Warm in Little Rock

Linda Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas White Christmas opened last night at the Arkansas Rep Mainstage. Remember all the songs from that show? Happy Holidays, White Christmas, and those happy tunes in between, like Sisters, and Count Your Blessings; and the grand finale, I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm. Pure Irving Berlin, The snow is snowing, the wind is blowing, but I can weather the storm!…. I’ve got my love to keep me warm. The packed house loved every minute; the Haynes sisters Betty and Judy (played by Jennifer Sheehan and Sarah Agar) were vocal perfection and looked stunning; the Bob and Phil duo (played by Shane Donovan and Case Dillard) charmed us from the start as they shook hands with everyone in the front row (where I had the good fortune of sitting) during the opening number. It’s a kid-friendly show; the two little girls to my left were entranced, never taking their eyes off the dancing feet that were just about eye level from our seats. They were particularly interested in Susan (played by Maddie Lentz, a 6th grader at Horace Mann Arts and Sciences Middle School), who portrayed the General’s granddaughter hankering to be in show business. Exiting the theater after the champagne reception, still humming White Christmas and thinking snowflakes, I had to unzip my sweater. It was 72 degrees and humid! And it stayed that way today, even during the after-dark Lighting of the Capitol and the holiday fireworks.

It’s warm in Little Rock; I saw it everywhere. Like the ice skating rink that’s been set up at River Market for the season. $9 will get you skates and an hour on the ice. It’s open-air, under the pavilion, and the lace-up area was packed as more skaters (mostly kids) were readying to begin their hour (all wearing short-sleeved shirts). Moms and Dads watched from the bleachers, where you could see the river straight across; behind us side-by-side restaurants offered Mexican and Thai. Down at the end Bosco’s, The Restaurant for Beer Lovers, offered Free Meals for Kids; and W T Bubba’s, The Soon to Be World Famous Country Tavern, was open for business behind a bright red door. I searched out the southern Cajun Flying Fish on President Clinton Avenue; it had been recommended by almost everyone I’d asked. It was warm in there too, where you chat with your neighbor as you stand in line to order – fried catfish, boiled shrimp, grits and gumbo, oysters, and even mud bugs, in season (crawfish). Outside walls have outboard motors mounted in a row; an inside wall is lined with Big Mouth Billy Bass; it’s an Adoption Center for the once-popular toy; for every one donated to the restaurant a free catfish basket is given out; names and dates of “former owners” are posted below.

My River Market walk was warm, and fun; images and odors that made me smile: pink plastic trees stuck in a planter on an outdoor patio, a miniature Statue of Liberty adorned with greens, a florist shop window filled with lavish Christmas trees, the faint smell of beer at Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro as the crowd partied behind the purple-curtained open air; the intoxicating smell of pizza at family-friendly Gusano’s, where every window was open wide and everyone inside smiled Hi as I passed on the sidewalk. The electric trolley made a slow corner turn as I crossed the street; Christmas lights dangled from the rooftop, where a tiny Rudolf and a Nutcracker bear rode in style.

The Saturday afternoon Christmas Parade wound down Capitol Avenue towards the Capitol, of course, where TV cameras were poised high on a stand and bands and choirs performed on the front steps. As the sky turned pink to navy blue, the kids turned from tired to hyper in anticipation of What Will Happen Next. I leaned against a tree at the edge of the parking lot; on one side a woman with a broken leg sat smiling in a wheel chair, her baby sound asleep in her lap, her husband overseeing the logistics of positioning. On the other side a woman struggled with a puppy on a leash that kept winding around her legs; we agreed she should have put the reindeer antlers on puppy’s head for the event; “He looks so cute in them!” she said, explaining that she bought them for the family photo shoot. Hawkers wheeled their glowing neon wares back and forth in the streets; every available space on the Capitol lawn was filled with Arkansans come for an evening of fun; the brass doors of the Capitol gleamed gold above it all.

And then, the spotlight on the steps, the pledge of allegiance to the flag, the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, a welcome by Secretary of State Mark Martin and family, the introduction of Santa and Mrs Clause; till FINALLY the hand hit the switch and the holiday lights came on. Followed by fireworks. Every burst of light in the sky brought ahhhs from the crowd, except from one little boy behind me. He giggled, irrepressibly.

It is definitely warm in Little Rock.