Saturday, June 26, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup song

In the spirit of American patriotism in advance of tomorrow's game against Ghana, I leave you with this for the weekend:

Shakira - Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) - the official FIFA World Cup song, which I love:

Arkansas State Capitol virtual tour

Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels' office recently launched an online virtual tour of the State Capitol. To give you an idea of where all the magic happens, check out:
I think it's well-done.

To find my desk, do the following:
Click the "Capitol Tour" button.
Click the "Interactive Tour" button.
Scroll down, and click "2nd Floor."
All the way to the right, the bottommost marker lights up as "Governor's Office." That is Governor Beebe's own office. He has staff on three floors. The marker above that space signifies the Governor's Conference Room. And the blank space above that is where I sit. Not shocked they forgot to label it. Word has it that during President Clinton's tenure in the Governor's Office, his office was being remodeled, and he temporarily used what is now my office as his office!


On a Friday at the State Capitol, corn appears in the Governor's Office.

Arkansas is a mostly rural and greatly agricultural state. This means that sometimes, people traverse the state just to bring back produce you can't find in the regular old grocery store. Heirloom varieties and such. OK, I don't actually know that this is the reason massive mesh bags of corn appeared in my office today, but it's a strong possibility.

When I asked the bearer of the corn why it was here, she replied, "Because I went to Dumas to get it." (By the way, that's not pronounced how I know most of you are reading it. This is not France. It's DOO-mis.) The label on the bag -- as you can read -- says the corn is from Grady. That's in Lincoln County, which I hadn't heard of until today. (Tangent -- Arkansas has so many counties, 75, it's hard to keep track. My native Maryland only has 24.) According to (one of my all-time favorite Web sites), the most recent data calculating Dumas' population was 4,622 in 2008. Compared to Grady (population: 456), this makes it the big(ger) city worth referencing.

Anyway, so I don't really know if the corn was a primary or secondary reason said representative brought back produce from Hardin Farms (, but regardless, I now have corn to grill this weekend. Delicious. Will go nicely with the plump Bradley County pink tomatoes that were last weekend's produce delivery.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This town is an oven

There is an excuse for my hiatus on posting...I essentially can't stand this heat, and it's taking all my energy to bear it. Every time I emerge from the air conditioning, I feel like an oppressive, unwanted blanket wraps itself around me. Yes, I grew up in Washington, D.C., known for its humidity, and true, this is my fifth summer in Arkansas, and yet, I swear there is something different about this year's temperatures. Makes me think any global warming doubters are even crazier than I already thought. It's like this week in particular, the fever gods decided it was time to take over Arkansas, and every day, the temps near 100 or surpass it. I think I heard the other day it was 99 but felt like 108. I mean, doesn't a person start hallucinating when his body temperature gets to like 105?

As a point of reference for those who might wonder, I'm not normally such a shrinking violet to extreme temperatures. In fact, I kind of hate a/c because it's always so freezing inside when you're dressed for summer. I feel like all summer long, I battle this issue. Fall is my favorite season, where the climate is mild and you are pretty much comfortable anywhere, inside or outside. But here, the a/c blows like a freezer, so while that brief moment upon first entering a building is a refreshing respite from the brutality outside, then I'm just cold and searching for the nearest sweater. You just can't win!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Silly bands

In the course of an evening, I met about 17 middle-school kids all sporting "silly bands." OK, that's an exaggeration, but seriously, where did these things come from? And why do I know nothing about them?

They seem to be a trend reminiscent of slap bracelets, stickers, or pogs. You know, they're really cheap, Justin Bieber-aged kids trade them at school, they get outlawed because the behavior surrounding them resembles gambling, and then they eventually die out.

Is this a nationwide thing or just popular in Arkansas? I have to wonder, are we behind or ahead of the curve?

They are bracelets made out of a thin rubber-band-like substance that look sort of crinkly while you're wearing them, but the amazing thing is, when you take them off and lay them out flat, each resembles the outline of an animal shape. There are dinosaurs too. Maybe some inanimate objects like houses as well, but I can't vouch for that, as you can see from my photos. I also hear that the horseshoe (or was it the unicorn?) is extremely special and comes in limited edition, so is particularly coveted.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Little Rock Farmers' Market

Pictures from a Saturday morning visit to the Farmers' Market at the River Market, now in full bloom:

The berries:
The shiitakes, morels etc. made me wish I knew more interesting ways to cook mushrooms:
Green tomatoes, for frying, as I was told:
Why do carrots always look so much better when the stem is still on?
Squash so pretty it looked like flowers:
Loved the juxtaposition of the bright green okra in the midst of the blue and blackberries:

Culture Shock v.3 - Little Rock lingo

Lately, I keep hearing this term, "covered up." At first, I thought it referred to wearing proper sunscreen in this 100-degree-plus heat we've been experiencing lately.

