As I said in the previous Bradcast, Arkansas isn’t a place most people would consider a vacation hotspot. But, maybe they should. I can honestly say I have just returned from one of the most enjoyable weekends of my life in the Natural State. Between the Clinton library, camping, and touring Hot Springs National Park, this trip was certainly one that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. The state has character, and plenty of characters as well.
After a seven-hour car drive, my buddy and I arrived in Little Rock Friday night. After checking into our hotel, we were both hungry. So, we got in the car again and headed for downtown Little Rock where we ate at West End Smokehouse & Tavern. It was there we met our first character of the South. Lyndsey, our waitress, was nice enough but she was… how should I say this… a bit on the ditzy side. She wasn’t familiar at all with the menu, despite seemingly having worked there for a while. Lyndsey asked if I needed a refill on my Diet Coke. I politely said no thanks. And she promptly picked up my glass and said she’d be right back with my refill. Later, she informed us she was going to be ignoring us for a while because it was time for her cigarette break. She returned to our table 45 minutes later. What we liked about Lyndsey was her unapologetic style. She reminded us of Ursula on Mad About You. The band at the West End Smokehouse was also pretty entertaining. They performed country, rock, you name it… all while smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. Oh, the South!
On Saturday morning, we headed for the local Waffle House where my buddy had his first introduction to chocolate chip waffles. Next up was the reason for the whole trip, our visit to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. Let me just say it was phenomenal. There was so much to see and take part in. The library has more than 80 million records from the Clinton presidency in its archives. My favorite part of the library was the exact replica of the Clinton oval office, right down to the family pictures on the desk. Also on display was the limousine that carried the new first family on Inauguration Day in January, 1993. In fact, the limo was the first display to arrive at the museum, before construction had even begun. The entire building was built around it. We also had the chance to experience a cabinet room replica. I got to sit in the president’s chair. You can also flip through the daily schedules for all eight years of the Clinton presidency. I specifically looked up the 1996 election night schedule, as well as my birthdate over several years. Another display consisted of childhood items from both President and Mrs. Clinton including old report cards, photographs, and diplomas. Also prominently displayed, gifts the president received from celebrities and foreign dignitaries. In case you were wondering, the museum does not attempt to hide the Monica Lewinsky scandal or impeachment. Both are mentioned in appropriate displays. Outside the museum, you can find the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge, a reference to Clinton’s 1996 campaign promise to “Build a Bridge to the 21st Century.” Before we left, we headed for the museum’s gift shop, where I bought a t-shirt and coffee mug, as well as a t-shirt for the esteemed leader of BoomPopMedia, who was busy launching our website at probably the exact time I was lazily gawking at the waterfalls outside the Clinton library.
Next up, we took a side trip to Little Rock Central High School, famous for its role in school desegregation during the 1950’s. It’s still a functioning high school, and around 26 hundred students attend classes there. Across the street from the school is a museum on the school’s infamous history. A replica of an old 1950’s Mobil gas station stands right across from the school, and is part of the museum. Reporters during the desegregation struggle used to gather there and phone in their stories to various news organizations. The Little Rock Nine is a very painful part of Little Rock’s history, but the museum eloquently captures the events and struggles of that time.
Finally, it was on to Hot Springs National Park. I’ll be honest. I knew next to nothing about it to begin with, but it still surprised me. It’s the oldest entry in the National Park System, but also the smallest. When I think of national parks, I think of trees, hills, and hiking trails. You will find plenty of all three, but that’s not what makes this national park special. What puts this park on the map is its abundance of mineral water that flows effervescently from the earth. And make no mistake, it is hot! You nearly burn your hands just touching this natural resource. There are several bath houses in the park too, for those who want to fully experience the healthy, mineral-laden water. In fact in the days before modern-era medication, sick people would travel to Hot Springs just to bathe in this water. The minerals were said to relieve pain and make sick people healthier.
After we took part in the obligatory bath house tour, we needed some lunch and headed for the Ohio Club right across the street. The Ohio Club is one of the most well-known restaurants in Hot Springs, and this is where we met another Southern character. For starters, the Ohio Club is apparently a biker bar, so my buddy and I stuck out like the sore-thumbed Yankees we are. The character I’m speaking of here shall remain a nameless biker gal, just because we never learned her name. My friend and I were seated near this woman and her boyfriend, along with two others who joined them. We were so close we couldn’t help but hearing the conversation. The boyfriend was not happy with his lady friend. Apparently, he had caught her being friendly with another man at the nearby jukebox. From what we were able to hear in this hour-long discussion, it all sounded pretty innocent but the boyfriend’s dander was still riled. We got to enjoy biker gal saying things like “Hell, baby” and “you know I only love you” with a thick Southern accent that made me want to burst out laughing every time she opened her mouth. On our way out of the restaurant, we heard the woman say she’d been married three times. That only added to the entertainment this woman provided us with. Despite her three marriages, this gal didn’t look that old… late 30’s, early 40’s maybe.
So then it was on for an evening of camping fun at the park’s campgrounds. My buddy brought the tent. I brought the charcoal and food to go along with it. After we filled our bellies with hot dogs and s’mores, it was time to go to sleep. The camping portion of the trip was my buddy’s favorite part of the trip. While I enjoyed it too, I think I’m going to have to go with the Clinton library as my favorite part.
The next morning, we packed up the car and headed for home. It’s trips like these that will always have a permanent place in my heart. I can honestly say I probably had more fun in Arkansas than I would at Disneyworld. When I was growing up, my parents could not afford to take us on big family vacations, so when I’m able to see new places and experience new things, there is a definite sense of appreciation. Whether it’s New York City, Washington, D.C., or Little Rock, Arkansas, I always try to savor every moment of these incredible adventures. I encourage anyone looking for a weekend getaway to load up the car, and experience Arkansas. You won’t regret it. I sure don’t… y’all.