Thursday, July 29, 2010

World's Biggest Gated Community

Refreshed, we hit the Kansas Turnpike. I was not expecting mountains. On the Oklahoma Turnpike they ban pedestrians and motor scooters. Bigots.Jayna warned us about the roads around here but as we bounced across the cement joints in the highway: "they charge money to treat us like this?" my wife, the inveterate consumer grumbled. We've all seen this convenience store name haven't we? I guess the corporation hasn't got tired of the scatological joke because here it still is, as reproduced countless times on motorcycle blogs and forums over the years. Inside? It's just another inconvenience store.The winds were ferocious out here, between Kansas and Oklahoma; hot, dry and like a hair dryer trying to blow you off into the middle of next week. Stepping out of the car was a trial. Cheyenne stood, stared, peed and headed back to the air conditioned bed in the back of the car. I wondered, and still wonder why snowbirds leave the relative ease and comfort of a summer sea breeze in the islands in exchange for this Hell on earth each summer. Then we got stuck behind an argument in the toll booth line.We sat and fumed for ten minutes while they debated the ticket. Finally the idiot supervisor had them pull out and wait and we got our turn to pay the absurdly small fee. "Hi honey,"the woman in the booth said. "Wanna bone?"
"What?!""A dog bone?" she was looking at my dog, snoozing, not me."Thanks, I want to go home to Florida." My wife said I was rather curt with the nice lady.At the next booth, perhaps in Kansas, perhaps in Oklahoma I couldn't tell, there were no signs and I forgot to check the mile markers by the side of the road, I met a nice efficient woman where I tried to make up for my boorishness.
"People in Kansas must be supermen," I said abandoning my habit of being gender neutral. "the heat, the wind...the lack of rest areas means you must have bladders the size of footballs."
"Oh honey," she smiled. "That's why we're short and fat around here."Pay the fucking ticket and get a move on! I wanted to scream. I just sat there like the average American taxpayer getting fleeced by banks too big to fail. There was consolation in them thar hills, a reminder of mortality and eventual divine justice to compensate us for all the daily indignities.
Western Arkansas is beautiful. Rolling hills and woods just like those of north eastern Kansas as described to me by Jim CPA in Wichita. We were looking for a friend of ours back from our sailing days in Central America. Barb has retired deep into the woods somewhere around here.
She lives in a place she described as the biggest gated community in the USA, and because it is fifteen miles long and has tens of thousands of residents I dare say she is right. We got stopped at the gate because the guards had lost our permit but after a few minutes we got a day glo green card to stick in the window and off we went. The only sign that we weren't on public roads were the street signs in a peculiar shade of mud brown, with some very odd names, and the lurking presence of the retirement vehicle par excellence- the golf cart.They call this place Hot Springs Village and it is the brain child of some dude who has spent decades sorting out his plan. He bought the woods from a corporation and built utilities and golf courses. It is vast and we got lost.
"Hey Barb," my wife called on the precious iPhone. "We just passed a golf course; are we nearby?"
"There are seven courses. Which one was it?" Barb was married to Bob when we met them aboard Freya, a 43 foot Taswell cruising the coast of Mexico for the second time in 1998. We were on our first sail south of the border and we spent the thanksgiving of that year together in an anchorage north of La Paz, in Baja. Bob was a retired engineer from Tandem Corporation and Barb, a native of Missouri was his long suffering wife. They were a good couple and we kept meeting them along the way. Bob was an opinionated man, cheerful and stubborn,eminently capable of laughing at himself and taking his wife's ribbing with a pinch of salt. he loved to tinker with "systems" and he put up with his wife's incessant desire to explore with as much good humor as he could muster. They were older than us but they were excellent companions and we had lost of adventures down to the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean. He died two years ago and left behind a distraught widow. Then Barb's son died in a bizarre boating accident in the "safe waters" of California's Sacramento Delta, a blow that laid her very low. We had to see Barb at all costs, as it had been a long time.Time as they say heals all wounds and to our surprise Barb has a new man in her life- Bob, no joke.We wondered who he might be and he turned out to be a really nice widower himself. He shared our stories about the first Bob, told us about his late wife, and as he warmed up to us we learned why Barb was looking so radiant and happy. She has found a kind thoughtful man who shares her love of music, dancing and shopping, and who isn't threatened by her multi faceted past and who I want to spend more time with. It was nice to see a story with a happy outcome after years of unhappiness for Barb.
The Hot Springs Villages thing was a source of constant amazement to us as they took us for a tour of their Arkansas domain.Golf carts aren't allowed on the streets here so everyone hauls them around behind their gas guzzlers to where they can use them on the golf courses. Bob said at first he tried to walk his round but it was just too far, and he looked pretty fit... It was a hot sunny breezy day and the place looked magnificent. Houses appeared on the hillsides among the trees and on the shores of the various lakes.Barb and Bob live in an opulent mansion with breathtaking views at the end of a street and so far they have no neighbors. "We could never have afforded it," Barb said in her usual self deprecating way, "but it was a model that was left unsold. Lucky for us." Indeed; the economic downturn has some silver linings!Here's the man who has made Barb so happy. He is much dryer funnier and wittier than I could ever portray in a photograph.The builder of this house had some eccentricities and one of them was pebbles in the guest sink.
"Er, Barb, there are rocks in the sink." She started giggling. "Everyone says that."
"It's true," I replied dangling my unwashed hands.
"Ignore them." So I did.Cheyenne joined the local spaniels with no problems and promptly adopted their style.Nothing like the boat she lived on when I first met Barb 12 years ago...Their driveway:Bob drove us to a lookout to get a feel for Hot Springs Village. Homes are invisible among the woods and all you can see is rolling hills, apparently unoccupied, to the horizon. It really is an astonishing place. They have their own police fire and rescue. I wonder if they need dispatchers?The land inside the community is sold like normal lots anywhere and homes can be built in pretty much any style with usual zoning restrictions. There are a few families with children, not many, and school buses come by to take them to school as in any other town.Barb is home and she knows it. faced with the implacable need to drive yet further we paused for a beer and a snack by the lake.We had the patio to ourselves.It was not sticky and lovely. At last we had left the dry heat behind us and were back in the south.I had never eaten sweet potato fries with powdered sugar but Bob assured us that was the way to do it, so we did. My wife went crazy for the deep fried green beans. I tried not to make a pig of myself as the See Food diet continued. We left by the east gate, better known as Checkpoint Charlie to me and continued the drive to Birmingham. Frankly I was ready to yield to temptation and sit out on Bar's porch with a glass of win and watch the sun set over the rolling wooded hills but my wife was right, time was running out and Birmingham beckoned.Cheyenne was fed watered and made snug on her bed and we kept driving. I saw this car at the gas station and when I told my colleagues at work about the inscription on the back they said: "Cool! Maybe we should do that!" Key West was getting closer. I could feel it just over the horizon.