4.27.07: Heading to Emelle, AL

Weather: Partly cloudy, high 70s

Ride: 29.7 miles Check out our route here…(You’ll have to scroll around on the map to see the whole route since this is a long ride.)

New Slogan (#4):

Once & Future York

We based our fourth slogan on the designs of one industrious sign-maker in town.

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On our way out of York, we stopped at the middle school to introduce ourselves and set-up up some meetings with different classes. The school administrators were certain that the kids would be excited by the bike.

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Our plan was to take some back roads to reach a town called Emelle. We would visit a few small towns along the way: Millville, Payneville and Boyd. From our USGS map it was impossible to tell the size of the towns and road conditions.

Though we traveled through some exquisite countryside, we saw very few people.

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Because there were no road or town signs, we quickly became lost! We missed the turn for the Payneville Millville Road, our “short-cut” and ended up in Lauderdale County, MS. Luckily for us, school was letting out and a school bus, announcing the county name, rode by. If we hadn’t seen the bus, we would have thought we were still in Alabama and still heading in the right direction. It was challenging to synch the USGS with the GPS. So, we back-tracked about three miles until we thought we found the Payneville Millville Road.

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Turns out that the Payneville Millville Road is a dirt turn-off that looks very much like a logging road. Wanting to continue our adventure, we went ahead on the brilliant orange rutted passageway to see what we would see.
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The road was only five miles (give or take) but because of muddy conditions, it was very challenging to navigate. During our several hour ride/walk, we saw only one person, a satisfied hunter who zoomed by us in his ATV with a few still turkeys stacked in the back.

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At a certain point, the road degenerated into a narrow path and we came upon a rusting, depression-era truss bridge with a badly damaged approach trestle. After testing the bridge, we safely crossed.

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We gave up on trying to reach Emelle since the sun was heading down. We made our way back to York and decided that we would not travel on anymore back roads.

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4.26.07: Collecting some local York History

Weather: Clear and cool, high 70s

Ride: .8 miles

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A self-proclaimed local historian stopped by our studio this morning to show us old photos of the city. He used to have a regular section in the Sumter Record Journal called “York Yesteryear”: old photos paired with current images of York. People around town knew he was collecting old photos and would donate whatever they had, mostly images from the 1930s to the 1960s.

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He talked to us about some of the changes that York has undergone. He wants us to continue to boost community morale.

Friday is fried chicken and gravy day at the Pig:

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After lunch we met with a “town elder” who has lived in York over eighty years. We spent over three hours with him and his wife; they generously shared their memories with us about his work on the AT&N Railroad as a brakeman and also about the local food economy from fishing to robbing honey.

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Turtle Soup:

Brakeman on the AT&N:

In exchange for their incredible stories, we washed dishes and tidied the kitchen.

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4.25.07: Ride to the MS Border

Weather: Light winds, low 80s; humid with building clouds, evening thunder showers

Ride: 23.3 miles Check out our route…

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We have met a number of folks who have returned to York after living and working in other cities (New York, Chicago, Detriot, LA). We asked them why they decided to return. Some came back to take care of loved ones, others simply returned because York is a peaceful place to retire. The main reason though, to return to York, is because it is home.

So, based on these conversations, the next slogan emerged:

Slogan # 3:

Come Home to York

We went to Cuba to go for a bike ride to the Mississippi border with Linda Munoz and her family. Doug joined us on his scooter.

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As usual, we had to be aware of the many logging trucks en route.

We arrived at the Munoz’s house, a beautiful (but once haunted!) house that they have restored so that it is now included on the National Register of Historic Places.6_425077_425078_42507

While we were riding to the state border, Linda shared one of many stories about the spirit who resided in their house up until the time it was listed on the National Registry. We could tell we reached the state border when the pavement’s color and texture changed.

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Ghost Story: Part 1

Ghost Story: Part 2

We rode home heading towards some ominous thunderclouds.

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Wednesday evening church services are a tradition in York. We attended Johnny Davis’ lively outdoor service in Grant’s Park.

