Category Archives: Travel

Orange, No Juice, Me, Steven Spielberg and Stephen King

I think Steven Spielberg and Stephen King were both with me this morning. As is usually the case, it was very early morning and most people were still dreaming of their own private universes as I meandered across a few miles of the urban landscape. Since I had such a nice adventure yesterday morning in a strange city, I had no expectations that this morning’s walk would be as interesting. The universe proved my assumption to be wrong, for which I’m thankful.

I thought that 6th Street in Little Rock, North was fascinating, coming west from Main Street. An abandoned church sat patiently on the corner of 6th and Main, and its steps were adorned with a small pile of brush and a tire. Perversely, I felt the pull to walk up the short steps and yank on the door. What I might do if it were open to me would have been an interesting conundrum. I’d like to think I would have entered.

There are so many interesting houses packed with peculiarities that it’s difficult to find enough time to swivel one’s eyes from one detail to the next. One house, in particular, surprised me due to the quantity and quality of Halloween decorations the owners had packed into the relatively narrow front yard. The porch roof even had a skeleton climbing down face-first, peering underneath the porch. I thought it possible that the owner himself might be a reaper and was using the astounding mass of decorations to conceal his identity, right out in the open. The house next to this decorated one was a beauty, too. Later in the day, I used Google Streetview to find the houses. To my surprise, the 2nd house from the abandoned church didn’t exist in 2013. Someone built it later that year; whoever did so deserves a clap of appreciation, as it is an astounding residence constructed to reflect the history found literally next door. It is a house of substance and evocative of so many elements we once loved and appreciate in our homes.

Turning south onto Orange Street, though, is where the orange glow of the morning blanketed everything. The lights in the area were dim, just bright enough to cast an eerie sheen on everything. Even the modern vehicles parked meticulously along the curb didn’t seem incongruous against the backdrop of pristinely-maintained historic homes. I felt like I’d been there before, truth be told. There were a couple of residences where the upper windows were left uncovered, as is often the case with higher floors, as people stop thinking that they could be observed through them. In one, a ceiling light was on and I could see the wide white trim and walls. As I looked, a woman passed by the window and as she did, she briefly looked down directly at me. For a moment I thought it was the actress Mary-Louise Parker. She had long, flowing black hair. The light went out in the upper hallway. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Mary-Louise had turned back to peer down at me as I walked, wondering what I made of her presence. Since I’ve acquired the habit, I waved up to the window as I walked away, hoping that if she were indeed peering askance at me that she might wonder if I could see her. Early morning hours grant magic to a select few, of this I’m beginning to be more certain.

Passing further along the street, I could feel myself going back in time as I walked along that old street. By the time I reached the area with the community gardens west of the Presbyterian church to my left, the effect was palpable. I felt like Christopher Reeve’s character in “Somewhere in Time,” after he put on his anachronism of a suit and feverishly willed himself backward in time.

In my ear, I could almost hear Mr. Spielberg and King whisper, “This is your time. Stay and drown in this moment.”

And I could have resided there, in space and time, suspended.

Whatever confluence of decisions created and maintained this neighborhood, I will remember it. I almost loathe the idea of returning and seeing it in the duller light of day. The magician of the early morning will have departed, leaving me this memory.

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(I’ll put the pictures below if you are interested…)

 

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Abandoned church, corner of Main and 6th, taken later in the day today…

 

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Google Streetview from 2013, before “new” old house was built…

 

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Google Streetview from 2014, as “new” old house is being built…

 

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Today, the front of “new” old house…

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Mary-Louise Parker place, so to speak, from later in the day today…

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An Excursion in Little Rock, North

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Note to casual readers: this post is longer than the explanation for the finale to “Lost,” so embark only if sufficiently interested; otherwise, watch baseball or golf until anything suddenly seems interesting – and then come back to this.

To start, I’d like to say that I don’t feel ill at ease in North Little Rock. Despite its problems, the area near the Wyndham Hotel and the Riverside Trail is simply spectacular with its weirdly-mixed juxtaposition of contrasts. Now that I’m an old codger, I can appreciate the dynamic. For the record, though, I think all towns with extra geographical points are unimaginative: North Toledo, for example, has none of the charm of the actual Toledo. “North” Little Rock implies that it is simply another place North of Little Rock wherein the settlers couldn’t be bothered to devise another interesting place name for the area where they were going put down roots and live their entire lives.

I was up and out of the hotel room fully dressed in less than 5 minutes this morning. I knew that sleep was going to be an unlikely and impatient visitor last night and if truth be told my walk would have started at 2 a.m. had my wife not been with me to disapprove of such a plan. Now that I’m walking and discovering things at strange hours, I find myself anticipating the pleasure of these moments as much as any activity I might engage in later in the day, where the normal people of my day feel more comfortable.

