Disembarking at a small brick building just off of the main drag, Greenwood is a welcoming small city on the verge of big change. While the tumultuous history of this small town is well known, the strides its citizens are currently taking deserves national attention and support. I broke bread with some of the most determined and innovative women residing within the mouth of the Delta and I had a fantastic adventure learning from them.
My stay at the Alluvian was absolutely delightful. A boutique hotel crafted by the Viking team, the Alluvian offers a gorgeous breakfast buffet as well as bar and dinner service led by Chef Cameron Shaw of Giardina Restaurant located inside the hotel. After a long day, I was ready for dinner and drinks with Danielle Morgan of Greenwood Tourism as well as the Alluvian and Viking Marketing teams.
As is tradition in these parts, dinner started with hot tamales. A region-specific take on the traditional, these are often served unsheathed in a dish of red sauce or wrapped in a corn husk. Extra tender with a red chile and shredded meat filling, these are not to be missed. We followed with courses of broiled shrimp in garlic butter, filet, seared scallops, warm fresh bread, and copious amounts of wine. From the first bite, I was welcomed to commune and muse with this team of amazing women striving to improve the community they transparently love. After a nightcap on the patio, we said our good nights and I fell into the lushest bed of the entire trip. Even the best sleeper car can’t compare to the soft sheets and thick bedding of my room at the Alluvian.
The next morning brought about what can only be described as a dream. I love equipment, production, and logistics so getting to tour the Viking production facility and headquarters was something I’ve been looking forward to this entire trip. I got to see where ranges are born! It was a clean, tidy, efficient center with lots of full time positions for the workers who make big dreams come to life. As we walked through all the stages of production, Katy Coleman of Viking thoroughly answered even my geekiest questions. Founder Fred had done so much to build the facility and the community of Greenwood and it was obvious that Katy had an abundance of passion and integrity, as well as a wealth of historical knowledge about the community that raised her.
After the tour, we headed over to Mai Little China where Madison and her parents, the restaurant owners, took us through multiple courses. Featuring 100 year old family recipes, produce from her grandmother’s garden, and bold flavors highlighting the fusion that is Chinese food made in the south, I can not recommend this lunch destination enough. From pan fried eggplant to garlic long beans, and catfish with shrimp in coconut sauce, Madison and family packed each dish full of flavor with perfect execution.
As we rolled from the commercial center back into downtown Greenwood, I was excited to meet Mayor Carolyn McAdams. She is a lot of power packed into a tiny woman. We sat in her office and talked all about rural accessibility, revitalization and the future of Greenwood. While both Viking and Milwaukee are headquartered in Greenwood, the downtown suffered generational flight as so many small towns have in the last 20 years. She asked me my thoughts on how to better include Millenials and Gen Z in the conversations to come. I believe it boils down to community enrichment, accessibility, and connectivity. In the internet age it’s much easier to work from anywhere. Telecommuting, VOIP, and global connectivity have changed how we work in so many ways. By developing good local businesses, utilizing technology and restoring the downtown corridor adjacent to the rail station, as well as the station itself, Greenwood will see the resurgence it deserves. Mayor Carolyn is dedicated to pursuing improvements to their station much in the same fashion John Robert Smith did in Meridian. The impact those improvements made in Meridian were notable and will serve as a good model for a number of small towns moving forward. CN has been resistant to participation in these discussions despite the willingness of the Mayor’s office to manifest plans for development as the Main Street Team works their way towards the track.
This conversation left me elated and revitalized as I made my way around the block back to the Alluvian to meet with my interviewer from the Greenwood Commonwealth. Gerard Edic is a young reporter and transplant investing in the future of Greenwood by breathing life and initiative into the local paper. After wrapping up the interview, we took a little time to chat and share tales of our shared affinity for travel by rail. They say Mississippi has always valued the art of conversation, culture here values a good story and I was glad to share mine with Gerard.
As I waited eagerly to be joined by my team, I heard from Jim Mathews,who was en route. After a month of truly intense advocacy and travel, he was coming to Greenwood for some well earned rest and relaxation. Mayor Carolyn and crew joined me at the Giardina bar tables to await RPA’s leader and dinner at Fan and Johnny’s.
The brainchild of James Beard Finalist Taylor Bowen Ricketts, Fan and Johnny’s is a lovely addition to the main drag. Filled with local art (some artwork by the chef and artist herself) and locals, everyone there offered us hellos. Friendly nods and congratulatory waves followed the Mayor everywhere she went. As we sat down at the large round table in the back of the restaurant, I witnessed a quirky practice known as brown bagging. Greenwood is one of the few places that lies in the in between of post-prohibition law. Guests can bring their own wine, it can be opened in the restaurant, but there is a corkage fee and mixers must be purchased from the establishment. No coolers are allowed, but you can have your drinks chilled by the staff. While I am no stranger to the BYOB life having grown up in the county by county wet/dry laws of Kentucky, it brought me amusement to observe this process in their lovely little town.
