Columns » John Brummett

What’s that smell? Just independence

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A fellow leafing through vinyl record albums at the hole in the wall called Anthro-Pop smelled home cooking.

Rod Bryan, the proprietor, a big, nice-looking old boy, motioned toward the door. It stood wide open to Markham Street, enhancing illumination and ventilation on a comfortably cool Saturday afternoon. This was in the heart of old-town Little Rock, near the gritty pizza and oyster joints, about halfway between the Capitol and the Medical Center.

Bryan explained that his friend had just then pulled up on the sidewalk in an old Mercedes. He said the car was running on pure vegetable oil. He said his friend swore by this alternative to diesel despite predictable mainstream warnings that engine damage is inevitable.

Mainstream thinking has no place here.

Bryan normally gets around on an elongated bicycle with baskets draping the back wheel and containing his campaign petitions and bumper stickers. He’d ridden downtown that morning to the garden show and collected 300 signatures toward the 10,000 he’ll need by April 30 to qualify as an independent candidate for governor.

If he garners the signatures, Bryan will get to pester the Democrats and Republicans with ideas we’ll call unconventional.

He thinks that since we subsidize farmers anyway, we ought to assist them in growing and converting kenaf, an okra-like plant that can be used to make the kind of paper his campaign literature is printed on. He thinks we need a pedestrian walkway from the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock to the Capitol. He thinks state government ought to be run like his vintage record store, even his life. That’s with bare-bones overhead and renewable resources.

I’m writing about him and his ideas now in case he doesn’t get the signatures. Citizen petitioning is a long shot unless you have the money to hire professional canvassers, which, of course, Bryan doesn’t.

He grew up in tiny Bradley, a few miles from the Louisiana line, and will be 37 in a few days. His mother and grandparents taught him to value the land.

His dad, divorced from his mom, helped him become a resident of Spring Hill on the Louisiana side, a football powerhouse for which he became the strong-armed quarterback in his senior year. He ripped ankle ligaments in ways he still can’t quite explain, and the big schools quit sending letters. He wound up following grandpa to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where, without a scholarship, he failed to make it as a quarterback but earned his way to a four-year starting job as tight end.

Along the way he and his brother, Lenny, formed a band, Ho-Hum, which just got voted Little Rock’s band of the decade.

Ho-Hum might have been going somewhere bigger, but bass-playing Rod and the others resisted the record industry’s creative pressure and control of schedule and money. So, they formed their own label. Now they’re mostly regional with a cult following, and they’re far from rich.

Name a Little Rock restaurant, and Bryan probably waited tables there. He was the server saying “please” and “thank you” to make the point that you hadn’t. He was the one following women out the door to toss their insulting pennies back to them. He was the one getting fired.

He lives with his wife and two young daughters a few blocks from the store in a house in a mostly black neighborhood that he bought for next to nothing with his father-in-law’s signature. He says he has never borrowed money otherwise and carries no credit card.

If he had a seminal political moment, it was when he saw SUVs side-by-side in traffic, one with a Bush sticker and the other a Kerry sticker.

It was all the same to him — corporate politics and far too few miles to the gallon.

So, he plans to come see you on a bicycle, or maybe in that car that smells a little like french fries.

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