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4.24.07: Rotary Club Meeting

Weather: Hazy and humid, high 80s

Ride: 10.6 miles Check out our ride here… and here…

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At lunchtime, we met with the members of the Rotary Club at the Briar Patch to talk to them about our project. Everyone agreed that publicizing a positive image of York is valuable.

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We spent the afternoon posting information around town about the upcoming bike repair day. Richard Saxton, a resident artist who created the MunicipalWORKSHOP program, transformed an old TV & radio repair shop into a self-sufficient bike repair shed. The Coleman Center hosts monthly bike repair sessions.

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As we rode around town, we spoke with residents about their hopes for York.

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4.23.07: Lions Club Meeting

Weather: High clouds, sunny and moist, high 80s

Ride: 5.3 miles Check out our route…

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Today we gave a presentation at the Lions Club meeting. They treated us to a buffet dinner at the Briar Patch Restaurant. Many of the club’s members have lived in York for generations. They supplied us with some great York lore as well as suggestions for other folks we should meet.

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4.22.07: Rest Day

Weather: Sunny, high clouds, low 80s

Mileage: No Ride

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We were worn out from yesterday’s ride and all of our informative conversations at the festival, so we took a day’s rest. We picked up a copy of the local paper; we were front-page news!

We watched the trains roll by.

And we took a walk on a nearby dirt road and were entranced by the relaxing hum of the crickets and the intoxicating aroma of the honeysuckle.

We capped off the day with a cold one at the Trackside Cafe.

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4.21.07: The Folklife Festival in Livingston, AL

Weather: High Clouds, sunshine, low 80s

Ride: 20.1 miles Check out our route…

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Today we rode northeast up Route 11 to Livingston, a pleasant (though hot!) route through tree farms, lumber mills, houses, and a generous sprinkling of small churches.

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As we entered the town, we could hear the music flowing from the town’s main square.

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Tim Truelove playing the blues…

The Sucarnochee Folklife Festival, an annual event held at the University of Western Alabama in Livingston, draws craftspeople from all over the region. It was a day full of good music, interesting stories and delicious local treats.

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Even if people were not from York, they had a story to tell about the area. Everyone agreed that the slogans help with community spirit.

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These kids sang a gospel song for us; in exchange, Bruce sang an Italian gondola song for them!

At sunset we spied the “Welcome to York” sign on our way home.

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4.20.07: Heading North on Route 17

Weather: Sunny with high clouds, mid 70s

Ride: 19.8 miles Check out our route…

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We headed over to Ellis Flower Shop to meet Tom, the president of the Lion’s Club. When we walked in, Tom knew exactly who we were (our reputation precedes us…). He gladly signed us up for presentation at the Lion’s Club meeting at Briar Patch on Monday night at 6:30. We wondered if we would be speaking to the same folks on Tuesday at the Rotary Club’s lunchtime meeting!

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We then headed out on Route 17 up to BP gas station; first we passed York’s “strip mall”: a laundromat, supermarket and check cashing facility. The BP is located right after York’s motel and the freeway interchange. The Briar Patch Restaurant is located at the BP.

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We rode further on Route 17, thinking that we might make it to a nearby town called Boyd. (We didn’t…) A few cars and many logging trucks with full loads passed us. The area is sparsely populated and miles of tree farms hug the road.

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Later that evening, we met the Coleman Center directors for dinner and a lively concert of local music. The concert is part of the Sucarnochee Folklife Festival, an annual event held at the University of Western Alabama in Livingston. The three-hour concert was recorded for live broadcast on national radio stations.

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4.19.07: Visits around town

Weather: High fluffy clouds, high 70s-low 80s

Mileage: No Ride Check out our route…

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Doug visits the folks at the Sumter Rehabilitation Home every other Thursday; he invited us to come with him so we could meet some of the old timers. The home is a sprawling brick building a little distance outside of town.

