10. Salem: The Long-Expected News That Still Tears Right Through You

Monday morning, 26 Sep ‘11


Posted from Southfork Restaurant: Salem, Arkansas – conveniently located on the Hwy 62 bypass around this good-sized town of 1500.


Also recommended by a friendly Arkansas cop who stopped me as I was coming into town – a fellow about my age who warned me to be careful, saying he’d gotten a couple of calls about a bicyclist on the road.


I told him I’d been traveling like this since the mid-1980s. Thing is, though, people in these parts aren’t used to sharing the road with bicyclists.


I find the highway is good – decent surface, adequate shoulder, passing lane on all the upgrades. Another essential feature – the mirror I’ve got mounted on my glasses, constantly in view – still works just fine. I’ve always said it gives me better protection than the helmet does.


So here is the long-anticipated news:

Thomas Clayton Lamming

1953 – 2011


I had an email from my sister this morning, which included the following write-up.




  • #7950 – I first had the news from Elizabeth. After setting up camp in this nice woodsy spot well off the highway, and getting organized for the night, I checked my go-phone messages, as I always do at this point in the day. It’s funny how you’re waiting and waiting for this to happen, but when the words finally come – Czy słysałesz? Tomek zmarł dzisiaj – they dig down deep into you, brand themselves on your memory, and pull out a helpless moan of grief. I didn’t know I had so much water behind my eyes, or that it could run so copiously down my cheeks. I had to use two handkerchiefs while I talked – first with Elizabeth, then with Mom – one to mop up my face with and the other to blow my nose into. I was really grateful to hear Mom sounding steady and collected. I think it’s a good thing to cry, every now and then. I’m not ashamed but consider it a sort of accomplishment, probably because I went through ten years in my youth when I couldn’t cry at all. That’s another (very personal) story – which I won’t digress into now. This was also the third night when I got hit with a heavy rain, and the first one when my tent remained properly dry. I finally got that painter’s drop cloth set up just right … and there wasn’t any wind to make it flap around, like there was that night on the lovely hilltop outside of Branson West. 
  • #7945 – Kind of funny, too, how that big, white dog barked all night long, the night before, from the neighbor’s yard as I tried but failed to sleep under theat pavilion in Harmon. I just thought he sensed my presence and was playing the good watchdog. It didn’t occur to me that he was saying something more, maybe just for me. Towards morning, the neighbors either let him inside or put him out front. He quieted down, I finally got some sleep – and had this weird dream about being in the army again, after more than 40 years. Some kind of a reserve unit, moving out, with a female sergeant – which would have been unheard of in my time – but I couldn’t find my uniform, my boots, or any of my gear. Finally I just had to tell my lady boss – square with her, whatever the consequences, bewildered and ashamed – that I just wasn’t ready, wouldn’t be able to move out with my unit. 
  • #7946 – Bridge over troubled waters. Bob poses outside the Front Porch Restaurant with Anita – librarian and waitress of Yellville, Arkansas. This was also the day I made my breakthrough in posting this log on the Internet. Anita was a big help, with her provision of encouragement and two venues from which to get connected and finally over my hurdle. One of my friends wrote on Saturday from the old town in Marrakech, North Africa. He describes it as “a dog-eat-dog place, more akin to Medieval India … [where] you have to keep your wits about you … It is a den of thieves and scoundrels.” I wrote back, not without a touch of pride, that northern Arkansas is just the opposite: the people everywhere I go are decent, helpful and kind. 
  • #7949 – Can you tell which one is which … Laveta or Anita? I didn’t think so. Come to Yellville, Arkansas, where good things come in quantity … and take your pick. 
  • #7956 – Oasis: Blue Heron RV Park. Finally … a hot shower and change of underwear. Well worth the $5 day fee I paid. As an unexpected bonus, the ladies hovering around the kitchen plied me with gourmet coffee and forced me to accept a plate of delicious scrambled egg hash with a muffin on the side. I spoke with a fellow about my age from San Antonio, Texas. He and his wife had spent months driving their RV all around Canada. More recently, they’ve been at this spot on the White River for all of five weeks. Obviously, he loved it here. Said he could just sit all day and watch the river go by. That sounds about right to me. 
  • #7960 – Sunday the 25th. Blue Heron RV Park & White River, looking generally north, from the overpass. 
  • #7965 – Cool and misty day. Southern half of the large, artificial lake just east of Mountain Home. 
  • #7968 – Land of the free, home of the brave. Northern Arkansas, USA … among other places. 
  • #7969 – That’s what the signs say – Beer, Wine, Spirits. All along the road. Just don’t run dry in these parts on a Sunday – nobody’ll sell you any. (I had to learn the hard way … as usual.) So I settled for a fudge bar instead – all of 52 cents – and it was good. Had no trouble falling asleep either, before the sky was fully dark, without my nightly nip. And I enjoyed another visitation of fantastic, otherworldly dreams … worth all the trouble of coming out here, just for such a show. The only ripple of disturbance was how both Elizabeth and I misplaced our keys to the gorgeous, glittering, upper-level penthouse in that hyper-metropolis we considered home. Somehow, though, we found our way inside … 
  • #7971 – Heavy mist this morning as was I was loading up. The sun was rising just as I was moving out. Earliest start I’ve gotten yet. East of Viola, amidst scrubby pines and brush, not far off the road. 
  • #7976 – Last shot taken on this “roll,” at the Southfork Restaurant in Salem. No, the thing’s not loaded. No, I didn’t scamper off like an outlaw without paying my bill. This piece must date back to sometime before the Civil War – or “the War of Northern Aggression,” as I heard someone pronounce in a deadpan up the road several days ago. Back in Missouri at that (Missouri was, technically, a “border state”). Several artifacts like this are on view in a display case at the restaurant here. The one I’m holding is a double-barreled muzzle-loader. By my recollection, they were using breech-loading, or bolt-action rifles before the … War of Southern Succession (???) was over. 


