Little Rock, AR -- September 2, 2007

The only book I saw being read in Arkansas was the Bible. It was a Sunday.

I wandered around the downtown area and found a Latino festival that cost $20 to enter. I considered it, but when I peered over the fence, I didn't see what I was looking for. Music? Yes. Dancing? Yes. Eating? Yes. Reading? No. Reading in public is a cultural thing. I found readers at the Ribfest the day before, but, on my trip it has been my experience that the Latino culture is not a culture that reads in public. Instead--and I hope I'm not creating a stereotype, because there are always exceptions--they engage with their families.

I stood near the gates of the festival, and the ghost town of the rest of the area and despaired. The sunscreen I'd put on was tearing up my eyes and though nothing had put me over the edge to cause me to cry, there I was, with tears running down my face and no matter how much I blotted them with tissue, they kept on stinging and the tears kept on coming. I had no idea where to find a public restroom so I could wash my face. It was already 4pm and, though my bus wouldn't leave until 1:15am, it's easier (and safer) to find readers in the sane hours of the day. My time to represent Little Rock was quickly waning. I didn't want to take time out to cry.

I tried asking people going to the festival where they thought I might find readers, but the question was just too out of context. A wholesome looking middle-aged white couple looked absolutely alarmed when I tried to talk to them. It may have been because I was teary eyed and carrying a backpack. They didn't even hear me out, though I was as polite as possible. They just walked away.

Further down the street, beneath the awning of a dark, closed-on-Sunday cafe, I saw a homeless man with a very dogeared Stephen King book sitting next to his pile of bags, ready to be read but, though I walked past him three times, slowly, trying to look inconspicuous, he just wouldn't pick it up and read it. When, on my fourth pass, he'd packed up his belongings and left, I knew it was time to leave the downtown, too.

I went into a bath and body store, one of the few stores that was open, and did what is so hard to do--I admitted absolute ignorance and explained my goal: find at least one person reading in this town. The young women manning the shop were kind, helpful, and interested in my project. They didn't balk at my beleaguered appearance (my tears had abated), but gave me a persimmon/walnut hand scrub and the name of a coffee shop in the Hillcrest neighborhood. And, when it hit home that I did not have a car, they helped me look up a taxi in the yellow pages. Existing in Little Rock without a car is impossible.

I took a taxi out to the Hillcrest neighborhood in the western part of town, but everything was closed, including the coffee shop, Sufficient Grounds. So, instead, I went to the Kroeger grocery store and bought romaine hearts, sparkling water, a huge hunk of Monterrey Jack cheese and parked myself on the pavement for a picnic. When people rattled by on their way to their cars with shopping carts filled with dog food, kitty litter, and over flowing brown shopping bags filled with the week's groceries, they have me pitying looks.

I relaxed and read an article in the Arkansas Times about how Latino immigrants should be treated with respect, as its in the same spirit as many of the people who came to Arkansas originally were in.

In the evening, I got a phone call from the reader I'd met on the bus, the one who'd been reading The Fountainhead and, for one of the first times on my trip, I made friends. He invited me to Vinos, a pizza place, with him and his friend to have a drink. Though bars are closed on Sundays, and you can't by alcohol in stores, you can order a beer at restaurants. To get around the regulations, if you want to drink at home, folks line up with their jugs to fill up and trade in.

Kai, the reader, and Tiffany, his friend were so good to me. They made me feel like one of their friends and, by the time we left the pizzeria, where Kai had worked in High School, I felt like one of the crowd, like maybe, in some forgotten life, I'd worked there, too.

After dinner we went to the movies--another first on my trip--and saw 1408, which is based on a short story by Stephen King about a haunted hotel. After that, I felt very content to sleep on the floor of a Greyhound station, just so long as it wasn’t haunted.

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