Last week, my good friend and running partner, Paula, and I took a road trip to Mississippi. Our primary mission was doing research for a book I’m working on about the journey William Macon Waller and his slaves took in 1847-48 from Amherst, Va., to Natchez, Miss.
Our secondary goal was eating. There’s lots of good food in and on the way to Mississippi.
We left Lynchburg on Saturday morning, April 22, bound for Birmingham, Ala. On the way, our route would take us through Bristol, Va., where there were doughnuts at Blackbird Bakery. Really good doughnuts.
The bakery, which is open 24/7, is located on the Virginia side of Bristol. In case you didn’t know, Bristol is a divided city. Tennessee is on one side of its main drag and Virginia on the other.
At Blackbird, I had three doughnuts: a vanilla cake, chocolate cake and a chocolate/caramel yeast doughnut. I washed them down with a pint of milk. Paula, who has more self-restraint than I do, had two doughnuts.
One of hers was blueberry pancake flavor with maple/bacon topping. It looked pretty good.
If I didn’t hate traveling I-81 so much, I might be at Blackbird every weekend.
Back in the car, we drove on, through Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tenn., and then Birmingham, Ala. Along the way, we counted 17 dead armadillos. They started appearing roadside, belly up with their tiny, clawed feet in the air, somewhere around Chattanooga.
Paula Googled “armadillo” on her phone and discovered the word was Spanish for “little armored one.” That made sense. She also read that armadillos had an odd — and suicidal — habit of jumping straight up when startled.
Sometimes, the article said, they jumped straight into the undercarriages or fenders of cars, thus all the little, armored bodies. Before the week was out, I’d count 42 dead armadillos along highways in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. And not a single, solitary live one.
In Bessemer, Ala., south of Birmingham, we checked into a hotel. Hungry again, we went to Bob Sykes, a local barbecue joint that’s been around since 1957. Husband John and I had been there once before, on the way to a family wedding in Louisiana.
It was about 6 p.m. and the place was packed. Many customers were wearing University of Alabama colors — red and white — causing us to suspect there was a spring football game down the road in Tuscaloosa that day.
I had a barbecue pork sandwich, macaroni and cheese a pile of fried okra. Normally, I wouldn’t cross a busy street for fried okra, but this was fried in a cornmeal batter and very tasty. Bob Sykes might have made a convert that night.
At the hotel, we watched several episodes of “Law & Order Special Victims Unit,” my favorite TV show. In addition to enjoying the dramatic stories and vicariously reliving my days as a sex crimes detective — yes, that was one of my “past lives” — I also appreciate its star Mariska Hargitay’s dedication to real-life sexual assault victims.
In 2004, in response to what she learned by playing Olivia Benson on “Law & Order” and the mail she received from sexual assault victims, some of which were telling someone about their abuse for the first time, Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation.
You can read more about the organization here.
Soon, I’ll take you a little further down the road, where more dead armadillos, more good food and a few historic discoveries await.