Blue Plate Highways: Adventures in Gastronomy in Rural Mississippi

Blue Plate Highways

Chad Hammons

Article by Chad Hammons Featured Author


Debtors’ Exam in Columbia: Getting Back to Normal?

In the last installment of Blue Plate Highways, I lamented the fact that the pandemic has disrupted the normal ebb and flow of legal life here, as it has in every other area of life in Mississippi and the country. Judges clamped down on courtroom appearances, clients limited visits to their offices, and Zoom depositions became the norm. I’ve had a few foreclosures since the world turned upside down, and a handful of actual court appearances — where I actually sat at a counsel table and then made a presentation to a real live judge — but not much more than that.

Thankfully, the Covid freeze seems to be thawing. Some things will never revert to the status quo ante, but my sense is that judges are opening up somewhat, and people are getting a little more comfortable with the idea of face-to-face depositions and meetings.

I still haven’t had a real deposition since the pandemic started, but I recently had a judgment debtor examination at the Marion County Courthouse in Columbia. The exam was scheduled for 1:30 on a Friday afternoon, so I planned accordingly and got to Columbia in time for lunch. It was my first trip there in about 20 years.

Pulling into town, I immediately saw several dining prospects, but I kept going toward the courthouse. My first impression of downtown and the square was that Columbia has actually maintained its central business structure and identity. Unlike so many other small towns in Mississippi, there did not appear to be any boarded-up, abandoned buildings.

After driving around for a couple of minutes, I found a place called Second Street Bean, a block or two from the courthouse. Walking in, I noticed immediately that I was the only customer wearing a mask. Not only that, the place was at capacity and I had to wait in line about 10 minutes to place my order.

In small-town Mississippi, you can usually find some combination of about four different types of restaurants: (1) a meat ‘n three; (2) a Mexican joint; (3) an Asian buffet; and (4) a place that serves chicken salad sandwiches where groups of ladies like to have lunch. Second Street Bean hews to archetype #4. In addition to being the only person not wearing a mask, I was literally the only guy in the spot, except for the owner and one of the kitchen workers.

The menu had a variety of sandwiches, salads, pasta salads, and the like. I stuck with the chicken salad sandwich, a scoop of pasta salad, and a couple of chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven. Carbolicious. After eating, I visited the art gallery and gift shop, in the room adjacent to the dining area.

All in all, a really good choice.

In addition to the nice lunch experience, I took the opportunity to knock around Main Street after my debtor’s exam. My first stop was to drop in and say hello to Drew Foxworth. Drew and I had never met, but had worked as co-counsel on a couple of cases a few years ago, so it was good to put a face with a name, albeit socially-distanced in his conference room.

After chatting with Drew, I walked down a few storefronts and went into Cook and Fortenberry Drugs, which has a classic old “Walgreen Agency” sign hanging above the doorway. Next, I went across the street to Hill Hardware Company, a downtown institution in Columbia since 1901. It is a great old hardware store, with century-old, wide-plank wooden floors, and a large model train running overhead. It’s the kind of throwback hardware store that carries BB guns, which I greatly appreciate. I bought a few items there and then ambled back toward my car, but not before stopping at a men’s store.

All in all, I dropped a little more than $100 into the local economy of Columbia between lunch and three retail stops. Maybe that’s an idea: economic development through litigation-driven tourism. Somebody tell the governor that small-town Mississippi needs “tort reform” to be relaxed so that lawyers from other places will spend money on court appearances and depositions in these little towns.

While there, I noticed a crew dismantling a scaffolding over what appeared to be an old depot building on Main Street across from the courthouse, and across from Drew Foxworth’s office. Per Drew, it had held a large Christmas ornament installed as part of Columbia’s holiday decorations. During the holidays, local folks could have their picture taken on top of the building, by the giant ornament. They apparently also had community caroling when the ornament was lit.

Take THAT, Mayberry!

I remarked to Drew that Columbia seems to be not only surviving, but thriving by Mississippi standards. He agreed, and attributed it to local leadership. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the wealthiest people in the state live in your town…

On the way back to Jackson, I stopped in Prentiss to get gas and a coke. Rounding out the afternoon’s small town experiences, a young mother was having quite a time with her caterwauling son. It made for a bit of a scene in the store. The purity of the moment inspired an instant haiku:


In rural C-Store,
Bleating boy beseeches mom.
No pork rinds today.

Hopefully, we are past the worst, and getting back to some semblance of normal. I need more outings like that one.

  1. Chad Hammons is a partner at Jones Walker LLP.