Arkansas – Days 3-5: Between Little Rock and Fayetteville

Brittany Swanson   February 22, 2016   Comments Off on Arkansas – Days 3-5: Between Little Rock and Fayetteville

Saturday morning after ZUMBA and a shower in Crossett I headed to Little Rock. I’ve done this drive many, many times. I still remember how proud I was the first time I was able to do it without directions.

On the many previous drives along this route Meghan and I noticed something interesting. There was a section of “road construction” that wasn’t actually road construction. Our very first trip to Little Rock we noticed signs for road work and then were super confused when the sign saying End Road Work appeared shortly after the signs saying there was road work when we hadn’t seen any construction between them. Every subsequent trip to Little Rock we looked forward to seeing if the signs were still there or if there was actually construction happening. There was never any construction, but the signs were always there. Megz asked me to take a picture of the construction signs as I passed on my road trip. I figured a video might give a better impression of why we liked it so much:

About halfway between Crossett and Little Rock is a town called Star City. Star City is where we have to turn to get to Little Rock. It’s also near the road that’s been closed for as long as the “road construction” right before Star City. I have a theory that the closed road and the fake road construction are somehow related.

There’s a thrift shop in Star City called Molly’s Closet. I’d always wanted to stop there and take a picture of the sign and check it out because Molly is the name of my best friend from New York  and it always made me happy to see her name in Arkansas. However, usually when we were driving to Little Rock it was early in the morning before they were open or late at night when they were closed for the day. Or, if we happened to be driving by when it was open, we were invariably late for whatever we were on our way to do.

On this drive, possibly my last drive past Molly’s I was determined to stop and get my picture and check it out. Imagine my disappointment then, when I pull up to Molly’s after all these years, and the sign saying Molly’s Closet is gone. What?! > <  Seriously?! Lame!

It still looks like a thrift shop though, so I decide to check it out anyway. I peruse the clothes for a minute and then notice the bookshelf. I don’t really need clothes, but I love books, so I wander over to the bookshelf. On the shelf I find a copy of Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, which I’ve been wanting to re-read lately. I flip open to the middle and start reading. A few pages in I decide I’ll buy the book even though I shouldn’t because it’s an unnecessary expense and I’ll probably have to leave it behind when I head to Alaska. I’d left my wallet in the car though, so I ask the owner lady how much the book is so I can go grab the money out of my wallet. She looks at me and says, “just the book?” “Yeah, just the book.” I respond. I’d already had a short conversation with her about how I’d been wanting to stop here for years and never had a chance before today. Then she goes, “Take it.” and I’m like, “What?” and she repeats, “Just take it, but promise you’ll come back and see me again, ok?” “Thank you!” I say, “I will.”

Free copy of Ishmael from Molly's Closet in Star City, AR!

Free copy of Ishmael from Molly’s Closet in Star City, AR!

 

The kindness of strangers…I’m telling you. That and asking the Universe for what I want. I wanted the book. I found the book. I decided to buy the book even though I shouldn’t. Then the Universe intervened and gave me the book for free. My. Life. Is. Awesome!

I made it to Little Rock and went to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a place dedicated to preserving the cultural history of black people in Arkansas. I learned a lot and highly recommend it. My favorite part was the Black Hall of Fame upstairs. It was really cool learning about all the accomplishments of local black Arkansans. By far the most awesome person I found about was Gretha Boston. She was born in Crossett, AR, where I used to work, and won a Tony Award for playing Queenie in the Broadway revival of Showboat, which is the first play I worked on after I graduated college and became a professional theatrical artisan. What are the chances of that?! Small world. So cool!

After Mosaic Templars Cultural Center I went to Starbucks for a bit to get some work done and then I met up with Patrick and Ella at Gusano’s Pizzeria. I’d convinced them to come hang out with me in Little Rock for the evening. Gusano’s holds a special place in our hearts because it was where we went one of our first days in Arkansas before we were officially teachers. Gusano’s is especially important to me and Patrick because it represents the strength of our friendship. The first time we were at Gusano’s Patrick made friends with some locals and was matching them drink for drink despite being half their size. He had a little too much to drink that night and ended up throwing up on me on the ride back to the hotel. We still joke about it pretty much every time we see each other and since this was probably the last time we’d both be in Little Rock for a while, it seemed fitting to close this chapter of our lives the way we started it, with a trip to Gusano’s. Though, thankfully, he didn’t throw up on me this time.

