Category Archives: Northwest Arkansas

Downtown Dummies – An Art Installation Sponsored by Prank Sinatra

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I keep lists of jokes, ideas, and amusing things to amuse my amusing self. Last year while I was walking before sunrise in downtown Springdale, I burst out laughing with one of them.

I’ve been secretly fantasizing about an idiotic prank for quite a while. I’ve browsed on eBay, Amazon, and retail clearance websites trying to get a reasonable cost to purchase several dozen mannequins. The best cost I could devise was about $750. Three weeks ago, I could have purchased an entire lot, clothing included, from a defunct retailer.

After purchasing all the mannequins and keeping them in a self-storage unit, I’d rent a U-Haul. Early in the morning, I would drive around downtown Springdale and strategically place the dummies in key places. (Benches, leaning on walls, astride Spring Creek, behind patrol cars, etc.) It occurred to me that I could create a story if I was creative enough in my implementation. (With the epilogue involving me getting bailed out of jail, I presume.)

I even had a list of explanations if I were caught. I’d say, “It’s an art project for the Revitalization District.” Or, I’d say, “Look at that!” and as the person looked, I’d run like hell in any possible direction.

If I keep my movements low-key, no one will think twice about dummies downtown. There are always several standing or loitering around down there and several have been elected to keep the city running. Just kidding, Doug. I’m a big fan, with the exception of that horrendous city logo – the one which invokes an image of the floor of a New York City Taxi when I look at it.

I’ve had more fun thinking about doing this than you might expect.

I’ll probably never do it now, especially after sharing it with everyone.

If there’s anyone out there reading this, though, it would make an excellent prank.

It would also make a beautiful art project if it were planned with care.

A Great Customer Service Story

As much as I like the pursuit of a bad customer service issue, I’ve found that people overlook those times when I highly recommend a business or service.

Today, one of the owners of Oasis Property Maintenance personally reached out to ensure that he could answer my questions and make things right. It was a literal delight to hear someone directly address an issue and offer to make it fully right, even if it bit him in the pocketbook.

I reciprocated and told him to pay it forward instead and that I didn’t want any refund, credit, or compensation. Just knowing that he was willing to go to that length to ‘fix’ a mistake was enough for me. It would have been a costly fix for him. As a consumer, I should have caught the issue when I bought this house, but didn’t.

Oasis is mainly a lawn company, one which charges based on lot size. They do online billing, which is a massive benefit to those of us who are antisocial. I’ve used them since they started. They’re not perfect, but they listen if there is an issue. Taking cost and intangibles into consideration, they are almost unbeatable, unless you have a cadre of teenagers to force to do your yard work.

If you currently have a lawn service, you can look online and ‘see’ what they will charge you without any misdirection. Oasis Property Maintenance

Even though you might not see or hear me doing so, I try to thank, reward, and appreciate good businesses. Thanks, X

Barbed Wire, Safety, and Assholes

Barbed wire?

By now, I imagine most people in NWA heard about the 72-year-old man who was badly injured when a strand of barbed wire across the trail in South Fayetteville caught him in the neck as he rode his bike.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of trail walking in the dark. While I’ve walked primarily along Springdale’s incredible portion, I’ve spent some time on some of Fayetteville’s trails, too. I’ve joked about the endless spider webs across the trails on some early mornings, so the idea of hitting wire does give me pause. But only for a brief second.

It’s always a possibility that someone will misbehave. In fact, it’s likely. I know I run the risk of booby traps, nails, or weirdos (weirder than me, even!) accosting me as I enjoy the trails. Barbed wire is a particularly criminal item to use to hurt those who walk, run or cycle. There are situations where I would never see it as I approached, especially at 3 a.m.

As for Springdale, I routinely see patrols on the trails. I’m not sure how it is managed in Fayetteville, but anyone alleging that Springdale isn’t doing a great job of maintaining visibility isn’t paying attention. Even with the best vigilance, though, it’s impossible to guarantee that lesser people won’t attempt all manner of shenanigans. The police can’t be everywhere – but we can.

