Friday, June 27, 2008
What kind of place is Eureka Springs, Arkansas?
A place where Gramps straps his cane onto the back of his Harley and goes riding on the winding mountain roads (marked by signs stating "Crooked Road Next Two Miles") with Grandma.
A place where storybook homes - from Victorians to log cabins to stone cottages, seemingly miniaturized for cuteness - appear right out of a tale you once read.
A place where pristine spring water (discovered in 1856 by Dr. Alvah Jackson, who would market it as "Dr. Jackson's Eye Water") oozes from secret grottoes like this one. There are 63 springs in the area.
A place where you can go canoing on a public lake, pull over for a picnic and find the only source of company - and noise - is a flock of very friendly geese. (The animals? Just like the people!)
A place where a three-story building has three different street addresses, thanks to the unusual "stair-step" design of the town, which sits atop 20 hills. In between buildings, precipitous staircases are the only way to enter a building's mid-level shops and restaurants.
In sum, a place that gives a spectacular first date. I was charmed. I was giddy. I even had visions of what our life together might look like. And we ALL know how dangerous that is.
(In case you're wondering, it looked like this: me, sitting at a desk, looking out the window of my adorable, two-bedroom, circa 1900 Victorian cottage, which cost me less than $180,000 to buy, watching deer stroll through the leafy yard, writing the great American novel.)
Now that I've actually been to Eureka Springs (population 2,350), located high up in the fabled Ozark Mountains, I'm still having a hard time believing that this place exists. It's just too good to be true. Certainly I've never encountered anything like it in the South.
I would like to describe it in a way that doesn't make me seem spellbound. Problem is, I think that's exactly what I am. So bear with me. I'll first try to articulate what this one-of-a-kind, Utopian town is like in words - and then in photos in a separate post.
Here are the phrases that come to mind. I apologize in advance for sounding so gushy. (Although perhaps that's only appropriate for a place with "springs" in its name.)
--A sylvan wonderland
--A hidden Bohemia
--A fairytale hamlet
--A hippie haven
--A model of historic preservation
--A bastion of tolerance
--A slice of the Swiss Alps located in Northwest Arkansas
--An unspoiled paradise
--A refuge for rebels
--An artist's retreat
--A step back in time
--A Victorian confection
--The smallest progressive town in the South
A few facts to back up these grandiose descriptions.
- Fact one. The entire town of Eureka Springs is on the National Register of Historic Places. All of the historic buildings, hotels, homes and cottages have been preserved, and the town looks much the same as it did at the turn of the century. Because the original industry (bottling spring water under the Ozarka label and running "healing" bathhouses) died, growth stopped, and the only industry left was tourism. So to stay alive, reinvention was necessary. Homes were renovated and turned into B&Bs. Now, there are over 70 B&Bs in this walkable (albeit with some steep stretches) mountain village.
- Fact two. In 2007, Eureka Springs became the first and only town in Arkansas to establish a Domestic Partnership Registry. It is one of just eight municipalities in the South to have a registry or extend rights to domestic partners. (The others are Atlanta, GA; West Palm Beach, FL; Broward County, FL; Chapel Hill, NC; Carborro, NC; New Orleans, LA; and Arlington, VA.)
As enchanted as I am? Stay tuned for part two - "Eureka in Photos"!
Thursday, June 26, 2008
“The International Telework Association and Council estimates that within the next two years, the number of
From Bricks to Clicks (
Save $3,000 in gas a year by telecommuting
“If you commute five days a week, 60 miles round trip each day, you pay about $56.25 a week based on a per gallon price of $3.75 and an average gas mileage of 20 per gallon. That’s nearly $3,000 you’re spending on gas per year, compared to $2,100 a year when gas prices were $2.75, for example.”
Gas Gouged? Try Telecommuting. (MSNBC)
Is there a correlation? I think yes.
I am planning to write a fascinating, if not earth-shaking, analysis of my generation's "relationship status" with their current city. But how can I without YOUR possible swing vote?
Wondering where the heck the poll is? You'll find it about halfway down the right sidebar. Click the "Vote" button to make your mark.
Uncrowded (There is no such thing as rush hour. Except maybe 7:00 p.m. on Fridays at the Outback Steakhouse.)
Walmartized (The world’s largest company was founded in
Economically Strapped (Median income, at $33,445, is the third lowest in the
Conservative (But only by a smidge. The state has gone Democratic in five out of the last 12 Presidential elections. Plus, a certain Mr. Clinton hails from here.)Sleepy (Many restaurants close at 9:00 p.m. Most close by 10:00 p.m. Only a handful are open till 11:00 p.m.)
Laidback (Hurrying? Stressing? Why would you do that? It’s allllllll good.)
Not Overtly Prejudiced (Despite being a desegregation hotbed in the 50s, interracial friendships and marriages are not uncommon.)Pretty (Fields of wildflowers. Beautiful mountains and valleys. Sparkling rivers and lakes.)
Itchy Around The Ankles (Chiggers are such a nuisance that homegrown anti-chigger products abound.)Armed (People like their guns. They like to talk about them. They like to shoot them. Fortunately, not at people though.)
Carnivorous (Restaurants offer steak in whopping two or two-and-a-half pound portions!)
Musically Inclined (Grab a banjo.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I’m not talking about the honeymoon suite either. What I’m trying to get across is the astonishing fact that even a standard hotel room comes with a Jacuzzi-for-two, and the owners and operators are DARN proud of it. You drive past a locally-owned hotel/motel, and nine times out of 10 “Jacuzzis” will be mentioned on the sign.
Here's the popular "heart shaped" model.
Naturally, I have been scratching my head as to WHY Jacuzzis are so prevalent. At first I theorized that Jacuzzis flourished here because water is plentiful. Heck, it springs from the ground all over the state. In
Then I thought perhaps it had to do with the populace, and their idea of what a “fancy” amenity was. Did it symbolize status? Decadence? Romance? Finally, I caught wind of a fateful clue. I noticed no one ever said “hot tub,” only “Jacuzzi tub.” That subtle distinction is what led this cultural PI to solve the mystery.
Jacuzzi, as it turns out, is not a made-up word. It’s a family. A very entrepreneurial Italian family with a bunch of brothers. One of the brothers’ inventions (a deep-water injector pump) would turn them into a powerhouse corporation – and a household name. What does that have to do with anything? Well, it was none other than the state of
Suddenly it all made sense. The tubs were made here, so they proliferated here. Plus, the Jacuzzis were hometown heroes. They created jobs and brought prestige to
Now that the case is closed, there’s only one thing left to do. I’m going to fill the Jacuzzi tub, crank the jets and call it a day. With my curiosity relieved, I can finally relax…and admit that I could get used to this.
Friday, June 20, 2008
One of the states is
Want a drink to go with your food? Better go put 60 cents in the soda machine. “This ain’t no five-star joint,” she told me merrily. Here, the word “shed” is not something cute and cheeky. The place is literally a roadside shack. The charm (and there was plenty of it) comes from the big personality behind the counter.
Here are some of the things I learned from this engaging restaurateur:
--Crawfish season has just ended. “Can’t get it no more, honeybun,” she told a disappointed customer, who was looking to buy fresh crawfish for a party. “Not anywhere. Not
--The reason people didn’t evacuate before Katrina was because the buses stopped running. “Buses were how people got around,” she explained. “No one had cars. That’s why when a woman had man problems, the joke was, ‘Don’t worry. Men are like buses. ‘Nuther one be round in 15 minutes.’”