As soon as I stepped out the side of the hotel, the white expanse of the bridge in front of me caught my eye. Although it may sound like I’m inventing details, there was also a Batmobile, complete with insignias parked alongside Riverside Drive. Later, I insisted that my wife look out the window to see it, lest she would once again roll her eyes and assume I was fabricating such a detail for my own amusement. Turning the corner near the main entrance, I noted a large NLR police SUV parked under the canopy. I resisted the urge to see if the driver door was unlocked, lest I become the unwilling passenger, plus handcuffs.

A man dressed in what appeared to be 6 layers of clothing sped past me on a bicycle. Despite his legs being covered in multiple layers, he was flying down the street. The very next person I saw was a solitary man waiting near a bus stop sign, adjacent to an empty parking lot. I went wide to the left so as to not startle the man, who I assumed was waiting to go to work. As I reached the next cross street a couple of hundred feet away, he repaid my consideration by shouting something incomprehensible into the early morning darkness. I looked to see who he was shouting at, but no one else was around. He shouted again, even louder. The words sounded the same as the first shout, although the words still eluded me. Toward Main Street I went, laughing, wondering what that man’s story might be about. I heard him shout a couple of more times before his voice was lost to the empty city streets.

As two buses passed me, running along the trolley route, I looked up and laughed, as I couldn’t help but imagine that the crosswalk silhouettes of a human figure, the ones used to convey ‘safe to cross’ or ‘danger,’ were running in pantomime, as if screaming and fleeing the scene.

Main Street at this hour was a long dual succession of double-globed streetlights, each of them conveying a gauzy white light. The street is so wide and the sidewalks so ornate that walking them absent other people once again gave me pause. With so many historic places along this route, all of it seemed perfectly preserved in the amber of early morning magic.

As I passed Capeo Ristorante, a large orange cat jumped from inside the ornate metal trash holder near the street, it’s morning breakfast within interrupted by my passing. Once out of the trash, the cat ran only a few feet away and sat, looking at me. His ears seemed as large as a rabbit’s, high and large above his head. The ears bent toward me as I wished him well.

As I passed the storefront of Ozark Escape I wondered what I might do if I had peered inside to see someone forgotten and trapped inside, a participant in the last escape scenario from last night. Sadly, there were no moving shadows within. It seemed incongruous to me to have such a business on the historic strip of Main Street in North Little Rock. But what do I know? Our last election proved to me that no one knows anything and even when they do, no one listens.

Without pronouncement or fanfare, the globed street lights ended and I was suddenly walking up an inclined overpass, a long arc of pavement reaching above the commercial industrial district below. The lighting seemed to evoke all the romance of a county jail or a dimly-lit back alley. As I reached the opposite side of the long overpass I realized that the mass of machinery below reminded me of a James Cameron Terminator sequel. The air seemed full of two possibilities: hope or dismal despair. Reaching the end of the concrete railing, I passed someone who looked like DJ Khaled. As big as he was, his body language indicated that he was way more concerned about me than I would ever be around him. I realized in that moment that I was dressed entirely in black, even wearing a black jacket, black shoes, black socks, and black shirt. Honestly, a white man wandering around in the dark dressed in all black does sound like the clichéd beginning of just about every crime novel ever written, or a Johnny Cash hipster revival in Oakland.

At the corner of Main and 13th, the ambiance took an Olympic dive. The large brick building opposite of me looked exactly like Hannibal Lecter’s first home. In front of the building, a large green rectangular sign indicated, “Waste Collection Facility This Way.” In my mind, I thought, “Of course it is.” As I crossed to take another direction, a police car stopped and waited for me to cross. Again, my overactive imagination dared me to take off running, as if running away from the police. Studies have shown that getting tased is much more effective than Folgers in one’s cup in the morning.

A few minutes later, I looked down and saw that I was high above a wide train switching yard, full of parallel silver rails below me. It was mesmerizing. Something my grandpa once told me came to mind. He had mentioned to me that such yards were godsends to those riding the rails to get back home. Switch yards with so many accesses points always were an indicator that wherever you were, that another train was undoubtedly headed towards the hearth you called home. I’m not sure how many times my grandpa hopped a train because I was young when he shared those stories, often against the backdrop of harsh summer sun or as the sun faded, leaving the explosive sound of insects to buzz and hum around us. Several years ago, when I visited my hometown of Brinkley, I ran several miles to stand above single set of train tracks below, the ones which ran under highway 49, close to its intersection with Highway 70. I ran all that way just to try to conjure that feeling of those stories my grandpa shared with me.  It was staggering to me to picture myself with the necessity and freedom to jump on a moving train. Those are the kind of memories which will fade into oblivion.

After the switching yard, I looked down and to the left and got to watch as another police SUV moved slowly along, its searchlight zig-zagging across the dirt and gravel. I look up at the road my feet are traveling and see another SUV parked at the intersection. It was at that precise moment I realized that I was coming up on the downtown police substation. The long canopy carport containing a dozen silent and waiting police cruisers convinced me of it. Never one to be silent for long, my inner monologue thought it would be humorous to pound on the door and demand to confess to someone that I was indeed guilty of some public crime – perhaps that of using mayo on french fries.

