Colt 45? No, I drank that crap when I was a kid and wanted a cheap beer buzz. It’s really horrible stuff, but occasionally I get wistful for its flavor because it’s so powerfully reminiscent of part of my youth. Oh, and doesn't Colt 45 work every time? Yeah, that's what I thought.
45 RPM? No, not that either, but that would be a good guess given that this is primarily a music blog. Do you remember that little adaptor that you had to use to play 45s on your turntable? For whatever reason, 45s came with a much larger hole in the middle than did 33s, and you popped this little plastic disc adaptor into the hole so that the 45 could rotate uniformly on the spindle. I spent a lot of time with 45s in my life as they were the primary records that you bought prior to the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The Beatles were the first band that made entire albums relevant, and not just singles. Once the Beatles did that, everyone naturally followed and the 33 became the medium for purchasing and listening to records.
Back to 45. What 45 do I speak of? Well, there are 50 states in the U.S. and I have now visited 45 of them. The latest state to be conquered was Arkansas (“Woo Pig! Sooie!”). I don’t know why but it’s become a thing with me that I want to visit all 50 states.
Like everything, there is a way to make the visit “official.” Some will say that you simply have to step onto the soil of a place to proclaim an official visitation, while others will say that you have to do something there for it be a visit. For me, you have to spend the night within the jurisdiction. That seems reasonable given that you are making some kind of proclamation that you’ve visited a place. Spending a night requires some effort, and puts you into the position where you actually have to see daylight and nighttime in order to say “Yep, I’ve been there.”
What’s the point? I have no idea. Perhaps for me, it’s just that I’m American, proudly so, and want to see this great and large country of ours. It’s a big place, and it’s different and beautiful when you travel around it. Despite a homogeneous popular culture, there are still some pretty significant regional differences that are best experienced rather than simply acknowledged. And the U.S. has certain things that other countries don’t offer, and I want to be a part of them, at least for a day. Sure, it’s also silly, trite and egotistical, but hey, I’m silly, trite and egotistical. I’m not the only one; what’s the purpose of Johnny Cash’s song other than to brag that he’s been there, done that, and you haven’t.
There are places in the U.S. where you can still feel out of place, or where you are instantly recognized as not being “from there.” I was in a restaurant in northern Mississippi recently, and we had to wait on a table. The host looked at us oddly because he could tell that we weren’t from Mississippi. He took down our telephone number to text me when it was ready, and he didn’t recognize my 267 area code. He asked where I was from, and when I said Philly, he said “for real?!” Like, what are you doing here? And it’s so obvious you’re from SOMEWHERE other than here. I was still certainly in the U.S., but I clearly wasn’t in a big Northeast city or some other place where I routinely find myself.
This country has so many great places to see, too. I was in California for a wedding earlier this year, and we found ourselves in Carmel, a picturesque retirement town for the wealthy. We hiked along the Pacific coast at Point Lobos State Park (no, we didn’t see any wolves), and it was unspeakably beautiful. I would imagine that a Californian coming to see the Jersey shore would be taken by how different it is from the coastline with which they are most familiar, and that’s how I felt. I’m glad I saw it, watched sea lions bask on a hidden beach and tidepooled around some rocks at low tide. You don’t do that on the East Coast. Instead, you swim in the warm ocean and hang out in boardwalk towns that are full of little kids eating funnel cakes and other healthy snacks. Both are great, both are remarkably different from one another, but both are part of our country and ought to be experienced.
Wait a minute, what's that pickup doing here? Well, they must know that I'm a southern redneck at heart because when I got to the San Francisco rental car agency, that pickup is what they had reserved for me. Hahaha, who in God's name wants to rent that for SF? I don't know, but they had about 15 of them in a row, so I kept the damn thing and embraced my heritage. Yee-hah!
When we went to Memphis, I immediately seized on the idea of going to Arkansas for just one night. It’s right across the Mississippi River, and Little Rock, the capital, is all of 2 hours away. Since I was driving, off we went. I will say that the drive from Memphis to Little Rock is kind of boring save for the many trucks that plow I-40 and that are constantly jockeying for position along the way. The landscape is flat, agricultural and open. Think of driving along the Delaware eastern shore, and you’ll get a clue. It always strikes me that the U.S. is still remarkably free from development compared to the rest of the first world countries. Asia is simply teeming with people, and there isn’t a square foot of land that isn’t purposefully set aside for something. Farmers live in skyscrapers in Korea, I kid you not. And Europe is also densely populated in comparison. It has 100 million more people in half the size of the U.S., and you notice it. I like the open spaces and the feeling that there is still land aplenty for our citizenry.
We got to Little Rock with, let’s face it, low expectations. I knew the Clinton Presidential Library was there, as well as Little Rock Central High School, but other than that, I was pretty ignorant of the place. I was happily surprised. The city is compact, but has a nice setting astride the Arkansas River. Downtown is spruced up with new buildings, charming older places that have been restored and preserved, and there is a thriving arts and culinary thing going on there. We strolled through a gallery composed of the output from Arkansas artists, and it was large, diverse and interesting. You know I love the visual arts, and while Little Rock certainly can’t compete with the big cities in terms of museums (although the Waltons have funded a museum in Bentonville that is supposed to be pretty amazing), that didn’t diminish the artistic beauty and relevance of the works on display here.
The Clinton library is worth seeing. It has the typical stuff of many of the presidential libraries: the replica Oval Office, presidential limo, and history of the presidency of Mr. Clinton. And they threw in a replica of the Cabinet conference room to boot. The curators did a good job of putting his presidency into perspective, although it was a bit too rah-rah for my tastes. The building is designed to resemble he main library in Dublin’s Trinity College, and after comparing pictures, there is a similarity of design. As always, I found the gifts that people and dignitaries had given the President the most interesting thing on display. I’ve been to LBJ’s and FDR’s libraries, and this one held its own. It also has distinguished architecture and a lovely spot along the river. I liked it.
I’ll talk about Little Rock Central High School in a separate post that discusses the plight of black people in the U.S, and particularly in the Jim Crow south. My heart aches for what was done to them.
Little Rock also has a free downtown trolley system with antique cars that tool around.
It was fun to ride one for a bit. We were just messing around and figured that it would be a quick and easy way to discover some spots we might not otherwise see, when bam! I look out the window of a small club about 4 blocks from our hotel and it is advertising that Dash Rip Rock, the New Orleans cowpunk band, is playing that very night. I had seen any live music in, well, hours, and I was itching. Did we go? Oh yeah. I’ll write that up separately, too. Here's a couple more pics from Little Rock, including the Ten Commandments on the state capital grounds. Really? Yeah, really.
All in all, it was a well-spent 24 hours in Arkansas. I’ve now visited 45 states, and only have Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Alaska to go. The Dakotas have plenty to interest me – Custer’s house and the battlefield at Little Big Horn, plus the Badlands. I know a lot of people from Iowa, and I pretty much like them all, so I’ll figure out something to do there. Nebraska has the Lewis and Clark trail that goes up the Missouri River. And Alaska is huge, majestic and full of characters. See? Everyplace is interesting, sometimes even BRP. Catch you soon, I hope.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.