Yesterday, as I walked around part of the new George Park complex, I surprised a family sleeping in a white sedan. Based on the what I saw, they were probably homeless and using their car to park in less obvious places. When I came upon them, I had just emerged from the blackest part of the trail in that area, the one I wrote about a few weekends ago. When I was going through it, it went through my mind that someone could have put up 147 strands of barbed wire and that some anonymous person might find me crawling out the next morning, looking like Rambo after round 11. As for that family, it didn’t occur to me to react to them with suspicion, just an appreciation that the weather wasn’t an additional discomfort for them.

On the other hand, two weekends ago, I almost stepped on someone who was sleeping inside the covered bus area in front of the public library, after I walked past a large man who was intoxicated as he haphazardly ambled along the pond at the park. I wasn’t nervous, as the only danger he presented was the one he did to the English language as he tried to speak to me as he passed me. People are generally great. It’s up to us to follow through when we see things. People walking while intoxicated are amusing, not threatening, even if they look like defensive linemen.

Which brings me to my poorly-written point…

I’ve walked mile after mile in the last few months, seeing so many sides of this great city. As you might have noticed, I’m a huge fan of the trail system and of all the changes in Springdale.

However, there’s a lot to be done here. In my own neighborhood, I watched as a 4-wheeler careened around my little corner of Springdale. He jumped the curb, rode the sidewalks, and made a car come to a screeching halt as he cut in front. Kids were walking home from school at the time, as the buses had just emptied at the side entrances to the neighborhood. It’s not the first time he’s done this. A family down the street gets on dirt bikes and rides at 80 mph, doing wheelies down the middle of the street. Another neighbor drinks and drives. A few weeks ago, I watched as an obviously drunk driver tried to use his clutch ran over the curb and stalled his Honda. (I wrote about that, too, as a humorous anecdote.) Dozens of people witness the idiots such as those on the 4-wheeler, motorcycles, or careening vehicles. Until we stop looking the other way and tolerating them, it can’t get better.

I could list more, but you get the idea: people are going to be assholes. It’s up to us to let the police know there’s a problem. Before you ask, yes, I’ve called the police when I observe these things – and not anonymously, either.

One final anecdote, if you don’t mind. I wrote a story one afternoon this week, one about the futility of insisting that one area is safer to walk than another, or that it’s better to walk in the daylight. I didn’t post it, though, because I struggled with the implied prejudice of it. There are some beautiful places near my house and I love walking them. But to say that it is ‘safe’ to be anywhere is simply not true. The opposite side of Friendship road isn’t within Springdale city limits. There are some strange residents on that side, ones dedicated to a life of crime, if not mayhem. Some of them are the “AFTER” posters you would see during a drug PSA. A driver, for whatever reason, decided that he was going to spew his venom on me as he exited the Springdale city limits. He thought I was Latino, and I think he hesitated from escalating his anger because he might not have been sure who I really was or if I was armed. I might have had to throw him across the field, WWE-style if he attacked me, or run away, screeching. Those who know me well can imagine how ridiculously fast I would have been running through the field at that point.

I don’t look at the angry driver or the minor idiots and lessen my view of people. We’re always going to have miscreants and assholes making our life more difficult. Safety and security are the goals of those we pay to protect us. Safety, though, is an illusion. I’m as likely to get injured on the sidewalk outside my own house as I am to be decapitated by barbed wire on one of our excellent trails – and probably by that biscuit-eating idiot on the 4-wheeler.

For those who asked, I’m not concerned about barbed wire along the trails.

If you recall, I had a plane crash on my residence almost 30 years ago, on a clear Saturday, September morning.

You can’t take it personally when life drops the anvil on your cartoonish head.

You can, however, let someone know if you see someone putting the anvil up in a tree.

A Saturday Morning

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If we are lucky enough we each have our own private Narnia, our own distinct lantern rendered invisible to others, hovering at the periphery of our minds. As we travel it is waiting to provide the dash of missing depth to our surroundings. Sometimes those of us who see our lanterns with greater frequency forget that many people are simply trying to get down the path and have no interest in such things. Perhaps it is an old refrain to you now, hearing me repeat it so often, but the world is a much different place at 4 in the morning and magic seems to lurk nearby with an intangible presence.

During my entire walk, the only light was the one gracing the distant parking lot.