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Doug gave a real lively reading of his poetry; everyone there, black and white, finds resonance with his remembrances. Must have been a dozen or so in the room; none seemed under 80 years old.

After the reading we spent some time talking with folks about their memories. Many of them grew up in towns surrounding York: Cuba, Morningstar, Ward. They talked about the industry of the area, the railroad, farming, cotton, old plantations and now the paper mills. We asked one woman how she managed to be so spunky at 102 years old. She told us: “One evening I saw a face in the window, a white face. He called my name and told me, ‘I am the Lord and I am always with you.’ So that’s how I carry on.”

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In the afternoon, we made a list of contacts: people and places we should visit.We walked around York’s downtown and stopped by Inez’s Kut and Kurl: closed. Then it was off to Ellis’ Flower Shop to try to speak with Tom Taylor, the president of the Lion’s Club. But they were closed too. We were experiencing a long-standing York tradition of shutting down at noon on Thursdays: most stores are closed except for the ones that have owners from outside of York. We asked one store-owner about its origin; he didn’t know. We suggested that the break was for watching the grass grow; “Naw,” he said, “It’s to mow!” (We later learned that the historic reason for the early closures: Thursday afternoon used to be cattle auction day.)

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Slogan #3:

THE PLACE YOU ALWAYS KNEW

York, Alabama

This slogan has emerged from the conversations we have had about York’s past. No matter who we talk to, everyone seems to agree that York was a better place years ago and that it has the potential to return to its former glory. Also, when York was first founded, it was called “New York”.

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4.18.07: Drive to Livingston

Weather: Cloudy, rainy AM; clear and warmer PM, high 70s

Mileage: Drive to Livingston

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Following Josh’s advice, we took off with Shana and Nathan (Coleman Center’s directors) for a truck ride to Livingston to get a much needed county road map. Our USGS map is missing some critical information. This jaunt offered the perfect opportunity for lunch at the famous Touch of Home Bakery. The former Hardee’s building (complete with brilliant orange plastic benches), was transformed into a locally renowned bakery/cafeteria run by Mennonite women. Wednesday is “catfish day” at the Touch of Home: for about five bucks you get two pieces of spicy-corn batter encrusted fried catfish, a few luscious hush puppies, a pool of gooey baked beans and some of the best slaw (coleslaw) we have ever sampled. Even the tartar sauce (homemade) was incredible. After all of that food, we still had to taste one of their sweets: we choose a chocolate crumple cookie that was pure heaven.

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After lunch, we visited the courthouse to get our county road map. The brick 1902 Romanesque-inspired courthouse had a beautiful courtroom upstairs, with a freshly restored coffered ceiling, gold painted relief panels and an attractive dais for the judge.
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Livingston boasts the one movie screen in the county: the theatre is a small operation housed behind a t-shirt store. We probably won’t make it to a screening since we are not planning to ride our bike past dark!

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Later that afternoon, we sat down in the Opera House store to a poetry reading by Doug Kiker. He recited a selection of his humorous locally colorful limericks and poems he wrote based on his life of “growin’ up in the country”. Doug’s family scraped out a living on a small pig, chicken and cow farm about 15 miles outside of town.

Doug and his wife Kaye spun tales of York and the area, about its railroad and farm roots. We entered their private flat, a maze of intimate rooms, none of which were constructed at right angles. We first passed Doug’s cozy book-lined study, the site of his literary creations, and his old man collection, a tidy illuminated case containing dozens of ceramic figurines.
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The rest of the afternoon we were enthralled and appalled by Kaye’s environmental activism slide show. She chronicled her being drawn into and leading a decades-long process of investigating, exposing, publicizing and protesting toxic waste dumping in Sumter County.

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To understand the impact of the ChemWaste plant in Emelle, read Greenpeace’s detailed chronology. After all of her work, Kaye strongly believes in the potency of grass-roots activism: if you want change, you have to do something about it. In the 1988, she was called by the White House: Reagan bestowed her with a Volunteer Action Award in honor of all of her efforts.