Lazy and thirsty. A friend stopped by The Observer's home for a brief visit Sunday afternoon, with plans to take a bike ride later on before the sun set. The conversation turned to drink prices at various local watering holes, bartenders who serve them, import vs. domestic and so on. Finally, with all topics exhausted, our buddy said, “After all this talk about beer and food, I could really go for a bite and some brew. I think the bike ride can wait for tomorrow. Wanna meet at Vino's?”
Easy, rider. We headed out on I-630, cruising with windows down, praising the fair weather deities. With an instinctive upward glance toward the rearview mirror, The Observer saw a black-and-white LRPD cruiser zooming directly behind us so fast that we could feel the distance narrowing between us in our bones. No blaring sirens, no flashing lights, and slim odds of seeing a turn signal before it smashed right into our back fender. It was behavior unbecoming of those who Protect and Serve.
Talladega Nights: 4:52 p.m. At the last second before impact, the cruiser veered over and passed us in the left lane (that was legal, at least) just as we approached the Fair Park exit. It was not unlike being in an automated car wash: He passed us so fast it felt like we were driving backwards. About 150 yards ahead, all three lanes were occupied by cars traveling parallel, allowing no room for a quick give-and-go maneuver, and we got a queasy feeling that he was gonna split that trio of cars like bowling pins. Still, no lights, sirens, or even a horn-honk to clear a path. But this Constable On Patrol did, however, manage to create a lane between the shoulder and guard rail before vanishing into thin air.
Where's the fire? We arrived at Vino's, directly across the street from the main fire station, the one that never sits idle, which would have sent the first responders once the call came in that one of their inter-departmental brethren was on fire, buried beneath two tons of smoldering taxpayer irony.
No brainer: When asked what we were drinking, we answered without hesitation: “Firehouse Pale Ale,” and found a table only moments before our buddy arrived. “What's up?” he asked. “You didn't beat me by too much. Jesus, you're pale, and look like you've just seen a ghost. That cop car passed you, too, didn't he?”
The “Lee and Grant” exhibit at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History included a table with a sign asking visitors “What words would you use to describe Lee and Grant?” The visitors could choose from a number of words and phrases, such as “loyal,” “brave” and “military genius,” and then affix those words to portraits of the two generals. The person who'd been at the table just ahead of The Observer had labeled Lee “failure” and Grant “hero.” A bit unusual for a Southern city, The Observer thought, but perhaps a sign that veneration of the Confederacy is not so widespread as it once was. He hoped no alumni of Washington and Lee College saw that harsh description. Those fanatical Lee worshippers would tear the museum apart, he figured.
The Observer is something of a student of history generally, not necessarily the Civil War. But sometime back he read Grant's autobiography, which is mostly about the War. It's a great book — Mark Twain said there'd been nothing like it since Julius Caesar wrote about his conquests. The Observer learned from the exhibit that Lee's many admirers had begged him to write his memoirs, but instead he wrote a book about the exploits of his father, “Light Horse Harry” Lee, in the Revolutionary War.
Grant, who'd doubtless heard himself compared unfavorably to Lee many times, wrote in his autobiography that when he was named the principal commander of Union troops, he was not intimidated by Lee's awe-inspiring reputation, as some in the North were. Having served with the real Lee in the Mexican War, he could distinguish fact from fiction, he said.
For what it's worth, The Observer thinks that Lee and Grant were both heroes. But only one soldiered for a noble cause.
While Lee and Grant never slept at their posts, The Observer did. He didn't make it to this wonderful exhibit until the closing days of its stay at the Military History Museum in MacArthur Park. The exhibit is being toured by the Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City. Maybe they could provide information on another chance to see it. Take it if it's there.