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A Famine of Festivals

A Famine of Festivals
©2013 Kirby Sanders

There lurks within us all a remnant of the American Innocent who loves our local festivals. Every town and county and community has them. Yes there are the archetypal County Fairs, but also we have our smaller versions — where communities themselves gather to celebrate the bounty that binds them.

The spring, summer and fall harvest and “hell let’s just have a party” weekends that towns arrange simply to recognize and celebrate themselves as communities. The Athens TX Black Eyed Pea Festival — the Gilroy CA Garlic Festival — the Sparta WI Butter Festival — the DeKalb IL Cornfest — The Pella IA Tulip Festival — the Hatch NM Chile Festival. Even mammoth Houston TX has its high-profile remnant in the Livestock Show and Rodeo. Fort Worth has its Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering. I think Dallas has an annual Visit Your Money in the Bank day — or something like that.

Heritage Days, Pioneer Days, Stagecoach Days, Railroad Days — events where the community gathers to recognize who they are, why they are and what makes them a community. One people bound together in some small way or another.

Even the generic small college town springfests are fun and quaint in their own way — spring break for the kids too broke to expose themselves in Cancun with their demurely naughty bed races and bar hops along “the strip” leading into the campus.

We all know how the festival days go. Mom says “don’t get those new britches and dresses dirty.” Dad gripes because old man Johnson wants five bucks to park in his yard. The town square is packed with people. The twirlers twirl and the marching band plays. Blue and red and white ribbons festoon the favorite homemade pies and preserves and the Queen of The Whatever waves from her perch on the boot of a snazzy convertible. Local musicians play and cloggers clog and folklorico dancers swirl atop stages that are really flatbed truck trailers. Carnies shill games and rides on a carnival midway. Politicos make some boring speeches, the bank and the churches hands out free pencils and everyone runs off to see what treasures the local vendors have to offer.

These are the only places in the world where you can sample jalapeno ice cream or blackeyed-pea pie. The places where your first memories of the exotic and the unusual reside. Where Oddly Ollie the clown (whom everyone knows is really the creepy coach) performs and entertains or frightens small children.

Sometimes these community festivals celebrate only memories. There is one wonderful Grape Fest in a town that hasn’t produced a single grape in better than 50 years. Another with a Pickle Fest in a former company town where the pickle factory shut down in 1952. But it doesn’t really matter — the festival is the festival. Grapes are grapes and pickles are delicious and those are what made those towns into towns.

But there is a growing blight in the crop, creating a famine for our festivals. Corporate sponsorship.

What brings this to immediate light is a recent situation in Johnson County, Arkansas. Their annual Peach Festival is coming up — but local growers have been banned from selling or sharing their crops at the festival. A certain “largest retailer in the world” has sponsored the festival — and announced that they will supply all the peaches. Local producers not allowed to show or sell. The local producers are up in arms — but banned and helpless.

The twirlers will twirl and the marching band will play. The Johnson County Peach Queen will wave and smile from her perch on the boot of a snazzy convertible. The community will be judiciously directed past the cleanup on aisle five and Muzak will fill the gleeful air. Blue and red and white ribbons will festoon the coolers containing frozen pies by Marie Callender, Sara Lee and Paula Deen.

The producers whom the festival celebrates will be relegated to their truck stands on the outskirts of town. Hoping to snag an occasional wayward consumer away from the corporate orgy.

What lovely memories are we leaving to our children?

A Mystery Near Yellville!

©2013 Kirby Sanders

July 14, 2013
12:15 p.m.

NEAR YELLVILLE AR —  Residents of rural Searcy County southeast of the town of Yellville, Arkansas, are reporting a strange phenomenon this morning. According to residents of the idyllic but rugged area along the scenic Buffalo River, a strange “whooshing sound” rattled windows and shook homes early this morning.

Said one rural resident, “It weren’t no wind up and they was no sound like jets or aeroplane motors. Just this big whoooosh sound that come out of the southeast and went on to the northwest. Skeered my blue tick so bad he hid under the bed.”

A Yellville pastor noted, “I was in early to get the church ready for services when the winders started knockin’ and this crazy sound come up like the wings of an army of angels or demons swooping over town! It swooped off kind of westward toward Harrison and Bentonville.”

Air Force officials at the nearest bases in Little Rock AR and Springfield MO denied any military training activities were taking place, as did Air National Guard units in Batesville AR and Fort Smith AR.

The Searcy County sheriff reported, “took me by surprise. I was hauling on my britches, tripped on my Sam Browne and smacked my punkin head on the washtable in the bedroom. I got no clue what the (heck) it was.”

An unconfirmed report from an intern at the area Federal Aviation Administration offices said, “We don’t know what it was either. There was no incident reported from commercial aircraft in the area. We suspect it may have been logic and reason flying over the heads of area state and federal legislators.”

