it’s called rustic), service is inattentive, dinnerware is just one step above Wendy’s, and the food is mediocre at best. How that equates to “the best catfish place in the world” is beyond me. And so I have to conclude this is an example of The Emperor’s New Clothes. You know the tale… people were duped into thinking that if they didn’t see the clothes of the Emperor as magnificent and spectacular that they were simply too stupid or unrefined. All the while the guy is butt naked. Guess what? They have no clothes at the Taylor Grocery. To put it in perspective, I had catfish twice in Mississippi, once in Louisiana and once in Tennessee. This was the worst of the bunch. No contest. ‘Nuf said.

Back in Oxford, we hit the historic town square. In stark contrast to Clarksdale, this town was pulsating with shoppers and diners roaming about. And music seemed to emanate from every establishment. Our first stop was Proud Larry’s for a couple of beers. There was some live music there but it was pretty sedate. From there we walked across the square to The Blind Pig Pub. Holy cow! There was a battle of the bands taking place in the basement and it was belly buttons to butt holes down there. We slithered sideways between the bodies and found a table up front that had a few open seats. Turns out someone dumped a drink or two on the chairs. I grabbed a waitress as she went by and wiped the surfaces dry with a bar rag. Bingo! Prime seats in a jam packed bar. After a couple hours we climbed the stairs to street level and found a pizza joint for a late-night snack. And even this place, late at night, had a band playing! Once the pizza was gone, we walked the short distance back to the Ole Miss and called it a night. Oxford really surprised me with its charm and invigorating vibe. I highly recommend a visit. One could easily spend a long weekend here.