But now, I understand it is a reference to being busy / having a full schedule. To mix metaphors a bit, the use of the word "covered" here means that a person has so many things on his plate that he can't seem to get out from under his long list of responsibilities and appointments.

Never heard this one before, but I think I like it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Arkansas in the national news today

Additional flooding news from today:
Rethinking Cell Service in a Remote Flood region (New York Times)
With Flood Toll at 19, Question Is, How Many More? (New York Times)

And in 2010 election news, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is working hard for Arkansas Democratic candidates. Both Chad Causey in the 1st District and Joyce Elliott in the 2nd are now part of the DCCC's Red to Blue program:
Democrats Expand 'Red to Blue' Priority List

Sunday, June 13, 2010

From floods to fundraisers

Over the past few days, I've been thinking a lot about how quickly a politician must transition from one extreme to the next. Since Friday morning, the Governor (and every other State official and some federal officials) have been focused on responding to the flash flood disaster at a campground in the Ouachita National Forest. After torrential rains Thursday night, the Little Missouri River overflowed at the Albert Pike Recreation Area near Langley very early Friday morning, with so little warning that people were virtually swept away in their sleep. The death count has reached 18, including Arkansans and tourists from Louisiana and Texas, and three people have been declared missing.

The Governor's schedule Friday included a pet food plant expansion/jobs announcement in Dumas -- a positive thing -- after which, he departed for the site of the flooding by helicopter. As he met survivors and the families of people waiting to hear word on missing loved ones, he and the staff responded to an onslaught of local and national media inquiries. Upon returning from what had to be an exhausting and emotionally draining day, he stopped by a wedding reception. Saturday, he took the annual trip to the Pink Tomato Festival in Warren before rushing back to Little Rock for a press conference with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. That night, the Governor and First Lady had a fundraiser hosted at the home of major supporters, with a couple hundred guests. So quickly, he must shift his mindset from tending to tragedy to socializing at a party. I suppose good politicians are used to it and have a lot of experience doing it, but it seems exhausting to me.

A few links on the flooding for further reading: (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) has consistent, detailed coverage

In the vein of election season, I have attached photos from last night's fundraiser below:
The event was at a beautiful west Little Rock estate. One legislator who I'll leave unnamed made the comment, "Lucky for us, they're Democrats!"
On stage with the Governor are, from left, Sen. David Pryor (yes, he was the owner of the aforementioned license plate); Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and his wife, Bobbi; Angela and Ed Moody, Sen. Mark Pryor, State Sen. Joyce Elliott, and Barbara Pryor:
Joyce Elliott speaks after the Governor introduces her as "our future Congresswoman":


Dear readers, can you guess whose car this is? No clues, but I'll reveal the context, after guesses have been made, in a subsequent post.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sonic - the restaurant?

The other day, a few colleagues were walking back into the Capitol after lunch. I asked them where they ate -- a logical question. The answer? Sonic. Not a logical answer.

Sonic? For lunch? Isn't that a drive-in slushy drink/ice cream place at which people only actually consume real food because they're on a road trip, starving, and haven't glimpsed a better alternative for miles?

They were appalled that I was appalled, and responded, "Sam, sometimes we go to Sonic for lunch. Don't judge us."

My first introduction to Sonic was five years ago, when my father and I spent a weekend in Columbia, Mo., visiting the University of Missouri's journalism program, which I would later attend. My father knew all about Sonic (could it have been around when he attended Washington University in St. Louis almost four decades ago?) and was obsessed with this lime drink. We must have gone three times in a single weekend to sate his craving.

The word Sonic otherwise brought to mind that little hedgehog.

My brother, Justin -- who accompanied me on my drive through the Ozarks when I moved to Little Rock in December 2006 -- mirrored my father's excitement. Sonic is like a force that propels East Coasters to the Midwest. Always trying to find something more interesting on the road, we decided to give Sonic's menu a shot. That was a decision I regretted, and I vowed to never again order anything that resembled dinner at the place.

The hype about Sonic kind of reminds me of when I was a kid at overnight camp in North Carolina, my one chance every year to get a blizzard at Dairy Queen. But I'd never think to order actual food there.

Maybe people love the place so much because as a drive-through, Sonic is sort of a throwback. Aside from the location at the bottom of Cantrell Hill, I know of no other that you can actually walk inside and find seating. Typically, patrons stay in their cars and drive up to one of several menus with speakerphones circling the building. You order, then some high school kid brings out the goods on a tray.

