I have a small confession to make. Before I moved to Memphis, I dont think I believed that Arkansas actually existed.
Perhaps this sounds silly, and of course its a mild exaggeration, but the natural wonder was always a strange concept to me--something I knew little, if anything, about.
And then there was Wal-Mart. The horrors of I-40 and I-55 in the land of the monster rig truck stop. Rumors of gypsy girls that wandered the states less traveled byways. A reported preponderance of circus folk.
This, I heard, was not Arkansas, or at least not the real Arkansas.
But I lived with my ignorance up until this past weekend, when I was introduced to the state in all its colorful splendor.
Tagging along with a friend who was traveling to Newton County, I found that the journey revealed more and more of the states beauty with each passing mile.
For there, in the Western region of the state, I saw fall like I remember it when I was a child.
Blazing oranges, hellfire reds and purples come to life along the rolling hills of the Ozarks. Crisp, clean air. And the most beautiful skyscape imaginable. I had forgotten, I think, that there are so many stars in those heavens of ours.
The trip was made for a wedding scheduled for Saturday in Ben Hur, which is less a town than a region with a church and a few cabins. But by God, it was beautiful. As to why the town is called Ben Hur, I couldnt find the answer. One person commented that perhaps its because the founder of the area proclaimed, I been her, but dont quote me on that one.
That, however, raises a strange similarity between Arkansas and New Jersey that I had never before considered. In Jersey, of course, there are thousands of stereotypes centered around the supposed mafia culture that people think cloaks the entire state in drama and danger.
Then theres the bad first impression factor, courtesy of Newark airport. Oh the illustrious backdrop of industrial refineries.
If youve been to Jersey, though, you know there is a whole lot more to it. Even beauty, gasp, gasp!
The same goes for the poor impression that I formerly held based on the introduction to the state via the West Memphis truck stop.
So we in Jersey have the Tony Soprano stereotype, vis a vis a hillbilly stereotype that Arkansans are faced with. And sure, there are hit men in Jersey, and Im sure theres a hillbilly or two in our Western neighbor.
However, that only skims the surface of either state, and the parallel that I discovered involves a certain self-humor that is forged in response to the assumption that these things are the only prevalent elements of culture to be found in either. Obviously, this just isnt true. Furthermore, theres nothing wrong with the people who fit those characterizations anyway.
Aside from the illegality factor for my home states mafiosos. But anyhow
As we neared the region, I was reminded of the hills of San Francisco. Meaning we were ass deep in fog. Somehow, though, it only made the ascent more awe inspiring. And what did I find there?
Aside from the aforementioned autumnal wonder, I encountered some of the friendliest people that I have ever met in my life.
Following the wedding, the brides family hosted on the most involved Halloween party that I have ever seen, complete with a hayride down a dirt road to a spook house, lovingly and elaborately created on an abandoned property.
But the food! Were talking smoked meats, casseroles and side dishes of every kind, and a frightening drink called grunch, which involved a fair amount of grain alcohol.
That was dangerous, and damn good.
I also had the opportunity to wander around those fascinating cabins, to meet a man who used to play with Jerry Lee and Willy back in the day, and to talk to some refreshingly laid back people who made me feel welcome from the moment of my arrival.
By the end, I was so caught up in the euphoria of the place that I was ready to drop everything and move there.
But the best part?
Perhaps it was a measure of solidarity, but I dont think a single person responded with JOISEY, when I told them where I was from.
Now those are some great people!