Driving

“Turn signals are a sign of weakness”

That was the advice I received from my boss about driving on the freeways of Los Angeles when I first moved there. Driving in Los Angeles is a psychological, and sometimes, physical war game. Turn signals aren’t used, but occasionally firearms are employed. The object of driving in LA is to get to where you are going as fast as possible…which usually isn’t very fast.  I always called it “driving with a sense of urgency”.

In comparison, whatever sense of driver urgency may have existed in NWA, it got lost somewhere in the Ozarks. The local driving mantra would probably be closer to “get there as politely and lawfully as possible.”   It is the only area I have ever lived where motorists regularly drive 5-10 miles below the speed limit.   It is not just the indigenous population either.

This tendency will quickly send the city driver into road rage if expectations aren’t recalibrated.  To be honest, as passengers in my vehicle can attest, this is still one area of “opportunity” for me to which I have not yet adapted.

This more mindful motoring also has it’s benefits.  I have never been in area where people so frequently let you merge, let you pass, and let you go first at four way stop.  This courteousness is rather contagious and before you know it you are conforming to the new social norms of politeness.  Oh no…I insist…you go FIRST!  It’s very refreshing compared to the freeway Darwinism of most major metros.

The other benefit is that if you are to get into a bit of a pickle, your fellow NWA motorists are very quick to lend a hand. When accidents happen there is not typically screaming and pointing. People don’t rubber neck as they pass by at 65 mph….they stop and help. You will never see a stranded motorist alone looking at their cell phone, people stop and try and help.

When I first moved here I had a hard time determining why this molasses polite driving behavior existed.

At first I thought it was because of some kind of maniacal police department administered by an Arkansan version of Boss Hogg and Roscoe P Coltrane. Not so.  In fact, I find the surrounding municipalities to be fair and even lenient in traffic enforcement.

Looking further into it, I have concluded there are a few drivers of this behavior.

First, local infrastructure hasn’t quiet caught up with the massive population growth in the area.  Benton county alone has doubled its population in the last 15 years. Twisty country roads with no shoulders tend to mitigate high speed driving. In fact, there is even quiet a few dirt roads around here…much to my childrens’ delight.

Second, although the area is rapidly growing, it is still a just a network of small towns. Of the four major towns in the area, only Faytetteville broaches the 100,000 population mark with a population of about 73,000. The population also has a notoriously dense network, with only a few degrees of separation. That means the odds that the BMW driver you just flipped off might be your co-worker, your doctor, or your boss’s wife is higher than usual.  Open wide and say “ahhh!”

Fundamentally, I believe it is a cultural phenomena. It is part of the agrarian ethos of being self-sufficient but knowing that your are part of a community, and as such, you have certain responsibilities to your neighbors. You help your neighbors out when they need help because you never know when your cattle may stray off your own property and you need a hand. It is also about slowing down and not always rushing toward the goal, but literally enjoying the ride there.

I am doing my best to adapt. I do let people merge and wave people ahead at the four way stop. I sometimes talk to myself. I oftentimes rant and swear. I have to always remind myself that driving under speed limit isn’t always a sign of mental or physical impairment; it is just people enjoying the ride.  I will try to enjoy mine a bit more and I hope you enjoy yours.

 

 

What? Arkansas? For Real?

Like so many of you, my husband had been commuting and working in NWA before he was asked to relocate here. For Real. For Good. We’d just (2 years before) relocated to Connecticut from Utah and thought we might “be there for the duration,” But it wasn’t to be.

Arkansas? Huh? Really? OK. Well, OK, I guess. Really? What’s there? Yeah,  Walmart…but? The kids didn’t seem to really care. I’d grown up in southern Illinois which would be fairly close. And driveable. I like adventures. We’d left NJ for Utah. We could move again. Sure. We’re strong folks, we could do this, we told ourselves.

On a house hunting trip we were all in the car when we had to drive through and pick up some dry cleaning for my husband. He realized he didn’t have enough cash, and the lady said, “oh, never mind, don’t worry, you can just bring it next time.” Saying all this with a dismissive waive of her hand  like “go on, we’ll just settle up later.” But we’re total strangers. From Connecticut. You know, out East. Well, we decided, it just might be fun to live here. Was she totally gonna trust us?