Nusquam Res, Nusquam Esse – The Final Journey of Ambrose Bierce

Yes – I have been absent for a while. Finishing and editing a historical novel based upon the final days and the mysterious disappearance of American journalist and “horror” writer Ambrose Bierce in Mexico during the Revolution of 1913.

Here’s a “teaser”.

Nusquam Res, Nusquam Esse
~ The Final Journey of Ambrose Bierce ~
©2013 Kirby Sanders
– All rights reserved –

Chapter One
My name is Jeremiah Stein. Long have I held sorrow in silence, but as age approaches and the scent of my own passing is on the breeze, I feel it is time to speak of a most singular companion, friend and employer.

These are my memories of Mr. Ambrose Bierce’s final journey from Washington, DC, unto El Paso, Texas, and his “disappearance” in Mexico.

In 1913, I was 20 years old and working as a cabin boy — a junior steward – on the Crescent Line Railroad that served between Washington, DC, and New Orleans. It was a poor job, but suitable for a young man in search of adventure. The railroad allowed us passage but no pay with the proviso that we saw to the needs of travelers in the First Class sleeper and cabin cars. We worked for tips alone – and the occasional meal if we got in good with the kitchen staff in the dining car. The railroad provided us with a uniform coat and cap to signify our affiliation with the railroad proper. If we were remiss in our services, the Master Steward and the Conductor held power to strip us of hat and coat and put us off the train at any regular station. I was never remiss in my duties.

In October of that year, an elderly gentleman boarded the Crescent in Washington, DC, and it was my fortune (for good or ill) to meet him at the platform as the cabin car was boarding. I recall him as a thin but strong man – elegant and obviously well heeled – but aloof and by his demeanor, not someone with whom to trifle.

Alleviating Parking Problems in Fayetteville AR

Alleviating Parking Problems in the Fayetteville AR

Entertainment District ~ Think “Outside the Box”

© 2013 – Kirby Sanders

It comes as no news to anyone that the parking situation on Dickson Street has become untenable. As a result, many locals avoid Dickson Street altogether, resulting in a loss of steady and reliable non-tourist traffic and income for businesses on the street – not to mention lost Hotel and Restaurant Tax revenue for the city. Building a new parking deck behind the Walton Arts Center (WAC) may help alleviate the situation somewhat, but still leaves our elderly and mobility-restricted without reliable nearby access to venues and programs they might otherwise wish to attend – and may not create enough new parking to make much of a dent in the problem. It may prove to be nothing more than a very expensive “band-aid” if we consider potential future growth.

While the parking situation in the Dickson Street area remains a tangle, downtown parking about a mile away from the heart of The Street is often empty on evenings when parking near Dickson is impossible. Perhaps it is time to “think outside the box” in order to alleviate two situations at once.

Perhaps we might re-visit and re-institute the old Fayetteville trolleys as what many urban areas have found to be a tried and true “Park and Ride” solution.

Lets say we were to run handicapped-accessible trolleys maybe every 30 minutes from Downtown (DT) near the parking lot just north of City Hall to the Walton Arts Center (WAC)  — if nothing else on weekends and during special events. Maybe we even restrict it to evenings — first run out of Downtown 5:30 p.m. and the last run back to Downtown at midnight. Perhaps using a route along Center to West and back again to keep the trolleys on-schedule and out of College Avenue and Dickson Street traffic? Maybe charge a buck to $2.50 a head each way for a ride on the trolley to defray operational expenses. I think a lot of people would use it rather than avoiding Dickson all together and missing some good events because of the parking wrangle. For an extra two to five bucks on a night on the town, I’d use it. I am one who sometimes has problems walking all the way from DT parking to WAC at Dickson Street and West Avenue — and refuse to deal with the chaos of trying to park around Dickson. On the now rare occasion when I go to Dickson Street, I take a cab from and to the house. $10 roundtrip for a 1.5 mile roundtrip

The trolley buses don’t necessarily have to be anything as “cute” as the old trolleys were (although that would be nice). Just reliable transportation to help fill vacant lots Downtown and help clear some in the Dickson area proper.

Probably it would require two buses to keep on schedule. Perhaps position one at Downtown City Hall and one at WAC at 5:00 p.m. for first departures . The buses trade places and return to original positions at 5:30 p.m. Same same twice per hour –- on the 30 and the top of each hour. The trolleys would pass one another somewhere along Center Street. The first few WAC to DT departures might run empty, but logistically one bus probably could not keep on schedule. It is approx 4 minutes each direction (8 minutes round trip). Add say another four minutes each to disembark  and re-board at each location and that is 12 minutes out of a 30 minute block of time. That leaves 9 minutes sitting at each stop if there is one trolley bus only. Maybe one trolley could do the trick but that might be pushing it on peak evenings. Perhaps we might try it with one bus Monday – Thursday and two on Friday – Saturday (no service on Sundays). Two on Thursday – Saturday during “Special events” such as Bikes Blues, etc? Perhaps we test-run with two buses Thursday through Saturday only? Is it possible that an initial test run of two to five years’ duration might be contracted to Ozark Regional Transit rather than the city buying and operating buses for an untested plan?

