Saturday, June 7, 2008

Welcome to Arkadelphia, Mr. Klein

After a long day of traveling I am finally sitting in my hotel room on one of two beds—two?—yes, for some reason I have a room with two double beds. I just returned from dinner at Ta Mally’s—“Fine Mexican Food” it declares proudly on the side of the building, located just next to the Hilton operated Hampton Inn—where I was supposed to be staying. More on this later. Ta Mally’s—well, first there is the obvious issue with the name. I am trying to imagine the individual who thought this was a clever business decision for a restaurant that has spawned across several southern states. That mental picture is not clear. However, I imagine his or her thought process went something like this:

1) People who are coming to this “Mexican” restaurant would probably butcher the actual Spanish word “Tamale.” Alright, I suppose this is a legitimate argument all things considered.
2) Perhaps said professional nomenclaturist thought of some cute little backstory that envisioned the origins of the tamale. A woman named Molly in the middle of Mexico started to make small meals for her children by stuffing corn husks with beef and cornmeal during the Great Tortilla Crisis of 1859. Word quickly spread across rural Mexico of this ingenious and delicious dish. Molly’s cooking became so popular that people came from far and wide “To Molly’s.” Eventually began to refer to this almost religious journey as “TaMolly’s.”
3) This brings me to my third and final point on the naming of this “Fine Mexican” restaurant. Should I have said “we are going to TaMolly’s” or the simplified “we are going TaMolly’s?” This is the kind of deep questions pondered in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

TaMolly’s highlights include a closing time of 9:00PM, incredibly bright lighting, tacky Mexican décor, quick but not “fast-food” type service, food that is drowned in Sour Cream sauce and fake cheese dressing making the entire dish, refried beans, rice and enchiladas all take on the same generic, bland Tex-Mex flavor and no alcohol. Wait, no alcohol? No margheritas, no beer, no nothing? Rewind.

We had been forewarned of this dire situation almost immediately after my introduction to one of the conference volunteers at the airport prior to boarding the shuttle that would take us to the hotels in the vicinity of Henderson State University. Arkadelphia is a completely dry county, he said. Yes, I thought, I knew it would be pretty hot down in southern Arkansas. He continued, would I care to make a stop at the liquor store before we crossed the county line? Word was that none of the other passengers had made a decision on that stop. 10 minutes into the drive, after being informed that not only was the upcoming county ‘dry,’ five adjacent counties were as well, I made the executive decision. We would be making a stop at the liquor store, and with taxes much less and a store far more extensive than anything in Washington, it was well worth it one bottle of Svedka Vodka later—time of opening to be determined. In the event that anyone asks, the others in the van made purchases too.

The day began at 4:45AM, taxi down to Sea-Tac and the first flight to Dallas/Fort Worth which other than some turbulence toward the end, was uneventful. At Dallas, I had a scheduled two hour layover. A trip on the Skyline across two terminals, a plane undergoing maintenance, two gate changes, an open plane door, and two hours more later, I was in the air again heading to Little Rock, Arkansas. The latter flight lasted a mere 45 minutes. I was met by said representative of Slayage Conference 3: Conference on the Whedonverses and a group of other attendees: Ryan, Sonja, Sue and Jen-who then changed her name to Nikki-still confused on that one.

A side note about the Dallas/Fort Worth airport: I have never felt that I was in such close proximity to the war in Iraq than I was walking through the terminals of that airport. A United Service Organization counter is situated squarely in each terminal. (See accompanying tweet). Soldiers in full gear walked up and down the hallways, crowding the restaurants. I overheard several conversations between civilians asking about the war, their homes, their positions and their stations. One woman beamed when she sat down next to a man in the US Army. “Where are you stationed?” “Where’s home?” “Are you on leave?” He answered kindly and she said “Thank you.” “I just bought one of your buddies lunch at Chili’s,” she said. “Thank you” he replied.” I had this overwhelming feeling that I have been and am so detached from the war efforts abroad. I simply look at the war as a movement, a group, an entity. As trite as it may seem to say, these are people with families, some of which have never seen their kid. I am ignorant of the war, yes, I’ll be the first to admit it and perhaps part of me chooses to be. It’s such a hard position to be in. How can I thank someone that is doing something I never decided for him to undergo? What is soldier Harding, Shaw or Pilkington doing for me? What makes these other people so proud—treating soldiers like celebrities as they come home on leave? I don’t know exactly. It was a new and unique experience.

In between flights, the general manager of Hampton Inn & Suites, Hannah Marion called about an “unfortunate situation” that had arisen. They had oversold, so I was moved to the Comfort Inn down the street. After visiting the Hampton Inn & Suites, I am a bit frustrated at being moved, but it really is not so bad—it’s your typical middle-of-the-country hotel room—again with two double beds. Hampton Inn is paying for my first night as well and has offered me the use of all their amenities, including their indoor pool. Ryan is across the street at the Super 8 and the aforementioned women are back at the Hampton.

Did I mention it’s 10:00 at night and it is a cool 75 degrees and extremely humid? After leaving the restaurant a breeze began, but I only wish that temperature sustained itself as the forecast includes highs of 96 degrees through the weekend. I’m fairly certain I’m going to have to change clothes every 15 minutes.

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