--She wants to go home. But now she’s started this business. So like many evacuees, she’s not sure when she’ll return. Her youngest daughter was four when they left, and now she’s gotten used to
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Take for example The Ben Miller Band from
A driving mixture of bluegrass, zydeco, blues, hip hop and good old-fashioned jamming, the band calls their sound Ozark Stomp. (The Ozarks are a mountain range spanning
More surprising, though, was my appreciation for Hank Williams III. A local slipped us his Straight to Hell CD with no small amount of religious fervor. I was expecting country, of course, but country it is not. Called “hellbilly” by some, “honky punk” by others, Hank the Third, as he’s affectionately called, is an unclassifiable renegade. Irreverent, aggressive, hard-drinking and hilarious, he’s got a spirited defiance that goes over quite well in these parts.Who knew
That’s a serious turn-on.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
You know something’s WAY beyond a trend when the federal government is doing it. On June 3rd, the House approved legislation allowing qualified civil servants to telecommute 20 percent of the time – essentially one day a week. Currently about 6% (110,000) of federal employees telecommute at least one day a month.
Why is Uncle Sam joining the bandwagon? “A happy workforce is a productive workforce,” says co-sponsor, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. He also cited high gas prices, reduced traffic congestion, less air pollution and decreased absenteeism as factors. Co-sponsor, John Sarbanes (D-Md.), said the government must boost telecommuting to remain competitive in hiring.
The way I see it, employees are leading the way. The more demand there is for telecommuting, the more flexible employers will have to become. Working one day from home per week is becoming pretty common. But what about working from home most or all days? I see more and more people – and I mean full-timers too, not just freelancers – negotiating this in the future.
Skyrocketing gas prices are one reason. Another is kids. In families with two working parents, career flexibility is a huge factor, and not just for working mothers, as this New York Times article about equal parenting demonstrates. Most of the parents interviewed had creative work schedules (e.g. three 10-hour days and two half days). But there’s still all that time lost to commuting (five weeks per year!). That’s five more weeks parents could spend with their kids.
Would you work from home most or all of the week if you could? Have you asked? Please comment away!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I'm a writer. I pay attention to quirky words. And when I travel, I can often get a good sense about a place from the names of its towns, rivers, streets, parks, etc.
So when we drove past Toad Suck in route to
Despite its hard-nosed investigation, the Cabin concludes that the origins of the name remain in dispute. To quote, “There has never been toadal agreement.” I felt a love of small town America flicker upon reading that.
So I have to put a point in the “pro” column for
Monday, June 16, 2008
Built in 1817 to "deal with the Indians" (read: steal their land and systematically destroy their way of life), the old fort sits on the banks of the fast-moving Arkansas River. If you follow it west, you'll be in Oklahoma in minutes. Fort Smith is right on the border. If you follow it east, it'll take you to Little Rock (three hours away).
Having coincidentally started to read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee (an important but harrowing book I recommend only if you enjoy having your guts wrenched out), I am feeling a little queasy to discover that Fort Smith was a major stop on the Trail of Tears.
That said, I was surprised that this National Park Service placard along the river was so, well, honest.
Despite this unsettling legacy, I am dedicated to giving modern-day Fort Smith a proper date. I already know one thing that's going to help break the ice. Bluegrass.
I was watching the NBA Finals last night when the telecast was interrupted by a meteorologist advising me to seek shelter. I had 90 minutes to prepare for a severe thunderstorm producing winds up to 80 miles per hour and hail the size of baseballs (later downgraded to ping pong balls, and then finally to quarters, thankfully.) This was my first red flag moment in
In every relationship, there are potential deal breakers. They start as red flags, and under careful monitoring, may turn out to be not that big of a deal. (Or at least not big enough to outweigh the good.) Others, however, may progress to bona fide deal breakers. Issues that will, quite literally, break you up. As I travel to various places, I will be sharing my list of potential deal breakers. Because while it helps to know what I want in a hometown, it also helps to know what I don’t want.
After dumping a fourth ice bucket full of rainwater into the sink (the A/C unit was gushing water into the hotel room at the storm’s peak, so I used the ice bucket to capture it), I began to wonder if living somewhere with severe weather might be a potential deal breaker.
