While there were no death-blows exchanged, the learning curve for both of us is a little complicated. The early camping trip had been planned as a sort of dry run for a later leg of the trip, and I know we’re both grateful for the practice, as it gave us the opportunity to work some of the kinks out. It also gave us the opportunity to examine the fact that both of us are composed of a great deal of interwoven kinks, many of which are stubborn and quite comfortable where they are. The official camping leg of the journey will not be the easiest part, but we’re both certainly more prepared now. As with any trial or tribulation, strength comes from passing through adversity. Like apologizing for being a dick, which feels adverse as hell.
After lunch, we drove down the mountain into downtown to see the guided tour at the Fordyce Bathhouse, the National Park’s headquarters. The tour, as with all our experiences with the National Park System, was humorous, illuminating and entertaining as hell. The history at play vis-a-vis the bathhouses and the foundation of Hot Springs itself dovetailed beautifully into the knowledge bombs from the day before at the Gangster Museum.
Though we were done courting weirdness for the day, it wasn’t done with us. West Memphis, as it turns out, is not in Tennessee at all, but rather a piss stop of a town just on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi. Understandings were reached regarding budget on this trip, and J and I had no illusions about the quality of the establishments we would be staying in, but having to slide your identification under bullet-proof glass to check-in is never a good omen. The floors were sticky, every surface chipped. The door had obviously been kicked in at some point. We had both gotten little sleep the night before, and were careful to be kind, tip-toeing around the lack of accommodations and utter despair that hung heavy in the room. After running the air conditioner for a little while, we were able to ignore the antiseptic smell. Overheated and exhausted, we laid on the bed, not wanting to pierce the silence with our hot breath. J picked up his phone then looked over. Shattering our polite pretense, he mused, “They have wifi, but I don’t want any of my devices to get VD.”
My mood improved, we drove to the Gulch to sample some beers at Party Fowl, where we fell in love with a watermelon gose, then headed to Jackalope, a local brewery, we’d missed our last time in these parts. Their brews deserve every bit of the hype they receive, and they were served by a disinterested young woman who was answering the conversations directed towards her with lack of eye contact and monosyllabic retorts that reminded me of my own magnetic temperament during my (short-lived) stints behind the bar.
Louisville is a proper Southern town with a proper Southern drinking culture, and as two people who enjoy that kind of amusement, J and I were happy to spend the next day partaking. Bardstown Road is a sort of thoroughfare for establishments both divey and high-end, and feeling there was no better way to get a feel for the city in our limited time, we embraced the variety with gusto and our credit cards in tow.
Just up the road was an attraction Y had already primed me for, and I had been excited for the last few days to unravel the mystery of the Mystery Hole. It is certainly both of those things, and features a delightful tour that shall not be discussed, as I would never want to ruin another’s Mystery Hole.
The rain persisted as we made our way towards Wheeling, West Virginia. Our path took us past sloping hillsides dotted with coal plants, their orange lights emanating a celestial luminescence in the twilight. They reminded me of the return trips home from New York as a child, my drowsy eyes canvassing the stretch of refineries along the Jersey highway – their lights reflected off the smoke billowing from their stacks, spawning a grave haze, dimly lit against the night. J and I quietly wondered at their majesty, these urban constellations.
People use all kinds of barometers to discern when a person becomes an adult. At 27 in Manhattan, I remember being horrified reading an article about a 26 year old woman’s death, and thinking I’d be wrongly referred to as a woman, should something happen to me. I have good credit, I have been responsible for people’s livelihoods, but I wasn’t to taste adulthood until the first time I hired movers.