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Rising Stars: Meet Karla Gray of The Eccentric South

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karla Gray.

Hi Karla, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers.
Boredom! It sounds silly to say but that’s how everything started.

In 2017, with my partner working out of state, I needed some way to entertain our 10 and 11-year-old sons. I knew that I wanted to get out of the house but also make sure they were going to be excited about what we were doing. So for our first outing, I planned out a scavenger hunt type day trip around our area looking for giants. Yes – giants!

Bill’s Truck Stop is close to where we live and that’s where our first giant likes to hang out. He is a fiberglass giant that was part of the mascots from the Wagon Ho! Restaurants from the 1960s and 1970s. On that first day trip, we visited Bill, then went on to find giant Milk Cartons, a giant shell, a giant milkshake, and a giant coffee pot.

Along the way on that trip, the folks who were operating King Roller Mill saw us taking pictures and asked us if we wanted to come inside the mill and see how they made corn mill and flour (and parrot feed)!

We talked about how long they had been in business (since the early 1920s) the antique equipment they still use (the oldest was built in 1911) and about how they use the same techniques today as those used for centuries. And that invitation into the Roller Mill was really how the Eccentric South started.

From that simple conversation, we started thinking about how amazing the South is and how much rich and varied history we have. We started thinking about our diverse cultures and accents and foods and music and ways of expressing who we are as Southerners.

Today, we travel all over the South looking for those hidden and sometimes forgotten parts of the South, sharing those experiences and history with anyone who wants to be part of the road trip!

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Finding places to visit has been fairly easy now that we know where to look. Plus, we have people who make suggestions about sites and events to visit in their area.

But, the actual travel is what can be challenging. Like so many things, it’s easy to show the fun side of what we do. It’s easy to show the beautiful and lonely places.

It’s easy to show unique parts of the South. But, what we don’t show is getting up a 6 or 7 to drive 3 or 4 hours one way to visit a Folk Art environment or to visit an abandoned mill town. Trying to figure out if we can make a weekend trip or a multi-day trip and mapping out how many places we can visit along the way gets challenging.

And when we went on lockdown with Covid, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to travel at all. We ended up realizing that we just had to travel a bit differently – we didn’t have to change where we were going (because we don’t usually visit places that a lot of other people are going to be at).

But we had to think about how we traveled and where we wanted to go.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
This is a really hard question for us because there isn’t one set answer. Some days people will ask us about a story we tell. Other days it’s about a picture or series of photos we publish.

We aren’t photographers or videographers. We aren’t writers or publishers. But the best way to describe what we do and who we are is as storytellers. We like to tell the story of the South.

We love to share the background and history of places we visit. We love to tell the story of the Southerners who create amazing art and folk art. We love to share those eccentric tales that are just southern to the core.

What would you say has been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
We have learned so many things along the way that shape us every day.

But, the most important thing we’ve learned is to do what you love. That sounds like such a cliche. For us doing what we love means traveling on weekends and over holidays and making time to seek out out-of-the-ordinary places to visit and explore.

It means making a conscious effort to do what we love as often as we can.

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