The new trail I chose this morning didn’t need a visitor’s tally. There was no doubt that I was the first person to tread the cooled path this morning. A 1,000 arachnid Finish Lines graced my steps, each one a dark surprise in the wee morning hours. I felt like I had sprinted through a gauntlet of cotton candy after 15 minutes. I could only imagine how many spiders were measuring my neck and back with their spindly legs.

Even though it was barely 4 a.m. I could hear a high melody far off to my right. Having seen “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” I of course immediately deduced that I too would be found in the breaking morning light, nothing except empty and discarded clothing as evidence of my disappearance. Unlike Pete, though, I wasn’t prepared to satisfy my curiosity if becoming a toad were involved. I do wish I had known the origin of the music this morning. Anyone listening to such music at such an hour would have to be either a very interesting person or a very frightening one, a Schrödinger’s surprise for psychopaths.

I encountered no one on the trail. It’s possible though that a hundred unseen people were standing near the trail, watching me as I passed. The clouds granted darker cover to the night and the trail I walked was canopied above me for much of the distance. An owl hooted nearby and startled me more than I would care to admit. I had headphones, but wasn’t using them, both because of the delicious coolness of the night air, but also because the insects apparently had seen the movie “Spinal Tap,” and had voted to turn up the chirping to “11” on nature’s dial. Even now, sitting here in front of this modern electronic window to the world, I can hear only the box fan we use to help us sleep the quiet sleep of death and the wall of insects outside.

When I returned to my car, I stopped and admired the statue of General Covfefe, who valiantly fought so many years ago to ensure that locals could endlessly argue about the vestiges of racism.

Springdale & Brinkley Hold Lessons

This post evolved from a simple comparison of my geographical past. It grew to encompass parts of me and as such, is very personal. If you will pardon my generalizations and laziness toward exact writing, you might find something interesting.

I didn’t come to Springdale until the early 70s. My dad dragged our recently reconstituted family up here for the promise of a steady job, away from the geography which took the blame for so much of my dad’s heartache. His time in prison in Indiana and his involvement in the death of one of my cousins (unrelated to prison) had broken him of some of his desperate need to remain in his hometown. My dad had a brother here, my Uncle Buck, as well as a few cousins. Our move was prior to the miracle of the interstate reaching its tentacles up to Northwest Arkansas, so all trips to NWA were long, winding escapades. It seemed like we drove for days to reach the mountains of Springdale. I didn’t understand what a ‘hillbilly’ was. All I knew were the fields of Monroe County and the places my grandma and grandpa called home. Being with my dad was the last thing on my wish list.

Years take on a different meaning when I stop to consider that soon enough I will be exactly halfway between 1970 and 2070. Springdale and I both have changed immeasurably since I was young. The area of the Delta from which I came has continued a generally languid, shuffled march toward annihilation while NWA has become a beacon for commerce and lifestyle. It was sheer luck that my dad’s terrible fortune planted my feet here. And while the Delta was once the powerhouse of agriculture but found no clear footing to advance, Springdale and surrounding areas used agriculture as a springboard from which to dive into a diversified future. So many of us here live in houses situated on plots once adorned with grapes, apples, strawberries and all manner of other foods.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that the interstate running through Brinkley wasn’t always there, a fact which should have been immediately obvious. In Brinkley’s case, though, the interstate seems to have provided a convenient escape for the younger generation, as they ventured out and realized that the state had more to offer in other places. In Arkansas’ early history, roads were intensely local, often built to connect small town agricultural markets. For the affluent parts of the state, the interstate gave people and commerce alike the way to merge interests. While lifelong residents of Brinkley might wish to disagree, it is obvious that good roads shone a beacon toward better opportunities in other parts of the state. Brinkley could have been one of the jewels of this state, given its location. Even as I sometimes forget that I once loved the flatlands there, I will admit to its austere beauty.

I also forget that many parts of my early life are inexplicably entwined with those people who I deeply loved and those who were violent caricatures of real people. Geography mixes in my head and sometimes paints an unfair picture of those places, simply because the people walking across my stage were broken people. As we all do, I carry pieces of these broken people in my head, as such slivers are difficult to excise. I can hold the image of standing near a rice field near Brinkley, up to my ankles in mud, laughing; I can also imagine walking alongside a pungent Tontitown grape vine in August, my fingers cleverly stealing unwashed grapes and eating them like candies. I’m not sure which place or memory is more valid, but I do know that being surrounded by people with love in their hearts can make any geography welcoming, while immersion in the minds of lesser people will reduce the world’s brilliance regardless of where one’s feet might be. It’s how City View might have been a place of low resort for many, and a welcome mat for others.