After dinner at Gusano’s we went down the street to Flying Saucer where we had another drink before heading across the street to Willy D’s Rock and Roll Piano Bar. I love Willy D’s. I like the atmosphere, and the music, and with Meghan, the dancing, but mostly I adopted it as my bar after Meghan and Patrick and Ella and I went on a float trip down the river a couple years ago and ran into the whole staff of Willy D’s on their own float trip. They were super fun and awesome and we made it a point to go say hey pretty much every time we were in town after that.

View of half the stage at Willy D's Rock and Roll Piano Bar in Little Rock, AR.

View of half the stage at Willy D’s Rock and Roll Piano Bar in Little Rock, AR.

I’m not sure when we got to Willy D’s, but I know we closed it down at around 1 a.m. Patrick and Ella were tired so they headed back to their hotel and I was off to Disco to meet up with my friend Raquel. Disco, or Discovery, is a night club in Little Rock that is only open on Saturdays. I wouldn’t even know about it if it wasn’t for Raquel. Incidentally, I met Raquel at Willy D’s. She was on a lame first date (the guy invited a friend halfway through) so she bought shots for Megz, Austin, and I and made us her new friends. Then she invited us to go to Disco with them so we went and we’ve been friends ever since. Raquel and I hung out and danced and had fun at Disco until probably 4:30 a.m. I say probably, because we went out to wait for our Uber for a while and then we got to Raquel’s house at around 5 a.m.. Yeah, I have not had a night out like that in a while. The last time I was up that late was the night in Raleigh, NC.

Despite the fair amount that I drank the night before, and that I didn’t drink a ton of water before going to bed like I usually do, I was pleasantly surprised to wake up the next morning and not feel terrible. Raquel and I went to Mimi’s Cafe for breakfast and then went to the Murray Lock and Dam to see the Big Dam Bridge. I’ve totally driven past the Big Dam Bridge before, but never knew what is was. I’m really glad/grateful Raquel took me. Raquel told me it was the longest pedestrian bridge in North America. Wow, that’s crazy, I thought. So I checked it out, and according to Wikipedia, “at 4,226 feet (1288 m) in length it is the longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge in North America that has never been used by trains or motor vehicle.” That’s pretty impressive.

Big Dam Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in North America, Little Rock, AR.

Raquel and I hung out at the bridge for a bit. We walked to the middle and saw the view from there and then Raquel was ready to go home for a nap and I needed to get to the Clinton Presidential Center if I was going to make it before they closed.

I made it to the Clinton Center, but just barely. They were closing in forty minutes. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to spend $10 to see the museum for only forty minutes, but I went anyway. Conveniently, the museum is free if you get there forty minutes before closing. So that was a nice surprise.

I feel like I got a nice overview of the museum, but like the FDR museum I totally could’ve gone back and spent another day there. Unfortunately, this time, I didn’t have time for that. Oh well, it was still cool and I still learned a lot. I really think Presidential libraries are the best way to brush up on American and World History. At least, the ones I’ve been to so far have been.

Raquel and I got Mexican food for dinner with her roommate and a friend and then hung out and watched tv for a bit before going to bed. The following day I headed up to Fayetteville, making a few stops along the way. My first stop was in Fort Smith. Apparently, Fort Smith is home to Miss Laura’s, the first former house of prostitution to be designated a National Historic Landmark. I thought that was pretty cool, so I had to check it out. I learned some interesting information, like, did you know prostitution was legal in Fort Smith until 1924?! Crazy, right?!

View of what one of the girls' rooms would have looked like at Miss Laura's, Fort Smith, AR.

View of what one of the girls’ rooms would have looked like at Miss Laura’s, Fort Smith, AR.

My next stop was Crystal Bridges: Museum of American Art. I’ve been wanting to go to Crystal Bridges since I first moved to Arkansas and heard about it. Everyone who’s ever been there has had nothing but good things to say about it. I am no different. The grounds surrounding Crystal Bridges are spectacular. I’d go there again just to hang out outside it is SO BEAUTIFUL. The architecture of the museum is amazing. I love the design; its interesting and practical. You enter one part of the museum and walk in a circle all the way around through all the exhibits. It’s genius; exactly the way art museums should be structured so you can see everything and not miss something because you missed a room off to the left somewhere. The actual art was pretty great too. Overall, just a wonderful experience and I’m so glad I finally made it.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR.

