The bright skies and glowing energy of Tulsa were the perfect way to kick-start my introduction–and jumping-off point–to the South. For to go to the “true” South (Oklahoma isn’t The South according to Southerners I’d later meet), I wouldn’t have to go very far south at all. Just a jaunt southeast into Arkansas.
I was on my way to Hot Springs. Here I’d stay with hosts I’d never met, dig for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park, and marvel at the hot springs flowing out of the mountain in the center of this town.
But on the way I first got to meet Arkansas “redneck,” Bill Jones.
I said goodbye to my friend Will and his family Monday morning, July 25. After one to two hours of driving from Tulsa, through the ever more hilly landscapes, I approached the Oklahoma-Arkansas border.
On the other side of the Arkansas River was historic Fort Smith, an understated small city marking a gateway to the old Wild West, with its history as “a bustling community full of brothels, saloons, and outlaws.” Today, Fort Smith is home to the US Marshals Service National Museum.
From here, I continued southeast. Of all highways, I found myself on US highway 71, the road my hometown Blackduck, MN–almost 1000 miles straight north–also happens to be on.
I was enjoying the rolling, green terrain on this narrow, windy section of 71, when I glanced to my left to see a property that reminded me of a few I know along this road in Minnesota. It was trailer house with seemingly random items strewn all over the front yard. Several pieces collected underneath a pole shelter, and a flag pole flew one key distinction between good ‘ole boys in Minnesota and those from here–the Confederate flag.
Soon after passing it, I turned my car around, returned to this rural residence, and snapped a few pictures from across the road. Then the owner exited the trailer and asked what I was doing. In a dirty t-shirt, blue jeans, baseball hat, and with a bushy, gray mustache, I wasn’t sure what to think as the lanky man walked toward me. But I simply introduced myself, and then Bill Jones did the same. Then he agreed to go on camera and share about his life in rural Arkansas.
His life–and expression of it–was as interesting as you might think. This is the first of several full interviews from my Southern Experience Tour: Bill Jones, self-proclaimed Arkansas redneck.
This unplanned interaction was nonetheless just the kind of experience I was hoping for. I kept my eyes open for future opportunities. Many more would enter my line of vision.
Next time, we arrive to the picturesque, energetic community of Hot Springs, Arkansas.