Outside of Mac’s Bar-B-Que it’s all blue skies, white clouds, and people getting ready for the Fourth of July. You see none of that once inside. After passing through the door, you see folding tables, plastic chairs, a bar-like counter, and white cinder block walls covered with decorations that range from happy snowmen to pigs cavorting at a luau.Mac's - Manic summary

Mac’s doesn’t look “lived-in,” it looks like a basement bar that’s been turned into a barbecue restaurant. The sight of COPS playing on the TV only reinforces that idea. And after eleven days of driving around and eating barbecue, the chance to simply sit down and comment on the people getting arrested becomes much more interesting than debating the merits of how your second lunch has been cooked and presented.

One by one those comments turn into a conversation. One of us says something about watching COPS as a child in New York, and James MacArthur Morrow – the proprietor of the eponymous restaurant – tells us that he too once lived in New York. It doesn’t take long for the three of us to lose interest in watching people behave badly on TV.

Mac was working in a New York restaurant during the summer of 2001. Then the planes hit, the towers fell, and he decided to get the hell out of New York. He didn’t have much of a plan, just a need to leave and get back home to Houston.

He worked his way south and west one restaurant at a time. Some stints were brief, others longer. None stuck until he got to Jackson, TN a year and a half later and eventually opened up a restaurant of his own.

Mac tells us this without ever coming across as bitter, mad, or regretful of the journey 9/11 set him on. That’s just how his life shook out, and he seems content with where life has led him.

The contrast is stark. Faced with extreme circumstances, some people will do whatever it takes and end up facedown and handcuffed on TV while others end up owning a restaurant in a town they never expected to be in.

Our conversation over, we pay Mac what we owe him and say our goodbyes. Stepping back outside, we get into our car and resume our own journey south and west, one restaurant at a time.

Mac’s Bar-B-Que doesn’t have a website, but it is located at 630 Hollywood Drive Jackson, TN 38301. The phone number is (731) 265-9771.

— Essay by Dan Meade
Photos by Dan Meade & Rob Bellinger
Publication date: 8/07/2016
Date of visit: 7/03/2014

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