Monday, December 21, 2009

Tour de Arkansas - Vol 1

With the brutal North Texas winter approaching (we're likely to be under 50 degrees for 2-3 weeks!), it's time to face the reality that we'll only have a couple of weekends a month to get in some decent riding.

One ride that most everyone turns-out for is The Big Texas Toy Run on December 20. This charity event regularly draws over 60,000 bikes come rain or shine. The event benefits Mental Health-Mental Retardation (MHMR) of Tarrant County, Metrocare Services (the MHMR in Dallas County), and other children's charities in the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. The toys are distributed to thousands of underprivileged and challenged children all over the Metroplex. Every time I have participated, they have filled up at least one 53' trailer with gifts and toys, often times more. This year, over 500,000 toys were donated.

I snuck-in a quick ride today, ran a few errands, then hit the back roads on the way home. As I looked through trees with their leaves on the ground, my mind started to think of journeys past and planning for new ones to come. A couple of the most beautiful destinations that came to mind are the Quachita and Ozark Mountains regions in central and northwest Arkansas.

A few years back, Scott (of Mercy Rider fame) and I planned the perfect mancation - a 1,400 mile, 4-day run over the Talimena Scenic Drive in southeast Oklahoma, a zig-zag across Arkansas with a loop around Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, then over to the Mississippi River delta region. Memphis (technically Tunica, Mississippi) was the outbound turnaround point and the perfect destination for partaking in the pleasures of the riverboat casinos.

I refer to this run as the Tour de Arkansas and the plan was simple - ride till our nads were sore, then eat and drink till it didn't matter anymore.


Talimena Scenic Drive, Southeast Oklahoma
Source of photo: Public Domain

We made it to Ozark, Arkansas on Day 1, a respectable 325 miles for the day. Ozark is a scenic little town of 3,500 friendly folks located about 40 miles east of Fort Smith, on the banks of the Arkansas River. It is also the former residence of Bill Dees who wrote Oh! Pretty Woman that was made famous by Roy Orbison. According to Wikipedia, a Bugs Bunny cartoon entitled Hillbilly Hare (Warner Brothers, 1950) featured the silly wabbit vacationing in Ozark and in the premier season of the reality TV series The Simple Life (2003), Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie worked at the Sonic Drive-In located in Ozark.

We arrived just about the time the sun was setting over the mountains. Parched and hungry, we stopped-in at the bar next door to Rivertowne BBQ for an ice cold adult beverage. There is nothing like the smell of a well-established bar - that slight musty bouquet of spilled beer, coupled with cigar and cigarette smoke, and an occasional whiff of some sweet thangs' Wal-Mart perfume when she walks by. The crowd was light when we pulled-up a stool, folks were just now getting off work. Little did we know we were about to become part of one of those dinner plays where the diners unknowingly become part of the cast.

At the helm that night was Cindy, the local lady barkeep who seemed to know everyone that walked through the door and, if she didn't know you, could size you up pretty quick. Bud owned the place, but there is no doubt Cindy ran it. We ordered our beers and after a few witty comments (for which we are famous, I might add) about our mancation quest, we seemed to pass the admittance test. Cindy was friendly and seemed quite adept at carrying-on separate conversations with each of the patrons, while also being able to bring everyone into a single conversation on occasion.

At one end of the large horseshoe shaped bar was a threesome of retired locals who pretty much kept to themselves. Mack and Bob used to drive timber haulers, while John was a mechanic at the same trucking company. By the sounds of it, I'd guess they'd been raising hell together for well over 50 years and Bud probably had those stools bronzed in their honor.

Betty and Marvin arrived and she took the seat to my left, with Marvin taking the one just around the corner so she could keep an eye on him. They looked like they had come straight from the Early Bird Special at the Denny's over on I-40. It didn't take long before I realized that Betty was the Matriarch of Franklin County. She was a gruff lady in her autumn years who seemed to know everybody, and had a strong opinion on everything.

That said, Betty put forth a friendly face when talking to strangers, just as any proper Southern lady would. She asked us enough questions to make sure we weren't drug dealers or escaped convicts, then just settled in to oversee her subjects while sipping her rum and Diet Coke. Marvin nursed his bottle of beer, flinching every time Betty raised her hand to slap the bar as she spoke. I think she regularly abused poor ole' Marvin, because he didn't say ten words all night and when he did, most of the time it was, "Yes, Dear."

We ordered-up another round.

On one side of the bar was a pool table with a couple of guys playing a game of 8-ball while a third watched over. They would rotate with the loser buying beers and the challenger plugging in more quarters to release the balls for another game. After a while, a friend joined them, bringing his own pool stick.