Sonic cups are ubiquitous and gigantic. I think their sheer size is what gets people so excited about Sonic's Happy Hour, where you can get these huge drinks in the afternoon at half-price.

It's always interesting to me how fast-food places are regional. I am similarly fascinated by the fact that even in the 21st century, when refrigerated commercial transportation is the norm, you can only get certain craft beers locally too.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Runoff Night

The sign at Kavanaugh and Woodlawn says it all.

Tonight was a big night in Arkansas. State Senator Joyce Elliott won the Democrats' bid for District 2 U.S. House, and in one of the most watched races nationally, incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln kept her Democratic nomination for reelection.

Arkansas women staked their claim tonight! And now we will fight to keep it. In the November general election, Elliott faces Republican Tim Griffin, often denounced as the Karl Rove protege who stole the U.S. Attorney seat in Eastern Arkansas after Bud Cummins was ousted, for not being Republican enough for the Bush 2 administration. Lincoln runs against current U.S. Congressman John Boozman, who currently represents the Third District of Arkansas in the House.

Pictures from Joyce's watch -- victory -- party at Cajun's Wharf:

With the media:

Joyce gives her victory speech:

Arkansas blue -- me and the candidate:

Earlier this evening, several young staffers from Governor Mike Beebe's office hosted a fundraiser for him at Ferneau. He was as always his gracious, charming, eloquent self. Shown below, with First Lady Ginger Beebe:
Tonight was an exciting night for some of my favorite Arkansas Democrats.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Flashback to January -- Gillett Coon Supper

Arkansas wouldn't be Arkansas without its many and varied political traditions. The Gillett Coon Supper is a staple of the Democratic existence in this state. Every January, the local community comes together to host the event, which probably brings in more politicians, their flacks, and media than the town's entire population, which can't be more than 800 or so. The road that takes you to this Arkansas County town is rural, and cell service completely disappears at several points along the way.

The event is held in Gillett High School's cafeteria. It began as a fundraiser for the school's football team, and over the years, it became one of the most important annual Democratic political rallies. Any Democratic politician who cares about his political future in this state would not dare miss it.

The school no longer operates as a school because it had so few students, it was shut down a few years ago and its students consolidated into a nearby school district. Regardless, the festivities go on, and for weeks prior to the event, Gilletters (Gillettians?) prepare by defrosting the raccoon meat they'd hunted months prior (whenever coon hunting season is), smoking it, cooking side dishes and baking desserts. This is no white tablecloth affair; the coon is served in plastic buckets set out on school cafeteria tables. It is a grisly meat, served in little chunks, and it's difficult to compare its appearance to anything else I've tasted. One bite was about more than I could handle.

Below, Gabe Holmstrom from the Democratic Party of Arkansas (left) showcases the goods:

If you don't like coon -- and most people don't -- there is an alternative: ribs on steroids.

As I said, the entire Gillett community gets behind this moneymaker, and the kids' role is to adorn the cafeteria with raccoon-themed art:
Guests are greeted by neon coon:

If you're lucky, you get to precede the main event at soon-to-be-retired U.S. Congressman Marion Berry's farm. The road is actually named after the Congressman's family. This year, Governor Beebe's office made a strong showing:

Many Coon Supper veterans had advised me to eat at Berry's thing instead of waiting for the coon, but I wasn't too inspired when I found dishes like the following:
Duck bites.
In Gabe's words: "Marinated duck, rolled in breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, wrapped in bacon, stuffed with a jalapeno, and then put on the grill."

Berry served tamales too, yet another dish I have come to associate with Arkansas, I suppose because of the tradition of eating steak and tamales at Doe's, a political hotspot in downtown Little Rock.

At the main event, each politician who wants it gets the floor:
Marion Berry:
Governor Beebe:

One of the first times I heard about the Coon Supper was at a speech at the Clinton Library, when Dale Bumpers and Bill Clinton reminisced about a snowy January in 1988. Not even a plane crash on the way to the event could deter them from making the obligatory appearance.

I'll leave you with Bumpers' own telling of the story from his autobiography, The Best Lawyer in a One-Layer Town (he mistakenly cites the years as 1987; it was 1988):

Arkansas had suffered an unusually big snowstorm in January 1987. It had snowed twelve inches on Friday, but the sun rose on a crystal-clear, but very cold, Saturday. The Gillett Coon Supper, an absolute must for all politicians, was scheduled for that evening. Gillett was a community of about nine hundred people, and the nearest airport was fifteen miles away in DeWitt. It was not uncommon for a thousand people to attend the supper. I had decided that driving the one hundred miles would be hazardous, and flying was out of the question, so I had mentally scrubbed the supper for that evening, though I had not yet notified the sponsors of the event.