At Skinny J’s restaurant, I stopped and took a picture of the overhead neon marquee sign. Despite how suspicious it might look, I entered the recess of the main door from the street and leaned in, cupping my hands and resting my face against the painted glass. Inside, tables and chairs stood guard, waiting for occupants. I imagined that just 8 or 9 hours earlier I had sat along the side wall, eating and laughing with good people. For a fleeting instant, I could once again taste the pungency of the fried green tomato sandwich I had chosen. The overlap of my memory and looking at the dark and empty restaurant this morning created a delightful sensation of deja vu.

I turned and made a long pass around the horrendous Verizon Arena structure. The building looks like what an alien invader would leave after being driven away from this world, much like Verizon and AT&T did to Alltel’s loyal staff back in the day. I imagined that I could simultaneously hear the millions of conversations, concerts, and activities that had occurred in that place. Most people undoubtedly drive past it without much consideration, their minds preoccupied with other ideas and demands – and probably a few daydreams about throwing a deserving co-worker through the window once they’ve arrived to work. Looking at the NR Bank tower sign, the one digitally indicating the time in 3-foot numbers, I wondered how much agony that timestamp might cause. I could only picture some poor soul looking at it each day. “9:53 a.m.,” it would indicate upon the first glance. An hour later, it would indicate, “9:54 a.m.,” and in bright large numbers, too. Hour after hour, day after day. I think I would be shooting out the bulbs of that bank’s sign within a week.

Passing the Verizon behemoth, I watched as a man wrangled a portapotty next to a new drive-through restaurant being built there. He noticed me as I watched and he waved, probably glad to be distracted. I was hoping he’d knock over the portable toilet just to amuse me. Next to the new building, I noted that a branch of my bank was on the corner. It occurred to me that it seemed reasonable to get some cash from the ATM around the back. It seemed particularly wise to do this, as nothing seems safer than using an ATM card, on foot, in the dark, in a strange place. So I took some cash out for the day, as I loudly recited my PIN. (I’m just kidding about the PIN part. The rest is true.)

As I stopped to take a picture of the ascending trolley car tracks as they ran next to the on-ramp, I looked toward the distant bridge and in the direction of my hotel. I noticed a man dressed in green dart across the sidewalk, stop, and lean over and drop something near the bushes. At this point, he was directly across from the US Bank pavilion. Having seen “The Wire,” I assumed that something loosely described as “illegal” was probably going on. I crossed the street and as I walked, I tried to look with the corner of my eye toward where the man had been crouched. He seemed to have frozen there, perhaps in response to my presence. I turned away just for a second and when I looked back, he was gone, vanished, doing his own “fastest gun in the West” impression. I assumed he was crouched or hiding behind the bushes, probably on the side closet to the pavilion near the riverside. Invisibility didn’t seem like a reasonable explanation.

It was then that I noticed the large turtle sculpture there. My curiosity got the best of me, even overpowering my desire to avoid being bludgeoned to death a few paces from my hotel. I decided to make another pass around the block. It seemed likely that the man in question wasn’t concealing his favorite literary works in those bushes – nor a sack lunch for later consumption. Coming around the block again, I took a chance to walk by the turtle and the bushes again. A large bus waiting opposite the corner pawn shop gave me the excuse of having a witness. I quickly walked by and snapped a picture of the turtle and it was then I noticed what looked like a duffel bag behind it, in the gap of the bushes. It dawned on me that the man wasn’t a criminal, at least not in an interesting way: he was probably homeless and had devised an incredibly clever way to sleep right out in the middle of everything. You’d need to pass by very close or from the other direction, where shadows ruled one’s vision.

Without much thought as to safety or appropriateness, I took out my wallet and the two $20 bills I had just taken from the ATM by the arena. I placed them on the ground in the grass. I picked up a crushed water bottle lying on the edge of the road and placed it on top of the bills. “Mister,” I hollered. “Sorry to startle you. I left you something to do with as you want to. I hope you have a great day – I won’t say anything about you. Peace.”

As I stood up, my phone rang. Although I wasn’t listening to music during any part of my walk, I had headphones on. The ringer startled me, at full volume inside the headphones. It couldn’t have sounded off at a more inopportune time. Later, I discovered that it was my wife, who had called and texted repeatedly. As I had been gone walking a long time this morning, she had begun to allow her imagination to run wild, probably already to the point where I had been abducted by foreign mercenaries.

As I walked away, it occurred to me that if the man didn’t exit his hiding spot to retrieve the money, I was either going to have to go get it myself or leave it, knowing that the unexpected money on the side of the road was going to improve someone’s morning.

I stopped nearby at the corner of the Wyndham, where I was staying. I watched as the man emerged from the middle of the bushes and picked up the $40. He looked my direction and waved his arm high above his head. I don’t think he said anything. I raised my own arm and waved back without interrupting the silence. I’d like to think there was something magical about that moment, even if it was just a simple acknowledgment. What a strange and brutal urban landscape the man had chosen. No doubt, though, that he had chosen wisely.

As for my wife’s concern, she had every reason to be a little worried. Not for my safety, though, but rather for my humanity. In the midst of all this wonder and steel artifices, people were still just people. For me, I was prepared for anything, as long as it gifted me with a story.

Later, when I sat with my wife to eat breakfast, she jokingly told another co-worker about my penchant for giving everything away. It’s important that you understand that I had not shared any of my early morning adventures with her at that point. She didn’t know that I had given the homeless man my ATM gift this morning. As trite as it sounds, North Little Rock had reached inside me a little bit and as always, I changed imperceptibly because of it, even in the most mundane of circumstances.

I thought that it might be incredibly fitting to be remembered with a complaint, one which accused me of being a minimalist and wanting to give everything away, even my last dollar, the one which would have otherwise gone to the tip jar of the reticent man preparing omelets or to the waitress as a tip. My wife didn’t know that I had given a stranger $40, just because he might need it and because it would fuel my imagination for another long set of days.

 

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Later, before going to go eat lunch with my favorite cousin, I wandered some of the same sites, to ‘see’ them with a daylight perspective. In the midst of the bushes behind the sculpted tortoise, I found blankets and detritus from lives lived on the outside. Warm weather will soon turn to cold. I hope that the gentleman I surprised this morning finds a place of rest as the air turns lethal. Standing there, in the daylight, looking at the makeshift home, it was my greater wish that he might remember that not all people are to be measured by one’s expectations.

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Never Buy Chocolate From France?

Never Buy Chocolate From France

Last year, my cousin Wynona went to Europe. When she stopped in France, she spent a fortune buying candy and treats for friends and family. She hadn’t traveled much and wanted to get everyone something to commemorate her experiences outside of the U.S.

Surprisingly, she sent me some chocolate. She included a note to inform me that France was famous for its chocolatiers and confectioneries. (She doesn’t get out much, it seems.) She later sent me a t-shirt from Germany, one missing the right sleeve.

Whether she did so as a joke or not, I’m not sure, but one of the bags she sent me looked exactly like a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. Each candy was foil-wrapped and shaped vaguely like a pyramid, too. The writing was French, though. I hoped she hadn’t spent money on a common chocolate without realizing it. I put the bag in the pantry and forgot about it, as I was trying to avoid consumption of large amounts of treats and unhealthy foods.

A week or so later, I was craving something sweet. I pulled out my cousin Wynona’s bag of candy, opened it, and went to sit on the couch to watch a little TV.

I opened the first Kiss and threw it into my gaping mouth, letting it melt instead of chewing furiously on it.

After a few seconds, I felt something rub against my tongue, like a faint tickle. After another few seconds, it felt like a worm was brushing against the inside of my lip and on the tip of my tongue.

I leaned over the coffee table and spit it out without thinking. In the melted mass of chocolate was a wriggling bit of something which definitely looked like a worm.

“Gross!” I hollered.

Since my friend JoJo speaks fluent French, I grabbed the bag of candy and the melted piece expelled from my mouth and drove over to her house.

When I arrived, we exchanged pleasantries and then I told her about the candy and the ‘worm’ in the chocolate.

When I handed her the original bag that resembled a U.S. version of Hershey’s Kisses, JoJo burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny, JoJo? I think I ate a worm or something.” I’m not sure why, but her levity irritated me a little bit.

“X, read right here,” JoJo said, pointing to the bag.

“That’s a piece of tongue in the candy. After all, they are FRENCH Kisses.”

MoFo Coffee Pot Adventure

My wife should know better than to let me wander in strange towns. It’s like an opportunity to be inside a petri dish, watching – and sometimes commenting.

It’s the commenting part that will one day lead to my body being inside a chalk outline on the sidewalk, probably with onlookers pointing and saying, “He had it coming!”

While Dawn made good use of herself, I went to find a coffee pot. I decided to buy one for the motel room so that we could enjoy coffee-on-demand without the necessity of hiring servants or driving around like electrocuted squirrels. We leave the coffee pot when we leave. They don’t get discarded by the staff. The “coffee pots” provided by most hotels, in my opinion, are secret torture devices that neither make coffee or provide any service, unless it is to test one’s ability to hurl a small appliance out the window and into the parking lot.

As I wandered around the Dollar General store in North Little Rock, I couldn’t help but be amused by the antics of another shopper. His fevered chatter reminded of that time when I gave my Aunt Ardith 2 bottles of 5-Hour Energy Shots instead of whiskey in her coke. (The doctor said she needed to drink less alcohol; the fault is his for not being cautiously specific about this sort of thing.) Not since the early comedy specials of Richard Pryor had I heard the f-bomb and mofo grenade dropped with such frequency. There were so many I thought I was seeing them begin to fall from his mouth and hang in the air, like profane Zeppelins. No matter where I wandered in the store, the F-Bomb Man seemed to materialize, like impossible-to-remove flecks of glitter in one’s underwear drawer.

