All (Ok, Several) Roads Lead to Laurel… (Part 1)

Chad J. Hammons

Article by Chad J. Hammons Featured Author


I’ve had to go to Laurel multiple times this year for 9:00 a.m. hearings in an ongoing receivership case in Jones County Chancery Court. One of the good things about having business in Laurel is that there are multiple ways of getting to and fro. Because of the road construction on Hwy. 49 dating to the Fillmore administration, the first few times I made the trip, I took I-20 to Brandon, then Hwy. 18 to Bay Springs, then Hwy. 15 to Laurel. Per Google Maps, this route is supposed to be about five minutes faster than traveling Hwy. 49 to Collins, then going east on Hwy. 84. Litigators will attest, five minutes is huge, when it comes to getting to court on time, when you’re almost two hours away.

Fact of business, 1 I found the early morning drives on Hwy. 18 south of Brandon to be somewhat treacherous. To begin with, the traffic coming into Brandon High School (the new one on Hwy. 18, not the real old one on South College St.) on weekday mornings during the school year is considerable. Even when you get past the school traffic, the number of cars coming into Jackson from deep into Rankin County, all the way past Puckett, is PHENOMENAL.

Now, you can call me timid, call me old, or call me whatever, but the idea of driving on a two-lane highway against hordes of school-age kids and people hurrying to work — particularly in the day and age of rampant texting-while-driving — is not appetizing. On top of that, there is school traffic going the other way to Puckett, which involves school buses stopping on Hwy. 18 to pick up kids. And of course, since this is in the heart of the Piney Woods region, there are log trucks to contend with. Too much going on, in my opinion.

So after taking that route a few times, and after hearing that construction had largely been completed in Richland and Florence, I decided to try Hwy. 49. I’m now converted. The stretch between I-20 and Piney Woods, while still congested at times, is nothing like it was during the heyday of the orange barrels. To be sure, you always have to watch your mirror to make sure no 18-wheelers are following too closely when you approach red lights, but the four-lane is generally less stressful.

Of course, this time of year, you need to watch out for deer. Heading into Laurel one evening in October on Hwy. 84, a large doe loped casually from the median, with horrible timing. Fortunately, I was able to swerve just enough to avoid broadsiding her.

That night, I met my receiver candidate at The Loft in downtown Laurel. For those who don’t know, downtown Laurel has experienced something of a renaissance over the past several years, due largely to the success of the TV show “Home Town,” which chronicles efforts of a local couple to rebuild old houses in the community.

The Loft is a sit-down restaurant and cocktail bar, where you can get a steak or a piece of fish, with a cold drink or glass of wine. Even on a Tuesday night at 8:30, the place had a decent crowd and some energy. It appeared to be an actual hangout, in addition to being a nice place to eat. My receiver friend and I both enjoyed our meal, although to be honest, I would order my fish broiled rather than blackened, if I had to do it over again.

One other fact must be noted though: the place still allows smoking, which is a bit jarring. Here’s hoping that it changes its practices, or better yet, that Laurel outlaws smoking in restaurants entirely. 2

After my hearing the next day, I took yet a different route back to Jackson. Just outside of Laurel on Hwy. 84, I turned on Hwy. 28 to make my way back north. It’s an interesting route, and one I was not very familiar with. Hwy. 28 takes you through Soso, Taylorsville, and Mize en route to Magee, where you pick up Hwy. 49. Surprisingly (or not), there are multiple places along this route to stop and have lunch, and to enjoy the charms of rural Mississippi.

My first lunch stop on this route was in Taylorsville, which is just over the county line from Jones County into Smith. Per Google, there are several places to eat in Taylorsville, but 28 Diner caught my eye on both my phone and in person as I was driving through. Coming from Laurel, you pass through downtown and go through the 4-way stop. Then it is up on your right, just past the Family Dollar. It’s in an old Huddle House location, so it has countertop service, where you can watch the ladies dish up the meat ‘n threes, right in front of you.

Under the theory that you can never go wrong with the fried chicken in a place like that, that’s what I ordered, with mashed potatoes, greens, and cornbread. As southern grub goes, it was excellent, but in addition to the long-term health issues caused by eating such, it also put me in real danger of falling asleep on the way back to Jackson. I never knew Magee to Jackson could last so long.

But that was child’s play compared to the next venture into the Jones County Co-prosperity Sphere, and the 1000-mile drive back to Jackson afterward, induced by a restaurant in a tiny hamlet I’d never heard of, and learned how to pronounce only by accident. Until next time…

  1. I credit my former law partner Jimmy Woods with introducing me to this Southern idiom, years ago. For a great illustration of its usage, consult the 1996 film Sling Blade toward the end, in the scene at the nervous hospital, when Billy Bob Thornton dismisses J.T. Walsh from his presence.
  2. I firmly support the heavy hand of municipal police power on this issue.