There is a lot about Northwest Arkansas that can rub a Central Arkansas person the wrong way. First, lots of people in Northwest Arkansas act like they're from Missouri or Oklahoma, which is to say somehow better than us, or at least not part of us. Second, it's hard to find a place on the radio dial where someone isn't preaching about sin and damnation and pimping for any and every Republican that comes down the pike. (God, in his mercy, sends NPR to the rescue on at least one wavelength.) Third, we're a little jealous of the variety to be found in its food and fun.
See, NWA can, on a given weekend, contain both hundreds of thousands of motorcycle fanatics (the other Hog fanatics are always there) and, in a beautiful old high school auditorium, hundreds of folks listening to a lecture on Kant, both in competition with those great big maples starting to blush. It keeps the mind alive, that kind of pendulum swing.
So our mind was pleasantly kneaded on Sunday, which started with fresh-squeezed orange juice in a funky outdoor/indoor restaurant on Dickson and continued with the inspection of the muscular two-wheelers, the amazing choppers, parked up and down the street. And their riders. We didn't get to see the moll who wore only a thong under her chaps (that was another year), but were satisfied with the leather couture that was on display along with the huge shiny Harleys, some brand new and others two-toned antiques. The folks who put on Bikes, Blues and Barbecue festival claim they bring more than 300,000 bikers to the city, and Fayetteville rolls out the red carpet. The local pharmacy sells T-shirts declaring themselves the festival's “official drug dealer.” Vendors line the streets, selling everything bikers need, from raunchy bumper stickers to bandanas. Church groups put out barbecue and clean the streets; cops jostle the unconscious from the sorority house lawns.
That was morning. In the afternoon it was time to head to Bentonville, where a famed art critic and philosophy professor emeritus from Columbia University addressed a full house in the gorgeous wood-paneled auditorium of Old High Middle School. No leather at the Crystal Bridges event, but art lovers and art makers and scholarly types eager to ponder what is beauty, what is art, and why that painting of the Virgin that includes a big plop of elephant dung is both.
Then halfway back to Fayetteville to the Promenade fantasy shopping center, a movie set of bustling storefronts, a shout out to consumerism. NWA will wear you out.
The lead paragraph in a story published recently in the Harrison Daily Times:
“GREEN FOREST — Neither the state nor Truman Stark will allow liquid chicken manure to be spread on the Stark farm south of here, so you can stop calling him.”
Public service and news rolled into one.
The Observer has never had much of a green thumb, which is kind of a good thing, because our agricultural ambitions would have surely been squashed long ago by the tiny, rocky, tree-shaded yard of our house in Capitol View. We've tried planting stuff in pots, but the birds and the bugs and Labrador-sized raccoons that haunt our place usually spirit away any bounty of the earth long before it hits our plate. Given that, we find ourselves very grateful around this time of year for our boss.
We're not fishing for a raise here (well, not SOLELY fishing). It's not the boss's checkbook, we admire; it's his garden. Down on his spread in Cabot, Boss Alan plants a mighty garden every spring, and by the end of summer, he's pretty much throwing cukes and peppers and heirloom tomatoes at cars passing on the road and begging random strangers to take the spoils of backbreaking labor off his hands. That means The Observer and our colleagues end up with a smorgasbord of fresh produce around this time of year.
This morning, it was peppers: a vast, mounded crate of waxy red and yellow bell peppers, and another, similarly heaped crate of hot peppers. Take them, Boss Alan said, his eyes pleading a little. We took, then took some more.
Ah, life is good. There'll be fresh bell pepper and chicken stir-fry for dinner tonight, and we didn't even have to break a sweat.