The Observer, as you may have heard by now, will be making the trip to Washington, this week for the presidential inauguration, accompanied by our ol' pal, Arkansas Times resident shutterstud extraordinaire, Brian Chilson. Keep your eye on the Arkansas Blog at our website, arktimes.com, because — the gods of technology willing — we'll be posting our adventures from the road, leading up to a cover story about the trip.
We're going on the bus. Specifically, one of several buses chartered by the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and packed full of eager young folks. The Observer plans on chatting up as many of our fellow travelers as possible on the way there, in hopes of finding out why they're going in the first place, and what they hope for, and what they dream.
It's a tall order, we know, but we're the nosy sort and can talk to just about anybody on any subject after doing this for so long. Once we've made a few friends, making a fun read out of this trip — so full of promise, pride and pomp — should be a cinch.
One of the main reasons we decided to take a 20-hour-each-way bus trip, though — other than the fact that our Rich Uncle Lindsey was willing to pay for it — is personal. You see, one of the long-held dreams of The Observer's dear, departed father was to travel someday to Washington. Specifically, he wanted all his life to go to the Smithsonian Institution.
He was born poor and lived most of his life that way, but he was always a great lover of the past, always a lover of museums — a haunter of the collections at MacArthur Park as a boy.
When The Observer was a pup, he used to tell us stories of those displays: the birds and rocks, aged relics in glass cases, photos with tiny, careful placards. He was always a great storyteller, and made the place sound like Miss Havisham's attic.
Somewhere along the way, he'd found a copy of National Geographic Magazine dedicated to the collections of the Smithsonian, and soon became a voracious reader on the subject. Though he never made it any closer to Washington than walking guard duty at Fort Knox, Ky., while in the Army, he talked nearly every summer about gathering us all up in Ma's station wagon and heading out — seeing Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat and The Spirit of St. Louis and the Hope Diamond with his own two eyes.
Time and duty, however, conspire. He was a roofer who always owned his own business, and the fact of owning your own business is often this: When you have the spare time to do what you want, you usually don't have the money, and when you have the money, you usually don't have the time.
And so it was that by the time The Observer's father passed away in 2001, five days before his 52nd birthday, he had never walked through the doors of the Smithsonian.
And so, his dream has become our dream.
We know we could have realized it handily many times before now — our income and supply of vacation days and access to long-haul-operational cars are all much more steady and plentiful than his ever were. But then as now: time and duty conspire. That is not to mention the fact that a working trip will keep us from thinking too often about how much we wish he was there with us in more than spirit, seeing what we see.
Yes, The Observer will be working. But at some point, Your Roving Reporter will close his notebook, doff his fedora and slip away down the Mall. And a few days after that, some trinket — a coffee mug, or postcard or pin — will appear on a grave in a little cemetery way out Chicot Road. It is, at this late date, the best we can do. And then that too will be history, friends, though not the kind you'd ever find in a museum, even one so vast as the Smithsonian.