Sunday, November 25, 2007

Stay on the Red Roads or Moral of the Story: Read the Map Legend

“Look at the map and find me a little town on a red road off this interstate where we can boondock for the night,” Ed requested.

We were on Interstate 540 south of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Wal-Mart atlas showed little towns on either side of this green interstate route. They each had red routes running though them, but to get to them, the map showed that we’d have to travel on tiny sections of black roads a few miles.

“Take this exit to Winslow,” I directed.

The two-lane (map legend “black “road) wound past houses under a canopy of trees still bright with colorful orange, yellow and red leaves. Then, the road began to descend into a valley. The grade became steeper and steeper. Yellow road signs posted speed limits for the upcoming bends in the road. The distance between these signs lessened and more warning signs appeared. Then, the big yellow signs with big black arrows pointing around the 90-degree switchbacks directed us first right then left and right and left again. Ed asked, “Was this a red road?”

Sheepishly, l admitted, “Well, there’s just a little section of black road to the red road in Winslow. We should be there any second.”

“Patty, I can see the tow car snaking beside me on these turns!” Ed exaggerated but not by much. I wanted to close my eyes so as not to see the yellow signs with big black arrows on the descending turns. And, I reassured myself that Ed had navigated a road like this before when we visited the Gila Cliff Dwellings a couple of years ago. I did close my eyes then but also knew that we’d end up in a heritage park. What kind of town had I selected now for an overnight visit?!

One of our bus conversion friends told me, “It’s not the driving that I like so much, it’s arriving.” I felt happy to arrive in Winslow, Arkansas. Well, sort of happy.

We parked parallel to the railroad tracks on the only street without a curve or hill. “Let’s take a look around,” Ed said heading out the door. “Are you kidding? Let’s get out of here,” I screeched, but he didn’t hear. So I followed Ed because I wasn’t staying in the coach alone. The town looked abandoned.

“Ed, this building houses the Winslow city office, water company, library, police station and jail!” The space was smaller than our coach. Further down the Main Street row, we found a store with straw hats and baskets in a disarrayed window display where a sign read “Open Saturdays”. The next series of windows may have been to someone’s living room. Through the venetian blinds, I saw newspapers open and scattered on the floor. Across the street was a marker from the railroad days and engraved bricks recognizing the 20 or 30 donors by name whose gifts made the site possible.

In our brief wanderings, friendly people in pick-up trucks and cars waved to us as they drove past. And, we noticed two ladies had parked and went inside Lena’s Beauty Parlor. Ed and I followed them inside a moment. They were sisters. Lena introduced herself as the beautician doing hair in Winslow for over 30 years. Barb sat in the salon styling chair in her nightshirt explaining that she had slept through the day because her role in the chaplaincy of Washington Regional Hospital had kept her up all the night before. (Small world! I had done a feasibility study for the hospital’s charitable foundation two years ago.) She had impulsively begged Lena to give her a wash and style at this late hour of the day. She didn’t expect visitors.

Pointing to the coach, Ed asked, “Do you think it’d be okay to park here? That’s our coach over there.”

“We figured that much. How you get here?” I explained the red road scenario. “Well, don’t go back that way. You’ll bottom out. I’m surprised were not pulling you out of the ditch right now. Be sure you head that way out of town,” she said pointing to the right. “Route 71 is just past the post office. It’s a bigger road and will get you to the Interstate.” She got quiet for a moment then added, “Seeing that my sister and I are City Council members and the two of us make a majority, you can park here in front of the town park and my beauty shop. Consider that permission to stay the night.”

From Lena, who boasted to be the oldest resident of Winslow, we learned that in the days before air conditioning, people came from as far away as Dallas, Texas to escape the summer heat. Winslow was their summer spot in the Ozarks, cool and country. The railroad brought them. In fact, a train still passes through the old stone tunnel each night at 3 AM. There’s an abandoned school on the hill. The governor of Arkansas closed the school some years ago because there weren’t enough kids to meet the 300 minimum requirement to stay open. The general store is for sale. It’s the one Lena’s dad had owned. She said the family thought of leaving Winslow to open a bath house when she was a teenager but the other town just didn’t feel like home so they returned to this little town in the Ozarks.

Winslow felt homey to us after our visit at the beauty shop. We enjoyed a good night sleep there and waited to hear the 3AM train whistle when the locomotive roared across the tracks.

Moral of the Story: I will read the map legends but I may still take us down those tiny black roads to the red ones. I wouldn’t want to miss visiting another town like Winslow, Arkansas.

No comments: