Monday, June 28, 2021

Mississippi, in the Middle of a Heat Wave...

There's an old 80s song that begins with the lyrics, "Mississippi, in the middle of a heat wave...." If you've ever lived in the Deep South, you know that Mississippi and her neighbors tend to be in the middle of a heat wave most of the year. In the summertime, it's not only hot, but also so humid you can barely catch your breath. I once heard it described as trying to breathe through a warm, wet washcloth. Accurate!

In spite of this, my favorite summer memories of my teen years are of being in Columbus, Mississippi, with my cousin. There was nothing to do, we complained, but that wasn't really true. 

Over a beautiful old bridge was a little establishment called Bob's Place. It was what one might call a "hole in the wall," and it was glorious. Bob's sold beer, Cokes, and hamburgers. I don't think I ever bought any of them; I went inside only once or twice. Most of the fun happened in the parking lot, if you count gravel and dirt as a parking lot. 

By the time I was a teen, Bob's had been around for decades; my mom had also hung out there in her youth. The legal drinking age in Mississippi, up until September 1986, was 18, so a lot of people from Tuscaloosa crossed the state line to buy a legal beer, making Bob's a true hot spot for the younger crowd. We didn't need texting or Instagram to know where to find everyone we wanted to see. They'd more than likely be at Bob's. I lived in Birmingham at the time, which had so many entertainment options that the teenagers were scattered all over. When I visited my cousin, which was as often as possible, I loved the feel of a true "teen hangout."

We had a rule that we didn't arrive at Bob's until after 9 pm. Any earlier and you risked being thought uncool. "You don't want to look like you can't wait to get to Bob's," my cousin told me. She was older by two and a half years and therefore, in my eyes, an expert on all things. But the truth was, I couldn't wait to get to Bob's. 

Even before I went to Bob's for the first time, I knew many names and faces from looking at my cousin's yearbook. I'd often ask about people and learn their stories. This made me a bit like "The Stranger" on The Andy Griffith Show, except that I knew better than to let on what I knew. Getting to see these real-life "characters" at Bob's was pure gold for a future writer.

I'm actually writing a book right now set in the 80s and based on my experiences visiting Columbus, and specifically, Bob's. Mining these memories feels a bit like inventing my own time machine. I made some wonderful friends there, and my cousin is still my bestie, so it feels as though I'm returning for a nice, long visit. I'd gladly go back and stand around in the parking lot of Bob's, even if it did mean enduring the oppressive humidity of a Mississippi summer night.

Bob's, unfortunately, is long gone, and you can no longer drive across the bridge that took us there. But when I see pictures of that bridge, I'd swear that, if only I could once more drive across, it would take me back to Bob's and the 1980s. Everyone would be there, untouched by time, waiting for me. 

That's why, in my fourth Aleca Zamm book, the bridge that takes them back in time looks an awful lot like the bridge to Bob's.

Maybe there are time machines after all. We just call them books. 

*(Artwork by Bunky)

 Ginger Rue's latest book, Wonder Women of Science, is co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission. The book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields.

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