Sunday, 9 May 2010

SMALLTOWN BOY (375 miles)

Never intended to travel this far. Had a late start. Chatted to my Dad on the phone. Still think technology is amazing. Was able to see the Dark Lady for chat via my computer when I was in Iola, Kansas, and she was tucked up in bed in North London. Also to sit in my car with the top down and have a conversation with my Father in the Midlands, amazing.
I had arrived in Iola the night before about 6pm and booked into the Crossroads Motel. Obviously, they never remembered me from 2007 however accidentally they gave me the same room.
I drove through Iola in 2008 and remarked that it looked like they had been refurbishing the place.
When I opened the door I realised any remodelling didn’t extend to the inside. Still it was clean, it had internet and it was also the cheapest place I have stayed so far.
Fired up the fridge, put the beer in and headed out for something to eat.
Where better than where I had eaten before. Whilst I was there in a vast and nearly deserted restaurant I did a little interview with the waitress which you should be able to hear on “Audio Boo” (get it here
She, like the woman behind the bar in Broken Bow, was itching to leave town.
Had I fallen asleep and been transported between those two towns, I would have been hard pressed to spot the difference.
Town square with shops. Many closed and shuttered due to out of town malls and the recession.
It has been graduation in America as well as heading for Mothers Day weekend.
The local Gas station had its matrix sign listing the names of its students who had graduated.
When I left town the following morning, the kids were out busily leaping up and down and whooping trying to entice me to have my car washed.
It’s a rental, we don’t care!
Back at the Madison Grill, I asked the waitress where the bars were.
She seemed unsure. She had seemed pretty much unsure about most things frankly. Not that I blamed her. Her eye was already on the open road and the desire to exit small town America at the earliest opportunity. Looking around I was not going to blame her.
In the UK, if you hate where you live it is a relatively short bus car or train ride to somewhere you like.
“Well there‘s…er…the…Monkey Butt…there are some bars on the town square”.
It was only a couple of blocks to the town square. No such bar called the “Monkey Butt”, thankfully. Hate to think of the d├ęcor if it was a theme pub!
I spotted a couple of places: One was full of children as it was also a burger joint.
There was another which seemed deserted although the door was open. It had no name but had a neon sign which proclaimed “beer”. This was all the invitation I needed.
The miles south had improved the climate. It was warmer. The roof had been off the car all day but the heater had been on.
The bar had seen better days…a long, long time before.
Inside there were a few scattered seats and four pool tables. One of which was in pieces with all its innards on show. My immediate reaction was “bar brawl”. It was probably more likely age and neglect.
At the bar sat two old-timers watching a big screen TV. The owner and five others sat at a big table playing cards.
I had stumbled in on Poker night.
Between hands the owner would dispense drinks. I and the two old timers watched the TV.
Wall-E was showing. Every so often one of the seniors would make a remark about the film.
Behind the bar a sign read: “I still see dumb people”.
When Wall-E finished and Home Alone 2 began I left and sauntered in the dusk to the Motel.
“Getting cool” said the owner as I left.
It was the most he had said all night.
Slept amazingly well and it was 11 by the time I set out joshing with the owner that I would see him in another three years.
My only intention was to travel further south and not particularly far.
No breakfast and a relatively small evening meal meant that I could eat a cow I was that hungry.
Woody’s Smoke Shack came into view as I gassed up.

It was part of the filling station and I had to be coached into how it worked.
The woman behind the counter was understanding and very helpful.
“You tell me the meat combo you want.”
“So turkey and beef? “
“How do you want your beef? We have three different types depending on how you would like the marbling. Lean, has no fat so no marbling.”
“Um, lean then please”
“You get two sides with that”
“What are the beans like?”
“Here, try some”
“Ohh, beans yes please. And a salad”
“Pick one from the chiller cabinet”
As this transaction was going on a guy at the back had hoiked an enormous slab of lean beef and was slicing it expertly and then placing it in a wood smoker at the back of the room.
What I got for my $10.99 was 6 slices of bread, a large number of slices of smoked lean beef and turkey, a fizzy drink and a salad with the ubiquitous “Raaanch” dressing.
It was placed on paper in a plastic crate. The sort bakers use to transport buns.
That was it. No finesse just food.
I sat at one of the tables which boasted a Friesian patterned plastic cover and shovelled it down.
Next stop: Arkansas.
I had left Kansas and had dipped into Missouri before heading into Arkansas.
The scenery had changed and the flat lands had been left behind and had been replaced by the wonderful green wooded hills of Arkansas.
With the top down on the car the smell was fabulous. I think it was a combination of Sassafras and Magnolia, but don’t quote me on that.

Lot of dead Armadillos by the roadside. Raccoons and the occasional skunk meant the air was not always sweet but on the whole it was wonderful, also aided by pungent pine.
It was so intoxicating as were the views that I totally lost track of time. That and listening to “Big Country 107.3” playing “Classic country”, which included Lynyrd Skynyrd “Sweet Home Alabama” which only goes to show how categories and definitions are ludicrous. It also seemed to have a segment devoted to the expired.
“Classic Country. Dead but still classy!” Then they would play Freddy Fender or Tammy Wynette or Ray Charles. Driving through Fort Smith listening to “7 Spanish Angels” and my eyes were quite moist. Think it must have been the Sassafras.

Eventually arrived in Hot Springs where Bill Clinton spent part of his childhood which is naturally emblazoned on many of the signs.
Into a downtown motel and suddenly realised three things:
1) The weather is now considerably warmer
2) Lot of bikers doing there bandana’d “Wild Hog” thing.
3) A lot more black people
Honestly. All the way down through the Great Plains I have scarcely seen a person who isn't white.
Into a bar which boasted a fairly terrible covers band but a very large guitarist whose main bulk was his hair.
Few drinks but declined the free popcorn and back to the motel.
Desk Clerk asked me if I was having a good time. He seemed very eager to please.
Into the room and noticed in the bathroom the “Psycho” Shower curtain. I will explain……
Don't forget, you can add me on Twitter @alexthedarklord for more updates on my travels


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  2. In this leg, you really seemed to be in your element Alex. Hope your joy continues!

  3. Another great blog alex its nice to be part of AA3 carnt aford a holiday this year but I wont need one by the time you get back. Just one thing you will have to find some up market restaurants when the Dark Lady joins you take care look forword to the next blog