- Where We Started: Little Rock, Ark.
- Where We Ended: Russellville, Ark.
- Miles Driven: 186 (3,674 total)
- New States: None
- Total States: 10 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
Day One of the post-Fred meltdown era was a relatively quiet one, thankfully. If I never again have to hold up an extremely heavy bed to protect a beagle that's trying to attack me, I'll be thankful. As someone trying to write something interesting every day, however, you realize that it's hard to top a story like that. So instead of trying to sell something I haven't got, I'll just say it: Sunday wasn't particularly eventful. Except for the bank robbery we witnessed. OK, I'm kidding.
We woke up in a Little Rock that appeared to have been evacuated overnight. There was almost no one downtown, and the whole city was pretty much shut down. Even the city's most prominent tourist attraction -- the William J. Clinton Presidential Library -- doesn't open until 1pm on Sundays. So we killed some time, found some lunch, and at the appointed hour, headed over to the library.
As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of presidential libraries, but I'm also generally a believer that they're a bit too reverential to whoever it is they're honoring. The Clinton library is no exception. The impeachment struggle is dismissed as a product of dirty GOP politics, and almost completely avoids the question of Clinton's own culpability in the matter. This is typical of how presidential libraries handle any steaming pile of doo-doo they can't ignore. Acknowledge it, and immediately change the subject.
On the bright side, the Clinton library is the most attractive of any I've been too. The building itself, located on the Arkansas River, is striking. The inside of the library is modern, with dozens of high-tech video screens, news tickers and the like. And there are a massive amount of source documents available for historians.
The front of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Unfortunately, it's very hard to get the entire building in a photo, and since Joan didn't go in with me, I didn't have the expertise to get a better photo. (Photo by Jim)
All told, I'd put this library on par with the LBJ and Reagan libraries: very enjoyable experiences with lots of interesting historical artifacts to keep you occupied. It's still not as strong as the Truman and Eisenhower libraries, in my opinion. Still to come on this trip: George H.W. Bush (College Station, Tex.) and Herbert Hoover (West Branch, Iowa). I'll probably go to the Reagan Library again, since it's acquired a lot of new material since I was there in 2003, largely because he's since died. Related beagle note: Fred and Hank don't a lot to say about politics, but they're not fans of LBJ, thanks to the famous "Ears Incident."
As for those of you who suspected I would use the Clinton Library visit as an opportunity to make smart-ass remarks and double entendres, sorry, but no cigar.
After the Clinton Library, we bounced around town to see various landmarks, the most striking being the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, where the gripping 1957 school integration battle between the Eisenhower Administration and the state of Arkansas unfolded. The small display in the visitors' center tells the story of the Little Rock Nine, and also discusses its place in the larger civil rights struggle. The school is still used as an educational facility, and what a facility it is.
The beautiful Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. Did any of you go to a high school as grand as this one? Here's mine. (Photo by Jim)
From there, we headed out of Little Rock and went southwest to Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Ark. The town is also the boyhood home of Bill Clinton, a fact that made Fred's day.
We wanted to hit Hot Springs because of the Clinton connection, but also because it marks the beginning of the scenic drive up Arkansas Route 7. So we were surprised by how lovely a town Hot Springs is. I'll assume you can all figure out how the town got its name, and it was the presence of these hot springs that made the town a major destination spot for vacationers from the mid-1800s until the 1950s. But the bath house industry declined so dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s, only one of the bath houses that once lined Bath House Row remains open. But all the old bath house buildings are preserved, and it's a cool sight walking down the town's main drag. Right across the street from the bath houses are blocks of cool shops and cafes. And the park itself has some lovely scenic drives and overlooks. We both left Hot Springs very impressed, especially with how it has managed to survive as a tourist site despite the gutting of what was once it's core industry. It's a place we'd like to go back to someday.
Hot Springs is also a popular hangout for motorcyclists. Here, a couple waits at a traffic light.
We then headed up scenic Arkansas Route 7 and tried to see as much as we could before night fell. We stopped at the pretty Lake Ouachita to get our last taste of daylight.
- We launched a new header graphic late last night. The previous image was a standard Typepad theme, that, while appropriate, felt very impersonal. Being that, well, we're not stupid, we went heavy on beagles, light on humans.
- Thanks to Adrian Holovaty for pointing out the bad URL on the The Trip So Far. I have fixed it in the blog navigation and in yesterday's post. If you're still having trouble getting this link to work, please let me know.
- During our Saturday stop at Tom Lee Park, on the shores of the Mississippi River in Memphis, we saw a guy riding an unusual bike. He stopped by to meet the beagles -- because, he, like apparently every human being in America, either owns a beagle or has a family member that does. Anyway, we asked what the deal with the bike was, and he told us it's called a Trikke Tribred.
This bike had no pedals; you basically just lean. It runs on battery power, and can get up 12 miles per charge. Of course, Schwinns don't need any charge, so I'm not sure what the upside is, but it is our duty to report interesting things, and this fit the bill. If only he was wearing the shoes that dude in Savannah was wearing. Oh, and this gentleman sells these bikes for a living in Arkansas, so it may not be a total accident he was showing it off at a public park in a major American city. But maybe that's just me being a cynical journalist.
- Another leftover speed bump from Saturday: For the most part, the people in the South could not be nicer. People who live in cities like Memphis, Charleston and Little Rock probably take for granted how unfailingly polite and helpful people in these cities are. So it's notable when we meet someone who's not quite able to keep it together. This was the case at the Elvis Presley birthplace in Tupelo, Miss. The home where Elvis was born is so small that the Presley family could barely fit into it, so imagine what it's like when a ton of tourists want to trample through. To guard against this, they only allow a few people in at a time, and the tour guide walks you through the history of the site, how it became a park and other sundry details. So eight of us go in, and they close the door behind us. As soon as the tour guide starts to talk, a foreign tourist who didn't speak much English tries to crowd in. The tour guide wants none of it, and the people by the door slam it on the guy. She starts again. He tries to come in again. They slam the door on him. She starts again, and gets a little farther this time, and yet another tourist tries to crowd in. Now, she's starting to get pissed, and makes an offhand reference to how terrible a day she's having. This seems like a good time to tread lightly, so when she's done, and asks brusquely if there are any questions, we're ready to make a beeline for the door. But, no, there has to be one busybody in the room who has come with series of questions for this frustrated woman. These are all questions that are easily answerable by going to the museum in the park or reading the brochure, but because it's so tight in this house, no one can move until the Q&A is over. Or so we thought. As Miss Curiosity asked her fifth question, we pushed pack and fled to freedom. My guess is the tour guide was a perfectly nice person just having a bad day. And here she is.
The tour guide at the Elvis Presley Birthplace takes her 100th question from an annoying tourist. Her reaction to Joan taking this photo: "Are you taking pictures of me?" "Uh, no. Just really like that picture behind you."
- Sign of the Day: Auto Baptism, the Arkansas Baptist College Car Wash. Not surprisingly, there's a story behind it.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: We forgot to do a random play on Sunday. Oh well.
- Correction: OK, Springsteen psychos, I apologize for having the audacity to suggest that Bruce Springsteen has not written every song ever performed on stage by anyone. Sorry, the song "Because the Night" was co-written by Patti Smith and The Boss, and while never released on a Springsteen studio album, is performed frequently by Springsteen in concert. If you'd like to get a list of every time it's been performed live and also a detailed map of Springsteen's DNA profile, please check with Mark Potts.
- Most-played albums: Joan -- who usually just tells me I can play whatever music I want -- apparently got tired of my music Sunday, so I turned the iPod over to her for most of the day. This meant some Moody Blues, Meatloaf and Chicago. We then arrived at the hotel and watched ABC's great prime-time lineup of "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley."
- Lunch: Big Whiskey's, Little Rock, Ark.: After our attempt to eat at Doe's Eat Place failed (closed on Sundays), we found one of the few restaurants open in downtown Little Rock on Sunday. I had a chicken salad -- yes, a salad, thank you -- and it was quite good. Joan had a buffalo chicken salad that she liked, for the most part, though she can't figure out why good restaurants can't seem to keep their lettuce fresh. Joan says the two freshest helpings of lettuce she's had on this trip were at Hardee's and Shoney's. Jim Nutrition Rating: 4 stars (out of 5). A healthy chicken salad, though I am docked slightly for honey mustard dressing. The start of a healthy trend, perhaps? Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5).
- Dinner: Feltner's Whatta-Burger, Russellville, Ark.: Besides Central Grocery in New Orleans, this was our first restaurant repeat from the 2003 trip. This wasn't intentional -- we liked it the first time, but didn't love it -- but we just happened to be passing through Russellville again. But, this time, we liked it better. My burger was outstanding, with a tasty grilled bun, and Joan liked hers as well, though almost nothing can match her crazy love of Five Guys. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 stars (out of 5). I mentioned that lunch might be the start of a healthy-eating trend. I lied. Big time. Got a huge order of fries as well. Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5).
- Weigh-in: A few of you have asked who is responsible for reading the scale in my official weigh-ins. You might think it's Hank, based on my losing weight despite my not-so-great eating. In fact, it is Joan. And, as for this morning, I was holding steady at 246, which means I'm down two pounds since departure. It's a goddamn miracle.
- Quality Inn, Russellville, Ark.: We didn't expect much, based on our past experiences with Quality Inns, but we didn't have any other options, so we accepted our fate. And, shockingly, we find a clean, big hotel room with a easy outside access to the room. Beautiful. Rating: 4 stars (out of 5). That's precisely three stars beyond what we expected.
- 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: Cool little book that has a perfectly self-explanatory title. It does include international places as well, so it's not a great fit for an all-USA trip, but certainly has a good chunk of US sites.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: A stop in Branson, Mo., and then eastern Oklahoma.
- Tomorrow: Dallas and northern Texas.
- The Day After Tomorrow: The Gulf Coast of Texas, including Galveston.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO