I find it difficult to imagine that I let nearly 5 years slip by without having returned to the Natural State - Arkansas. It seemed like yesterday that I was driving back up to Hendrix College for the reboot of the their football program. Something the former president of the school confidently gloated would never happen. She was so wrong.
For this trip, I scooted up over the Red River, through Norman, OKC, Tulsa and across the Cherokee Turnpike. I was headed to Fayetteville. To be honest, I never really spent any time in Fayetteville. I passed through. But I never got the soil under my soles. When it comes to NWA, I was more familiar with the likes of Rogers, Bentonville, Eureka Springs. Fayetteville was always the place I kind of knew, but didn't really know.
I was only spending 24 hours or less in town this trip. I hit the road without a hotel reservation. A friend from LA was performing in the Regional Production of VietGone at TheatreSquared. Having not seen her in a few years, I felt it was close enough for me to make the effort to get up from Fort Worth and catch the show. It took me about 6 hours to putt putt up there. I arrived maybe 45 minutes before curtain, checked into a hotel within walking distance and got to my seat with a few minutes to spare.
The show? Phenomenal. I will not pretend to be a play critic and give a full review here, but I will say this. The performances were riveting, authentic and reached into the crevices of the full spectrum of emotion: hilarity, absurdity, straight comedy, self-deprecation, romance, suffering, terror, tragedy, heartbreak, torment, reconciliation, acceptance, perspective and wisdom. It moves the needle in every aspect that the needle should be moved. It does a high-wire act of reclaiming ownership of cultural tropes with sincerity. Most of all it reminds us that we are all human; right or wrong, good or bad, broken and healed. We are all sons, daughter, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, lovers, friends and at war with enemies chosen and unchosen, within and from elsewhere.
The cast, and I am not simply biased because I knew one of the actors, poured themselves into it entirely. And the audience, a packed house, lapped up every ounce.
After the show, I was fortunate enough to meet the director and get some face time with several of the cast. They invited me out to Ben's Apartment - the #fayttevillesecret - a speakeasy that is hidden behind a secret door. It was a delightful experience and the drinks were exquisite. We talked lightly, then a bit more seriously and philosophically. Actors are really most interesting in the hours after a performance. A lucid frame. We discussed the deeper significance of the play, some of the moments that kick you in the teeth. We delved into tying in themes from other plays, such as The Humans and of course the novel Howard's End by E.M. Forster. The inherent struggle and unlimited potential for authentic human connection. We ended the evening, warding off potential hangovers by flushing our livers with a fresh lemon juice and then heading down Dickson for some street tacos. This Texan was quite pleased.
The following morning, I noodled around the town and put my vintage 50mm Pentax Lens to the test for some travel journal photography. There was a book shop open on Dickson (on Easter, btw) and I simply had to explore it. It was magical.
Dickson Street Bookshop has been a staple of Fayetteville since 1978. Once you enter you get a sense of entering through the looking glass. If you are a bibliophile or book nerd, then this place will transport you to a million new worlds. I asked if I was allowed to snap a few photos, "I am a paying customer," and they obliged. I told them I had a few books on my list: Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, E.M. Forster, Buddhism, Philosophy and Jazz.
Evan Wordlaw was very polite and helpful. He studied English at U of A and is a Rhythmic Poet. With a name like Wordlaw, it seems to be so. Wordlaw is such a cool kat you have permission to use a kitsch phrase like cool kat to describe him.
He was very patient with each request - almost like a wisdom sherpa navigating the catacombs of bookshelves.
We chatted about Oscar Peterson, authentic Jazz and the new theory of negative harmony.
I look forward to hearing his rhymes and beats.
I was pleasantly surprisded by the selection of Durrell and Miller books. The requisite Dutton series of The Alexandria Quartet sans Justine and a fine copy of Miller's The Cosmological Eye. I even picked up a copy of E.M. Forster's Howard's End to give Rebecca (this was the real mission of going to the book shop). Finally I nabbed a copy of Ajahn Passano's The Island. What a treat!
Don Choffel owns and operates the book shop. He is one of the most gentle natured humans you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. When I told him that I had attended Hendrix, he mentioned that expanding the bookshop to Conway would be nice. I agreed. I had half a mind to figure out how to get involved in such an endeavor. There are few places that remain as authentic and special as the Northwest Corridor of Arkansas.
After collecting the books I took a few photos around town while waiting to meet a friend for brunch at The Depot. There was a faint drizzle and the air was cool. The 1400 ft elevation reduces the overall temperature about 10 degrees relative to the surrounding plains. Nestled into the Boston Mountains, there is a nice dispersal of moisture as the air moves up and over the peaks. I grabbed a few images around town.
On my way back to Texas, I stopped by the Hendrix College Campus and took a few photos with the Pentax 50mm Lens. The main dining hall and student center has been completely razed to the ground making way for a new beautiful Creative Quad that will anchor the campus. It was bittersweet to see the place of so many memories simply vanished. And yet, it was thrilling to know that the school is thriving and that new memories for future generations will be amazing. All that arises ceases. Here and Now is the Only Gold. The campus was so peaceful (even with a section under construction). The Ginko Tree has bloomed and has gotten quite tall. It is nearly 50 years old now.
It was nice to see the residence halls. The few students that were milling about campus were polite. While the nature trail has been consumed by some of the Village at Hendrix, the upside is that the college has done a wonderful job of integrating both sides of Harkrider. Change is the the only constant. And if change is inevitable, the best option is progress.
Hendrix College has done a wonderful job of retaining its heritage and owning its unique vision. The reality is that we do not go to school just to learn. We go to school to learn how to learn. In that sense, a good education is the one that commences once you graduate. It is a commencement speech after all. And with perspective, I would say it is true. Hendrix College equipped me to live a life that is filled with learning. Four years to prepare for a lifetime endeavor. I would not have chosen any other school. I have no regrets. I would do it all the same. If it were possible, I would do it again. To the whole person...