The first decade of the 21st century is coming to a close if you can believe it — let that sink in for a second, you ol' time traveler you — and that means it's time once again for our annual Best and Worst issue, our annual salute to the goodest and baddest that Arkansas had to offer in the previous year.
Sad to say, but in the grand scheme of things, the Year of Our Lord 2010 turned out to be kind of a bummer, what with the BP loosing a bajillion gallons of black gold into the Gulf of Mexico and the ongoing Great Recession and what not.
As seen on our cover this year, one of our Worsts for 2010 was that the voters saw fit to award the congressional seat formerly occupied by the solidly liberal and reliably thoughtful Rep. Vic Snyder to former Karl Rove toady Tim Griffin, part of an Arkansas red tide of toxic Republicans. We'd call that a definite low point, though Rep. Griffin's tenure is almost sure to pay dividends for the low side of the Best and Worst equation in the future. Also landing with a splat in the Worst column: an electrocuted anchorette, the Summer from Hell, and some near-deadly hillbilly caviar. Read on for details.
As has been our trend in recent years, we wound up with more Worsts than Bests, something which we have struggled mightily to correct, but which seems to simply happen of its own accord and for wholly mysterious reasons, like good watermelons down in Hope and sightings of the Fouke monster — the latter of which makes an appearance in these pages this year courtesy of U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr.
No matter what arcane forces are at play on the makeup of the Best and Worst this year, we found the process of reading back over it to be a calming experience. Blessedly, we only have to live through it all once.
A Southwest Airlines employee at Little Rock National Airport called police in June after a peek inside an improperly-labeled package bound for Texas revealed a cache of 45 human heads. The founder of the Wynne-based firm doing the shipping told officials that the free-range noggins were part of an education program for doctors.
Worst dropped call
In July, Pierce Boyd, 19, dropped her cell phone while talking to her mother as she approached the I-430 bridge near Maumelle. The young lass went to pick up the phone, lost control, and she and her Toyota wound up in the river. She escaped unharmed as her car sank, but not before making sure she had retrieved her cell phone and a Bible.
A suspected bank robber led police on a chase across Little Rock before stopping his car on the Main Street bridge, leaving the money behind and jumping into the Arkansas River. The fall killed him.
Best correction (if you're Jack Jones)
A mix up at the Arkansas Supreme Court in May resulted in the court issuing an order denying a stay of execution for death row inmate Jack Jones, which meant he could be delivered into the hands of the Lord with all deliberate speed. Later that same afternoon, the court replaced the order with another that said the stay of execution had actually been granted.
A rare New Year's Eve blue moon escorted in the new year. It was pretty. Not blue, but pretty.
An alleged fragment of the "little rock" for which this city was named was "dedicated" in a riverfront ceremony in May in a million-dollar tourism promotion venture.
In August, Elvis D. Presley of Star City, a 44-year-old impersonator of Elvis A. Presley of Memphis, filed to run as a write-in candidate for governor. He wound up getting 66 votes.
Her Facebook report in July by the KTHV anchor Dawn Scott that she had been electrocuted while using a faulty hair dryer turned out to be an exaggeration.
Chelsea Clinton, Arkie by birth and class, got hitched in style in New York in July. Typical expense: $12,000 wedding cake.
A Little Rock man was seriously injured in September when the homemade bomb he was holding between his legs while packing it with gunpowder exploded prematurely. To add insult to injury, cops searching his home later found a meth lab.
Worst gridiron base-running
Brenda Haynes, Sheridan school superintendent, said in January the school district "hit a home run" when it hired Louis Campbell, former Razorback star and former college and pro football coach, as its head football coach.
Best little whorehouse in Cabot
In May, Lonoke County deputies broke up what they said was a prostitution ring operating out of a house in a fashionable neighborhood in Cabot.
A Camden man was notified in January by Social Security officials that as a result of his having won $1,000 in the state lottery his next monthly disability check would be cut by $998.
In December, Arkansans hoping to take in the spectacle of a once-in-500-year conjunction of a total lunar eclipse and the winter solstice were stymied by a layer of thick clouds that covered most of the state. Better luck next millennium.
Best butts and hands together
From Wally Hall's column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Jan. 1: "Frank Broyles put emphasis on winning first and butts in the seats second, and yes, they go hand-in-hand."
Worst home invasion by cows
Three cows invaded a Murfreesboro farm home in February, pretty much wrecked the place before they were detected and evicted several hours later. Homeowners insurance wouldn't pay. Does your policy have a cow-invasion-damage exclusion?
