One of the best parts of being a manager is travelling to places across the country, I might otherwise never see if it weren't for being a part of the program. I have been to places as far as Eugene, Oregon and as close as Knoxville, Tennessee and countless others along the way, but no place compares in its dreariness and utter awfulness to Starkville, Mississippi.
Prior to going to Starkville for the first time this year, I had heard about how bad it was from other members of the program. They said that the hotel we stayed in overlooked a big, empty field and typically the team, instead of flying in the day before a game, would fly in the day of the game just to minimize the amount of time spent in Starkville. However, since we had a 12:30 game scheduled on a Saturday, we could not fly in the day of the game and had to spend the night there.
This was the pretense for my visit to Starkville, so my expectations were incredibly low for the home of Mississippi State. They were lower than the expectations for Vanderbilt football under Robbie Caldwell. So essentially my expectations were minimal. To not meet my expectations, Starkville would have to be painstakingly awful, and it was.
When looking up Starkville on Wikipedia, I found that there was a museum at MSU dedicated to MSU alum John Grisham, one of my favorite authors, so I thought maybe Saturday morning it would be a good thing to check out. The museum was closed on Saturdays. Strike one for Starkville before we even arrived. Then I thought maybe, just maybe, I would go out at night in Starkville just to see what life forms went to the bars and clubs there, and to say I went out in Starkville. But when we landed in Starkville that idea was squashed like a bug.
The plane landed in Mississippi in total darkness. There were some lights at the airport, but the sky was pitch black, and then when we got on the road, it was even more pitch black because apparently Starkville doesn't believe in street lights. There were literally no lights along this two-lane highway and it was one of the eeriest feelings in the world. I felt like I was stuck in the 1950's or a scene from the movie "Mississippi Burning". It didn't appear the town had progressed since the Civil Rights era. I even tweeted, "Starkville doesn't appear to have changed from the Civil Rights era, but I hope their views on Jews have progressed since then."
It was spooky just how dark and desolate the town was along the highway. I always thought it would be fascinating to go back in time and live in different historical periods, and I found that in Starkville I could be transported back to an earlier time quite easily. It was like driving through a relic that refused to modernize. There was hardly any type of activity in the town. It was like "The Walking Dead" but for a town. Until we passed the university, I can honestly say there was not one sign of commercial activity in the entire city. Then we pulled up to our hotel, the La Quinta Inn.
As an SEC school with a pretty sizable athletic budget, usually we stay in pretty nice hotels. Hiltons, Marriots, and the like are the type of places we frequent. However, in Starkville, there were only two hotels: La Quinta and a Hilton Garden Inn, located right across from each other. Despite not being the usual type of hotels we stay at, these two structures served as beacons of light that some form of progress had been made in the town. There was real, observable human life at the hotel, which was a nice surprise.
However, in the hotel, there were some issues like AJ Astroth and Alex Gendelman's room being littered with old pizza boxes and used sheets or the fact that the hottub looked like it hadn't been sanitized in years. It was just so weird. All of it. In a day and age where technology is bringing the world closer together by the minute, it felt like we were in a place resisting all of this change. Like we were in a bubble that was slowly being burst 50 years after it should have been.
I am all about exploring new places and I love history, but Starkville for me triggered memories of a shameful past in America with all the wrong sorts of historical connotations. It is a place I've been to once, and I can say pretty surely I won't be back anytime soon