12 years have slipped by since then. All things considered, it was a smooth transition. We live in a community pretty well populated with others who have also relocated here. I think they were unsure, curious, and also sometimes surprised by this interesting “place that Walmart built.”  That’s what I like to call it. The area has certainly grown and changed in that time. Our kids have completed junior high, high school, and even college since we settled here in 2006.

We were enticed by low home costs, a world famous art museum in the works, slow living and light traffic. Sometimes we don’t like to admit (little secret, we felt the same about Utah) but life here can be OK.

Next Up: What even is a Razorback and other things special to this place called NWA via XNA.

 

 

Sprechen Sie Arkansan?

“Would you like that in a sack?” the friendly lady at the liquor store asked.

“A what?” I had visions of a burlap bag in my head.

“A sack” she smiled patiently as a teacher might at a particularly dense student.

I stared blankly.  Not changing the smile on her face she continued to look at me as she pulled out a plastic bag and shook it a few times making that familiar loud crinkily noise.

“Ummm…no thanks” I said a grabbed my six pack and sheepishly exited the store.

While the emigration of people from around the globe has homogenized the Bville local dialect a bit, southern idioms and accents are strong temptresses.  The walls of the so called “Bville bubble” are porous, and never more so to the virulent contagion of the Arkansan drawl and dialect.

While hard core Yankees from Boston, Philly, and New York will successfully slow the advance of the southern twang, most others, including Brits will eventually submit to the will of the Arkansan tongue.

You will get use to this.  You will adopt it.  You will like it.

While you will probably never pronounce cement as “SEA-ment”, at around three months you will notice that your friends from back home and at work will be making fun of you for slipping “y’all” into your day-to-day conversation.  You won’t notice it, it will just happen.  It is just so easy to slip into it. After a short time you will not know how you ever did without the helpful and friendly phrase.

While I won’t spoil all of your surprises, here are a few of the local expressions and references that may save you some heartache, confusion, and embarrassment in the future.

  • Boil = usually a crawfish boil consisting of corn, potatoes, sausage, crawfish, and boiled in a big pot and then dumped out on a table and eaten with your hands
  • Buggy = shopping cart
  • Crawdad = crayfish, crawfish
  • Cattywampus/Cattycorner – diagonal from, especially used in geo-location
  • Daggum = Polite version of god damn
  • Fixin’ = meaning you are getting ready to do something
  • Float = tubing, canoeing, or kayaking on one of the many beautiful rivers in the area.
  • Gettin’ place = reference to obscure the origination of goods purchased
  • Home Office = in NWA it always mean Walmart Headquarters
  • Lightening bug = firefly
  • Pocketbook = purse
  • Piddle = to goof off. waste time.
  • Razorbacks = usually the University of Arkansas football team
  • Reckon = that you are clear on a topic or have specific direction
  • Slaw = Coleslaw
  • Sweet or Unsweet = can be asked after you order iced tea.  Be warned, the default is usually sweet if you don’t specify and it is sweet.
  • The Trail = the greenway bike trail that runs from Bella Vista down to Fayetteville
  • The Square = usually in reference to Bentonville square, but can refer to Fayetteville square
  • Square to Square = either the unofficial running race or bicycle race from Bville square to Fayetteville
  • Sack = plastic bag
  • Tore Up = angry, upset, or disappointed

One in particular you should be aware of, that took me a while to catch on was the expression “Oh, bless your heart.”  Now, you might be tempted to think this is a term of endearment or empathy.  Let me disabuse you of that notion; it is not.  Roughly translated “oh bless your heart” means “you are a dumb ass.” The person saying it is acknowledging that fact.

It goes like this.

“Ma’aam, I was wondering if you could tell where I could pick up a six pack of beer for the game tonight”

“Oh bless your heart…you know today is Sunday right?”

I learned that one the hard way. So, I hope some of these terms may help you settle in if you are new to NWA.  If you are a veteran of the area, I would love to hear your additions or edits to my list above.  Talk to y’all soon.

Live

The muscular black BMW M5  was pulled off onto the grass on the side of the road. I could see the setting sun reflecting off its symmetric obsidian curves.  I spotted it as I was traveling up Rainbow Road on my way home.  A few meters away from the six digit Teutonic piece of industrial art I saw a women.  She was dressed in business attire and was walking toward the barb wire fence by the side of the road.

I was concerned.  Was there a problem? An accident?  A flat tire? I slowed my car.

As I passed I got a closer look at what was going on. I saw her kneel down by the  fence.  I saw her smiling broadly as she put her hands through the fence to pet the miniature pony on the other side.