Since I managed to make it through Crystal Bridges quickly enough I decided to race against the clock to try to check out the Thorncrown Chapel, or the Chapel in the Woods, in Eureka Springs. I had dinner plans with a Couchsurfer in Fayetteville, but it looked like I had just enough time to make it to the Chapel and to Fayetteville without being late, so I tried. The Thorncrown Chapel is so cool it’s this chapel built in the woods made out of glass so you can enjoy the surrounding nature from inside. Super unfortunately, when I got there, after an hour drive, and a two hour detour, I saw this:

Thorncrown Chapel...or not, because it's closed... Eureka Springs, AR.

Thorncrown Chapel…or not, because it’s closed… Eureka Springs, AR.

I totally would’ve just parked and walked to see it despite the signs saying not to do that, but right as I was deciding what to do a lady pulled up in her car next to mine and asked if she could help me. I told her I just didn’t know that the Chapel wasn’t open and she replied, “yeah, it isn’t open again until March.” Lame. I found this particularly annoying because it was a BEAUTIFUL day out and I couldn’t imagine a better day to go sit in a chapel surrounded by the awe-inspiring views of the Ozarks. Ugh.

As I headed back toward Fayetteville I passed a sign for the Natural Bridge and something about the Guinness Book of World Records. I figured I should stop and check it out so the drive hadn’t been a complete waste, so I turned around. Right as I turned down the road I noticed a sign I hadn’t seen before right above the sign I had seen. The new sign said they were closed for the season. Seriously?! What was my luck today?!

Despite my two-hour long detour I managed to only be a few minutes late for my dinner plans. I met up with a lady I had requested to stay with, but who couldn’t host me. Instead she offered to take me out to dinner and since free is my favorite kind of food, I agreed. She was really cool. We shared a great meal together and I really enjoyed getting to know her.

Then I went to my host’s house. It turned out he was doing an experimental music thing that night and invited me to come see it. Of course I said yes.

The first performer was this thirty-something year old guy with a beard and mustache sporting a rock-type black vest. He reminded me of Zach Galifianakis for some reason. His performance started with him turning off the lights in this tiny garage-like room we were in. Then he turned on one orange light bulb and I think there was light coming from his computer too. He starts doing this crazy gesticulating dancing with the mic stand and swinging the light bulb around on its cable. He was very theatrical.

The best way I can give you a visual image is to have you imagine Zach Galifianakis’s character from the Hangover doing jumps and flailing his arms about and just looking crazy. That’s sort of what this performance reminded me of. The music was like techno music in the background and then the guy was like screaming into the mic. I have no idea if there were lyrics or if it was just him screaming into the mic. When I say screaming I mean that like hoarse, really bad for your vocal chords, kind of screaming, like scream-o music.

Anyway, then he starts swinging the orange light bulb around in circles and twirling it all around and then all of the sudden he takes the bulb and basically draws on the concrete with it causing it to shatter and plunging us back into near darkness. I think I audibly gasped at that point. Then the former electrician in me was like, uh, that was really unsafe, and I really hope you killed power to that cable now, even though I knew he hadn’t. In the notes I took that night I wrote: “Semi-concerned he’s crazy, but also kinda glad he has an outlet. Seemed kind of rage-y.” I feel like that accurately describes my experience.

My host and his roommate were next. They had a synthesizer and a saxophone and bass. It was interesting. I have no idea how to describe it, but it was chill and made me sway so I liked it. Then the two of them were joined by three more guys and they put on a black light and had an old black and white movie showing on a box tv in front of them and I really enjoyed the full band’s set. It was definitely something to move your body too. Everyone in the audience seemed to be moved to swaying or moving with the music in some way, which was cool.

After the show we packed up my host’s gear (I totally felt like a groupie and it was kind of awesome), and headed home. We talked for a bit when we got back and then went to bed. In the morning his roommate made us pancakes and eggs for breakfast and then I was on my way to Oklahoma.