“Little Rock, Arkansas. Who would’ve thought?!” His eyes are gleaming with ecstasy.
He’s drunk just right. It’s past midnight, we got in earlier and to our surprise, the town’s lively and well.
Found a bar-club with a festive atmosphere: manic piano dueling on the top floor, some electro-R&B jams on the bottom level. I spend more time on the lower level, likely a mistake. A voluminous, or rather stout, woman asks if I want to dance. I very nearly get booty-shook off the dance floor.
Redrik’s having a great time upstairs: chatting up women, the piano duel rages on, their comments full of liberal conundrums and jokes. Little Rock, who would’ve thought?
Unhappy day. For no particularly good reason. Feeling down I suppose. Work is stacking up, the project is advancing tepidly, can’t seem to find the strength to pull it all together. Not this time around. Need some help, friends, a team, in order to make this work. To make a ‘real movie.’
Need to make this happen. I’m not though, or not well enough. Or something.
Enough complaints: awoke in the car, with this poor disposition, drove around Little Rock in search of unknown. Parked, walked out and realized I had forgotten to transfer pictures. Setback, went for some groceries as the pictures transferred.
Eat some sardines, drink some orange juice, bite into an apple.
Pickup Redrik, not in much of a mood to talk. Settle down in a café to do some work.
“They won’t show the basketball game on this TV.”
“I saw it, it’s on.”
“Not where I’m sitting, and they won’t switch channels.”
“That’s weird. Why not?”
“I dunno. I’m going to another bar to watch the game.”
“Catch you later.”
Still having trouble upload a video. Don’t get anything done. We’re almost halfway through the trip. I sure hope things are going to pick up.
I walk around Little Rock. By the Occupy tents, the highway, the sculpture of a bald eagle. Interview a bouncer with a grizzly beard, life philosophy:
“Leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.”
Meet up with Redrik, still sour. Some nachos, and we’re off.
To the Ozarks. Hadn’t planned to take this route, have just noticed it on the atlas. Getting tired of the freeway. Time to see some country.
But I drive out in the same decrepit mood. The cars zig-zag around, then behind us. Redrik meets my silence with his own. The sun sets ahead of the open road, bathing fields and trees in the suave, confident tones of fire.
Into the night and into the Ozarks.
Darkness, stars and wind for only company. We still haven’t spoken. The lights of the car spread a yellow glimmer into the darkness of the forest, which soon returns to the shadows.
This could be a scene from a prosaic horror movie. Or a scene in the Sopranos. It’s just a road-trip though. Rest the car by lone restrooms on the side of the road.
Step out of the car, still haven’t said a word. There’s a viewpoint. In the distance, a low cloud passes in front of the shimmering silhouette of a mountain range. High above, the stars gleam by the million. It’s freezing cold up here.
As I return to the car Redrik gives me an equivalent of a WTF.
“What are we doing here?”
“We’re in the Ozarks. Thought you’d enjoy it.” Icily.
“Are you kidding me? There’s nothing here. Where are we?”
“We’re in the Ozarks. It’s a National Forest, supposed to be beautiful.”
“We don’t even have beer, or food.”
“There’s food in the trunk.”
“Great. I don’t have service. I gotta make a phone call for work tomorrow morning.”
“We can make it out tomorrow morning. There’ll be service.”
“No we can’t. How do you know? Look I’ve had it. You bring us here without saying a word, and you think I’m gonna like it?”
“We’re here. It’s supposed to be nice.”
“No. Get us to a store at least. To civilization.”
“There’s nothing around for forty miles.”
“Get us to a store.”
Race blindly through the swervy and certainly beautiful mountain roads, till we reach a gas station in Harrison. There is no doubt that given more diplomacy on my part, and perhaps a greener penchant of Redrik’s, we would have had a good time in the Ozarks. Unfortunate.
Spend the cold night in the car by the gas station.
Pick up the wheel at dawn. Northbound, away from the green mountains of Arkansas, into Missouri. Slow-moving fluffs of mist rise above the gullies, blanket the fields against the low gaze of the dawning sun.
Lured by the plethora of ‘landmark’ red squares on the atlas, stop by in Branson, Missouri. End up in a Vegas-like-themed- trap. Titanic, King Kong and other hotel-sized replicas of Hollywood corn.
“You wanted civilization, there you got it. At its finest.”
“Atrocious. This is horrible.”
“Ha. Look, I meant to say, it’s too bad I wasn’t in a good mood yesterday, the Ozarks looked like they were really nice, and we could’ve enjoyed it more…”
“What’d you say? The beginning part? That you were…”
“I said it’s all your fault, D-bag.”
“That’s what I thought. Yeah it’s too bad, it sure did look beautiful.”
Eat at Ribs Crib, which later unsurprisingly turns out to be a chain.
Now, I’ve omitted a key development which, had it not occurred, would’ve perhaps prevented me from talking about these arguments with such lightness.
The previous night, the argument had mounted to the point of rupture, discussing the very real possibility of parting ways.
Only before Redrik was to discover, upon arriving at the gas station in Harrison, that he had lost his credit card. The irony… the thought may have crossed his mind that I had intentionally orchestrated this – not to say I didn’t derive a certain amusement from, not his loss, but the peculiar way life sometimes unfolds.
Seems like we’ll be sticking together for a few more miles.
It also means we may be running into trouble, since I’ve recently learned that my own card would be cancelled in the upcoming weeks.
Through Missouri, still avoiding the freeway. The land has gotten dryer. Flatter.
As we stop for gas, an evangelist’s car is parked in front of a Subway. The dozens of stickers on the car advertise a Holy Ghost hotline and other useful advice. The owner comes out of the Subway, ferret-faced.
Reach Kansas City, both opt to push past and make it to a camping site, near Jesse James’ childhood farm.
Do not repeat the previous day’s mistake. Get some beers and picnic food. At Walmart. Through fields, Jesse James’ farm is closed. Reach camping site. I think I’ve been yearning to start spending more time away from cities and towns, and experience the tranquility of some of the more secluded, natural areas.
The state park and camping site is picture perfect. A bench overlooking a lake, the sun lowering itself onto the horizon, awaits. We eat chips, sip beers. Talk about life, parents, girls.
The park ranger intercepts us in the parking lot at 10pm. We’re asked to move out, provided we haven’t taken a camping site. Park in front of the park’s gates.
I spend a cool-d night by the car, on the pavement. Are there bugs? And I had forgotten about the *. Damn. Now’s no time for extra worries.