I finally succumbed to the realization that I had walked around the store so many times that I was about to be made Store Manager. I stopped and bothered a young male employee who was apparently trying to strangle the cash register on the left in frustration. I swear that he said, “Go to the last aisle and jump off the bridge there, where the zombies are.” When I went to the last aisle, there were indeed coffee makers there. There was also an errant display of Halloween merchandise. I surmised that at least some of the keywords in the employee’s reply to my question were reality-based.

Lo and behold, when I got the register, F-Bomb Man and his female companion were behind me. The two children with them were darting around like pinballs in a half-broken machine, one manned by a maniacal player.

After a few more Mofo Grenades, I couldn’t help but to laugh. The little boy with the couple behind me stopped in his tracks and stared up at me, his mouth open, as if he were witnessing a grown man about to lose his mind and/or vote Republican. It struck me as strange that my laugh startled the boy sufficiently to bring his frenzied stomp around the central displays to a halt – but that the impressive onslaught of profanity from the adult male with him hadn’t fazed him. I made myself a note to write that child’s teachers in the future, to let them know that he was in no way responsible for believing that some profane words were substitutes for common adjectives, nouns, verbs, and salutations. (And probably street names too.) I had grown up with world-champion cursers myself. I was quite old when I realized that it was possible to read the menu at a restaurant without inserting colorful and possibly ear-piercing obscenity in the middle of descriptive items.

Turning to make eye contact with the man behind me, I was surprised that he had stopped talking too.

“Hey. How are you doing?” I asked, loudly, as my voice had been amplified by a town crier from the Middle Ages. And I laughed again, possibly from brain damage at this point.

Surprised, the man said, “Just maintaining, man. Sorry about all the cursing.” Which proved he realized he was cursing.

In a moment never to be rivaled by any extemporaneous quip ever, I replied, “Dude, just call me Ritz.”

And I held up might right hand for a fist bump, something I never do.

F-Bomb Man immediately held his fist up and bumped mine.

“Why they call you Ritz?” He asked.

Without hesitation and looking him right in the eye, I replied, “Because I ain’t no common cracker.”

And then we both laughed and laughed, as the man’s female companion and the cashier looked at us like giraffes with top hats on our heads.

PS: This story isn’t about the cursing. It’s like ambient background music to me. Without insult or anger, profanity is just another means of communication; it is often uncouth and undignified, but so too are parts of this life, one which is too busy and too demanding to be derailed by a poor choice of words. Also, the F-Bomb/Mofo Grenade Man was a Rembrandt of his time with cursing.

A Tongue-In-Cheek Travel Story

A Story For All My Friends:.

During my whirlwind trip to Europe last year, I was visiting a place unfamiliar to me. The locals had cautioned me but didn’t specify why I should be careful. At the time, it didn’t bother me at all. The fact that they served me the best baguettes and flavorful coffee I’d ever tasted made such concerns seem foolish.

My only morning there, I very much wanted to take a walk in the unknown hills and fields surrounding the tiny hamlet in which I was staying. It was my goal to see all the sights I could squeeze into my trip, and preferably on foot. I headed toward a large expanse of open field, one I could see from my quaint bed and breakfast. A light fog obscured all the distant edges, waiting for the sun to peek and burn it off an hour or so later.

As I passed the edge of the pavement, I encountered a large yellow and black-edged sign, one which indicated “Warning: Stay Out!” in 3 languages. The urge to get away from people and places overpowered me, so I ignored the warning sign, deciding that the absence of a fence or any other observable prohibition to entry meant it was a forgotten relic, left as an inside joke or an indication of a property owner’s laziness.

About 50 feet past the sign, I still couldn’t see anything which warranted feeling unsafe. The grass seemed relatively maintained and it was quite peaceful. I continued on, but started noticing little bits of black and white-striped fabric. Soon, there were many more scattered whimsically on the ground. After several more steps, I noticed that some of the strips now seemed to be stained with what seemed to be blood.

Still ignoring any sense of danger, I quickened my pace, following the trail of thickening fabric pieces on the grass.

Suddenly, I noticed a large group of thin people wearing unusually clingy clothing and dark berets on their heads. Most were waving their arms in the air, while some seemed to be doing so in patterns I couldn’t quite discern as if they were trapped behind a barrier I couldn’t quite see. Their clothing matched the black and white-striped fabric pieces strewn about the field.

I bolted toward the tree-lined edge of the open field, some yards away. As I approached its perimeter, I could see a large rectangular sign facing the opposite direction, away from me.

As I cleared the field, I swiveled to read the sign’s large black lettering.

My skin crawled and the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up, as the realization struck me that I had just survived the last remaining WWII French mimefield.

Don’t Hate Me Because You Missed Out on Wisteria Lane – Again

Dawn and I used a portion of our vacation time to spend some time of quiet reflection at some of the best cabins in the 4-state region:  Wisteria Lane Lodging. The owners don’t compensate for me being so laudatory, although PepsiCo does pay me to not talk about their products. I love the cabins at Wisteria. For someone who enjoys the internet, it is quite relaxing to have no phone, no internet, and no mundane concerns while being surrounded by deep woods.