Because of the reduced crucible I survived as a kid, on the one hand, there was so much about this town which remained unknown to me. My life was incredibly small. I could sense that it was an interesting place, though. My family moved over twenty times by the time I had reached adulthood. So many places around Springdale became familiar to me. In many ways, I feel as if this was advantageous to me, giving me a different perspective than someone who was lucky enough to remain fairly rooted in the same place growing up. In my family’s case, our ongoing moves concealed the array of abuse and violence camouflaged inside each respective new residence.

When I was in 2nd grade, I remember asking Mom what it was like attending school with black children in Monroe County. She looked at me like I had been hit with a shovel and said, “I didn’t. We were segregated.” (It was probably a lucky thing for them, though.) I wondered why Springdale was segregated, too, given that there were no black kids in class with me. How was I supposed to know that there were so few minorities living here? I was so naive. Even trying to understand that one of schoolyard buddies Danny was actually from Chile was beyond my comprehension. That’s how reduced my life was without education. Had I been born 100 years ago and remained in Monroe County, I could easily see myself in the role of unapologetic racist. My family would have raised me to believe that it was a certainty.

It’s funny now, my ignorance. In my early youth, I had never heard the word “segregated” except as a muttered curse. For most of the whites in the Delta, segregation was a word equated with government distrust. When I started learning history, it astonished me that there was such a short jump between our Civil War and WWII.

My dad took us back to Brinkley for my 3rd-grade year, to attempt to run a gas station in the no-man’s land on Highway 49 outside of Brinkley. While my home life was a slow-moving mess, school was fascinating. Just as I got acclimated to flat lands again, Dad’s failed business drove us back to Northwest Arkansas.

I remember my Uncle ___ saying that he was jealous of my dad, Bobby Dean because Springdale didn’t have ‘the plague’ of so many blacks. Other family members said the same and I only share this memory reluctantly. Perhaps it’s not wise or fair to generalize about my recollections of prejudice. On the other hand, they are my stories and as a sage once reminded us, perhaps people would behave more appropriately if they knew an observant writer was living amongst them. Truth be told, racism took a back seat when contrasted to the casual violence of my dad. I had a couple of god-fearing aunts and uncles who remind me that we should never be surprised by the sheer hatred some racists harbor in their hearts. One of the prevailing lessons they taught me was that religion could easily be twisted to justify and condone all manner of hate, all the while sitting behind a pearly-white smile and opened Bible. When I was young, I endured many a comment from them regarding my views on homosexuality, race, and language. When I grew up and realized that they were simply unadorned racists, their arguments dried up. The revisionists in life will insist they were great people and in many ways, they were the product of their times; in another way, though, they deliberately refused to change their minds, even as they paid pretense to the societal demands that they keep their boring and unimaginative racism mostly closeted.

Even though so much became second-hand to me, Springdale itself began to break away from its parochial roots; languages and color slowly entered and once inside sufficiently, kicked the door in and changed the fundamental nature of everything here. Even as I learned the town’s geography, it was already changing rapidly around me. In 1970, Springdale’s population was around 17,000. In 2015, it was on the high end of 77,000. (My hometown lost 1/2 of its population in the same time period, by comparison.) No road escaped the necessity of bulging outside of its small borders, and many signs became incomprehensible to the earlier residents. I was lucky enough to be present during many fits and tirades from Springdale residents insisting that hating the presence of another language wasn’t a sign of prejudice. They seem ignorant to almost everyone now, but the angry spew of their spittle was a sight to behold back in the day.

Springdale was akin to a debutante sent away to school in some exotic location; upon her return, she was unrecognizable as the same person. But almost everyone could look upon her and admire the changes. It’s almost impossible to turn back once someone or somewhere has caught a glimpse of the vastness of the world.