I’d heard about the high number of tornado deaths (110 and counting) this year, but I hadn’t thought much about hail until I got here. Then I didn’t have to hear about it. I could see for myself. Here’s an example of a home in
You can see the broken glass on this clock as well.
So the question is, would severe weather keep you from moving somewhere – especially in the age of global warming? What if you couldn’t get full-coverage insurance because storms/floods were so common? Or am I missing the big picture and failing to see that almost every place has a unique mélange of natural disasters (i.e. earthquakes, mudslides and wildfires in
Saturday, June 14, 2008
As my previous post demonstrates, my camera got a lot of use during a stroll around the inn's stately neighborhood. Every other house merited a snapshot, so I eventually had to reign myself in. There weren't just a few gorgeous historic homes. It was one of the largest collections I've ever seen.
Then I came to find out the The Quapaw Quarter is nine square miles! How big is that? Well, it's nearly half the size of Manhattan, which is 22 square miles. No wonder the historic district seemed to continue block after block as far as you could see. According to the Quapaw Quarter Association, which works to preserve historic buildings and organizes bi-annual home tours, there are over 250 National Register properties in Greater Little Rock.
Most of the homes were built between 1880 and 1920, and they represent primarily Colonial Revival, Queen Anne and Craftsman architecture. The Robinwood hails from around 1913 and stands out as one of the rare examples of Prairie architecture, as championed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Not only did our stay at the B&B introduce me to this amazing neighborhood, but it was a delightful experience in and of itself. High-end luxury for $135/night. Believe it. I was so smitten that I was compelled to write this effusive review at TripAdvisor.com, a site I use religiously when researching lodging.
I must say that it was an auspicious start to my time in Arkansas. The Robinwood has a great porch (see the photo below), and as you know from my last post, that gives me butterflies.
What do all these homes share? A front porch.
In the South, where I grew up, all grand homes of a bygone era have front porches. Modern homes? If anything, it's more likely to be a deck or screened porch in back. When I see a front porch, I imagine drinking cold lemonade and chatting on the porch swing and saying hello to neighbors and slowing down enough to appreciate life. I know it's a lot to read into a porch, but that's what it symbolizes to me. A time where phrases like "cookie cutter" and "rat race" did not exist.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Hot (Highs 90s, lows 70s. Big homes have A/C units one step down from industrial strength.)
Humid (83% today. Prepare to feel damp and pitted.)
Green (49 inches of rainfall per year. 6th highest in the US.)
Friendly (Everybody smiles, greets you and chats you up.)
Garrulous (The conversation could go all night.)
Thirsty (“Cold beer,” or “coalbeer” as it’s pronounced, is an important part of the lexicon.)
Inexpensive (That beer will cost you $1.75 to $2. Miller Lite is most popular.)
Tornado-and-Hail-Prone (Many cars and buildings are pock-marked due to hail damage.)
Yes, I'm serious. I know all of you Californians are spilling your iced coffee right now, but the fact of the matter is that this 4,500-square-foot fully restored historic home (built in 1922) in Little Rock's beautiful Quapaw Quarter is on the market for less than half a million dollars.
And no, there is no catch. It's not in a bad neighborhood. (In fact, it's in the city's best neighborhood. The Governor's Mansion is just five or six blocks away.) It's not in bad condition. It's just in Little Rock, AR, where real estate sells for $100/square foot. You heard me. It took me a few days to pick my jaw up after learning this, but clearly this is the kind of reverse sticker shock (too cheap to be believed!) that I needed. In Little Rock, I could buy a massive, architecturally significant historic home that is part of walking tours for $450K. In my Los Angeles neighborhood, I wouldn't be able to buy a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment for that price.
I'm too dumbfounded to say anything profound or witty about this staggering comparison just yet. All I know is that the wheels are turning at warp speed, my friends.
