The SpotLight

Story G. E. Light

DATELINE: COLUMBUS MAGNOLIA MOTOR SPEEDWAY. Along the west bank of the Tenn-Tom you exit 82 onto 45 like you’re heading to Macon, Meridian or other points south. Your first left puts you on the racetrack’s doorstep. There’s ample free grass parking at “The South’s Premier Dirt Track,” also home to the legion of RVs, which both follow the sport and haul around the drivers. I went early for some racin’ and stayed late for some rockin’.

This particular Friday night in October entailed qualifying for the Cotton Pickin’ 100 the next day. Super Late Model stock cars from all over the U.S. were here to burn rubber on the compact 3/8 mile track, which was a bit slicker and slower than usual (top qualifying time was in the 14.8s, when on a fast night cars could get around in the 13s). But that would make for better bunch of racing with the final 24-car field. A family-friendly atmosphere pervaded the venue (even the concrete terraces so menacing in mid-80s English football stadia here sport nothing more than a motley assortment of camp chairs constructing a sort of “bleachers”), as did a unique set of smells and sounds: burnt rubber, scorched petrol and the bassy growl of naturally aspirated engines — a Link Wray “rumble,” if you will.

Flathead Ford rocked out in Aberdeen’s Jay Dickens Racing Engines pit after qualifying concluded. The band spans the Golden Triangle. All three members call Starkville home now, but the rhythm section of John Staggers and Lee Graham are West Point born-and-bred and frontman Jerry Carnathan hails from Columbus. Pulling one out of the Stones’ promotional gimmick bag, they played atop an out-of-commission flatbed semi-trailer and included a fine cover of the aforementioned’s “Sway.” This trio was the original house band for Anthony’s Midweek Mojo and formed the Soul Gravy behind Jamie Davis (featured way back in Catfish Alley’s inaugural spring 2011 issue). A fertile mix of blues, funk, rock and Americana, Flathead Ford’s music runs the gamut from covers like Quincy Jones’ immortal “The Street Beater” aka the theme to “Sanford and Son” to originals like “I Sold My Soul to the Package Store” and “Before The Bullet Leaves The Gun,” the latter heard on The Hodgepodge benefit CD.

Kudos to Starkville Community Theatre for eschewing the usual fare of a 3- or 4-hander for Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino’s more challenging Broadway number, “A Catered Affair,” in November. Neither a comedy in the traditional sense nor really a musical as the Great White Way has classically defined them, this mélange of the kitchen-sink drama of Britain’s “Angry Young Men” and Tennessee Williams’ concept of the “memory play” produced an unexpectedly fascinating evening at the little Playhouse on Main. With the clever set design and expert direction of Pattye Archer, there was more than one knowing nod to source material like “Rear Window” and “The Honeymooners,” not to mention Paddy Chayefsky’s original Philco Television Playhouse script.

This two-act play occurs in the tenement apartment of the extended Hurley family and the courtyard outside in 1953 as news of the death of their son Terrence in the Korean police action arrives. Simultaneously, the patriarch Tom (John Brocato) has the opportunity to use his son’s death benefits to buy out a third owner of his cab’s medallion, and the Hurley daughter Janey (Jessica Price) contemplates marriage at city hall (almost an elopement) with her Ralph (Jacob Jordan) and a honeymoon of driving another recently-married couple from the South Bronx to California. On this setup hangs the action of a short “week or so” in the lives of the Hurleys, their neighbors and soon-to-be in-laws.

Madeline Golden shone as a grief-stricken mother about to “lose” her only other child, who contemplates the nature of her life from a shotgun-wedding marriage to her father’s taxi-cab driving employee to the hemmed-in life of a crowded South Bronx tenement. Kris Lee deployed a Harrisonesque “Sprechstimme” in bringing a deeper than usual pathos and toned-down flamboyance to his standard confirmed-bachelor character.

If you missed this one, shame on you.


G.E.’s STARKVEGAS LUNCHES

In the fall 2011 issue of Catfish Alley, I wrote of my love for the Halfway House’s Chicken Portobello Sandwich. Now seemed a good time to revisit the subject of WHAT to eat WHERE in Starkvegas for lunch. A short list in no particular order of my favorite local lunches:

  • The VerandaChef Jay Yates’ Blue Plate Special: red beans and rice, cornbread, sautéed squash and zucchini, sweet potato, fried green tomato

    Mugshots Grill & Bar  the Savell burger

  • City Bagel Café quiche and soup of the day (unless feeling particularly kosher; then lox on a garlic bagel)

  • Harveys  crawfish quiche (Thursday only) with Caesar salad

  • Casa Bravo chicken taco salad with small side of guacamole

  • Old Venice Pizza Co.  specialty pizza of the day and side Greek salad (except Monday or Tuesday when it’s individual chicken Tuscany pizza)

  • Thai Siam shrimp drunken noodle with Thai iced tea

  • Bulldog Deli — BBQ shrimp crisp wrap with peach iced tea (if they have it)
  • Restaurant Tyler  Chef Ty Thames’ Blue Plate Special: blackened Delta catfish topped with crawfish sauce, Vardaman sweet potato cornbread, cheese grits, butter beans

Shockingly, no real ’cue on the list above; but ever since Sonny’s on 16th Section Road closed the first time, I have been unsettled re: BBQ choices in Starkville. Had some nice meals at 3 Little Pigs but never a classic lunch (although they do have the best baked beans I’ve ever tasted in a restaurant). My easy fallback would the brilliant Archibald’s in Northport, Ala., but 80.8 miles each way doesn’t lend itself to a quick bite to eat.