Ghost Town | Street Jazz

Ghost Town



Richard S. Drake

I went on a Nature Hike this past weekend. Not the sort with flowering shade trees, and lovely plants - though there were lots of weeds growing about. Sunday morning I took a walk around outside the old Mexican Original Plant on Huntsville Road, where I spent 13 wonderful years.

13 years! What the hell was I thinking?

The truth is, most people I know who worked at M.O. only saw it as a sort of pit stop until something else came along. But then you get used to paying bills on time, and having health insurance, and working 40+ hours a week can sap the energy you thought you'd have looking for another job. Before you know it, you've spent 13 years working in a building that should have been torn down years before you began working there.

Not all the memories are bad. I remember hot nights in the early 1980s, when plant manager Bill Parker would join some of us in the parking lot for a few beers after work.

M.O. was originally built behind Watson's Market, and often folks would take a walk and look in the windows at us, while we worked. "See kids, this is why you need to stay in school!"

Later, after Tyson bought up the operation, Watson's folded and became part of the plant. It all seemed sort of cobbled together, somehow, like a leggo set built on the Bizarro World.

Mexican Original was infamous for extremes in temperature. In winter, we might be working with sweaters on, because we were working in forty degrees.

In the summer? Often you'd be at work for less than half an hour and you would be drenched with sweat, because the temperature was over one hundred degrees.

And the rain! You always knew when it was raining outside, becaause it would often rain inside, as well. Not just drops, dripping from the ceiling, but cascading sheets of rain, pouring down. people often standing in puddles while they shuffled tortillas.

I wonder if it still leaks when it rains.

Walking around the outside of the building - where I haven't been since I quit in 1993 - was like walking around a ghost town. The rusting corn towers, the empty truck bays, the stacks of wooden pallets left behind to rot. This was the flagship plant, the "original"  Mexican Original. Now it just sits there, with all of its ghosts.

The worst industrial accident I ever saw was at M.O., when a woman lost all of her fingers in a machine that "trimmed" larger, misshapen tortillas into smaller ones. The blade came down before her hands were off the stack of tortillas, and then we all heard the most horrible scream in the world.

In the early 1990s, Tyson stopped the policy of promoting from within, and decreed that supervisors must have college degrees. This was very bad for morale - I hope they have reversed themselves since then.

By this point I was working in the warehouse parts cage, handing out parts - bearings, sockets, etc. - to folks. A batch of bright young supervisor trainees had just come in, looking for all the world like Boy and Girl Scouts in their neat new uniforms. A grim joke was told behind their backs:

"Grocery sackers one week, Tyson supervisors the next."

As I stood at the parts window, talking/gossiping with maintenance folks, a young supervisor pushed himself to the window, and demanded the instructions to the tape gun.

The tape gun is just a larger version of the small tape dispensers you buy at the grocery store.

:"What?" I asked, unable to believe my ears. He might as well have asked for instructions on buttoning a shirt.

"I need the instruction manual for the tape gun," he said impatiently. Obviously he was dealing with yet another stupid hourly employee.

The maintenance folks backed away, so he wouldn't see them smirking.

"Well," I said. "We don't have any on hand right now. But I'll call the manufacturer and see if they'll fax us a copy. In the meantime," and I smiled brightly, "I have some crayons in the office. I'll be glad to draw you some instructions."

He turned on his heel and left.

I've never been sorry I left. And the truth is, I've been able to write a few articles over the years about my experiences there. So in a sense, I'm still drawing a paycheck. Hey, I didn't sign a non-disclosure form . . .

There is a time when you are young, and strong, and you are getting a paycheck, and that is all that counts in life. That's not true all the time, and it's not even true most of the time, but sometimes it's all that counts.

And now it's all just empty. That just seems so strange to me. All that life - the people, the machines, the forklifts, the gossip, the relationships - is all gone. I'm not trying to make Mexican Original seem more romantic than it really was; in alot of ways, it really sucked. But you don't spend 13 years somewhere without feeling a little odd when you realize that Life has packed up and gone away, leaving just this old husk behind. 

I honestly don't think the city of Fayetteville knows what the hell to do with it, now that they have bought it.

And I wonder if the rain still comes cascading down through the cracks in the roof when it storms.


A few weeks ago I signed up to have the email notices and alerts from the Arkansas Family Council sent directly to my account. Either they don't send out regular email notices, or someone smelled a rat. In any case, I ain't getting any emails from the Arkansas Family Council.


"Doctor Who" returns to Sci Fi this Friday night, thus providing positive proof of the power of prayer. And for those who have BBC America, the spinoff series, "Torchwood" - an anagram of "Doctor Who" - makes its premiere  later this year. All is right with the universe.

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