This list from Outside Magazine considers all of those but primarily looks at livability based the area's wealth of outdoor activities and adventure-friendliness. Mountain biking. Rafting. Hiking. I like that angle. After all, I would be moving from Southern California, which has arguably the best climate in the country. (I have never used my air conditioner. Try and beat that in the era of global warming!) I would be insane if I relocated somewhere with crappy weather that kept me cooped up indoors. Talk about mover's remorse. Since I have those five extra weeks of free time thanks to my telecommuting lifestyle (see my last post), I would really like to spend the majority of them outdoors. While I'm not a hardcore adventurer by any stretch, it would be a big plus to have access to mountains, lakes, rivers, National Parks, good-old-fashioned wilderness, etc. I've certainly enjoyed the beaches in LA, but I do miss unpaved, untrimmed, uncrowded nature sometimes.
Here are Outside's Top Small Towns 2007 (all towns under 100,000 people):
Santa Cruz, California
Iowa City, Iowa
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Asheville, North Carolina
I have existing crushes on two of the towns on their list: Santa Fe and Asheville. Weather and cost of living are the main reasons. Santa Fe (300 days of sunshine/year) is actually my top infatuation of the moment, due to factors like proximity to LA (I may need to meet with my clients periodically), proximity to the airport (~1 hour), rich culture, diversity of thinking, artsiness, wide open spaces, lots of acreage to be had, cost of living (although not as cheap as Asheville), great sunsets, etc. But it'll take a proper adult date to see if it's the real thing. I haven't been to Santa Fe since 1998, so clearly I need to reconfirm my initial attraction.
Thanks to Kim Hamilton, a fellow freelancer who is also in search of her dream town, for forwarding me this article. As she said, "It's not too late to date Santa Fe." Agreed. Just don't tell my current beau, Arkansas. (More to come on my first weekend, which was spent in Little Rock.)
p.s. You can also check out the magazine's picks in past years. One earlier selection was Boulder, CO, which has also been on my radar for a bit. This year's list comes out in August, so I'll be sure to fill you in.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Today, being freelance is not so terribly different. Excepting, of course, the killing/dismembering part. Instead of a sword, today's freelancers have a laptop and a portable skill set (e.g. writing/editing, graphic design, translation). Something that's in demand. Something that employers often look to outsource. Something that can be performed around the world, from a home office or a virtual office or pretty much anywhere that has cell phone coverage and high-speed Internet. In addition, you have to carve out your own path, and a warrior-like attitude is often required to succeed.
I am one of this breed, and we currently make up 7.4% of the US workforce. That means there are over 10 million freelancers or "independent contractors," as the IRS labels us. A good many of us work from home. Why do we do it? A short list would be: freedom (psychological, geographical and otherwise), flexibility, lifestyle, control, entrepreneurial drive, variety (of both assignments and daily routine), opportunity, an escape from corporate ennui and the desire to spend less time commuting/polluting/road raging and more time living. How much more? One analysis found that telecommuters have the equivalent of five weeks of extra free time per year when compared to those who commute to a job five days a week.
The aim of this career/travel/lifestyle blog (at least as of today) is to show where I am able to take my lance, literally and figuratively. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am afflicted with wanderlust. Even though I have not taken more than a typical full-time employee's annual vacation day allotment (10-15 days) in my three years of being freelance, I've been able to live and work in a number of places during this time, including two countries and several states. These stints have ranged from a few days to a few months. Because I really can live anywhere given my freelance status - and often think of relocating my home base to somewhere with a cheaper cost of living - I consider every trip a chance to "date" another city or state. Will it be a fling? Or perhaps a long-term match?
The next sojourn involves two weeks of telecommuting from Arkansas, the "Natural State." Population: 2.8 million. That's a quarter of the population of greater Los Angeles, where I am based. No wonder it's so natural. It also has the 9th lowest cost of living in the US. (California's ranking? I had to wince when I read it. It's the second highest. Only Hawaii is more expensive. Exactly why I need to move.) So far, I am intrigued, but it'll take more than just a bargain to spark a romance.
Stay tuned...and thanks for reading my inaugural post!