This event is sponsored by the Mississippi Museum of Art. They’re collecting stories from various cities from the local community. The Sister & I attended last night as this was in Hattiesburg and was being held at The Thirsty Hippo. We were excited. We thought it would be informative and lovely. But it was not what I expected at all. In fact, overall it was not lovely, though it certainly was informative.
I will not really have many nice things to say about this, just so you know. It’s all honest and truthful, but I am not making anyone look good that doesn’t deserve it.
It was fine at first. It was people from the audience getting up on the stage to share their personal story, something of Hattiesburg, though one older lady shared a story from Louisiana, just because she wanted to talk about her son? I don’t know. One lady was talking about cities moving away in various directions and leaving the past behind, but she was glad that Hattiesburg wasn’t doing that. Except that is untrue. Hattiesburg keeps moving out west, but doesn’t want to build up or revitalize areas that it already owns. Sure several things have had upkeep in the downtown area, but it’s like pulling teeth to get the Downtown Society to actually agree on it being worth their time and effort to save.
She also talked about the Live At Five, which she took directly from Baton Rouge, even the name at first, and how the Hattiesburg Downtown Society didn’t think it would work, which I honestly made an aside to The Sister of “When are they ever really on board with untraditional things?” Because they’re not really. Live at Five is a music festival in the park downtown. Although the lady was bragging that when it started there were only 300 people and now there’s about 3,000. Three hundred is way too many for that little park, and this is why I’m not interested in this type of event, so I don’t go. But, it’s a great idea, just too big for me, personally.
A guy who isn’t from here, actually none of them were from here originally (except one, but he also left before coming back), but that his father moved them around a lot and this is the place he considered to be home. What he said was really cool.
Another lady talked about Hurricane Katrina, but it was on point, considering that she worked for the newspaper and that is how they helped the community during that time; they’d be at the water, food, and ice relief stations handing out free newspapers so that people could know what was going on. And then how when she was ill, people she didn’t even know helped out in regards to her and her family.
Then things started to turn nasty. Some Meridian guy, who seemed like a Baptist Preacher and who, in fact, might just be the representative for this district that people kept wanting to vote in; Toby Barker. Toby was mentioned a lot and pointed to during one persons talk, but as the person was behind me, I don’t know. Anyway, he’s a native Mississippian, but from Meridian. And he went on to basically say, “Fuck Oak Grove.” “We all know we all hate Oak Grove!” and there was hoots and hollars of agreement from the crowd.
Then another guy, who is originally from Hattiesburg, but only recently came back a few years ago. When he first arrived he was really nice. Now he’s arrogant and kind of a jerk. Not nice at all. He hand-picked everyone in the room who were his best friends, which were practically everyone except The Sister & I, and then added as a slight, “But I love all of y’all.” and then went into his “Fuck Oak Grove” mini diatribe, which just about everyone audibly agreed with again.
After that a girl got up; one of this last guys very best friends and who cawed loudly in joy over all the Oak Grove hate, started her story off with how during her first year and a half of uni she only stayed on campus or drove to Target. Sorry honey, but Target is officially in Oak Grove. It may be Hattiesburg City Limits now, but it’s Oak Grove & always was, so if you hate it so much you can’t go to Target or you’re a hypocrite.
Then another woman who runs the Hattiesburlesque got up just to talk about her old buddy, the guy in the beginning who felt like this was home. And all of them praising The Thirsty Hippo in some way, for being a haven for odd and cool people and being so accepting.
We had to leave. Overall, the entire affair was disgusting and it makes me ashamed to have been born here. I don’t even care that pretty much all of these people came from somewhere else, though I’ll admit that it was a bit weird, but not bad; but almost like how did you end up here and you stayed..? OK, cool. No, it was how all of these people, mostly, were talking about others in the community being so nice, friendly, and welcoming, but that downtown Hattiesburg was the only place that mattered and every other place that IS a part of the Hattiesburg community can go and fuck themselves for not licking these peoples boot heels on a daily basis. All of these people were friends and it was all very cliquish in that room, not to mention apparently for all of downtown Hattiesburg.