Former Arkies Mike and Janet Huckabee made it official in April that they had shed their provincialism to become legal residents of Florida, the Sunshine State. Where they soon begin building a $3 million beachfront mansion with cement pond.
Worst cow gang
Another gang of Southwest Arkansas cows loitering along Interstate 30 near Prescott one midnight in April caused several wrecks. A number of them had to be shot after ignoring orders from authorities to disperse.
Best in the history of the world
In Wally Hall's column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Feb. 5, Wally dubbed Charles Cella at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs as "the greatest horseman and greatest track owner in history."
Officials in Little River County agreed in May to provide a state prison inmate with peach-flavored Nehi soda and sunflower seeds in exchange for his testimony in a murder trial scheduled for June.
Worst razzing of Hilda Cornish
The fecund Duggar clan — Jim Bob and Michelle have 47 natural-born children now, or thereabout — were obliged to spend some medical time in Little Rock at the first of the year, and in January they leased and occupied the historic Cornish House on Arch Street, ancestral home of Hilda Cornish, who was a friend of Margaret Sanger's and the founder in the 1930s of the first formal birth-control movement in Arkansas.
Two 20-year-old Walnut Ridge Einsteins were arrested and charged with the theft of a backhoe in April after proudly posting pictures of themselves with the stolen machine on Facebook. "Whenever someone posts their crime on Facebook, it makes our job a lot easier," the arresting officer said.
The owner of Lil' Dog, a mixed-breed pooch from Ashley County, was shocked back in May when the amateur drug dog returned from his rambles in the neighborhood with a gallon freezer bag containing 24 smaller bags filled with marijuana.
"Smoking groin lands two in custody" — from the KAIT (Jonesboro) website in June.
Officials in Little Rock agreed in June to move a bronze statue of a Labrador retriever in Riverfront Park which had been installed in a spot popular with wedding photographers. Problem was, while the statue was meant to suggest an animal poised to spring from a dock to fetch a downed waterfowl, many of those not familiar with the mechanics of dog-leaping thought the pooch appeared to be making a deposit, not a retrieval.
Worst near-permanent vacation
A tourist from Arkansas who was visiting Dodge City, Kan., in September almost became a resident of Boot Hill when he put a decorative noose around his neck for a funny photo op and then lost consciousness. A worker from a nearby museum had to rush in and save him.
Worst season in hell
The first week of August, which saw triple digits for days and record highs for several Arkansas cities. Little Rock set a new record of 106 on Aug. 2, then bested that by one degree the next day — the same day Searcy reached a Death Valley-like 108.
Police in El Dorado say a teen-ager walked into the local animal shelter there in June, pulled a pistol, and robbed the joint. The take: One black pit bull dog. The suspect was later arrested while walking the dog, and was assigned a cage of his own.
From the obituary of Vergia Arnold of Sheridan in May: "Granny, as she was known to her family, made the best homemade rolls and chocolate pies known to mankind. She loved fishing, going to church, good gospel singing and working in her yard, but most of all her family."
In January, the Daily Beast website named a quarter-mile section of Interstate 30 around Exit 141 in downtown Little Rock as country's 59th worst commuter traffic bottleneck.
That would have to be Loy Mauch, who was elected in November to represent Arkansas House District 26. A former commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans post in Hot Springs, Mauch has called the Confederate flag "a symbol of Jesus Christ," and belongs to a group that believes the South should re-secede from the Union.
Best of class
Vic Snyder of Little Rock, the state's classiest and sanest congress-critter, announced in January he'd retire at the end of the year.
In November, the voters of Arkansas's Second Congressional District gave the seat previously occupied by the reliably liberal and courageous U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder to Republican Tim Griffin, a former aide to Karl Rove who has spent the last 10 years up to his eyeballs in Republican dirty tricks, including vote suppression in Florida and the Bush administration's politically-motivated firings of several U.S. Attorneys (including former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas H.E. "Bud" Cummins, who was forced out so Griffin could have his job).
Single-digit temps three days running at the end of the year's first week, with sub-zero lows over much of north Arkansas. Another big winter storm numbed northern two-thirds of the state at the end of January. February was one long icicle.
Arkansas was ranked the third laziest state (behind only Louisiana and Mississippi) in a Business Week magazine survey of sedentary lifestyles published in July.
In May, an Arkadelphia mother was convicted of misdemeanor harassment and ordered to pay a $435 fine and attend parenting classes after she was convicted of hacking her 16-year-old son's Facebook account and changing his password.