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The above picture doesn’t do the porch justice. The porch overlooks the bottom of the valley as a creek winds below. It spans the entire valley-side of the cabin and is wide enough to keep the weather at bay. With a porch swing, it’s almost perfect. Unlike other places, you can use the grill during any weather, except perhaps a tornado.

For reasons of national security, Dawn wouldn’t let me participate in the next picture, citing “overwhelming historical untrustworthiness” and something else she mumbled as she pointed the camera at herself and the taser at me as I attempted an approach to be immortalized in her picture.

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P.S. I didn’t get many pictures of Dawn, both due to her subtle “no” and “you had better not” hand motions, very similar to the one people might use to indicate an impromptu throat slitting. In addition, she displayed an allergy to what I would call “clothes.” It’s not like she cavorted or pranced around sans clothing, but she insisted on wearing the clothes that no one except spouses and emergency medical technicians get to see us wearing. (Also known as “comfy clothes” in some circles.)

We were staying at Cabin #4, which is the definition of privacy and seclusion. We could have practiced yodeling at all hours and no one would have noticed.

The picture below is an example of several I took, after Dawn’s insistent editing skills of redaction imposed themselves on my beautiful pictures. She says this picture captures her essence like none other I’ve ever taken of her.

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The next picture is of me, wearing an ensemble from the 2016 Versace Collection. It looks like I am sniffing paint, which is ridiculous. Everyone knows the only way to sniff paint is to use a paper bag. (Although I’ve been told I look stupid because I put my entire head inside the bag and then spray the can directly into my face.)

Because Dawn and I wanted to do something different with our visitor’s stones, I maximized our effort by using a primer coat on each of the stones. It’s much easier than it looks and made a huge difference in the result.

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Note to all sane people and children under 30 years of age: I was only kidding about sniffing paint. If you’d still like to see me with my head shoved into a paper bag, however, send me $20 and I’ll make your dream a reality.

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Dawn loved the fact that I finally got around to doing our visitor stones differently. Instead of just doing one, we did 6. The last one is one I made, to be the head of the long snake of rocks. It’s several feet long. I cleaned them and primed them the day we arrived. We went out on the long porch the next morning as the mist rose from below, scattered our paints and brushes, and laughed as we drank coffee, the cool air enveloping us. The head stone says “Time flies” in Spanish, with the year in Roman numerals.

The only potential downside is that future visitors might be envious of the scope of our stones for this visit. If they attempt to surpass my effort though, they should be warned: I will return and do 100 the next time. Just kidding – I’d probably stop at 30 or 40.

Dawn snapped this next one of me as I prepared to work my magic in the culinary portion of the evening. She claims that I’m prone to “weird hands” in these poses, although she uses a more endearing moniker for the pose.

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Not to brag or anything, but Dawn was happy with all the meals I made, even when I made things that started with the warning, “I’m not sure if this will be edible or thrown at miscreants on the sidewalk.” We didn’t take any pictures of our prepared food, out of respect for the privacy of the food that perished for our survival. Dawn took pictures of the fridge, as she couldn’t believe the variety of food we bought.

We resembled religious fanatics at the SunFest grocery store on Holiday Island, preparing our larders for the end of the world. We were like Noah-Of-The-Grocery as we stuffed two of everything in inventory into our cart. I felt like a pack mule pushing around our spoils as we headed to the register.

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Saturday morning, I got out early and marched the roads around Wisteria Lane. Even the downhill portions of the road were, in fact, uphill. I know this sounds impossible, but when you get to be my age, the impossible supplants both the unlikely and improbable when it’s least convenient. I saw some interesting things and had some great thoughts running around in the middle of the wild. As the roads were dry and dusty, I also had the grace of good luck, as I met no one on the roads during my entire trek.

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The above picture is to prove that all roads were paradoxically uphill. The sunlight comes a little later to the deep valleys where the cabins at Wisteria Lane are situated. It was worth the hiking to see it from a few different angles.

As for the next picture, I apologize for the weird HDR-esque quality. I tried using the filters on my phone until a prompt popped up and asked, “Are you high?” It was actually much darker than is evidenced by this picture. I loved the accidental result so much that I couldn’t bring myself to edit it out. In the distance, someone is clearing an immense amount of brush and trees. It was so tempting to venture out through there and stand in the middle of it. It would have been easy to imagine I had traveled back in time had I done so. Except I couldn’t be certain that sound of shotguns wouldn’t chase me back out.

People in those parts don’t subscribe to “Tomfoolery Quarterly, so it seemed safer to admire the torn earth from a distance.

