Saturday, June 20, 2009

Signs of the Times

June 19

As we made our way from Kansas south through Arkansas, the terrain got far hillier, the roads curvier, and the fields gave way to rock outcroppings and vast forested areas, with just a few tiny towns along the way.

There were not too many places that beckoned us to stop. We saw a raggedy antique store/tin smith/black smith/car garage operation along the road, and stopped just because the odd assortment of antlers and buckets on the porch, spare parts in the yard, and its multiple business signs were intriguing. A big sign out front said:

Open Now and Then

If Not Now

Maybe Then.

Too bad, it wasn't open then, maybe it is open now, but we'll never know.

Before we got to Hot Springs, we drove a serpentine route for about thirty miles through the Ouachita National Forest. There we learned that Smokey the Bear lives on, but he has changed with the times. Instead of direct statements, like "Only you can prevent forest fires," his new pronouncements have a Zen-like quality. I spotted him on two signs where he said, "If not you, who?" and "You hold its future in your hands." Is Smokey smoking something funny?

We were surprised to see signs referring to the "Wilbur Mills Freeway" in Little Rock. The name sounded familiar. "Wasn't he the congressman who got caught drunk with a stripper and jumped in a fountain?" Dick asked. Yes, Dick, good memory. Memory booster shot for the rest of us: Wilbur Mills was a Congressman from Arkansas from 1939 until 1977. In 1974 the DC police stopped him for drunk driving at 2 a.m., and an Argentinian stripper (stage name: Fanne Foxe) happened to be in the car with him. He tried to elude police by jumping into the Tidal Basin. The good people of Arkansas reelected him to another term just one month after this little incident. Later, Wilbur went into rehab and became a fundraiser for alcohol treatment centers. So it is very appropriate that this notorious drunk driver not only has a freeway named for him, but also a rehab center—The Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center for Alcohol and Drugs.

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