Tuesday 9th September. Conway, Arkansas USA
Tim took me in to class again yesterday to speak to another group of year six kids. They too wanted to know if I'd ever met Steve Irwin! At 10:40a.m Tim had a break between classes and at 12:40p.m I was in Little Rock, Arkansas. What the?
That's right- Tim rushed me to the airport during his break. A gesture of unusual generosity from a reader, and a special low airfare from a local airline, and I was flyin' high! This makes ten days since I last hitchhiked. I'm not sure how I'm going to feel about returning to the side of the road with my thumb out, after a week behind the wheel of a brand new car, and now being served peanuts and soft drink while I recline, gazing down at the clouds.
My host Daniel isn't actually in Little Rock. He lives about thirty miles north west in a town called Conway. I had a feeling that the airport might have been on the north west side of Little Rock. Maybe there'd be some direct bus route to Conway, to save me going into Little Rock first. I phoned Daniel, not knowing whether he'd be home or not. He said he was just sitting down to luch, but would be happy to come and get me from the airport if I wanted to wait. No problem, I'd catch a couple of hours' sleep. I was hammered from the long drive from L.A. and the last two very short nights' sleep. Well, I had every intention of getting some sleep, but I got chatting to a Mexican woman who was also waiting to be picked up, and by the time her ride turned up, Daniel was almost due. He didn't tell me what sort of car he'd be driving, but I knew he'd recognize me in my bright orange Hawaiin shirt. Such a garment may blend into the background in Las Vegas, but I had a feeling I'd stand out in Little Rock. A big black Mercedes coupe rolled to a stop, and the driver waved.
On the drive back to Conway, I learnt a little about my host. Daniel is a hedge fund manager, and is also an international financial consultant. If you don't know what all that means, then have a look at his website He works from his air conditioned home, with the majority of his work being done by email. The three bedroom house now has only one bedroom, but two separate offices. So while I was to sleep on the fold out sofa in the lounge, I did get my own office for the duration of my stay. When Daniel returned to work in his office, I settled into mine and caught up with my email and journal updates. But where the hell's my secretary?
The black Mercedes? She's an oldie but a goodie. The coupe was originally owned by one Winthrop Rockefeller, custom ordered from AMG in 1984 with a price tag of over eighty thousand dollars! In Daniel's loungeroom I saw a photo of him with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Next to that, a framed letter from Bill thanked Daniel for his help. Hmmmm...mysterious!
Arkansas is about as Bible Belt as you can get. The first thing that struck me as we drove into Conway was the churches. There was a church on every block, and these weren't modest little buildings. Some of them would have seated a thousand people or more. Every second church seemed to be a Baptist church of some different variety. Daniel told me the area was 55% Baptist, but I can't remember if that was Conway or Arkansas as a whole. That evening, Daniel said he and a friend were heading into Little Rock for dinner. Cool, count me in. They don't often go out in Conway itself, I had the feeling. Maybe because- get this- Conway is in a dry county! The term 'dry county' doesn't refer to the annual rainfall; it means you can't get a beer anywhere in that county. The churches have so much lobbying power that they've been able to fight off the public pressure to allow even licenced restaurants.
Well, there's nothing so lonesome, morbid or drear...
...than to sit in the bar of a pub with no beer! - Slim Dusty
Daniel's friend Leyla drove us into Little Rock, to a bar/restaurant called the Flying Saucer. Now, it might not take you long to decide on your dinner, but be ready to spend some time choosing your beverage. The Flying Saucer has over 220 beers on the menu. My choice was made easy by the chalkboard special - McEwan's Scottish Ale $2.50 a pint. I chowed down on a kick ass chicken sandwich which lived up to its name. Their friend Faith joined us at the Flying Saucer. Faith works for the Catholic church and is a quiet shy little thing- like a D9 bulldozer! I'm a difficult person to shock but some of the stories that Faith told me almost shocked even me.