Round after round, Chef tantalized us with old favorites, new ideas, and she even whipped up a few dietary requests on the spot. After dinner we had a lengthy chat and a quick photo shoot before heading off for one last stop at Webster’s to hear a few local performers. As the hour grew late we took in blues belted by those who have been singing the Delta’s tales as tradition since the land was first cleared from its swampy natural state.
The next morning I had a little free time as Jim and I waited for the rest of the team to join us for our cooking class. We strolled the drag and peeked into a number of shops, cafes, and dipped through the Farmer’s Market. Known as the Rail Spike Park the long thin walking trail and recreational area houses an architecturally intriguing open air space in which the Farmer’s Market is conducted weekly. From there, the drag winds down to the river serving gorgeous views of both bridges and the VIking HQ, housed in a converted cotton gin. With north facing windows and equipment on display, Jim and I discussed how this town had a wealth of untapped potential. A basic bus route, a few smart investments, and improvements to the train station would do so much for this already blossoming community. From the Yazoo to Pontchartrain, this region is on the up and up.
After visiting the Mississippi Store, filled with made-in-state gifts, I received a text that T.J. Girsch and Jonsie Stone were ready to join us for the cooking class, Lunch in Little Havana. I was beyond ready to get back in the kitchen and whip up some Arroz con Pollo, Borracho Black Beans, and Tres Leches Cake. For anyone visiting, I absolutely recommend this activity at the Viking Cooking School. Lunch preparation was a great team building activity, however VIking also offers romantic dinner classes and youth friendly programs. In a class of 12 led by Chef Leanne, we broke into teams of 4 and loosely followed the recipes provided. With a beer in hand and chicken thighs searing, I cut it up with the Chef who has accomplished a range of achievements from Jackson to New Orleans.
Lunch left us lazy in the balmy summer heat and thankfully next up on our itinerary was a tour of Greenwood via van hosted by Danielle. Having folded Katy Coleman into our little rail family, we all piled in and took in the sights and history. As we drove deeper into the countryside, we visited gravesites of musicians long passed, historic properties, churches, and campgrounds. Greenwood was the primary filming location for “The Help” and many of the homes featured in the film allow visitors to stop and look around the property. There are a number of gorgeous properties in Greenwood which are surprisingly affordable, I don’t know how long the bubble will last, but for anyone looking to open a Bed & Breakfast, this is prime real estate. I really appreciated the level of detail Danielle provided on this tour, I learned more than I thought I would have in such a small amount of time.
Between old growth trees, and historic plantations lay one of the most important historical markers of the Civil Rights era. The storefront where 14 year old Emmett Till was falsely accused before his horrific abduction and murder. A nightmare which divided the south and radically changed how Mississippians processed the draconian laws of Jim Crow era and segregation, the aftermath rocked the Delta to its core. The storefront is now completely overtaken by creeping vines fading into ruin, which seems appropriate. I would love to see the adjacent building turned into a civil rights center, a beacon of hope for the transcendence of the communities most marginalized by history.
As the sun set, we rallied for Lusco’s. A much loved community staple on the other side of the tracks. Another brown bag eatery, we gathered in a large group of coworkers, teammates, and friends to tuck into a real feast. I think my favorite part of Lusco’s is the prohibition style dining rooms. As opposed to an open space, each table has partitions surrounding and a buzzer on the wall to summon the service staff. Much to my surprise Mayor Carolyn paid us a surprise visit and extended her support for my endeavors. With a bright smile and spoken elegance she told me that Greenwood loves me and awaits my return.
I was completely stunned as she presented me with a Key to the City and promised no gate would be locked when I next roll into town. I am still blown away by this gesture. To be welcomed in with such integrity and compassion by this kind soul has revitalized my passion in advocating for rural accessibility. There is so much character within these little cities often overshadowed by history. This is a place that birthed revolutionary writers, activists, and musicians. We owe it to them to share these stories, to commune, to economically support. I fell asleep with the key in my hand after falling my parents to celebrate this amazing moment I didn’t even know I was working toward. I look forward to finding the perfect place to display when I one day have an office again.
Our last morning in Greenwood was spent in the spa. Our lovely host Katy had offered me a massage at the Alluvian Spa and my god after this many weeks in transit it was everything I needed. The spa is filled with fragrant, well crafted products, and the staff is inviting. Once again the women of Greenwood were the stars of the show as they made even a busy weekend seem well orchestrated. As I disrobed in hopped on to the heated massage table, I was taken away to pure bliss. My spine is still thankful for the gentle realignment I so desperately needed. It was hard to get up after with the realization that my time being pampered was coming to a close.
After many hugs and promises to meet up soon, the RPA team and I went to San Miguel Taqueria to smash about a dozen street tacos before the trek to Memphis. I was delighted to find all of the classics served here by a close knit family. I had Barbacoa on corn with extra cilantro, onion, lime and a side of roasted jalapeños. The prices were cheap, the service was fast, and just like that we were on our way to the next destination.