“I got a buddy who says, you can’t come to Arkansas without getting ‘hogified.'”
Overheard at the most disorganized Starbucks I’ve ever seen in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Yep, it’s Spring Break and I’m living large in the land of the broke.
I’ll lay down more specifics when the smoke clears, but for now I want to share some first impressions lest any of you stumble down here with gross misconceptions about the land of Mountain Valley Water.
You know, like I did.
Years ago – and I do mean years – I recall cruising up to Excelsior Springs to visit a girlfriend who unbelievably had snagged a job there.
That was my first encounter with the historic Elms Hotel – grand-but-empty, the victim of changing times and tastes, it presented a haunting visage.
Multiply that tenfold and you’ll begin to understand the state of affairs here in Hot Springs. The difference being that the once mighty Arlington Hotel -far mightier than The Elms ever was – never got out of the game and continues to hold court as the town’s grand hotel.
Cast about elsewhere downtown and you’ll find plenty of deserted art deco palaces of the past in this once-thriving Mecca of bath houses and gambling saloons. A Mecca that these days is hanging on for dear life in a region far less affluent than that of The Elms near Kansas City.
It’s really kinda sad.
Yet in many ways the town is thriving – dirty and run down – but still thriving.
You may recall that I got trapped in Topeka for a few months last summer. And in no way was that a fun or enlightening experience.
Yet for all Topeka’s infinite flaws, at least it was clean.
Which is far from the case in Hot Springs.
If you come down with visions of Bill Clinton growing up here or Al Capone visiting to try to find relief from the pain of his chronic, long untreated syphilis in the town’s soothing mineral baths, I’ve got some advice.
Don’t kid yourselves – those days are long gone.
There are plenty decent places to eat here – far more than you’ll find in Topeka or Excelsior Springs – but only three of the once myriad bath house experiences remain, their glitz and the glam in the rear view mirror.
What awaits today after a nine or so hour drive, is a slew of rundown, cheesy hotels (along with a small handful of halfway decent ones), a horse racing track populated mostly by senior citizens and some of the best catfish restaurants you’re likely to find anywhere.
May I suggest Mr. Whiskers?
There’s a Madame Tussaud‘s wax museum where you’ll find Missouri born actor Steve McQueen sitting on a late model Honda motorcycle. Talk about sacrileges, Steve McQueen wouldn’t have been caught dead on a Honda! Worse yet, none of the wax figures even faintly resemble the real life characters they purport to be.
You can visit Mountain Valley Spring Water’s corporate HQ, museum and gift shop, and the town is loaded with goofy souvenir shops more than happy to part you with your hard earned tourist bucks for stuff you’ll shake your head in disbelief at once you get back home.
So I don’t know. I’m not going to tell you not to come here, I just want you to think about it first.
Before you embark, ask yourself these questions:
Do you like catfish and does getting “hogified” sound appealing?