Several of them acted like the sun rose and set with them and if it hadn’t have been for them, nothing would ever have happened. There were “Movers and Shakers” and “Dreamers and Go-Getters” long before these people were even born or before they were even setting their eyes on Hattiesburg. And there will be these people after they’ve stopped caring. They are not the end all be all, though their talks felt like we should all worship them. Not all of them, but most of the people, and if their talk didn’t, then they were just the bestest little friends with the people giving the vomit inducing talk.
And to praise The Thirsty Hippo, mainly the original one, and say that it was awesome and they accepted everyone burnt me up. This place was and is a bar. Period. Which might be why they closed down in the first place? I’m only assuming there. They’re supposed to card at the door and if you’re under 21 then you’re not allowed in. Otherwise, this isn’t a hot NYC night club, they’re supposed to let you in. On two occasions with the original business, and they were the only occasions on which I tried, I was denied entrance because they are just such wonderful people and so accepting.
The first, I was twenty and my birthday was in a month. Our group had six or seven people in it. Two of which included a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old whose birthday was after mine. Both of the younger people were carded, but because they were just so cool, they were allowed in. I was not because they weren’t an accepting place. They were assholes. The second occasion, I was over 21 by several months and again they refused to let me in because they’re a wonderful haven and accept everybody, don’t you know!
Then there’s the little matter of Oak Grove. The Sister & I actually don’t belong anywhere. We live in the county but right at the edge of the city limit line. For the past 37 years we have lived this way. Our address is Hattiesburg, but we can’t vote in any city affiliated things. We went to school in Oak Grove, but weren’t allowed to vote in any Purvis things (which is the county seat), though our taxes go to Lamar County.
My parents aren’t from here, but when they got here there first two homes were IN Hattiesburg. My dad’s business was in Hattiesburg, near the zoo. Perhaps one would not think that fine jewelry is anything special for a community, but my dad was a small business jeweler, who made things by hand. If you came in with an idea, he’d make it. His jewelry was exemplary. We know, we got something fixed recently and it was shotty work. But not only was he such a fab jeweler, the people of Hattiesburg came to his shop just for the camaraderie. He was every bit of the community.
And in the nineties when the only thing that stayed open late was IHop, The Sister & I opened a coffee-house in our basement. Art shows, bands, ‘zines, and obviously coffee and we kept very late hours, sometimes not closing until 3 or 5 in the morning. We stayed open seven years. Other coffee houses later copied us, and admitted as much, because they thought it was so fantastic. And which we thought was cool.
I don’t even go around saying I’m the best or I did things first, but it burns me up that these people are all “we’re the best and we’re first and fuck everyone else” when it was absolutely unheard of to have a coffee-house or a business that stayed open late when we did this. And do you know how we were able to accomplish this? Oak Grove, bitches! That’s right.
Hattiesburg wouldn’t have anything to do with that mess, so being in Lamar County, we could just have it in our house no problems. Without Oak Grove you wouldn’t have The Bright Fame Sisters and there wouldn’t have been The Cubbyhole. And you know what? The Cubbyhole made its own family and we don’t secretly talk badly about them behind their backs like these other new “movers and shakers” talking about family and open-mindedness and acceptance and then lashing out with venom.
That’s just my family. This doesn’t even begin to cover other people who aren’t asses who have always repaved old ways over or paved out new ones for this community. We’re not the first, the people before us weren’t either, and certainly not these people; and none of us will be the last. And while I have no idea what Oak Grove school is like today, it was awesome when I went there (well, that last year was a bit of horror for a lot), and I knew some of the best people; teachers and students, whom I could ever hope to meet or know. Oak Grove, ya’ll. Seriously what is all the hate for it?!?!
I was actually proud when anyone starting something up. T-Bones having a record store, now coffee, books, and records. That one guy opening his clothing shop or opening his second one recently. People hosting music or films in the park. People starting up farmer’s markets. I thought it was really cool. I never, once, not even secretly, despised them thinking they should worship me for doing something first. I was just proud of my hometown and of the eclectic, artistic people starting business and events from scratch. I thought it was fantastic. I thought this is how everyone felt. But apparently all of Mississippi and who ever else hears these recordings will know only that Hattiesburg is full of hypocritical, condescending, unwelcoming, unfriendly people. Because that’s almost about all I heard coming from their mouths or from the crowds overzealous approval.
