Where Southerners Go to Fill the Tank and Feed the Family

Where Southerners Go to Fill the Tank and Feed the Family


New York City has its own bodegas. The south has its own gas stations.

When you stop for motor oil in Mississippi, you can also get fried chicken on a stick. In North Carolina, you can buy a steaming bowl of pozole with a battery and a five-pound bag white lily flour,

There may be shawarma, or light nails, next to the gunshot Ghera Paneer and packets of snacks for sale over the counter along with lottery tickets and pecan pie made by the owner’s sister.

Documenting these independent Southern temples of commerce and community became the sole focus for photojournalists. kate medleyJoe, like most kids growing up in Mississippi, grew up eating at rural gas stations.

Now living in Durham, N.C., Ms. Medley, 42, has spent more than a decade collecting images for her photo book, “Thank you, please come again,” which is a digital magazine The Bitter Southerner Published in December. The book began with a journalist’s curiosity, but became a way for a daughter of the Deep South to understand the beautiful, brutal, complex place from which she came.

“These places hold a lot of mystery,” he said. “You’re rolling down the street and they grab your visual attention. Then when you hear that little bell you wonder what’s behind that glass door. Is this MAGA South? The welcoming south? Who’s at the cash register? “Who’s on the grill?”

A dozen years ago, Ms. Medley discovered a Citgo in Durham that had become a Nicaraguan place called Latin America Food Restaurant. He developed a theory.

“I thought I could chart the South’s emerging immigrant food routes based on what was happening behind these gas stations,” she said.

Some independent gas stations, with their endless banks of cheap gasoline, hot-dog rollers and soda machines, are fading into the fluorescent lights of chains like QuikTrip and RaceTrac. Some station owners have let gas pumps dry up or removed them altogether because the local economy is so bad. Other gas stations have become churches or nightclubs, or have been abandoned entirely.

The book opens with an essay by southern writer which lemon, who grew up in a very different part of Jackson, Miss., than Ms. Medley. She didn’t know him when she approached him, but she immediately understood his project.

He wrote, “I had never thought about the fact that my favorite restaurants, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult returning to Mississippi, almost all served gas.” “And I never thought of them as gas stations that served food.”

He tells the story of childhood travels Junior Food Mart in Forest, Miss., on Friday night. His grandmother’s boyfriend, Offa D, would slip in Tina Turner tapes and drive them away in his pickup. They’ll order a box of dark-meat chicken, a foam container of fried fish, and a brown paper sack filled with fried potato wedges, known to everyone in Mississippi as potato logs.

Ms. Medley realized that you could study a region through its food in 2005, when she moved there. University of Mississippi at Oxford, where he began a postgraduate program in Southern Studies.

Hurricane Katrina arrived the day after it began. He spent the next several months traveling the state to cover the devastation for The New York Times, his trips punctuated by rural gas stations.

They often take on a Southern “get the job done” attitude. If customers want cakes, someone will start baking. A cashier in North Carolina thought she could make a little extra money on her way to work by buying some Bojangles’ Sausage Biscuits, marking them up, and selling them to the breakfast crowd.

“It’s just this ingenuity and resourcefulness that you don’t get in other places,” Ms. Medley said.

This is especially true of some gas stations run by immigrants. Ms. Medley photographed Nina Patel and her samosas Tasty Tikka In Irmo, SC, and Gina Nguyen holding a garlic butter shrimp banh mi Banh Mi BoysWhich opened at a family-owned Texaco in Metairie, LA.

Two weeks ago, Ms. Medley took me to a place in the middle of Mississippi Delta farmland that arose from an immigrant story.

Mark Fratesi’s father opened up Fratesi Grocery & Service Center In Leland in 1941. It’s a wonderland of home-made pork rinds, pantry staples and fodder, including a freezer full of frozen steaks and bags of shelled pecans. It runs on honor system. You tell the cashier what you had for lunch. If you’re local, you can keep a tab for your groceries or gas.

The restaurant occupies almost half the building, and the family’s Italian immigration roots are throughout the menu. There’s grits and burgers, but also a rigatoni plate lunch and a po’ boy (his own invention) made with deep-fried balls of chopped black olives, shredded mozzarella and seasoned breadcrumbs with a little mayonnaise and ranch dressing Has gone. Canvas-wrapped logs of seasoned, salted pork loin called lonza cure in beer coolers.

Mr. Fratesi, 68, doesn’t think the place will last long after his retirement. Already, a chain gas station down the street has cut its gasoline prices by a penny. And no one in the next generation of the family is interested in taking over.

He said, “You have to marry her.”

About 15 miles away in Indianola, the future is bright.

69-year-old Betty Campbell and her husband opened betty’s place In a former gas station about 20 years ago. About two blocks from the restaurant BB King Museum, Like her mother, Ms. Campbell was a regular cook for the bluesman and his crew, preparing a playlist of reliable Southern standards such as sweet potatoes, baked chicken and caramel cake.

The walls of the restaurant are covered with signatures of tourists from all over the world who have come to learn about the blues. The family recently capped the old garage, and are expanding the dining room to make room for the growing busload of tourists.

His younger brother, Otha, who is originally a maitre d’ at Betty’s, said he likes to refute travelers’ preconceived notions about racism in the South.

“Not only do black travelers see Betty’s as a safe place to stop for lunch,” he told Ms. Medley for her book, “white travelers also see it as a safe place.”

Small Southern towns remain informally segregated, but not at gas stations that sell food – or at restaurants that sell gas.

“There’s something about accessibility and it’s coming together in a place that the entire community shares almost out of necessity or at least convenience,” Ms Medley said. “Everyone is welcome every time, no matter what.”



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