"You practicin' for the tournament next weekend?" Cindy blurted out.

"Nah, just need some beer money," Joe Bob replied, which got the other guys talking some trash too. Each of the men then proceeded to put a $5 bill on the rail. A fool and his money...

On the other side of the bar was a shuffleboard table where Ben and Darlene, both in their early 30's, were playing a pick-up game...literally. Ben was teaching Darlene how to play, leaning across her back while gliding her hand in a slow, seductive, sweeping motion that appeared to include a little extra hip action. Ben obviously wanted to clear the table and do Darlene right then and there, but she was playing hard to get, which made him even more annoying...and horny.

"Get a damn room!" Betty yelled out. "You're in the Bible Belt and Darlene's married for God sakes!"

"I'm separated!" Darlene quips back as if to say, 'I ain't no slut. I got needs!'

Busted for his obvious public transgression, Ben looks for a way to divert the attention. "What kind of cigar you smokin'?" he yelled across the room at Scott and me.

"Tonight, we're smoking Padron's." I replied. "And you?" I really didn't give a shit, but was trying to be friendly with our charming host.

He reaches in his jacket and pulls out a leather cigar holder. "I have a La Flor Dominicana Ligero Oscuro Carajos. It's a Dominican blend with an Ecuadorian wrapper," he replies loud enough so everyone can hear. "I read about them in Cigar Aficionado last month and ordered a whole box online."

Great, I thought, here we are in Ozark, Arkansas and we've met The Ladies Man in the flesh. Somebody, get the camera! About that time, Betty leans over and tells me softly, "Don't pay him no mind, he comes from a wealthy family and never really made much of himself. He recently went back to school and thinks he gonna become a lawyer."

"What grade is he in?" I replied without hesitation.

Betty about wet herself right then and there. I immediately became her new best friend and we continued to make fun of Ben and his awkward moves on the increasingly drunk Darlene. "What grade's he in, that was damn funny!" she kept saying in-between fits of laughter.

Approaching intermission, Scott and I decided this was the place to be for the night, so we ordered BBQ to-go from Rivertowne and brought it back so as not to miss the rest of the show. Cindy rounded out the dining experience with more ice cold beverages.

About that time, Curtis walked in. "Oh, shit!" Betty immediately says under her breadth with a hint of disgust.

"Hey, Curtis. It's been a while. I thought you were still in jail!" Cindy said as if it were her regular welcome greeting to Curtis.

"Nah, I've been out a while. Been working over in Russellville haulin' gravel." he replied in his loud, twangy voice. Scott and I traded glances, is he for real? Curtis ordered a beer and, not knowing us or wanting to cross Betty, he went down to harass the old timers at the end of the bar. You could hear him telling stories, occasionally getting so loud that everyone in the bar would glance over. When the old timers began to ignore him, he decided to take the seat next to Scott and proceeded to tell us his life story.

Seems he grew up in the area and had volunteered for the Army in the early 1990's. He experienced a head injury during Operation Desert Storm that resulted in him receiving a medical discharge. "Got a metal plate in my head!" he exclaimed while tapping the side of his head with his beer bottle. He claimed it affected his personality and that he had to go to the VA Hospital in Hot Springs on a regular basis for a psych evaluation so he could renew is prescriptions. It was pretty clear this guy was certified.

About that time, Cindy took pity on us. "Curtis, how's your Mamma and Grandma?"

"Awe, hell! Those fuckin' whores?" he yelled back. "They're the ones who got me arrested. I hope they're dead!"

Betty explained that our new best friend Curtis had an unfortunate experience with the law when, in the course of a meds lapse, he allegedly threatened his (I'm sure lovely) mother and grandmother with violence...again. Said family then proceeded to file charges against their once precious son/grandson.

It wasn't too much longer and Curtis was tanked-up pretty good. Being from out of town and apparently estranged from his family, he announced he was going to go down to find him a whore and bed-up at the Hillbilly Inn (the reviews of this full-service establishment are classics). Not sure if that meant he was going to swing by Mom's place first or not, but I immediately struck the Hillbilly Inn from our list of lodging options for the night.

By now, there was a friendly card game starting on the round table behind us. Bud, Betty, Marvin, and the old-timers joined in for a low-stakes game of poker. They offered to let Scott and me in, but having been properly fed and watered, we figured it was time to head to the hotel.

Yet another reminder that it’s the journey that makes these trips priceless. While I have fun sharing our Real People of Arkansas stories, by no means do I mean to disparage them. The folks we encountered along the way were fun and very accommodating, and I can only hope we made their day as well.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

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