On Friday afternoon I drove to a town in rural northeast Texas, to view a property which may become the subject of a lawsuit. The property was gorgeous, on a lake, and I thought to myself how nice it might be to be in a more rural place than my postage stamp suburban yard. Because I was Arkansas bound, I then skirted along US Highway 82 over to New Boston. Highway 82 runs through Paris, Texas, which is actually even cooler than a Wim Wenders film, through Clarksville, Texas, at which no train station for the last train is visible, and through tons of smaller towns in this sliver of Texas which runs in a line just south of the Oklahoma border.
This is rolling hills, with patches of prairie, and patches of trees, quite haunting and beautiful in its way--although it is scorching summer, one can imagine an incredible November ambience here, somehow. The towns are so different from bedroom communities. They do not "point" to a city. This area instead is its own place--not a satellite of Dallas, Tulsa, or Oklahoma City. The roadsigns call out places like "Durant", "Hugo", and "Leonard". I stopped at a Dairy Queen to take a break, purchasing a sinful dipped cone. At the counter ahead of me, a gray haired gentleman wore his straw cowboy hat "as if he meant it". Other elderly couples huddled around tater tots. Clearly, DQ was a big night on the town. The smell of cigarette smoke, still odd to me after a decade in blissfully smoke-free California, pervaded everything. The dipped cone did not have a nicotine aftertaste, though.
I saw cattle in profusion, and many horses. I saw a donkey and a horse walking up a hill together, like old friends moving up a footpath. I saw gorgeous Victorian farmhouses, and sometimes decaying neglected old homes, for which I felt a pain as if a distant relative had passed away. I am not sure why I am maudlin about old houses, but I am. I saw the usual profusion of barns passing away as rural life passes away in modernity. Someday, this lifestyle will be a movie memory only. We need a James Herriott to write sweet, sentimental stories about it as it goes, but all we have now are signs about cattle breeds no longer in vogue, logos fading from broken down barns. I saw an abandoned boys club with a disused baseball field, being grazed by cattle.
One I hit the freeway, the last 180 miles to Little Rock ran like clockwork. The exit signs were all memories of trips and places plast. I saw Texarkana, birthplace of Scott Joplin and current residence of my best friend G. I passed through Hope, the birthplace of President Clinton, which I prefer to call by its old name, The Watermelon Capital of the World. I passed the Prescott exit, and remembered how many football games I attended in which the Prescott Curley Wolves defeated my beloved Purple and Gold Gurdon Go Devils, located just 16 miles down the road. The Gurdon Go Devils were like Icelandic heroes in these epic struggles--they were always doomed to narrowly lose, but they lost so nobly. The marching band always played hit songs by Chicago, but never could quite march in perfect formation. I am not sure anyone is supposed to march in perfect formation to "25 or 6 to 4" or "Saturday in the Park", anyway.
I passed the Gurdon exits, and wished I had time to stop, but before I could go far with such wishes, I was at Gum Springs. There's no real town at Gum Springs anymore, nor any real springs, nor many gum trees, but the name has stuck to a spot in the road and a freeway exit. I passed the Okalona exit, and again thought of that odd gravel road outside Okalona, where one drove among myriads of fossilized pre-historic seashells. I passed Arkadelphia, where I eons ago browsed for sci fi books in the libary. I passed Malvern, native home of the odd actor Billy Bob Thornton and a now defunct brick factory, but the exit interested me more as a "gateway" to the town of Magnet Cove, the place where natural magnetite makes all the compasses point away from true north. I think this is a metaphor for all of Arkansas--it's a quirky and wonderful place where off the beaten path, the most curious things defeat the compass. I passed Bauxite, and remembered sitting in drenching rain watching the Bauxite Miners play Gurdon, to virtually no avail for anyone. Finally, I was heading in to the city at ten at night. Soon I was pulling into the Baptist Hospital. The hospital is built up a good deal since I was last there, some decades ago. I visited with family that evening, and then went with my father over to the motel across the street.
The news for me at the hospital was all good. Hospitals are so affecting, though. The hospital had all these pleasant park benches outside, with nice plants around. Only smokers use these. I think people can only enjoy beauty if they are puffing. I don't smoke, never have. I hope I am not to be denied truth or beauty.
During the weekend, each time I went into the lobby, I saw a myriad of folks who were pretty disparate. Sadly, one theme seemed common. I saw a lot of late teen/early twenties women in tears. Each time I crossed through the lobby, a different person would be crying. I wondered if they were all crying for the same friend or relative in crisis. I felt that feelng that one feels--that "I am curious, but I feel guilty I feel this way" feeling; that is, I felt it when I was not just moving through, taking it in, absorbing, ingesting. This is the real life, the life that people live who do not fritter their lives away in fantasies of discontent at suburban comfort. They had a nice chapel on the first floor. Nobody was inside. Everyone was waiting, but not for Godot or God. Everybody was waiting for a visit, a procedure, some news. We were in Arkansas, so everyone was flawlessly informal and flawlessly polite. But people cried.
When day came, I could see Little Rock again. I love the way that everywhere a space exists in Little Rock, someone has put a tree.
I only lived in this rolling hills and deep woods place for 3 years, during law school, but I felt so at home. I love the north Texas stark near-prairie, but I miss the trees, sometimes. I could have stayed in Little Rock, had I chosen to do so. I moved to Dallas instead, right out of school. I decline to live in "what if", but my life would have been different in so many ways had I stayed.
The news was all as absolutely good as might be hoped during my visit, and it will require only time to tell how good the news will ultimately be. I visited and ran errands. By Saturday afternoon, it was time to go home. I hit the road again. I stopped at Hope and picked up a fresh watermelon to take home to my wife, who loves watermelon and has never had one from "The Watermelon Capital of the World". The Texarkana radio station had a pleasing mix of oldies and newies. I turned the radio way up for "Tubthumping", because no matter what my feelings on bands naively yet arrogantly promoting anarchy may be, particularly "chic" anarchy, I love a song that I can pound across the walls of my car, wave my fist, and try to sing the "danny boy" sections with. But I listened to so many songs. During Janis Ian's "At Seventeen", I pondered "those of us with ravaged faces, lacking in the social graces". I wondered how it is I can always sing along to Cranberries songs, even when I don't know the words. I wondered to myself if the million miles the singer was willing to drive in "Wang Chung" was more or less difficult than the 1,000 miles the singer was willing to walk in that new song that posits something about how she would disappear and take such a walk if she could be with me again. When I jumped off the freeway to head to Collin County on Highway 380, Denton, jazz capital of the world, offered really cool jazz on its campus radio station. I was so energized, and then I was home with my wife, and then I felt like I had gone to family, from family, from family, to family, and I felt so happy. I have driven 700 miles in the last 30 hours, and I have had to confront family illness, which worries me so. I must fly to SF Monday night, and I have much work to do. Yet, right now things seem to be working out, and I am home again. I am so grateful for what I have; I am so prayerful for folks in real pain or tragedy.