For me this captures so much of the spirit of Northwest Arkansas.  People move here from all over the globe.  They bring with them their aspirations, their worries, and their hopes.  They also bring with them their obsession with stuff…and many start to engage in their gradual divorce from it.

Once you are here, you tend to become aware that stuff is really not that important.  In fact, you start to realize that stuff really gets in the way of enjoying your life. You start to realize that it is a distraction and the real way to enjoy life is experiencing it.  And there really is so much to experience here.

This evening my wife, our kids, and some close friends and some other complete strangers sat around at Peddlers pub.  We do this often.  We play Scrabble and Jenga with our kids and we drink beer and eat unhealthy cheese fries and pizza.  We know many of the folks at Bike Rack Brewing Company and many of the servers at Peddler’s Pub.   They are, by and large, good people and you feel comfortable in the hodgepodge social nest that you make here. Tonight we got to enjoy an amazing duo as pedestrians stopped and watched and the sun set as marshmellow clouds loitered in the sky.  Truly beautiful.

 

When we were infants what we principally wanted was the attention of our parents and others.  We wanted to belong and have social engagement.  We are, of course, social animals.  Early on we become polluted with the promise of what “things” can provide.  It is a drug that we get addicted to.  The next car, the next house, the next this, the next that.  It doesn’t stop. It’s a drug.

In NWA, you get a chance to get grounded again if you so choose. You rediscover what you knew as an infant.  It is not about “stuff”, it is about experiences. It is about the people around you.  The lake, the trees, the river, the long bike ride or the walk in the woods. It is about being with people you love. It is about learning and exploring the unknown.  This is the stuff that makes life worth living.

That young women stepping out of her BMW to pet that pony captures that essence perfectly.  This is the transformation that many choose when they get here.  She perhaps took her first step on that journey.

It’s nice to have nice things, but their reward is temporary and fleeting.  You may or may not remember that fancy car in your twilight years.  You will always remember the time you pulled your car off to the side of a rural road in Arkansas, knelt down, and spent some time with a pony.  I expect she will be driving a used Subaru soon.

So remember to take some time to pull off on your own road and check out your own ponies. You will likely find it is time well spent.

 

Decompression

“You should come over. They’re having game night!”

My wife and I looked at each other uneasily.  We were not really accustomed to talking to our neighbors let alone joining them for “game night” at a strangers house.  We declined the invitation at the time, but would take up other invitations in the future.  We were just settling in.

When you move to NWA from a metro area one of the major adjustments will be the level of friendliness and intimacy of not only the natives, but that adopted hospitality of most every transplant who moved here.

People are just generally nice and welcoming.  It can be unnerving moving from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or other metros where you generally mind your own business. Living in these metros, if others are being nice for no reason they have some kind of angle to try and take advantage of you.

I remember my mother visiting us in Los Angeles from a rural ‘burg in the middle of Pennsylvania. I love my Mom, but I remember my embarrassment as she struck up a conversation with whomever she was around; random people in the grocery store, waitresses at the restaurant, the barista at the coffee shop.  I forgot that’s how normal human beings are suppose to behave.

It’s like that here.  All the time. For the first few months my on-going inner dialog when in public was “what does this person want from me?” and “why are they talking to me?” It was actually really uncomfortable. Eyes front, mind you’re own business was my mantra.  It took me sometime to trust that the idle chatter and friendliness was not always some kind of scam in progress….it was people being friendly.  People being…human.

It’s easy to get in the spirit.  Almost contagious.  You easily slip into a habit of holding open the door for others, letting people in front of you in the grocery store, and letting other cars merge in front of you.  For the uninitiated it is down right bizarre.  In Los Angeles the turn signal was a sign of weakness.  Here people readily wave in front of them with eye contact and smile.

There is a surprising paucity of  rude behavior, and when it does happen, the full wrath of Arkansan social norms collapses on you like a vice. Being a jerk is simply not tolerated. Although you will never hear a car horn here.  I think there may be a local ordinance requiring car horn castration.

Random acts of kindness are common place and part of the social fabric of the Bville bubble.  A few months after moving here I purchased a outdoor grill at Home Depot.  Forgetting I had driven a friend’s car (a subcompact), I was left in the parking lot figuring out how to fit my new toy into the vehicle.  I was struggling contorting the grill into the itty bitty Honda.

