- Where We Started: Russellville, Ark.
- Where We Ended: Tulsa, Okla.
- Miles Driven: 397 (4,071 total)
- New States: Missouri, Oklahoma
- Total States: 12 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
Until Monday, kitsch had taken a back seat to history and natural beauty on the FHMA tour. No longer. After 17 days of Civil War battlefields, presidential libraries, state and national parks and cities, we finally kitsched it into full gear.
Now, Branson, Mo., was never a place we planned to go on this trip. But as I was looking at the map last week, I noticed that it was only a stone's throw -- FYI, a "stone's throw" on a trip like this means 3-4 hours away -- from the Ozarks and/or Tulsa, Okla. And, I have to admit, I had a strange magnetic attraction to Branson, the so-called "Las Vegas of the Ozarks." We were kitsch junkies looking for a fix.
About 30 miles out, we started to get into the spirit, as we saw the first of many billboards for Yakov Smirnoff, who has a theater in Branson. You may remember Smirnoff, the comedian whose act once was comprised of jokes comparing the United States and the Soviet Union. That act hit a bit of a road bump when the Soviet Union, well, kind of went away. But he's obviously adjusted. In addition having a theater, he is also a painter and received a masters' degree in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2006. And here I was, about to make a joke about he was now just another Yakov looking for a job.
Other artists performing in Branson are, let's say, not exactly A-list: Tony Orlando & The Lennon Sisters (who knew John had sisters?), Bill Medley from the Righteous Brothers, Andy Williams (who also has his own theater), Johnny Lee, and the Osmonds. I mean, when Vegas won't even take the Osmonds, things have really hit a low point.
Apparently, the hottest ticket in Branson is for Shoji Tabuchi, who has been so successful, he now plays at the Shoji Tabuchi Theater. All over town, we saw signs like, "We Have Shoji Tickets!" Honestly, I have never heard of this guy. So I did some research, and found this description of his show, which left me with two thoughts: 1) I'm still not totally sure what the hell this show is about, and 2) it's probably doesn't help your cool rating when your top endorsement comes from a 96-year-old man, Art Linkletter, and none of your other endorsements are more recent than 1999.
The main drag in Branson is Missouri Route 76, where you crawl through traffic to see the many theaters, oddball museums and souvenir stands selling complete junk. Suddenly, we turned a corner and saw a museum we felt we had to visit to make our Branson kitsch tour complete.
Yes, the Titanic Museum, located -- for reasons I will never be able to adequately explain -- in Branson, Mo. When we saw the hostesses out front in period garb, we knew we were in for an experience. Personally, I find period garb at museums kind of silly, especially when -- like, in this case -- there's a huge sign right next the hostess saying, "Please Turn Off All Cell Phones." Then, when you enter the museum, they say, "Welcome Aboard." Yes, thank you. Unfortunately, I could still lock my car with my remote key fob from where I was standing, so I didn't quite feel like I was in Southampton, England. So, we go in, laughing and making fun of how silly this is, and lo and behold, it turns out to be an excellent museum. Shame on us, I guess.
The museum has an actual-size recreation of the grand staircase on the ship, and thousands of Titanic-related artifacts, including recovered items, letters from ship passengers, a life vest used the evening the ship went down, and thousands of other items of note. The museum is designed like a mini-ship, you can walk out on the "deck," and feel the cold. You can feel an iceberg, and get a sense of how cold the water was that tragic night. Other than an annoying section that was all about the movie "Titanic," it was really interesting. Maybe it was just low expectations, but we were pleasantly surprised. So much so that, when we left the museum, I felt like I was really getting off a ship. OK, that's bullshit. But we did like it quite a bit.
It wouldn't be kitsch without a period photo. Here's Joan and me, at the foot of the Grand Staircase on the Titanic. Just like Leo and Kate, eh? By the way, check out my baseball cap for the CN Tower, which opened in 1976. I am so prescient.
Branson is apparently also the site of the "World's Largest Banjo," but it can't be that big, because we couldn't find it. I did find a picture of it, however.
After our border incursion into Missouri, we headed back to Arkansas to see Eureka Springs, considered one of the more, shall we way, offbeat towns in the region. We started by stopping to see Christ of the Ozarks, located on a religious compound that also puts on weekly stagings of "The Great Passion Play." The statue is quite controversial, since the guy who commissioned the statue was associated with white supremacists and anti-Semitic causes.
We then took a spin through what was a really pretty downtown area, with many quaint shops and restaurants. But the town definitely had an odd feel to it, and after an attempt to see Quigley's Castle failed (closed), we were off to Bentonville, so see where Wal-Mart got its start.
Night had fallen by this time, but you can't miss the Wal-Mart Home Office in Bentonville, Ark. It's huge. But that's not really the attraction; we wanted to see the first store Sam Walton owned by Bentonville, and -- after a long drive down Sam Walton Boulevard -- located it. Walton's 5-10 is on Bentonville's pretty town square, which, ironically, is no longer the center of town, thanks to Sam. This store now serves at the Wal-Mart Visitors' Center.
- OK, on the continuing saga of the Trip So Far link, I just created a whole new link, and it works for me. So... drumroll, please, here is the new working link. If for some reason, anyone still can't get this to work, let me know.
- One sad thing we noticed in Arkansas, especially in the northwest portion of the state: an amazing amount of dogs wandering on or near the highway. In two days in that area, we saw one dead dog on the road, and also two injured dogs and an apparently healthy dog, all within a few feet of the highway. We stopped to try and help one of the injured dogs, who was limping because of one bad paw. He was just sitting by the side of the road, and started to happily jog over to us when we stopped. But Fred started barking at the sight of another dog, and the other hopped away into the woods. Joan could not get him to come out, so after looking on some side roads, we took off. The dog didn't seem in particularly bad shape, so we hope he lived on the other side of the woods. Either way, it was very sad.
