‘Always call your parents’


Anthony Gales joined the U.S. Army 20 years to the day before I met him in Parkin, Ark., Aug. 8.

Had he stayed in, he'd probably be retired now, instead of helping his uncle get a run down gas station back in business.

"My intention was to be a lifer," he says.
"We went to Panama and Saudi Arabia and then we went to Haiti, and I absolutely hated what we had to do over there. It was a 'keep the peace' mission, but basically  we were just letting people starve to death… One of our directives was to not assist in any way. And there were all these children begging for food and dying around us."

He de-enlisted shortly after and embarked on a journey like mine through the U.S. and Mexico.

His advice for me: "Always call your parents when you're doing something like that." My mom put out a missing persons report on me. I found out when I was pulled over in Kansas.

Magical Mountain View in the Ozarks


On summer evenings, the small city of Mountain View, Ark., in the heart of the Ozarks, is a place from dreams. Groups of folk musicians (who may or may not have a history playing together) set up in and around the downtown squares.

They know the old songs, the new songs; some songs have been reclaimed through Internet research.

Bugs and birds and Arkansas accents, plus the sweet smell of melting ice cream mix with the music under a yellow moon.

My own American style


In the tiny town of Calico Rock, Ark., population 1,000,  Richard Allen owns one of the coolest second-hand stores I've been to. In fact, I tried to shield my eyes and walk past, but I was drawn in by the going-out-of-business sign, table full of Louis L'Amour books and a doe-eyed mannequin.


These were staring me down as soon as I walked in.

"Everyone who comes in here looks at those shoes," Allen tells me.

I think they were waiting for me, then.
I could walk down the aisle in a short white wedding dress in these shoes. Billy Idol for the soundtrack and everything.

I did pass up a lot of denim, leather, flannel and turquoise, though, so be proud of me.

Allen now lives in Viola, Ark, about 20 miles from Calico Rock.
"I used to live in Scottsbluff, Ariz. in the sixties. I
wish I knew then what I know now" about the demand for southwest
artifacts and Indian regalia, he says.

"I got addicted to turquoise, right along with tools and oil lamps. I used to have over 300 oil lamps.
I have 1,200 wooden planes, 600 tools and 800 pieces of cast iron… Wherever I go, I end up looking for stuff."

My time in the Ozarks

It's been a sweltering several days through Oklahoma and Arkansas. I don't want to know how I'd be faring if I hadn't gotten cab AC in Wichita.

Generally, I prefer to zig when others zag, and the Ozarks are regrettably touristy this time of year. But I pulled off the beaten path enough to catch the real flavor.

Thorncrown Chapel


I've seen a lot of churches and this one, built by late Pine Bluff, Ark. resident Jim Reed, is different. The glass and wood are perfectly reflective of the surrounding Ozarks. I stepped inside and felt a much needed dose of peace. Didn't hurt it appeared around a bend when I desperately needed it, after miles of steep hairpin turns, just before Eureka Springs.

Eureka Springs


After going through the tourist zoo that is Eureka Springs, it was another sweet reprieve to walk through a creek with no one but my dog, baby cat fish, crawfish and lots of interesting bugs.

Come to think of it, on a hot August night could't you see me sitting out on a porch in the Ozarks with my dog? I think we'd feel right at home.

Wal-Mart — I’m OK with it


I used to go out of my way not to shop at Wal-Mart. It wasn't necessarily the argument Sam Walton's chain of behemoth discount stores was causing the death of the local retailer, though as a newspaper employee I was acutely aware boutique advertisers and not mega corporations were funding my meager checks.

For me, it was more a personal snobbery. Though I was poor and shopped at thrift stores, I'd turn up my nose at girls parading around in ill-fitting, badly sewn attempts at the latest trends. If those were the kind of clueless people who patronized Wal-Mart, I'd skip it, thank you.

That all changed when I moved to a small city and got a dog. After buying enough expensive treats and gear from PetCo, I found myself in the pet aisle at Wal-Mart and was blown away by the all the money I could save.  My dog needed a constant supply of food, bones and leashes. This wasn't about clothes anymore.

I gradually started buying other things there, including clothes. Not everything in the fashion department is spot on, but if I can rock it, who cares.

And it's no secret most Wal-Marts let RVers park free overnight. So I have spent more money at Wal-Mart on this trip than at all the local stores (which I still purposely go to), combined.

When I got to Arkansas I was reminded that Sam Walton founded the company in Bentonville, today a city of about 20,000.

There is a museum there and I made a special trip to visit it.
Along with a nice collection of memorabilia, there's an emphasis on Walton's business philosophy. The most notable of his tenets, I think, is to embrace change.

After all, the discount department store was as much a part of the inevitable future in the 1960s when Wal-Mart was founded as a drastic restructuring of newspapers is today.

Walton got his start in boutique retailing and would regularly visit other stores to get a sense of what customers gravitated to.

I believe (as he did) that local retailers still have a future. I believe newspapers have a future, too.

I also believe forerunners embrace change.
Wal-Mart's business model will no doubt get a wakeup call one day, too.

Today there are 3,520 Wal-Marts across the U.S. and 3,593 in 15 other countries. The company's stock has split two-for-one an astounding eleven times since it was listed in 1970.

Not bad for a self-made Joe from Arkansas.

Here are recreations in the museum of Walton's first office, his last office before he died (with a closeup of the books on his shelf) and the red pickup truck he used to drive.

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