Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Road Report: Where There's Hope

We weren't on what the locals call a "Bill-grimage." A Bill-grimage? It's a portmanteau word that has come into play to describe tourists who are ardent fans of William Jefferson Clinton and his two-term presidency from 1992-2000.

As has been noted here before, this is not a blog where political notes are sounded or aired. What can one expect from a guy who is trying to avoid the news? So I'll just say that there were things I surely admired about Bill Clinton's presidency and others that disappointed me and leave it at that.

The real reason we were in Hope, Arkansas, was because it was more or less on the way to where we were going.The fact is that if I happened to be passing by, I'd probably stop off at the home of any U.S. President. From George Washington to Barack Obama, and the William Harrisons and Grover Clevelands in between, all of them have been interesting people.

Often the distance between each of these men's beginnings and where they ended up--as the leader of one of the most influential and powerful nations in history--says a multitude about what makes America a very interesting political and social experiment. "Can anyone grow up to be president?" as we Americans like to claim?

Sometimes it appears so.

You can feel it standing in the fatigued single block of low, stone and brick buildings that constitute downtown Hope, Arkansas.

A U.S. president was born and raised here? A town whose most prominent feature is the railroad station?

It's not hard to imagine that little Billy Clinton heard those passing trains. They rattled and chanted, "Let me take you away from here!"

And it had a magical effect on another man as well. Like little Billy, Mike Huckabee, another Hope resident, moved on to the governor's mansion in Little Rock and his own presidential aspirations. Clinton and Huckabee both from this tick on a mangy dog of a town? What are the odds of that?

I learned about such wonders at the train station museum devoted to Hope, Bill Clinton and watermelons.

Since I wasn't on a Bill-grimage I found myself particularly  interested in the watermelons. They grow them BIG in Hope.

Still, Bill Clilnton's presence couldn't be escaped.

Excuse the ex-president's stiff demeanor.
He's made of cardboard.

The very friendly African-American woman who was in charge of the place said President Clinton was last in Hope this past April 19th. She pointed proudly out the window. "He was walking right on the street right there!"

LOTS of whipped cream!
I wondered if former President Clinton dined at Tailgater's Cafe on the corner. It's a new establishment in Hope and they serve burgers and hotdogs and some seriously fat fries. We tried it out for lunch. The chocolate shakes were particularly noteworthy.

Another feature of this cafe is that they assign your order the name of a famous person and give you a ticket with that name on it. We got "Jack Nicholson." I was kind of disappointed. I wanted someone younger. Maybe "Leonardo Dicapprio." Still, it was better than the alternatives. "Justin Beiber?" Please. Not on an empty stomach.

Health food, Arkansas style...
Of course, Bill Clinton had heart surgery a few years ago, lost a lot of weight, and reformed his famous burger eating diet. Standing in Hope, though, one could see how he'd had been led down the wrong culinary path at an early age. This was standard-issue Heart Cloggage, Heartland, America.

I actually would have liked to have spent more time in Hope. Not for the sake of Bill, but because the town has one other claim to fame.

Here they build Klipsch speakers. These highly regarded (by some) music reproducing devices contain the famous Klipsch horn. The horn (as opposed to cone design) is said by most audiophiles to be outdated and an inaccurate way of producing musical highs. They object that a horn sounds too bright.

I once owned some Klipsch RF-1 speakers. At the time they produced the finest sounds I'd ever heard in my living room. They were especially good at pounding out the drums on rock albums like The Who's Tommy. What I appreciated, too, was that these 48" tall beasts, each weighing 50 lbs., were made in the USA. In Hope, Arkansas.

Klipsch speakers with their distinctive copper
colored speaker cones, horn speaker
at the top...and made in Hope, Arkansas

Short on time, we didn't visit the Klipsch factory, but I noted a pair of Klipschs hanging from the ceiling of the Tailgater's Cafe. I left thinking of giant watermelons, rock 'n' roll, and a burger loving boy who grew up to be president. Mama, please check my temperature. I may have a slight case of patriotism... - V.W.



  1. Interesting read, I like how underline, so to speak, the things you want to ridicule.

    man and van in London

  2. For your sins, when this is over, I want you to write a 365 day blog on nothing but the news. I want you to do nothing but live and breathe the news for 365 days. Then we can all judge which Al was better. But hey, you are probably not reading my emails so who cares!