- Lots of funny signs on Monday:
- "Booger Hollow Trading Post," north of Russellville, Ark.
- "Quilts & Rocks," in Harrison, Ark. Right underneath that sign was another: "Going out of Business." Here's a wild guess: Maybe the business plan was a little, say, unfocused?
- "Bent & Dent Grocery: Where You Get More for Your Money," in Harrison, Ark. That's because this is where grocery stores send food that has been dropped or mishandled. I had no idea places like that existed. Love the name.
- Reader Debbie Schwartz makes an interesting observation regarding our report Saturday about the guy in Tupelo, Miss., with "1977" written on the back of his jeans. That is the year Elvis died, so there's a chance that was a tribute. Still not sure I understand it, but it's a better answer than dating your jeans upon purchase. Not as funny, though.
- We here at FHMA don't just traffic in wry observations and lightweight historical lessons. We also provide answers. Way back on Day 6, in Savannah, Ga., we saw a guy wearing shoes called the Five Fingers. We couldn't figure out why the word "fingers" was used, since they were shoes. Reader Ori Hoffer explained that's because the company that makes these -- Vibram -- is Italian, and the words for toes and fingers are the same in Italian. We then moved on to why it was "Five Fingers" and not "10 Fingers," since I don't know anyone who only wears one shoe. So Ori sent off a note to someone he knew at Vibram, and got this response: "We call it FiveFingers rather than TenFingers because it sounds better--has a nice ring to it :)" OK, it does have some nice alliteration, I'll grant that. But still seems odd to me.
- We entered Oklahoma to see those beautiful words, "Speed Limit 70," and not more than 10 miles later, as we entered the Cherokee Turnpike, we saw even better ones: "Speed Limit 75." I love it out west.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Afterimage," by Rush. Well, it's about time. I have every Rush album, and have seen them live like 15 times. And while I'm aware they are an acquired taste, it's still an outrage they're not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If The Ventures, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, the Lovin' Spoonful and the Velvet Underground are in, there's no excuse for Rush not to be. They're fourth on the list of most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a rock band, behind a couple a bar bands named The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. By the way, "Afterimage" is off one of Rush's most underrated albums, "Grace Under Pressure." And they even have a sense of humor about themselves, appearing recently on "The Colbert Report," and having a cameo in the new film, "I Love You, Man." Best question from Colbert: "You're known for, sort of, some long songs. Have you ever written a song so epic that, by the end of the song, you were actually being influenced by yourself at the beginning of the song, because it happened so much earlier in your career?"
- We tried to play tunes from Arkansas artists during our morning drive, but there's wasn't much on my iPod from Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Al Green, Levon Helm, Charlie Rich, Conway Twitty, Sonny Boy Williamson or Art Porter. I will confess that "Rhinestone Cowboy" is a guilty pleasure, and we did spin some good Johnny Cash, but otherwise, I came up empty.
- Most-played albums: Once we left Arkansas, we moved on to Eric Clapton and ran through pretty much everything we have from him. My favorite lesser-known Clapton tune: "The Core," from "Slowhand."
- Lunch: Ruby Tuesday, Russellville, Ark.: After deciding that a return to Feltner's Whatta-Burger was a monumentally bad idea, we played it safe and decided to eat a simple meal at a simple restaurant. Then we arrived and found out we had to become members of this particular Ruby Tuesday before we could eat there. When we asked why, we found out it was because Pope County -- where Russellville is located -- is a mostly dry county, and places like Ruby Tuesday have only recently started getting approval to serve drinks, but one of the rules is you have to be a member of the establishments to be served, even if you have no intention of drinking. Yes, we were confused too. Jim Nutrition Rating: 2 stars (out of 5). Only I can take a perfectly healthy chicken salad and turn it into a heart attack on a plate. Why get the simple chicken salad when I can get the one that comes with avocado and bacon? And, once I've crossed that bridge, why not dump a vat of honey mustard on top? I might as well have asked them to toss some cheese fries on top of the salad. But at least that was all I ate. Joan was quite unhappy with her salad, and would be fine if we declared, "Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday." Restaurant Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5).
- Dinner: Quizno's, Rogers, Ark.: There were no Roadfood places on our route yesterday, and frankly, it was just as well. I needed to get my act together. I did so, with a regular turkey sub, though I did have a bag of chips. Jim Nutrition Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5, on the fast food scale). We like Quizno's a lot more than Subway.
- Baymont Inn & Suites, Tulsa, Okla.: OK, we're now 2-for-2 on Baymont Inns, and it's officially our new BFF. Big room, nice bed, lightning-quick wireless. On the last trip, we really liked Choice Hotels, especially Comfort Inns. But, since 2003, most of the hotels have changed their dog policies, so we needed a new hotel crush. We now ♥ Baymont. Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
- In the comments area, Amy Kovac flagged what appeared to be a great deal from Choice Hotels. We know about this so-called deal, and it's not all it appears to be. Joan responded in the comments.
- Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here: This is a great little book that highlights the places where all sorts of odd American events occurred, including famous births, deaths, murders, historical events, etc.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: Tulsa and a scenic ride into eastern Texas (we've decided to skip Oklahoma City and Dallas).
- Tomorrow: The Gulf Coast of Texas, including Galveston.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Austin and San Antonio.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS