EATIN’ OUT, MILL STREET STYLE

THE ORIGINAL BIG APPLE INN, JACKSON, MS

Every metropolitan city has its Mill Street, that well-worn, warehouse lined, blue-collar worker street with its industrial atmosphere.  That’s never where one finds the fine dining establishments.  But that’s not to say that you can’t fine plenty of good eatin’ establishments!  There’s a big difference between great food and fancy wallpaper!  I suppose it depends on what you’re trying to feed… your face and belly… or your image and ego.

The heart of Jackson Mississippi has its Mill Street, located downtown in the very heart of the city.  It’s an old street, well worn from decades of traffic, history, commerce, and labor.  I’m blessed to have worked on Mill Street… putting in almost a decade of good times, satisfying labor, and countless fond memories.  Many of those memories have to do with dining out, on and around Mill Street… and a few miles beyond.

Among my first memories of ‘Mill Street Dining’ didn’t actually happen on Mill Street, but just a block away.  My introduction to a life-long love of Krystal Hamburgers was in the mid 1940s.  The Krystal was located on the North side of Capitol, on the East corner of Capitol and Roach.  Those delicious burgers were only 5c each at that time!  Oh well… back then gas was only 25c a gallon.  But… a ‘good’ hour’s wage was then only a very few dollars an hour… if that much!  

I began work on Mill Street (the first time) in the Fall of 1960… working in the Jitney-Jungle Sign Shop after school, while attending Mississippi College.  But this was after lunch, and before supper time… so I didn’t do much Mill Street Dining during this period.  However, I was back on Mill beginning in the Fall of ’67, when I started full time employment with Jitney… again working from the corporate office on Mill… and dining out quite a bit!

I’ll say this though, not every meal was ‘dining out.’  That wasn’t necessary.  The corporate office had a full kitchen, save for a microwave… as those were not a common household appliance back then.  So many folks brought their lunches. 

Most folks brought sandwiches and such, foregoing the need to cook.  But there was often an ‘issue.’  It was a common occurrence for someone’s lunch, even with their name clearly written on the bag… to be eaten by someone else!  I suppose that sandwiches, like watermelons, taste best when stolen!  So I devised a clever ‘trick’ which I felt might deter the food-thieves.  Instead of my name on my bag, I wrote HENRY HOLMAN, (the company PRESIDENT), on it instead!  Later I heard rumors that it might have been Mr. Holman himself who was satisfying his hunger!  Oh well!

The places where we ate were unique!  But several were off the charts in their uniqueness… so unusual that they were not always everyone’s favorite.  In no particular order they were…

I believe others will agree, that one of our favorite dining establishments was the WHITE HOUSE, located on High Street near downtown.  It was not your typical restaurant.  There was no menu.  Folks sat around large tables, and the delicious southern-style fried, stewed, boiled, or baked items were served in bowls or on trays, and one simply helped themselves… over and over and over again!  We waddled back to work… far too stuffed to be efficient back on Mill!   And then there was SCOTTIES, a much farther drive South,  located on Terry Road a few mile South of Highway 80.  True, it was a longer trip, but one that was well worth it!  I dearly loved their thick and cream milk-gravy and always asked for a double-serving.  One of my co-workers (Phil) once told the waitress that my wife made it at home… in 55 gallon drums! 

I can’t remember the name of the place, and as eat-joints go, it didn’t stay in business all that long.  It was not sit-down dining, but more like an ice-cream stand.  But they didn’t sell 41 flavors like Baskin-Robins.  This stand sold BURGERS… but they served somewhere close to 41 different burger-MEATS!  

It was located in the next block north on Mill, and on the same side as the McCarty-Holman Warehouse.  Just WHERE they secured this wild variety of weird and unusual burger-meat I don’t know!  I wish now I had asked.  But in addition to your normal beef and pork, they also had alligator, snake, buffalo, elk, deer, raccoon, rabbit.  The list was so strange, I really can’t recall it all!  I wanted to try the alligator… but was afraid to.  The buffalo was great!

Also, on the same side of Mill, and quite near the weird-meat place, was a cafe/honky tonk that sold the best fish sandwich I’ve ever eaten! The one ‘issue’ with the fish was NOT the taste… that was super-terrific!  The problem was the BONES.  The fish they used was BUFFALO FISH, noted for its plentiful bones.  

The sandwich was huge… and open-faced.  The bread was some type of French bread.  The deep-fried fish was placed onto the bread IMMEDIATELY out of the deep fat frier… I know… because the bread was soaked in delicious fish-flavored oil.  But on top, it was sprinkled with a very generous helping of bright red Louisiana Hot Sauce… very generous.

