I’m in Hattiesburg, MS, visiting my younger daughter, Nicolle, and her husband, Tom.
Hattiesburg is not at all what I expected from the Deep South. There is good food and wine in both markets and restaurants, not as good as in California but nowhere near as bad as in, say, Ashland, Ohio, a wasteland if ever I’ve seen one. The farmers market has closed for the season but it is possible to find locally grown and produced foods; not a lot but at least the concept has reached this place.
There is fresh seafood and several Asian and Mexican markets. Today I found good corn tortillas and nearly everything I need to make Pozole Verde for New Year’s Eve. Tonight, we’ll have pasta, maitake mushrooms (which I brought from Sebastopol) and Gulf shrimp in a white wine and creme fraiche sauce; I found the Bellwether creme fraiche at a local market, Corner Sore.
But Hattiesburg’s claim to fame has remained illusive, until last night.
We were enjoying dinner at Jutama’s, a Thai restaurant not far from Nicolle and Tom’s house. When we were nearly finished, the owner came over to chat and before long he was telling us about some of the local businesses that buy his food. Hospital patients get it every Friday, he said, and Tiger Woods really liked it, too.
“Tiger Woods finally put Hattiesburg on the map,” he added, explaining that people in other parts of Mississippi didn’t know much about the town or even where it was until word leaked out that Woods was doing his rehab for sexual addition here.
The rehab center–which is also said to have treated Sondra Bullock’s ex-husband, Jesse James, for the same affliction–is situated next to an Enterprise car rental office, in a section of town with car lots, fast food chains and such. There’s no sign and it is surrounded by a discreet brick wall, with several roofs poking upwards behind the wall. A building next to it bears the name “Gentle Path” but as you are driving past there doesn’t seem to be a connection between the buildings. The area is neither remarkable nor luxurious; it’s just a bit of innocuous suburbia, though anyone who pays close attention would find the brick fortress a bit incongruous.
This story isn’t particularly remarkable, either; it’s just one of those odd little things one comes across while traveling, if you remain open to conversation with strangers.