I’m stuffing down the last of my pancakes, absorbing phenomenal quantities of coffee, and chomping at the bit to get out of here. This is one of the few sunny days I’ve seen in just shy of two weeks since leaving Mom’s place in Kirkwood.


So I don’t plan on writing again in the next couple of days, unless the spirit moves me in my tent at night, and the battery holds up for long enough.


First time I’ve journeyed on my bicycle with a laptop. It really does slow me down. On the other hand, I love being in touch this way. The go phone is also a big advance in my mode of travel.


I am eager to get kicking down the road now and roll out some serious distances. I’ve about had enough of dawdling and getting the kinks ironed out of my system.


Next serious stop is Jonesboro, where my replacement rain fly has been shipped to an outdoor store – all I remember is that it’s on Main Street. I’ll find it. I’ve got the name written somewhere on a scrap of paper.


Once I get off the Ozark Plateau – probably sometime tomorrow – the roads should be flat and fast for quite a ways. If I’m really going to make it home by the first week in November, this is where I’m going to have to make good time.


After I get past Lexington, KY, it’ll be hilly (and slow) again, all the way back to Jersey. That’s another area where I’ll want to take my time to enjoy the natural beauty of the Appalachians in the fall.


Finally, here are another couple tidbits of local info.


The writer John Grisham was born in Jonesboro, AR. I had to read two of his novels with ESL students at the community college in Paterson several yeas ago – The Firm and The Pelican Brief.


I could see where they were fast and fun, suitable for a broad audience, but I wasn’t all that impressed. For one thing, I thought the endings were weak. And there’s a particularly lame scene in The Firm where the protagonist, a high-powered lawyer, is standing by the window of his office after working all night, watching the sun rise across the Mississippi River – from Memphis.


Also – would you believe? – there are pearls in Arkansas. Black ones at that, according to my helpful waitress here.






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