Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 20, 2010 – Day 15 The End of Highway 7 and onto Dumas, AR

Father’s Day seems a bit empty when I’m on the road, I sort of feel guilty like I should be home doing stuff with the kids instead of riding around the country on a motorcycle. Then reality sets in and I realize I no longer have kids, I have middle-aged men and women who are busy with their own kids or running time consuming business'. When they find time to remember me I’m pleased beyond words. Thanks kids. I love all of you.

Setting out this morning, full of another Big McBreakfast I soon found myself back on the remaining half of my ride down Scenic Highway 7. I figured I’d be a bit more careful about running off the road so today’s ride was less eventful.

The weather was sunny, humid, and hot, just like the weather people said it would be. I soaked the swamp-cooler vest to the max but didn’t wear it right away; instead I rolled it up and stashed it in the zip-lock bag it came in. I figured I could put it on later if I needed to but the first part of the ride wasn’t that hot.

Centerville was a small blink of the eye as I passed through, everyone must have been sleeping in as there was no sign of activity. A rustic old house on its last legs caught my eye so I pulled over and shot a quick photo. It occurred to me that on past rides whenever I stopped to take photos someone nearly always asked if everything was alright. I wonder if the cruiser bike makes a difference or if it’s just the locale? Or maybe they were all part of the local neighborhood watch group?

Bridges are facinating to me, the sheer scope of engineering that goes into them boggles the minds of us mathematically-challenged people. They also make for nice photo ops... Things were warming up, it was time to put the vest on.

Moving on down highway 7 I came to one of those historic point-of-interest places and rode in for a short ways. The road quickly became gravel and just as quickly I lost interest, historic or otherwise. I don’t mind riding Green Girl on gravel but the reason needs to be fairly strong, otherwise I’ll buy the post card.

The end of highway 7 occurred for me in Fountain Lake as it was time to turn east again. I cruised along highway 70 and found a small out of the way Sub Shop where there were only a couple of other customers. I chose this as the logical place to refresh the vest and of course this was exactly the time when every single person saw me take it off outside and stuff it into my helmet. I wasn't being shy but at the same time I didn't think it best to flaunt the thing. As soon as I placed my order the gal asked "What was that vest thing you were taking off outside?" So much for subterfuge. I explained and she nodded. She'd have loved my foil hat...

Then when I returned to my table the guy sitting across the room asked about it. Seems like it had become the hot topic of the day in Nance, Arkansas. Later, as I was leaving a little kid came up and asked me "What is that?" I started to explain but stopped when he looked totally puzzled and said he thought it was a Kawasaki. I realized he meant the bike, not the vest. It was really time to be moving on.

My new destination was Dumas, AR and the route would keep me on the slab for miles circumventing Little Rock and Pine Bluff. The heat was intense and the pace was furious so I kept to the slow lane - 65 mph -  as much as possible. Eventually I was off the freeway and onto an easier paced highway through the country side.

I had last visited Dumas in the summer of 1959. At the time I was stationed in Memphis at the NATTC (Naval Air Technical Training Center) studying electronics. Two of my best buddies were there and one of them, Leeman Ngar lived in Dumas. Typical of Navy guys we decided it would be fun to hitchhike to Dumas on a weekend pass and meet his family so that’s just what we did.

Two things stand out in my memory about that weekend. The first was one of the drivers who stopped to give us a ride pulled into the nearest liquor store to buy booze. After that he became really focused on making the fastest time possible and scared the crap out of us. I don’t recall arriving in Dumas but we obviously made it unharmed and vowed to never again ride with anyone drinking.

              Leeman's mom's store was in this building.

The seed cleaning outfit. Still going strong.

I wonder if they're still doing business?

Look how old this business is.

The next thing happened on Saturday. I was alone going for a walk around town having just visited Leeman’s mom’s little store. Right behind her place in the rear of the building was a small beer joint and I was lured in by the wonderful guitar blues being played. I stood in the open doorway listening but one of the black guys shooed me away, probably because I was under age and maybe the wrong skin color. He was nice about it so I moved on.

Just a few yards further the corner of the building protruded into the sidewalk limiting foot traffic to just one person. As I rounded the edge of the building a tiny black woman was coming the other way and the instant we met she jumped into the gutter to let me pass. She must have been in her eighties. I was totally shocked and embarrassed; I’d been raised to open doors for ladies, offer them your seat on the bus, that sort of thing. Hey, I grew up in Hicksville, Middle America and had never been around people not of my color. Whatever color that is.

She obviously was reacting to the local rules of conduct but I felt terrible and stepping down I motioned for her to use the walk. She looked at me a bit suspiciously and I’m sure she was thinking “He’s sure not from around here” but she didn’t argue the point and moved on. I’ve thought about that moment many times in my life and today I found the very spot where it happened. The sidewalk’s changed just a bit but it’s still narrow and oddly shaped.

Thinking about it today I guess you’d have to understand that those times, the fifties were very different from our current state of affairs. It was just the beginning of the Civil Rights movement and a lot of ugliness in America needed to be set right. For me that particular experience was eye opening and would never be forgotten.

Since then Dumas has grown immensely just like most places and my accommodations at the Days Inn are far more luxurious than last night’s. You can actually drink the water and there's even a bottom sheet on the bed. Maybe I'll switch from Motel 6 to Days Inn permanently.

Next to Days Inn - my main food source - McDonalds
After driving around town and taking pictures I returned to the motel to see if I could somehow locate Leeman. Our last get together had been in Japan in 1960 when he visited me at the Naval Air Station Atsugi. Since then I’d tried to locate him without success, he was in Hawaii somewhere doing secretive stuff for the government so I’d given up.

Then for some reason this afternoon I had the idea maybe he’d returned to his childhood home so I tried the obvious: I looked him up in the phone book. He wasn’t in Dumas so I perused the directories for other towns in the area and struck gold on the third one, he was only 30 miles away. My second call caught him at home and tomorrow I’m going to meet him at his home. Heckuva deal, eh? I'm a freaking detective.

One of my sons, Brian called later and I was telling him about finding Leeman after all these years. Brian’s a really smart guy and his first comment was “How’d you find him Dad, on Face Book?” “Nope” I said, “I used the telephone book in my motel room.”

Fancy that, low tech still functions… Happy Fathers Day Guys.

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