Monday, August 21, 2006


Rob's New Home, Carley's Old One

"First TVA City" in the sign above is a reference to that fact that in 1934, Tupelo became the first city in the US to provide its citizens with electric power through the famous public works project, the Tennessee Valley Authority. Ain't that special?!

Located just a few blocks from downtown Tupelo, our apartment in this building is nice, spacious, conveniently located, and only costs $400 a month. Plus we have some pretty cool neighbors! Friday night BBQs on the front porch are a weekly event.

Our tree-lined street is mostly quiet, except on Sundays when thousands of people fill up the huge local churches.

The pretty old courthouse in downtown Tupelo is just a few blocks from our new home.

Yes, that's right, after living in one of the most progressive cities in the world (San Francisco) and all our adventures in Mexico and Guatemala, we've actually relocated ourselves to conservative Mississippi. In terms of the "Bible Belt", we're right on the buckle.

Mississippi's flag still has the confederate stars & bars, supposedly as a "tribute to the state's cultural heritage". Yikes! Despite its popularity, many people down here find this Civil War-era insignia an offensive reminder of Mississippi's infamous history of racial violence. A few years ago a voter referendum almost (but not quite) had enough support to get the symbol removed from the flag.

Our attractive little neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown is also home to some of Tupelo's biggest churches. The baptists probably have the largest following around these parts.

This Presbyterian church is 2 blocks from home.

Carley's parents attend this Methodist church a couple blocks from our house.

Why would we give up our progressive surroundings and lifestyles to move to such a conservative place that lacks so much of the big-city culture that we've grown to love? Certainly the 2 biggest factors are that:

1. we're about to have a baby, and
2. Carley grew up here, and her family still lives here.

With that in mind, our priorities have shifted drastically away from the incredible social life we enjoyed in California and the super-cheap third-world lifestyle we benefited from in Guatemala. At least for the immediate future we're completely focused on adapting to parenthood and enjoying the family support during the coming crucial months. The deal is sweetened by the career-building opportunities that we've both been presented with. But more on that later.

So what should y'all know about Tupelo?

For one thing, Tupelo is actually a relatively progressive community in the context of the Deep South. There are definitely some progressive-minded people here, despite the conservative majority.

In addition to excellent coffee, you can find all sorts of wordly, funky, hippie and new-age styles at the Main Attraction in downtown Tupelo. You'll feel more like you're on Haight Street in San Francisco than Main Street in Tupelo. This is Carley's favorite store east of the Rockies.

Barbara, the owner of Main Attraction, actually lived in the lower Haight district of San Francisco before returning to her hometown of Tupelo.

Tupelo also has a natural foods store and a small artist scene, complete with an annual art festival, the Gumtree Arts Festival. FYI, "Gumtree" is a local nickname for the tupelo tree, after which the town was named, since these sticky-sapped trees are very common in the area.

There is even a medium-size concert arena here, but at the time of this writing, it seems to be seriously under-booked - the only upcoming event is a hard-rock evening with the nauseating angry-sounding pop-metal band Nickelback.

Despite the small-town feel, especially prevalent in downtown and in our neighborhood, Tupelo is actually the largest town in the area, with about 40,000 people. This small-town aspect is offset by a sort of suburban sprawl that runs for miles in every direction. Tupelo has a big mall surrounded by lots of "box stores", chain restaurants and 2 cineplexes, and there are even 2 Wal-Marts in town! (as if one weren't bad enough)

In addition, Tupelo is a regional economic hub and decidedly more affluent than most other parts of the notoriously poverty-ridden state of Mississippi. A couple big reasons for that are the huge local furniture industry (one of the largest in the US) and the top-notch hospital/medical center.

North Mississippi Medical Center is not only the largest hospital in Mississippi but also the largest non-metropolitan hospital in the US, serving people in north Mississippi, northwest Alabama and portions of Tennessee. It kind of gives us a warm fuzzy feeling to know that our baby will be born here instead of, say, Guatemala.

Vacation hotspot?

More interestingly, Tupelo is somewhat of a tourist destination (although not in a way that we can really recommend to our friends) thanks to its notoriety as the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

The sign on the right claims that this tiny house is where Elvis spent his boyhood. It's located in a residential neighborhood on the east side of town and has some sort of museum in the back.

This downtown hardware store (about 6 blocks from our house) is where Elvis bought his first guitar.

The town even has an annual Elvis Presley festival ( Somehow we're pretty sure it doesn't compare very favorably with the likes of our favorite festivals (such as New Orleans JazzFest and High Sierra Music Festival).