Having two buses on the schedule could also allow passengers some shelter from winter / inclement weather, as they could board whenever they arrived at either stop rather than waiting outside in the elements. Possibly we use electric or propane / LNG buses to cut cost of operations. Eventually equip the trolleys with separate generator powered AC and heat so the trolleys would not have to run their motors to keep passengers comfy cool or warm whilst sitting at stops? That would save on wear and tear / maintenance of motors as well as fuel costs. Even with only one trolley operating, that is 18 minutes out of every hour wherein it would not be necessary to burn fuel with a bus sitting with the motor at idle.

Funding? Chip a tiny percent from existing parking revenues to help fund the project. Maybe a bit from Hotel and Restaurant taxes? Perhaps the Visitors and Convention Council could give a wee touch to the town rather than helping to fund more for an already wealthy “gown”. It is difficult to put visitors’ “heads in beds” or “tax the burgers” if there isn’t anywhere for the visitors to park their cars when they get here.

There are solutions possible if we, as a community – town and gown, consider creative approaches to mutual. As songwriter Billy Hill wrote in his 1930s tune Glory of Love, “You’ve got to give a little, take a little — and let your poor heart break a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.”

And who knows – people might even enjoy some additional fun and fellowship on the Park and Ride trolleys as they begin and end their forays out on the town! It might also help feed some downtown businesses. If the restaurants on Dickson are too crowded on a given evening, hop the trolley and have a meal downtown! A truly mutual “Downtown-Dickson” approach. Imagine that!

This is not an “either or” proposition. Build the new parking deck and consider a DT to WAC “Park and Ride”. This is a sincere suggestion that perhaps we should consider “walking and chewing gum at the same time”.  Think about it.

I have wanted to write this for a long time – perhaps it is time to start.

My Travels With Mr. Bierce
© 2012 Kirby Sanders

My name is Jeremiah Stein. Long have I held sorrow in silence, but as age approaches and the scent of my own passing is on the breeze, I feel it is time to speak of a most singular companion, friend and employer.

In 1913, I was a cabin boy — a junior steward – on the Crescent Line railroad that served between New York City and New Orleans. It was a poor job, but suitable for a young man in search of adventure. The railroad allowed us passage but no pay with the proviso that we saw to the needs of travelers in the First Class sleeper and cabin cars. We worked for tips alone – and the occasional meal if we got in good with the kitchen staff in the dining car. The railroad provided us with a uniform coat and cap to signify our affiliation with the railroad proper. If we were remiss in our services, the Master Steward and the Conductor held power to strip us of hat and coat and put us off the train at any regular station. I was never remiss in my duties.

In October of that year, an elderly gentleman boarded the Crescent in New York and it was my fortune (for good or ill) to meet him at the platform as the cabin car was boarding. I recall him as a thin but strong man –elegant and obviously well heeled – but aloof and by his demeanor not someone with whom to trifle.

“Pardon me, sir,” said I to the gentleman. “May I carry your things and assist you in boarding?”

He stared directly into my eyes for what seemed an eternity – as though he were looking through me. He inspected my uniform stem to stern more thoroughly than ever did the Master Steward before responding “Yes, young man, I believe you may”.

His boarding ticket indicated he would lodge in the cabin car suites with passage all the way to New Orleans – and right to disembark at any station and rejoin the train later. A very expensive ticket, indeed! He indicated what I thought was a small amount of luggage for such a trip and told me to deliver him and the bags to the appropriate suite. Whether out of fear, respect or the expectation of a generous tip, I moved quickly to serve his wishes.

I showed him to his suite — a handsome accommodation with bedroom and a sitting parlor — and delivered the luggage with all appropriate haste. He said not a word until he was ensconced in his rooms. Thereon I stood (as is custom) with palm outstretched indicating the expectation of tip for service.

He turned and stared through me again. “You have done well, young sir. What is your name?” he asked.

“Stein, sir,” I stammered. “Jeremiah Stein.”

“Well, Master Stein,” he replied, “would it be possible to locate a bottle of decent whiskey on this train?”

“Indeed, sir! Yes indeed. The bar car ……”

“I do not care to go to the bar. Can you go and bring one back to me?”, he interrupted.

“Indeed, sir. Yes, indeed,” said I.

“Go then and do that,” he replied. “If I am in need of other services on this journey, may I rely upon you to assist?”

“Indeed, sir. Yes, indeed.”

The gentleman reached into his pocket and handed me fifty dollars. Fifty dollars!! A king’s ransom. “Bring me the whiskey,” he said, “and keep the rest. I shall call for you if I require further assistance.”

The train jolted forward, throwing us both a bit off balance. The journey had begun.

Said I, “May I be so bold as to ask your name, sir?”

Said he succinctly and quietly “Bierce. Ambrose Bierce. Go and get the whiskey.”