Up pulls a F-150 truck and a guy jumps out.

“Y’all need some help with that?” friendly guy says.

“What?” I said, suspiciously.

“You need some help getting that home? Do you live near by, I can get it home for you… no problem.” the Samaritan said.

“Ummm no I’m good”

I had my full anti-grift antennae up and waved him on. This was very suspicious behavior to me.  I would come to learn this is just what you come to expect in NWA.  People, in general, help others in need.

A friend of mind related a story about a car accident on Walton Boulevard in Bentonville.  One car had collided with another; nothing severe but more than a fender bender.  In one of the cars were two young children.  Immediately  three other uninvolved cars  stopped in the middle of the road and their drivers raced out of their vehicles to check on those affected in the accident. The kids were fine.  This kind of social responsibility simply doesn’t happen elsewhere.

It works in reverse as well.  You must reacclimatize when leaving the Bville Bubble.  I remember flying back to Los Angeles, making my way through LAX and getting on the rental car bus after a long day of travel.

“Hey, you bumped into me with your backpack” a fellow passenger said to me.

He was clearly irritated with me, but i missed the social cue.  I momentarily forget my social context and said “Oh. My. God! Are you going to be okay?” and smiled broadly.  I thought he was joking. He was not.  I think he took my joking as some sort of a threat rather than playful banter it was intended to be and sat down in an huff glaring at me.

It was at that point I looked forward to getting back to  what I finally regarded as ‘home’. Funny that turning point in your life when the definition of ‘home’ changes.

So decompress. It’s cool. As Leo Babauta recommends… Breath.  Relax.  People here are for the most part WSIWG.

And if you are invited to game night: go.

You Can Do What?

One of the first things you will notice moving here from a metro area is the refreshing and somewhat disorienting lack of governmental regulation and oversight.

For example, say you wake up one day and have a fixin’ to go kill some squirrels.  You can waltz into your local Walmart Super Center, buy yourself a nice bolt action rifle, walk out and go shoot some squirrels.  All within about 10-20 minutes.  Yes, you need an Arkansas drivers’ license and there are hunting seasons, but they are pretty liberal…especially for squirrels.

For me, nothing quite captures this governmental laissez-faire as much as the 4th of July in NWA.

My first 4th here I marveled at the large firework tents that sprouted as if a circus convention arrived in town.

kingkong
Firework City, photo courtesy of Jason Mitchell

Walking into one of the large tents on Rainbow Road (past the family of gophers that inexplicable lived in the hedges right next to the road) I pulled into the lot not sure what to expect. When I walked in I couldn’t believe the vast quantity and quality of fireworks whose use would result in misdemeanor charges back in Southern California.

The young store keeper (ring master?) was not the distant and indifferent adolescent I had become accustom to elsewhere; he was an enthusiastic firework aficionado. He provided an expert and personal overview of his curated pyrotechnical wares.

“Would you like to see some?” the young man asked.

“What now?  It’s 3 o’clock on Saturday?  Can you do that?”

With a hesitation he withdrew to a dirt clearing about 20 feet away from the tent and started setting off fireworks.  He lit one after another…giggling after each one burst into the air. I grew a bit uncomfortable,  Was this normal?

I made my modest purchase of firecrackers and rocket type things he demonstrated and made my way home.

Later that night, at around sunset I slinked out to my back lawn to test my new toys out.  It was very quiet and lightning bugs strobed in the early evening air.  Being that is was July 3rd I surmised it might be permissable to test one or two of these out.  I ignited the fuse of one rocket and I ran back and watched. It it flew into the air with a “fffflllllffffttt!” and then exploded with a bang that echoed off the surrounding houses and hills.

“Oh sh*t that was loud” I thought to myself.  I was fairly sure I was going to see security or the police show up soon. I went inside thinking it was too risky to light another.

Little did I know.

July 4th started pretty tame.  By early afternoon you would here some local pops here and there and the occasional report of machine gun fire from lady fingers. Later that day I began hearing what seemed like the “KAAA – BOOM” of mortar fire behind my neighbor’s house

Curious I walked down to street to see what was going on.  There stood my middle aged neighbor in flip flops and golf shirt with a small group around him flinging M-80s into the storm drain one after another.  I watched for a while then walked back to my house and waited for security to show up to harsh everyone’s mellow.  Security never came.