You felt that you were taking a double-whammy threat to your life in eating this sandwich.  If the hot sauce didn’t get you, the bones would!  But… these were large bones, rib bones, and very easy to find and remove.  Anything is better when one must work for it!  And those fish sandwiches were fabulous!  Of course, they were NOT eaten ‘like a sandwich.’

Farther north on Mill Street, but on the East side of the street, and up rather near but south of the Woodrow Wilson overpass was a place we called ‘Mac’s By The Tracks.’  I suppose that the actual name was Mac’s Restaurant… or Mac’s Diner or Cafe.  It’s no longer there.  It was not strange for it’s food-fare, but instead for it’s unusual layout.

Now remember, the mid to late 60s was a time not only of ‘weird’ things happening on the west coast… but it was a racially turbulent time in the deep south.  The ‘white only’ signs may have been coming down, but they were slow in coming down.  And in many places, like the water fountains of the Jackson Zoo, it was not simply a sign change/removal… those racial identifications were built into the structures.  And such also was Mac’s By The Tracks.

The basic building was somewhat square.  It didn’t have one ‘front entrance,’ but two!  The ‘front’ on the south side contained entrance one.  The opposite side/front contained entrance two.  Running east/west down the center of the building was an area that was much more narrow than the two opposite sides.  This center section contained the restrooms, the kitchen, and the storage area.  The south side, was the dining area FOR WHITES… and on the north side, the dining area for BLACKS.  

What made this doubly-unique was that from one side, you could easily see into the opposite side dining area!  The LARGE kitchen serving windows into both dining areas were perfectly aligned with one another!  Crazy huh?

Although eating there fairly often, I really can’t remember much about the quality of the food.  It was more the uniqueness of the building which stood out.

Although the above places were GREAT… the one food-fare that stands out as ‘extra special’ to me is still alive and doing well!  I think that I was the only one who dearly loved it, but I still do, and continue to stop by from time to time.  That place is the Big Apple Inn.  Their specialty, and my favorite, is the Red Hot Sandwich… and boy oh boy is it HOT!  They’re small, like a Krystal, but really pack a punch.  Personally, I get about one Coke per sandwich as they’re THAT hot!  They cost $2 each today, but back then they were only 50c each!

The story goes that the founder of the place approached Jackson Packing Company, and asked if they had any low-quality pork that was suitable for human consumption, but that they couldn’t sell.  And the reply was YES.  He took this pork, ground it, added his own special blend of spices and and such… and mixed this with his home-made coleslaw… and spred this blend of deliciousness on small Krystal size buns.  He had a winner! Ummm GOOD!  It makes my mouth water just thinking about it – just as they make my eyes water when I eat them.  And… the place was in walking distance from our offices on Mill.

I’ll wrap up this food-fest with a story unique to yours truly… a story that is no doubt still talked about among former Jitney corporate employees!  

Jitney prided itself in sincerely trying to make the customers happy… all of our customers.  Personally, I detest avocados… but that’s my problem.  We sold avocados galore to those who love them.  And… we sold some food products that, to be truthful, you might not even think of as food.  

I’ll clarify this by saying that the Murphy’s were active members of Grace Methodist Church on Winter Street.  As a youth, I was a member of the Methodist Youth Fellowship.  When we had a fund-raiser, we always had Spaghetti Suppers at the church.  When the adults had a fund raiser, they had CHITTERLING suppers (pronounced ‘chitlins’).  Yes they did!  And Jitney Jungle Stores of America (and Sack & Save) sold chitlins (always frozen) in the meat-market.  

It’s coming…  Yes I did!

Because the ad department CREATED the company’s grocery ads, we also photographed most of the products seen in these ads.  And chitlin’s came up this particular occasion.  So… I took this golden opportunity to cook up a small batch (breaded and deep fat fried) in the employees kitchen!  Sniff.  Sniff.  Sniff.  (The ad required only a photo of the CONTAINER… but I want the ad staff to experience chitlins!

Chitlins definitely do not have the same aroma as Sirloin Steak on the grill.  Not even close.  Most folks say they STINK.  So I created quite an uproar!  Folks up and down the hallways came looking for what surely must have died!  They definitely did not enjoy any of this intestinal experience! Needless to say, I was firmly forbidden to do that ever again!  Like I said… ole time corporate employees still remember that event today! 

Funny… nobody ever complained about our Krystal Hamburgers! 

                              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oh Happy Days!

Drive© 2017  Bill Murphy

Background: My last day working for Jitney Jungle was in early 2001. I accepted the closing of Jitney as just an early retirement.  I stayed home and played at being retired for almost 2 years. Then our pastor’s wife had a suggestion,  why not sign-up to substitute in the local school system. I did.