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For fun, one of the projects I finally completed was making the “Blair Witch” stick symbols and hanging them from the canopy of trees. I bought some twine in Eureka Springs. While at the cabin, I meandered around the basin amidst the invisible snakes and collected a nice pile of hearty tree falls and snapped off relatively straight portions of their limbs. I then used the twine to tie the sticks together in the infamous “stick man” pattern. Dawn was very much interested in how my project might turn out, but she, of course, wanted nothing to with the process, preferring to remain high above on the cabin-length covered porch of our cabin. Even I eagerly found new discoveries in the trees, Dawn only offered commentary, leaving all the progress to me.

Not that anyone who knows me is going to worry about my views about witchcraft, voodoo, or omens, but in case you do, don’t worry about it. Not only because all such beliefs are both stupid and entertaining, but because my efforts were geared toward a good laugh. The idea of making several of these and placing them around someone’s house was amusing to me, especially if they are prone to being supersticious.

When I finished, I placed them up in the trees, like so…

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I imagine that it would have been hilarious had I fallen and snapped my neck. Imagine the obituary and the endless possibilities of creativity for any headline writer tasked with summing up the cause of my stupidity and demise.

I left the stick figures hanging in the trees. I hope that whoever cleans the cabins doesn’t have a minor nervous breakdown from all of them – or that the next visitor to these great cabins doesn’t notice them until their first morning at the cabins. Mayhem might indeed ensue under either of those scenarios.

I apologize in advance if anyone falls off the porch or gets scared by my bucket list project with the sticks. I’ve been meaning to do this for the last dozen visits, even as I constantly joked about all the vampires roaming the woods near Wisteria Lane.

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Above, I stopped and took a selfie as I cleared the apex of the largest hill. Again, it’s darker than it looks.

Even as I type these words, I miss it already. Some places seem to exist exuberantly outside of time and Wisteria Lane is just such a place. For being so close to home, it is an appreciated privilege for there to be such a place available to me.

Dawn didn’t drown me in the hot tub, push me over the edge of the porch, or hand me the exposed wires of a toaster during this peaceful weekend. I guess I did okay. She’ll let me know, I presume.

If I awaken tomorrow to find a Blair Witch stick figure on my front doorstep, I’ll assume it is the owner of Wisteria Lane starting her own haunting, to repay my capriciousness.

Meteor Shower Surprise in Springdale

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Thanks again, Springdale. This morning, I walked along the Razorback Greenway on the north side of Backus, near AQ. It was a fortuitous choice.

I was incredibly lucky because not only did I have the entire trail to myself again this morning, but as I walked north, a portion of the Perseid Meteor shower put on a show for me. Frankly, I had forgotten about the possibility of seeing anything. As I reached one of the beautiful steel bridges crossing Spring Creek, the trees relented and the sky opened above me and I stopped and stared as a meteor slashed across above me. The moon was bright and behind me, but no other lights invaded the wide spot afforded by the bridge and the creek beneath me. At 5 a.m., it was a delight to assume it would be the only meteor. Two more brilliant flashes arced across the sky above me. I had the urge to turn and say, “Did you SEE that?” but all the sane people were in bed, dreaming of their own fascinating sights.

So, it came to pass that I stood alone in the midst of nature, watching the sky drop burning reminders of the vastness of space. As I walked back, happy to have been witness to it, I saw a cat on the edge of the trail, walking ahead of me. I picked up my pace to see if it would spook. I turned on my flashlight app on my phone and lo and behold it was Pepé Le Pew, bright white-striped tail now raised in alarm. I stepped back so quickly I think I traveled back in time, laughing at the idea of me returning home smelling of skunk.

When I returned to my car, I walked over to the new pavilion next to the old Heathman building and sat watching as the edges of the sky slowly brightened. Two more bright meteor falls greeted me. I wondered how many early risers might have witnessed these with me. Then again, I remembered that the city of Springdale had built all these places solely for me, to be discovered in singular succession. I will hoard these memories.

As I headed back east, toward home and my disoriented cat, a deep fog rolled in from the hilly terrain, blanketing my approach. As I write this, everything seems to have been draped by the most diaphanous of gauze. Had I not stood in the middle of the beautiful nothing and witnessed the meteors, I would have thought I had dreamed it.

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Razorback Greenway Interactive

X Explore Springdale

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I’m not quite sure how to take it. The Springdale Chamber of Commerce revised the horrid waffle-fry logo and made a variant for the Springdale Advertising Commission: Explore Springdale. It is a similar logo, except the crazy waffle-fry base has been morphed into two overlapping Xs. I’m really going to miss seeing the waffle-fry logo so often because those seizures it elicited were becoming my best friend. I’d apologize to Springdale for mocking the design logo, except that it was done on purpose instead of as a result of a lost bet, as I had originally speculated.

Here’s the FB page: https://www.facebook.com/ExploreSpringdale/

Here’s the website: http://explorespringdale.com/

As a citizen of Springdale and the only resident legally named X, I give the double-X variant two left thumbs up. It’s phenomenally better as a logo than the crisscross polychromatic nightmare known as the waffle-fry.

