Arkansas - Fort Smith

"Rock me Momma like a wagon wheel"


If Little Rock was a ‘big city’ in Arkansas, what was a small one like? We booked ourselves into a B&B in Fort Smith and set off to find it.

I thought it was going to be a pioneer town, something like Tombstone, Arizona (for my story on that read here). But it’s actually just a regular small town in America. A historic downtown and original army fort surrounded by strip malls.

It’s famous for a few things - it's where the John Wayne movie True Grit was filmed, Elvis had his famous army buzz haircut and lots of people were hanged!

Sew nice

Our B&B had your usual kitsch style you see in folksy Inns, crochet “I love you” sign on the wall, etc. I did love what I found in the blue and green bathroom -a vintage Singer sewing machine 'table' with a glass top replacing the machine. It had the pedal and everything, great piece of repurposing.

We took a walk around the main street downtown and went snap happy taking photos of all the Christmas carry on (in America Christmas starts as soon as Thanksgiving ends). The houses were done up like the Griswolds from the National Lampoons movie; porches, lawns and roofs engulfed in lights, Santas, reindeers and snowmen.

There’s not a huge amount to see at the actual Fort but the history museum across the road has an operating old fashioned drug store, you can sit among the olde worlde goods and have ice cream from the parlour.

Before we left Arkansas for good, we stopped at a diner and overheard the quintessential small town conversation…

Burly man: “Would it be un-American to ask for the burger without the pickle?”

Waitress: “No, I tell you what’s un-American, asking for a burger with no meat, someone did that once!”

Burly man: “Well, I hope you told that Californian hippie to get the hell back to San Francisco!”

Moments later the same waitress is at our table with a big smile “Hi y’all, where are you folks from? what can I get you today?”

What I should have said... “We’re from San Francisco and we’ll have two veggies burgers, oh and no buns please, heavy on the lettuce.”

What I actually said... “We’re from London and we’ll have two beef burgers with all the trimmings, heavy on the pickles.” (with a nod to the big Burl). 

You live and learn, you're not always your best self in the moment. Recognising this is a step in the right direction. Even Burly Bill looked a bit sheepish when we locked eyes over the lettuce leaves. 

As it turned out the poor young waitress had a very hard time understanding my accent. She was terribly nice though (evidently from the previous conversation with 'Burly man' we can deduce that she perhaps hadn't ventured too far in life) she seemed mortified that she couldn't understand me and kept apologising. I like to think that over time her worldview opened up, maybe we were the first ding in the shell. 

Our London and Dublin accents were a source of great interest everywhere we went in the South. They seemed delighted by them, when everybody knows it’s the Southern accent that’s the enchanting one.

Next stop Oklahoma, where the south meets the west, what would they make of us and our funny accents, it was time to find out...

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