Once night came, all hell broke loose.  It was like the Do Lung Bridge scene from Apocalypse Now. There was nearly non-stop explosions and lights in all directions for a solid 3 hours.

Later in the night I saw in the near distance what seemed like 9/10th scale version of Disneyland’s Forever firework display.  I would later learn it was just a neighbor with a keen interest and budget for pyrotechnics.  Truly awe inspiring.

I am sure there were some injuries.  I am sure there was some drunkenness.  I am also sure those states were highly correlated.  But the spirit in the air was very light hearted and carefree, but respectful.  There were no fights or loud arguments.  There was no vandalism.

Later, I saw my M-80 wielding neighbor stumbling up and down the street picking of the paper remnants of his expended arsenal.  Others did the same, picking up discarded cups and cans. The mayhem stopped around 11pm and all was quiet again.  In short, people by and large respect and take care of their own community here.

So while the regulation is light, the civic mindedness of the people who live here makes such regulation largely superflous.  By and large, people do the right thing because they know it is the right thing to do…not because they are compelled to do so by the rules.  I hope that spirit perseveres.

That night, I marveled at this new found freedom as I pondered the acquisition of some squirrel eradication weaponry myself.  My kids fell asleep exhausted from all the commotion and the next day we were back to the normal rhythm of the summer.  It was all-in-all a pretty incredible 4th.

I look forward to this 4th of July here in NWA. Please take some time have some cold ones, a hot dog or two, and apple pie.  I would also encourage you take a moment to think about the gift of freedom we enjoy everyday and the responsibility that imbues upon each of us.  Thanks for reading. I wish you a safe and happy one.

 

Beach Guy in Bville

“Dave, what’s wrong?” my wife asked.

I stared ahead in the car, unable to speak.  I was flush and sweating and it was November. I was freaked out.  I had agreed to move to Arkansas, a state I had to look up in an atlas a few months earlier, and now we had touchdown in a rinky dink airport which, in my fevered imagination, they just cleared the cattle off the runway.

“I’m fine,” I said unconvincingly.

In the backseat was our Nanny, Nina, and her girlfriend, Monica who I had both somehow miraculously convinced to move here as well. That was quite a sales job and I think they were both as freaked out as me.  It was the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2014 and we were touring what was to be our new home.

My wife did her best to reassure me, but I grew up in small town America and I knew all about it. After a tour of duty in Toledo, Ohio for a few years, I was not real thrilled to subject myself to small town life again after living 20+ years under the blue skies and cool breezes of Southern California from which we just came.

I kept mentally chanting to myself like Chirrut the monk from Rogue One:

“I can live anywhere for 3 years.

I can live anywhere for 3 years.

I can live anywhere for 3 years”

I remember passing a bunch of fields and woods on our trip to the Doubletree Hotel. I got out of the car and stopped. I froze as I looked in the distance at a mega church with three GIGANTIC crosses.

3crosses

This didn’t help.  Now, no disrespect for those who are religious, but what went through my mind at that exact moment was the more extreme form of southern Christianity that includes parishioners speaking in tongues and handling snakes.  Not. Dave’s. Scene.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

Fast forward to three and half years and here we are…and quite happy.  Northwest Arkansas is a weird, rugged, friendly, and amazing place.  Every time I walk out of the tiny Northwest Arkansas Regional airport I feel the stress melt away as I am greeted by the rich smells, beautiful skies, and sublimely content people of Northwest Arkansas.

I had mixed emotions about creating this blog.  On one hand, I wanted to keep this secret to myself so the magic of the area would be preserved and people wouldn’t consider moving here.

On the other hand, many are compelled to move here because of their careers or other circumstances.  That can be tough. In the end, I want to help those people out. It can be tough to get adjusted, so I thought I might be able to help some small way.

If you are considering moving here, the bottom line is this; it’s pretty damn nice.  Every transplant who has been here more than 3 years has this story:

“We moved here from [location] and didn’t plan to stay more than [<=3 years] but we really liked the area and so have been here for over [> 3 years]”

In this blog I plan on relating my observations about the area as a complete outsider. I grew up  in the Northeast and called the Southbay of Calfornia home for more than 20 years.  My hope is for me (and hopefully others) is to provide some guidance, information, and solace about the area to get your acquainted with NWA.

So I hope you will read Bville Life and participate.  If you would like to write or have questions please give a holler at dave@bvillelife.com.

Talk to ‘y’all’ soon.