Before I forget to say something useful, Explore Springdale is an informational page for tourism and goings-on in our fair city. These are the same folks who sent the last Mayor to Mars and also promised to give a free taco lunch to each resident of Springdale twice a year. I made those last two claims up but since I received a cease-to-exist letter, I can no longer pretend to be the spokesperson for any city official of Springdale. (They took my company car away from me, too.)

You can also follow Team Springdale: https://www.facebook.com/teamspringdale/, Downtown Springdale: https://www.facebook.com/DowntownSpringdale/, and Springdale Stories: https://www.facebook.com/Springdale-Stories-1763247583924…/…

Keeping up with all the activities here is quite a task, even if you have two secretaries like I do.

Springdale is no longer the town I grew up in, thank goodness. It’s better by almost every measure. As much as I chide the logo debacle, it’s looking spectacular out there these days.

PS: The obvious “X” in this logo is much appreciated. I keep joking that you are building me trails and new sights – just for me personally. This logo variant certainly adds evidence to my positive paranoia.

An Early Morning Walk in Springdale

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When I went to bed last night, I instinctively set both alarms. Dawn double-checked, both due to her infallible nervous condition and the fact that she has an allergic reaction to klaxons blaring at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning. (She also dislikes bagpipes and trumpet practice at that hour, too – a lesson I learned the hard way.)

Regardless, the feline alarm started meowing at 3:30 so any concerns about the alarm clock accidentally waking us were misguided. As I was practicing my dedication to the slumbering arts, I foolishly attempted to ignore the cat the first few times he attempted to rouse me from my horizontal and stuporous state. Ten minutes later, Güino upped his game by adding involuntary massage via cat paws to his repertoire. He’s been known to gnaw on exposed toes if necessary. One of these days I’m going to coat my toes in cayenne pepper to surprise him.

I decided to get up and take a walk earlier than I wanted to. I drove and parked near Emma Street in downtown Springdale. It was sublime. Again, I had the feeling that most of the inhabitants of the place had been whisked away by an unseen hand, leaving me the entire run of the place. The new Walter Turnbow park by Shiloh Square is spectacular enough during the day; seeing it without people before the sunrise was both eerie and interesting. I walked the trail in both directions, and only toward the end of my long walk did I meet any other souls on the dark trail. A motley group of youths was long-boarding the long incline toward the rear of the fire station. I could hear the crescendo of the wheels on the concrete long before I could discern their silhouettes approaching against the distant lights. Their laughter and jabber approached and just as quickly swept by, retreating to a whisper.

If you’ve never walked the trails in the dark, they are spectacular, especially the portion running near Bluff Cemetery. It never occurs to me to feel unsafe, either for the unlikely presence of uneven pavement or from nefarious passersby. French fries are a greater danger to me than walking in nocturnal environments could ever be.

I stopped and took my picture by the Chamber of Commerce sign facing Emma Street as my backdrop. The hideous logo adopted by Springdale a while back openly mocked me as I did, its alien crisscross of bizarre tic-tac-toe still reminding me that there is no accounting for taste. (Note: Springdale has done an amazing job these last few years, one worthy of frequent mention. The logo, however, is as inspirational as getting one’s face spritzed by underarm perspiration on a languid summer day.)

So far, each time I’ve chosen to walk somewhere different, I’ve found a little corner of Springdale that had been concealed to me. I appreciate all these people working to make these new places for me.

Another Great Wisteria Lane Weekend

 

By some miracle, our favorite cabin was available this weekend. Two of our f̶a̶i̶r̶y̶ ̶g̶o̶d̶m̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶s̶  friends surprised my wife Dawn and me a while ago with a free weekend at Wisteria. (It’s north of both Eureka Springs and Holiday Island.)

While we were hoping for a rainy deluge similar to the last visit, we somehow managed to make a great weekend out of it without much rain. For anyone who hasn’t experienced the quiet serenity of no phone, no internet, no visitors, and no people, it’s not what you would imagine; it’s better. I’ve written before about sitting on the porch swing at the edge of the forest with no one nearby. Not only can you recite Klingon poetry without being interrupted (unless the squirrels start criticizing), but you can sing Bavarian folk songs on the roof if you want to.

During this visit, we investigated such questions as, “Should squirrels eat that much butter?” and “How much meat should a lazy vegetarian actually consume?”

For the friends who gave us the gift of a weekend away, I’d like to say “thanks” again. I’d also like to let you know that I’m available for an entire month of the same at some future point -if you are willing.

Civilization sounds like a truckload of banging pots and pans after being in the middle of nothing for a couple of days. PS: The other advantage is that I didn’t have to see or hear any politician’s names during my foray into the wilderness.

We were surprised when we found out there were open reservations this weekend, so close to the 4th of July. I’m so happy we followed through and checked. We had another great weekend at Wisteria.

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One of the nefarious squirrels is in the middle of this picture, perched vertically along the trunk. I think he’s waiting for more butter and bread offerings.

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(Cabin #4, the edge of the forest, the best of them all…)

 

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(Trying hard to act normal in this picture…)

 

 

 

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