As a result of the tourist industry, Tupelo now even has an automobile museum ( of hundred-year old cars, another attraction for the older RV sort of Elvis-loving crowd that would seem to be the target market for this tourism.

Mississippi Blues

One of the big drawbacks of living here is the lack of one of our favorite forms of entertainment - good live music. To catch a good show, we're usually facing the prospect of an hour-and-a-half drive up to Memphis. Once in a while we get lucky and find something closer.

On Labor Day weekend, we headed 45 minutes south to West Point, MS, hometown of legendary blues singer Howlin' Wolf, for a blues festival in his honor. (He died in 1976) In the photo above is Hubert Sumlin, the guitar player from Howlin' Wolf's band, still pluggin' away. The Howlin' Wolf Festie was a relatively good time - they let you BYOB, for one thing!

The great outdoors

As for the great outdoors, there's plenty of that around here. Unfortunately, due to the lack of mountains, it's all a little bit mundane compared to the surroundings we've been spoiled by, particularly in California. The biggest attractions around these parts are lakes, which are popular for boating, fishing and camping. Sadly, swimming, is not allowed in many of them. The other most popular activity in the local state parks is riding motorized all-terrain vehicles. Needless to say, the outdoors around here attracts a slightly different type of person than it typically does in a place like California. Fortunately there are a few hiking and mountain bike trails nearby. Unfortunately the only ones we've checked out so far were teeming with tiny deer ticks! (notorious carriers of Lyme disease) Not to worry, though - we're conducting some intensive research into finding some good trails and campsites, and we're confident that we'll perservere.

The pastime of the south - FOOTBALL

College football in the south is more than just a pastime; it's a passion. In most parts of the country, it's mostly the men that talk about football, but here at Rob's work, it's a major topic of conversation among the women as well! NFL football is also pretty popular, but you hardly ever hear about sports like baseball or basketball.

Tailgating with one of Carley's best friends, Susan, at nearby Mississippi State University, before a football game against Auburn. (Incidentally, this photo was taken right before Carley's water broke and we had to rush to the hospital to have a baby!)

Mississippi State University is in Starkville, about an hour and 15 minutes from our house. Technically we're not supposed to root for these guys or even be seen on their campus, since much of Carley's family are alumni of the arch-rival University of Mississippi (better known as Ole Miss), located only 45 minutes west of Tupelo in Oxford. We hope to have photos of their campus up here in a month or two.

So what about these career-building opportunities?

As for Rob, he's been in career-change mode ever since he quit his corporate job in northern California in November 2004. After a year of teaching English as a foreign language south of the border, Rob's ready to continue his pursuits in the education sector. In the short term, he's planning to get a license/certification to teach math in public schools. Long term prospects include a masters degree, possibly in education. The good thing about Mississippi with regard to this is that it's very cheap and easy to get both a license and masters degree here, especially with the financial incentives being offered.

Since Rob doesn't yet have the teacher's license, he's working full-time as a permanent substitute teacher at Tupelo High School.

Getting to work in the morning looks almost like a flashback from 20 years ago!

For the beginning of the school year, Rob is sub'ing for a biology teacher that is out for a couple months on maternity leave.

Which one should we dissect first? MWOO-HA-HA-HA-HAH!

As for Carley, she just became the Executive Director of a new local non-profit to offer social services to Latino/Hispanic immigrants (mostly Mexicans), since so many of them have moved to the area in recent years. This organization, El Centro de Servicios para Latinos, will focus on helping non-English speaking immigrants navigate the local bureaucracy, including schools, courts, and banks. Besides offering printed materials and networking with local translators, it will also offer English classes. Carley already hired her first employee, her husband Rob, to be the English teacher. What can we say...Rob was the most qualified person that we knew!

What's goin' on in Tupelo?

As you might have already imagined, our social life is pretty minimal for now. But all's well, since that's exactly as planned; after all, we are about to have a baby, which we figure will pretty much take over our lives for awhile anyways.

That's not to say that we're complete hermits. Carley does have a few cool friends in town that she knows from childhood, and the neighbors that share our apartment building are a young, fun and open-minded bunch. On a typical Friday night we all get together out front to share bbq grilled dinner and a buzz. (Of course Carley has to drink non-alcoholic beer, poor thang.)

A wine-n-cheese party in our living room with Carley's mom (right) and her friends Kim and Martha who got our apartment ready for us before we arrived.

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