“To travel,” Aldous Huxley wrote, “is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” It’s also a way to discover that you’re wrong about your own country.
Sort of wrong, anyway. Sort of right, and sort of wrong. Going in, I had a bundle of preconceptions about Arkansas. Friends who knew about the trip hummed the theme from Deliverance (the musical equivalent, geographically speaking, of confusing Danny Boy with Frere Jacques). And despite my own awareness that Johnny Cash, Bill Clinton and Mary Steenburgen all hail from Arkansas, I was unprepared either for the profusion of Barack Obama bumper stickers or the amazing quality of the breakfast burritos at The Oasis.
The most savvy among you will know, from those hints, that I was not in Little Rock, but Eureka Springs: an enclave of like-minded beings in the northwestern part of the state. I’d been invited there to perform Strange Travel Suggestions at the Grand Central Hotel; itself a strange travel suggestion, kited by local residents Dawn Hagin and Faryl Kaye (owner of the stately Peabody House, which hosted my stay). Dawn and Faryl had seen me perform the show at the Book Passage Travel Writers’ Conference in August 2007, and made good on their threat to bring me to The Natural State.
It’s two worlds, Eureka Springs: a close-knit literary and artistic community, where local band Mountain Sprout rocks the Chelsea with hillbilly porn and vans disguised as space shuttles smoke up Spring Street during the annual ArtRageous Parade; and a bastion of fundamentalist conservatism, as witnessed by the irresistible Bible park on the outskirts of town. One highlight of my trip was a visit to The Museum of Earth History, where I learned why carbon dating is bullshit, and how dinosaurs were squeezed onto the Ark (see blog title). To the left is a picture of us gaping, enaptured, at the 3rd-largest statue of Jesus in the world (right up there with Rio and Santiago).
Another terrific afternoon was spent along the Buffalo, the first U.S. river to be designated “Wild and Scenic.” Hiking along the limestone bluffs far above its banks, I was amazed, as I so often am, by the almost inexhaustible number of fabulous parks in this great land of ours. When it comes to vouching for America’s scenic beauty, I’ll wave that flag as wide and high as any Pabst-swilling patriot.
For me, though, the runaway highlight was the performance itself. The audience was terrific, the Q&A was a blast, and the show witnessed the maiden spins of my brand new Wheel. At 40 lbs, fitting into a 30” x 36” x 6”box, the suddenly portable prop – always the centerpiece of my show, thanks to the brilliant artist, Mark Wagner –now makes it possible for me to take Strange Travel Suggestions anywhere. And I will.