I’ve heard many people refer to Springdale as once being a Sundown Town. I don’t remember seeing such signage. On the other hand, I didn’t need to. My family provided all the exclusionary language anyone would ever need. Their distrust for minorities was amplified by our move to a white community. As strange as it is, I remember when my mom started working for Southwestern Bell (AT&T) in Fayetteville as an operator. She often came home, angrily ranting about blacks in her workplace. It was the same language she used in Monroe County except now she had a home base to retreat to, one which seemed to encourage her racism. Mom was an angry person most of her life, so the language was a symptom of her defect more than any commentary on her surroundings. Both my mom and dad fled back to Monroe County in the late 80s, after a long succession of disappointments.

Before I forget to mention it, my mom’s last job was as a custodian for Brinkley schools. The person who treated her the most kindly there was one of the black teachers there, proving that truth is stranger than fiction. Like so many racists, Mom’s racism tended to intensely situational. She couldn’t understand why I, as a white person, would ever stoop so low as to learn another language, much less love its differences. Her life was reduced by her prejudices.

The differences between the racism of Springdale and Brinkley were striking. It wasn’t until I was much older I surmised that Springdale didn’t need to be overtly racist. The whiteness of the faces walking the streets communicated a clear message as to the population. Springdale was a town waiting to be changed both monumentally and one person at a time, whether it saw the tidal wave approaching or not. It confused me how two places in the same state could be so markedly different, yet both have residents generally fixated on differences based on skin color. I’m generalizing of course, but I know that you understand the distinction I’m drawing. Most of Springdale’s residents weren’t prejudiced, of course, just unsure as to how to accommodate the changes to their towns. Racism tends to discolor a disproportionate number of people around it, giving it a larger circle than reality warrants. This circle of influence sometimes gives the wrong impression of tolerance toward prejudice and many of those practicing it become adept at hiding under its umbrella.

It’s strange to me that both Springdale and Brinkley had so much to build upon. Frankly, Brinkley had the advantage when I was young, and if a few visionaries had the temerity to act upon it, it would be flourishing now. Instead, Northwest Arkansas seized these opportunities.

Against the backdrop of economy and money, Springdale acquired deep populations of Latinos, Marshallese, and other minorities. Most of us who were paying attention and curious were amazed at the changes brought to us by different cultures. Since I’m naturally curious, I loved the overlap of cultures and couldn’t wait for it to become entrenched. Others, though, peered at it through narrowly-turned blinds, wondering if the small town they grew up in was gone forever. Thankfully, the answer was ‘yes.’ Change brought a greater viability to our town. The overlaps of other culture became so large that in many cases people felt conflicted about which culture was their primary one. That is the ‘melting’ we claim to honor as a country. The melting works much better when it is in both directions, with those who were here first welcoming the inevitable changes brought by new faces.

The same didn’t happen for Brinkley, despite it attempting a few rebrandings. The remaining base shifted out from under when it lost its Wal-Mart. People continued to flee, even if meant they’d be exposed to a greater variety of cultures elsewhere. For those who left, many have an idealized memory of what it once was. The truth, though, is that it was never really that place. People voted with their feet and the results are the only conclusion which needs no clarification. One day, hopefully, Brinkley will discern a path toward revitalization but all such paths are dead ends without new faces and new opportunities.

Springdale, albeit with a few hiccups still to come, is a place which can be a foundation for everyone to look back upon and feel a sense of community. It defies an easy definition, precisely because other groups came here to stay.

 

 

 

 

Locals Underestimate The Minority

Recently, I had a friend severely underestimate the minority population of a local town. Before saying anything I of course looked up the information from three different sources. The % of minority population was markedly higher than even I had supposed.

I knew my friend was wrong in the assertion, though, even before verifying. Latinos had arrived at that town in force even 20 years ago. Jobs drew them there, even if the locals greeted them with distrust and frowns. Economics opens most doors in both directions, even if guests must ignore a few grimaces.

It’s common for the majority to severely misjudge the presence of minorities or minority viewpoints. Until they hit a critical level which impacts them, they tend to fail to appreciate that the fulcrum is moving underneath them.

Even though I’m a white male in my early 50s, it is a delight for me to see the region being renovated from the inside. I do not share the apprehension and fear which seems to have invaded so many of my contemporaries. The new faces, language, and cultures only serve to widen my world, not shrink it.

I hope the fulcrum shifts sufficiently underneath so as to make the minority overtake the majority in this region. This world belongs to us all.