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Excerpts of Arkansas Travel Diary
State 20 - ARKANSAS 14 DEC 98 - 18 DEC 98


A song for the Postcardback Writer . . .
(Sung to the tune of the Beatles song, "Paperback Writer")

Dear Sir or Madam will you read my lines?
It took me hours to write, workin' overtime.
Based on sites and scenery I see today.
It's all done in fun -- I expect no pay.
I'm a back writer

It's a gritty story of an artsy man
And his loving wife in an RV van.
He designs postcards for the daily mail
While she types the flipside, without ever fail.
She's a back writer

The postcards cover the whole USA
with a special postage stamp for every day.
Front-side photos really please the eye,
But the flipside tells you all the reasons why.
It's the back writer

Travel Tips is something else she does.
But the postcardback is her only love.
She can make it witty, she can make it wise.
Do whatever it takes to fit postcard size.
She's a back writer


The Presidential Tour . . .

We didn't know this until we got here, but Hot Springs is the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. He was born in Hope but lived here from age 7 to 17, the formative years. The important years. And now we discover that the rear of our trailer almost touches the back of the bowling alley where Clinton used to bowl with his teenage buddies. We pick up a self-guided tourbook of all Bill Clinton's teenage haunts and cover every one, from his first to his last home, and all hangouts in between. Through this we have gained a renewed respect for the man. Coming from such humble roots, becoming a Rhodes scholar, becoming governor and then onto the presidency, where he is the first president in almost 30 years to balance the budget. One really has to admire the guy for the long, hard road he chose, and navigated so well.

Taking the cure . . .

The brochures are enticing . . ."We've been warming your bath for 4,000 years." Imagine soaking in a tub of thermal mineral water that's 4,000 years old! But now that we are actually here at Bathhouse Row, thousands of miles form New England, the Puritan ancestry suddenly kicks in and I decide I'm too modest to do the baths. What decadence! My conscience screams. Yes. It is. I admit. I can't do it. It's just too weird, sitting naked in a tub while a total stranger scrubs my back. Probably too expensive anyway. Let's just do the tour and go home. We tour the amazing, the stunning, the truly elegant 3-story Fordyce Bathhouse, completely restored to it's 1915 elegance (so completely restored, the brochure says, that if a visitor from 1915 came in today they would say nothing had changed). Anyway, it's a bleak day and Ken and I seem to be the only visitors in these cavernous rooms of tubs, tiles, stained glass windows, and cherry wood dressing rooms. So empty are these rooms, we can hear the echo of each other's footsteps, even though we're nowhere near each other. Checking out the weird apparatus on my own, and trying to figure out its use (some of the items are completely inexplicable) I am approached by a young, garrulous woman who is also alone. She walks into the room and begins talking to me like we've been friends for years. After commenting on the rooms she asks, "Have you taken a bath yet?" No. I confess sheepishly, hoping she'll drop the subject. "Oh, but you must! You can't leave Hot Springs without taking the baths. Why, it's the only reason some people come here. I insist you go." Just then Ken joins us and she works us both, like a one-person infomercial, complete with testimonials, her own, and third party accounts of the benefits of "taking the cure." Well, she's very convincing. And she's a massage therapist, too, so she knows her stuff. "And be sure to get the massage, too," she persists. "It's only about $12 more. And well worth it." She even tells us which bathhouse best captures the Victorian Era. "I've tried them all," she advises, "The Buckstaff is the place to go if you want to go back in time and experience the early years." When she finally gets around to introducing herself, I learn that her name is Karen. It's a sign, I figure. A message from my sister Karen telling me to drop my modesty and go. That cinches it. We take the bath and it's indeed a wonderful experience. Take the "Total Package" and the entire day I feel like a woman in a Merchant and Ivory film. ("Bath Room with a View") Quite Victorian. Quite elegant. And yes, a bit awkward, too.

The Leader of the Laundromat . . .

The RV park doesn't have a Laundromat so I must scout around for one. I know of one down the road but it's in an old-fashioned gas station that's been converted into a Laundromat. Looks a bit too dumpy and the parking lot looks miniature, suggesting a tight fit for Ruby. I definitely want to avoid that. Hundreds of strip malls line this main street, so I'm confident I'll find a coin-op laundry. For where there are strip malls, laundries are sure follow. Pass three malls that advertise a Laundromat, but while the well-lit signs remain on the marquee, the establishments are long gone. Guess the only place is Peak's Laundry, the Gas station-turned-Laundromat. It's tiny, for sure, and I manage to squeeze Ruby into a spot. Cautiously I open the door to the laundromat and I'm immediately welcomed by an old gentleman. Tall, slender, neatly dressed. He jumps out of his chair with alacrity to open the door for me and help me with my stuff. Real Southern hospitality here. I notice he does this with everyone who comes in. Rushes right over with his, "Can I help you ma'am?" and, "If you need anything else, I'm right over here." In his office (what was once the lobby of the gas station), he serves free coffee, while children of the patrons happily play at his feet. A wonderful atmosphere of love. Wonderful coffee, too. What impresses me about this man is his pride in his work and how happily he tends to it. Gosh, I haven't seen a person like this in years. Not since Scott Allen's corner variety store in my neighborhood when I was a little girl. It's so refreshing. Service with a smile. A genuine smile. People like this man make life worthwhile.

Ken's guardian angel nosedives into the furnace of hell . . .

Before leaving on this trip Ken's sister, Debbie, gave us each a little gold Guardian Angel pin to protect us on the journey (actually I have two, mums gave me one a long time ago). We each pinned the little angels to the lapels of our terrycloth robes so that every morning after a shower we'll see the little angels and have our spirits lifted, thinking of the people who gave them to us. Well, Ken comes out of the shower today, grabs his robe and his little angel leaps off the lapel and dives headfirst into the furnace grill. While at the breakfast table I hear coming from the bathroom, (or think I hear as the voice is almost inaudible, though deadly serious), "My guardian angel just committed suicide." Rescue efforts are launched immediately, as though we were saving Debbie herself. Sweaty perseverance and handy tools save the angel, which once again is safely pinned to Ken's lapel. Although, our confidence in its protective skills are slightly shaken.

Thus ends the first half of our trip. We'll break now for Christmas back home with the family before resuming the trip again in January. Next state . . . Texas.

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