School today is not what it was when I was school-age. When our teacher’s said, ‘jump’ – we asked how high on the way up. Not knowing karate, I was not always ‘at peace’ in the classroom. And then I got a call to sub in a special education class. Nervously, I accepted the assignment – and immediately and positively fell in love with it – and those precious children. Mrs. Odom’s classroom that year in Madison Middle School had 13 children (3 of those in wheelchairs), and two assistants. They stayed BUSY. I told her to call me ANYTIME they needed me. That December, she was approved for a 3rd assistant and asked me. YES! YES! YES!

Soon I was a full-fledged member of that happy family. And that’s how we felt about it, it wasn’t a JOB, this was – well – family! The photo above is the beautiful route I took out of my neighborhood on my way to ‘work’ each morning. What a way to start the day!

I’ve had folks tell me, “I just couldn’t do that.” I may have thought that way myself at one time. But I tell them that if they spent only an hour surrounded by those precious children, they too would fall in love with them. For the most part, they are the happiest children on earth! It was an honor and a privilege to work among them – and most days it hardly felt like ‘work’ at all! Oh the heart-warming and fun-filled stories I could tell!

One day I was walking with one of our girls down the hallway, when she asked me about my mother. I responded that my mother had passed away. She was silent for a moment, thinking. Then she asked about my father. I replied that he too had also died. Immediately she stopped, and looking up at me with deep and sincere concern etched across her young face she asked, “Then who takes care of YOU?”

I was glad to get to her destination, so that I could turn aside and wipe my tears away. My tears were not for Mom and Dad, but for the deep and tender CONCERN she’d expressed for me! Now maybe you understand why I embraced Special Ed.

I retired again in 2013, this time from the school system – and within a matter of weeks Carol and I plus furniture, dog, and memories were on our way to Illinois –  where we now live. I’ve often thought about subbing again – in special ed of course. But at 76 it takes me longer to get up off the floor than down onto it. I was always happiest on the floor with the kids when asked – at their level – eye to eye and heart to heart.

Zoo 1948

The photo above was taken at the Jackson Zoo in the spring of 1948. The kid sitting beside our teacher, Mrs. Wilson, is yours truly. (The ‘baby’ on the front row is my sister, Mary Lily.) Years later, our Madison Middle class also visited the zoo each spring. The photo below was taken 63 years later, in the exact spot as the above photo.

Spring 2011

I’m not sure which photo shows a happier me, but I believe it’s the one above!

To everyone who had a part in making this part of my life possible – I say THANK YOU!

 

~~~

 

 

 

 

Weeding My Pot Plant

schefflera

©2017 Bill Murphy

Steve Martin famously called himself a ‘wild and crazy guy!’ In the Jitney Jungle Advertising Department we had numerous wild and crazy guys – and gals.

Our work was ALWAYS deadline stressful. I’ve heard it said that operating room humor relieves stress – it sure did ours. We turned work into fun. Our boss summed it up perfectly saying, “All this and money too!”

The list of our workplace shenanigans are far too numerous to relate here. That would fill a book. Perhaps someday it will.

Sometime during the 80s, my parents gifted me with a large schefflera plant. The pot alone measured a foot across and almost 2 feet tall. This was a big plant. I had it in my office, near my desk. It was a beauty.

jitney-logo

Sometime later, long after the office oohs and aahs had died away, I noticed a new found interest in my plant. Like I said, our work was stressful, and our hours long. On days when the completed ads left us, often it was in the wee hours of the morning when we finally got home. So, depending on work-related assignments, our individual hours were not always the same, but staggered by necessity. Fellow workers began wandering in to chat – and I noticed that they also tended to glance at the schefflera.

After I’d noticed this strange behavior several times, I began to also ‘inspect’ my plant more often. Tiny sprouts. Dozens and dozen of very tiny bright green sprouts began popping up in the smooth soil of the schefflera plant. I’d pull them all up. The next day they’d returned. And my plant-visitors (both human and organic) continued.

I purposely stayed late one night. I cleared off my desk, and covered it with newspaper. Then I began digging out the soil from the birthday plant. Every scoop was laced with tiny seeds, seeds which look for all the world like the seeds of an okra pod. I had to dig down over a foot before a I reached seed-free soil. Then I carefully sifted the seed-laced soil, separating seed from soil. My suspicious were dead on – my pot plant had been seeded with pot.

But I didn’t tell my fellow workers that I’d weeded all the weed from it. (I never learned the identity of the culprit.) The idle chat/plant glance routine continued for a week or more, until someone could take it no more – and asked if I’d notice ‘anything happening’ with my plant.

What did I do with the seeds? On my way home late that night of weeding, I stopped on a small bridge which passed over a large drainage ditch in south Jackson where we lived – and tossed them off the bridge and into the wind. I’m sure someone, somewhere, eventually reaped that harvest.


 

~~