I remember when I was younger the place to hate was Petal. I didn’t understand hating any place, but why does Hattiesburg not hate Petal anymore and why has its focus shifted to Oak Grove? The only thing I can think is that Hattiesburg keeps grabbing up Oak Grove land, saying they’ll see tax revenue from it, but Hattiesburg keeps it all. When one intends to annex places, they generally annex a little at a time, like Hattiesburg has done, but they also keep the annexee feeling like this is a good deal, whether it is or isn’t doesn’t matter. By promising something and then not delivering you are executing the worst business plan in the history of ever. Hattiesburg doesn’t have Oak Grove or Bellevue yet, but they promise, don’t deliver and then say, “We plan to take you over anyway.” And they wonder why Oak Grove and Bellevue exclaim, “Hell no! I don’t think so!”
I don’t get into it because honestly it doesn’t affect me… yet. I’m so close that I’m sure at some point it will, but after 37 years and they only keep moving west and not north off of the main thoroughfaire, then it probably won’t happen soon. But I like the freedom that the county affords. As I said, if I’d been in the city in the nineties and early 2000s, those seven years wouldn’t have had any late night coffee place… at all. One still can’t be open late unless they are a bar, and to open anything food related in the city is about a millions years worth of red tape. Also I don’t have to pay the city to obtain a permit to have a yard sale. I can sell my own things for free any time that I want.
But, while I don’t get into it, it is rather bad business from a general stand point. Representatives of the city keep saying, “but if a city doesn’t expand it will die!” But there are so many area’s, that are not even dodgy area’s, that the city already owns and they care to do nothing with, so anything in those area’s is just rotting and falling apart and it’s ugly. It doesn’t make sense to just land grab, for what, the future? when no one is in competition with you in the first place and to just do nothing with any of it. How does that make sense economically? It doesn’t. Besides Hattiesburg is expanding so quickly it can’t keep up with itself; it’s infrastructure (roads and sewers), nor the traffic. They’re not helping anyone with expanding out west and leaving everything else to its fate.
Also, if you lived somewhere and a city was taking over, promising taxes from these business, but you hadn’t seen any of it since the late 80s, would you really want them to annex you? They’re basically saying, “Yeah we’re taking over, but we don’t care about you!” I would bet money on the fact that if Petal decided to start buying up parts of the precious downtown Hattiesburg and these people weren’t seeing tax money and then Petal said, “Yep, we’re taking over and who cares about you!” That these HattiesBURGERS (as they LOVE to be called) would be hopping mad about it all. This whole affair boils down to nothing but Oak Grove and Bellevue feeling used and losing their autonomy. I understand that places get taken over and then are, therefore, part of that new city, but there is still some autonomy left. LA is all LA, but within LA you have these neighbourhoods; Burbank, Long Beach, Santa Monica… because these were once cities that Los Angeles annexed and took over. They keep their names and are little communities in and of themselves. The way Hattiesburg is acting is that there will be no Oak Grove or Bellevue, it will all be Hattiesburg as far as the eye can see.
And I feel like that this is a good explanation for this town. Hattiesburg will see something that some other place is doing and want to do it too, only they have no idea how to go about it, nor do they ask or research how that thing is done. They just take it up and do it and it’s generally always a fiasco. We have traffic helicopters now and traffic reports on the radio. Yes, the traffic is bad, but it does not warrant spending money on helicopters to monitor it. Someone else’s idea taken over by Hattiesburg and honestly what good is it doing anyone. I’ve even been on the busy streets and seen the helicopter go over and then heard the traffic report and it hasn’t done me a bit of good. “Traffic is at a stand-still on HWY 98 W in front of Wal-Mart” Yeah, for like the time it takes for the traffic light to change and then no stand-still traffic. *rolls eyes* This is not what traffic reports are for, y’all.
Anyways, my entire point is that if this is the new and modern Hattiesburg, they can keep it. I don’t want hate and one-uppers and competitions and cliques and hypocritical talk of being accepting and open and then revealing that they are nothing of the sort. It was disheartening. Is this the place that I have called home for all these years? Is this the place that I have helped to improve and been excited in others’ improvements? Is this the place that I have fought for and defended?
All that room showed me is that this is a terrible place. Hattiesburg may never have been perfect or a haven, but my Hattiesburg was a much nicer place. I suppose they killed it? Or else I have been deluded all of these years into thinking it was better than it really was.