June 30, 2010 Edition

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Tunica: A look
beyond the casinos

John Bland
Publisher

Tunica instantly brings to mind casinos, but there is more to this northwestern Mississippi county, town and resort area, south of Memphis. We just returned from a few days there to attend the Tri-State Press Convention, made up of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee newspaper association members.

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Our first function was a reception and dinner at The Hollywood Café. This is not to be confused with the Hollywood Casino and Hotel. This café is located in a 1926 building that would be at home in Lawrence County.

The Hollywood Café opened in 1969. John Grisham was a regular there before he became famous, and he mentions The Hollywood Café in his first book, "A Time to Kill." Marc Cohn sings about The Hollywood in his popular hit song "Walking in Memphis." The Hollywood featured fried dill pickle slices, fried tomatoes, catfish and more.

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A reception was also held at the Tunica RiverPark, which includes a museum, nature trail and overlook on the Mississippi. The building is very modern and reminded us of the Clinton Museum. Rocking chairs on the deck overlooking the river were a great place to relax. The RiverPark's museum has large aquariums with native river life, including a giant alligator snapping turtle. The Tunica Queen also offers river excursions from the RiverPark, and a 45-minute ride was part of our event.

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The area containing Tunica's resorts and nine or so casinos, and the site of our convention, is really in Robinsonville, Miss. The original town of Tunica is about 12 miles south.

The town of Tunica is smaller than either Walnut Ridge or Hoxie, but it appears that it must benefit from tourist dollars. The school there is large and modern, and there are other modern and attractive public facilities.

Our incentive to drive to the historic town of Tunica was for a southern breakfast of country ham, eggs, red-eye gravy, biscuits and pancakes at the Blue & White Restaurant. It is located in a former gas station on Hwy. 61 and also serves good Southern food for lunch.

The town of Tunica has lots of pretty homes and lawns with tree-sized crepe myrtles, a quaint downtown with several stores and shops, a bed and breakfast called The Columns and an inn.

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I was extremely proud of our staff for winning first place among larger weeklies for our "Ice Storm" Special Edition. The contest was for the 2009 calendar year, and the honor brought to mind memories of the ordeal that we all lived through that winter.

The judges commented, "This newspaper easily carried away this category! It was obvious the staff hustled and worked together. They deserve more than an award."

Our staff did hustle. Each staffer was on call to work as needed and when possible. We put out the edition from the third floor of First National Bank, which had obtained power two or three crucial days before us. Staffers wrote personal accounts of their experiences, took pictures and shuffled computers and equipment.

Renee, Anna and I, along with my mother, Virginia, spent much of our days in The TD van, taking photos, interviewing people at the hospital and at shelters, and trying to stay warm.

I almost felt like crying when we won the award, while at the same time thinking that this first place win sure was hard to come by.

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