Worst day for wearing a badge
In the middle of May, two West Memphis police officers were killed after pulling over a pair of anti-government extremists on Interstate 40 near that city. Later, it turned into a full-on firefight in a Wal-Mart parking lot, with the suspect and his son firing on police with an AK-47 assault rifle from their van. Before it was over, two more cops were wounded, several cars were turned to Swiss cheese and the two men in the van were killed.
By Oct. 18, Central Arkansas's weeks-long dry spell finally got so bad that a large pile of driftwood that had collected against Murray lock and dam in the middle of the Arkansas River caught fire, blistering paint but not damaging the steel and concrete dam.
The obituary in January for Jim Cobb of Little Rock began by noting his death, and then it said: "Jim Cobb was a very private person. The only way this obituary could be published would be over his dead body."
Best private (runnerup)
A Conway man won the state lottery's first big Powerball jackpot in January. After taxes, he took home less than half the $25 million payout. The man shunned all publicity, and disconnected his phone — and a nosy reporter who ventured onto his property seeking an interview was chased off with a gun.
Best (or at least Supreme) Wallyism
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports columnist Wally Hall wrote in June that the expansion of the SEC into the Big 12 "seems not only probable, but likely."
A Heber Springs man and his brother-in-law brought home a long-nosed gar filled with roe from a spear-fishing trip to Greers Ferry Lake in April, and decided to turn the fish eggs into caviar, which you can do with some species of Arkansas fresh-water fish, but not gar. Gar roe are toxic, which the family of four found out the hard way a few hours after feasting on these. A tough night and the day following but they all survived.
The paterfamilias in the gar egg eating story was Darwin Aaron, whose first name must have given ol' Mr. Survival of the Fittest quite a chuckle up there in heaven.
Worst school spirit
A reporter for a local sports radio station was fired in August after University of Arkansas officials complained to her employer that she had worn a Florida Gators cap to a press conference following a Razorback football scrimmage, drawing the ire of Coach Bobby Petrino. The incident brought out the nuts, with the young woman reportedly receiving several death threats.
In September, a teen-age worker at the North Little Rock YMCA put 17 students just dismissed from Indian Hills Elementary in the bed of a single pickup truck and hauled them back to her place of employment, which almost instantly became her former place of employment.
Worst April showers
Tornadoes ripped through Arkansas on the last day of April and then again on May Day, killing one person and all but leveling the small town of Scotland.
Clint McCance, a school board member at tiny Midland School District in Pleasant Plains, caused national outrage in October after he ranted on his Facebook page about his hatred for gays and lesbians, saying — among other things — that he would be happy if all homosexuals committed suicide. He eventually apologized and resigned.
Best nuking from orbit
In the middle of the uproar over McCance's remarks, George Takei — the openly-gay actor best known for portraying U.S.S. Enterprise helmsman Mr. Sulu on the original "Star Trek" — weighed in via Youtube video, saying: "Mr. McCance, you are a douchebag. That's right. A douchebag. ... You apologized for your poor choice of words, but you are always going to be a douchebag."
Best new holiday
Wormageddon, on March 21. (So-named because of the mysterious appearance above-ground of earthworms all over Central Arkansas.)
An 83-year-old Batesville man in April became the state's first officially licensed moonshiner. He said he'd launch a distillery that would make not only shine but a line of liquors including one that's said to taste like apple pie.
Worst seasonal mixup
A foot of snow in north Arkansas on the first day of spring.
Of all the men's college basketball teams in Arkansas only one was asked to the Big Dance — the NCAA tournament — in March. The Golden Lions of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. (The Lady Trojans of UALR were the only Arkansas women's team to make it.)
Worst day for pollen
April 6. It was so heavy that every gust of wind through the pine grove out near our place sent great green clouds of it billowing like heavy smoke. From 36,000 feet, the whole region appeared wrapped in dense yellow smog.
Worst Tea Party rhetoric
One of their national organizers passing through in April complained that a couple of local TV interviewers were cheerful and upbeat, not angry and wanting to do violence to somebody, which is the official party attitude. This bird said the KTHV interviewers were "so bright and chipper that I thought I'd have to beat one of them to death."
Best legal precedent
In a December order in which he recused from a case involving the controversial construction of a new coal-fired power plant in South Arkansas, U.S. District Court Judge William Wilson Jr. formally cited the 1972 Arkansas-filmed movie "The Legend of Boggy Creek" after noting the case "appeared to be as hairy as the Fouke Monster."