About 2:00 p.m., Bill Clinton, then governor, phoned to tell me the county judge in Arkansas County had called to say he had used the county road graders to clear the runway and that it was in fine shape. Bill said, "Why don't we share a plane and go on down?"

I hesitated, but he was insistent, and I finally agreed. As I left our apartment to go to the airport, Betty said, "You and Bill Clinton both need a saliva test." She was right.

It was dark when we got to the airport. I was accompanied by a woman who had recently joined my staff as an agricultural aide, and Clinton had a state trooper with him. It is impossible to distinguish a mountain from a valley when flying over a snow-covered landscape, especially at night. The pilot, fearing some snow may have melted during the day and refrozen when the sun went down, wanted to land as close to the end of the three-thousand-foot runway as possible. What he didn't know was that the county road graders had pushed a lot of snow to the end of the runway, creating a six-foot-high snowbank. The snowbank had thawed somewhat during the day and, as the sun had set, refrozen into an iceberg.

Clinton was in the middle of a story when the nose wheel hit the iceberg. It made a terrifying noise, and the plane shuddered. While we were all startled -- no, terrified -- we suddenly went careening across the pasture next to the runway. We finally came to rest in the pasture with the nose wheel collapsed and the propellers bent double. I yelled, "Open the door, Bill! This thing is going to catch on fire."

Before he could respond, the trooper quickly reached across him and unlocked the door. We all piled out and started running through the snow to escape the plane. As we ran, Bill said, "Boy, I bet we never lose another vote in Gillett." Stark terror suddenly turned to humor.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Culture Shock v.2

I am a grammar snob. I blame good high school English teachers and a father and late grandmother who can't help but call you on it every time you end a sentence with a preposition or use "me" when you should say "I."

But I offer no excuses. Because I continue to wonder, how can people who seem otherwise well-educated fall into speech patterns that lack any semblance of proper grammar?

You know how sometimes you reply with "good" when someone asks how you're doing, even though you know full well you should really be saying "well." but you just can't bring yourself to do it for fear of sounding pretentious? Maybe it's kind of like that. Nonetheless, it kills me just a little inside every time I hear the following phrases:

Might could
Definition: I'm still not really sure. I think it means "maybe."
Usage example: I might could run to the store after work.

Fixin' to
(Yes, the lack of a "g" and the apostrophe are quite intentional.)
Definition: Getting ready to, either in the immediate future or sometime down a long, ambiguous road.
Usage example: I'm fixin' to leave work for the day. OR I'm fixin' to get a dog.

Aimin' to
Definition: Sort of similar to the above, but my guess is it has something more to do with achieving a goal.
Usage example: I'm aimin' to buy a new car.

Do what?
(This one needs to be pronounced in the following way: DOOOO WHUUUUUUUTT. In other words, draw out the "u" sound as long as possible.)
Definition: Quite simply, the word "do" is unnecessarily placed before the word "what" in any normal question situation where you'd ask someone, "What?" This is baffling to me and I will never understand it.
Usage example: Are you coming to dinner?
Do what?
I said, are you coming to dinner?

I wouldn't mind to
Definition: This is a made-up verb conjugation that uses the infinitive instead of the gerund. See below:
Usage example: I wouldn't mind to go to the movies.
INSTEAD of: I wouldn't mind GOING to the movies.

where/where at
Definition: The preposition "at" is unnecessarily added on to any otherwise normal usage of the question, "Where?"
Usage example: Where is the party at? OR Where are you at?

Definition: While the proper usage of "whenever" is for referring to vague, rather than specific, or multiple, references to time, here, "whenever" also can be used in place of "when" during times referring to a single, specific instance.
Usage example: Whenever I was at the grocery store the other day, I ran into my boss.

There's no tellin' OR just: No tellin'
Definition: No clear or rational reason exists for why x happened OR Anything could happen at any time and there's no controlling it. Or something like that. This phrase is always uttered with a rolling of the eyes or some otherwise overdramatic gesture.
Usage example: Why didn't so-and-so come to work today?
There's no tellin'...
OR Why isn't so-and-so married yet?
No tellin.'

P.S. In conclusion, why is there no Urban Dictionary for Southernisms?

P.P.S. My dear Southern linguist readers, please weigh in on my accuracy in conveying the meanings of these phrases. My intention is never to offend, so bless my little Yankee heart if I at all came across that way.