Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Lost In Arkansas

There is nothing like waking up at 5:00 AM while it’s still dark (and this morning, quite cold), packing up the car and heading out for a long drive. That’s what I did Saturday morning. This is actually the second time on this trip I started on a drive from Wichita this way. Both started in the dark and cold. But within a half hour of starting, this was the view out my left window. Nothing calms me like this sight. Nothing.

The transition from 'flat and open' to 'hilly and tree-lined' was almost seamless. I think the big changes started to occur around Fort Smith, Arkansas and, before I knew it, I felt like I was driving on the Mass. Pike - that’s how much this section reminded me of New England. People on the radio kept referring to the western section of Arkansas as “Arklahoma"; I’d never heard that term but liked it. Once I moved off the main highway and headed down Route 71, well … there’s no other way to say this. It was gorgeous. So gorgeous I lost my way at one point, which is the first time that’s happened on this trip. And you know what? As long as I have plenty of gas, getting lost doesn't bother me. That fact is, I kind of like the idea and many times being a bit lost can lead to good things. Enter - Sam in the running suit:

I pulled into a combo McDonald’s/Phillips 66 – (I've noticed a lot of these combination outfits down here) – and saw an older gentleman with matching white hair and mustache walking on the side of the McDonalds. He was wearing a bright blue, yellow and white running suit and white sneakers.

“You know the area?” I asked.

He looked up at me, pausing. “Not really," he laughed, shaking his head. Then he looked at me again and we spoke the same words at the same time.

“You’re not from here…” We laughed.

I sensed a bit of “fuggediboudit” in this man.

"Jersey," he smiled.

“Yankees or Mets” I asked. It's important to get down to basics.

I’d found a new friend (Mets' fan) named Sam and we chatted for about ten minutes while standing under the golden arches.

"Route 270, I know. About 6 or 7 miles thattaway, “ he smiled and pointed to the right as he dropped his arm to shake my hand goodbye. And as I watched the blue and yellow sweat suit shuffle into the McDonalds, I honked my horn, prompting Sam to turn, smile and wave.

Amazing what getting lost can present.

And yes, I gave him a card so, who knows?

* * * * * * * * * *

The rest of the drive? There's just no other word I can use here. Gorgeous. And since writing about it isn't going to accomplish much, here are some photos of the drive through the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. You’ll be seeing more pics as the week unfolds, I'm sure. By the way, that's a quick shot of downtown Hot Springs.

* * * * * * * * * *

An Unexpected Gift - I may have forgotten to mention this but my first Arkansas contact for interviews was Kathy Rose, Sales Director at West Shores Senior Living Community in Hot Springs (see the photo below). We’d spoken a few times last week and, once again, Kathy is one of the special people in this field. Last week, Kathy asked me where I was staying and I told her about my plans to stay at ExtendedStay in Little Rock. Kathy then asked if she could call me back and when she did, she caught be completely by surprise by offering me a room for the week at the community. How do you like that?

Down For The Night - The last thing I remember I was watching the Masters – it was round 4:30. I woke up around 9:30 PM, sprawled on the bed, still dressed. The drive down had apparently wiped me out more than I knew. I washed up and headed out to find a place to get a bite, but as I moved down the hallway and stairs, something hit me.


I mean, completely quiet. Shut down. Not a sole to be found.

Okay. So it's not as though I expected a party or a crowd, but the solitude, while pleasant, felt a bit eery. Not in a bad way, mind you. I suppose it caught me off guard and as I walked through the beautiful wood-paneled front lobby toward the front door, a thought crossed my mind. The doors didn’t open automatically like they did when I'd arrived. "What if they don’t open on the way back in? I’ll be locked out and … that’s not the way I want to meet Kathy, having to call her or a security guard at 11:00 at night to let me in."

I decided I wasn’t that hungry and thought it'd be better to discover Hot Springs with a fresh drive during daylight.

Walking back to the room and down my hallway, I smiled when I thought about the coming week. When I told my brother about my living at West Shores for the week, we laughed about images of Cosmo Kramer during his stay at Del Boca Vista. And, you know, I have to admit when Kathy made her offer to me, I hesitated before saying yes. Still, I knew I'd been presented with a special opportunity. To be immersed in a retirement community setting for a week? Priceless. I'm sure.

To be continued ...

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