We pull into a diner on the interstate. Modern exterior, brick, neon, smoked glass door. Inside it is as dark as sin: blackened 4 by 8 rafters, black plank walls, little light coming through the windows. Though it looks to have been assembled in the 1970s, it reminds us of the old colonial inn reassembled in the American Museum in Bath, England, where Paul Revere maybe popped in for a pint. Dark as sin.
‘The country ham?’ The waitress slips a pen behind her ear. ‘It’s, like, saltier than the regular ham.’
Maybe: but it’s good.
Here’s Ace Atkins on driving the Mississippi Delta:
Mississippi Delta driving is about the white dots of cotton stretched forever flat like the tiny points of an impressionist painting. It’s about the crooked crosses of wooden electric poles that edge the two-lane highway lined with farm-supply stores, barbecue joints, squat cone-topped silos, and windowless burned-out 1930s gas stations. It’s the deep maroon of a rusted tin roof above a weathered clapboard shack and the skeleton of a sun-parched tree, dead rooted in stagnant water. Or fallen cotton caught in highway gravel.
This comes from a book called Crossroad Blues, which involves the death of Robert Johnson. This is Atkins on his home territory:
Early the next morning, Nick slept away the Highway 61 trip in a Greenwood motel room until a dull, yellow light leaked through the brittle curtains and onto the flowered bedspread. It was the kind of place they used to call a motor court before the superhighways destroyed the character of travel…
The blurb says that ‘the cast of characters includes a red-headed siren, an Elvis-worshipping hitman, Johnson’s ghost, and the Mississippi Delta itself.’
Like the country ham, it’s rather good. And happens to be about Izzy’s favourite subject.