Saturday, May 21, 2011

What is it about Little Rock?

I know, I know, I write about Little Rock all the time, and those who know me beyond the anonymity of the blogosphere also know that that city is often on the tip of my tongue.

There's just something about it.

On a recent trip there, I think I finally figured it out:

Little Rock encompasses a finite space.

There are no sprawling suburbs (unlike D.C., where it's not an exaggeration to say that some live as far as West Virginia to find affordable homes), and everyone sort of generally occupies the same space. For a city of only 200,000 or so, there are always so many things going on at once, that you know you'll run into people wherever you go. You can't sit down at a restaurant without spotting a familiar face, and not only that, whomever it is more than likely will stop and say hi. It's the South, it's only polite. Rushing off while staring at your Blackberry just isn't an acceptable excuse. There's no hiding in Little Rock. Call it a pro and a con, but mostly, it's a good thing.

It makes it easier to stay in touch with people. Making plans is as simple as suggesting meeting for coffee or a drink in 10 minutes. That's how small the city is geographically. There are only so many places to go. You might even recognize the bartender.

Even on my beloved Pinnacle Mountain, as I hiked through a rare snowfall this past January, practically alone on the mountain, I ran into the other dentist in my dentist's office. I'd never met the guy before, so the funniest thing was that we actually figured out we had that connection. How did we begin talking on a frigid January day where we both probably should have been home drinking hot chocolate? I don't really know. But it's not that much of an oddity that we did. It'd be stranger if we hadn't. It'd be too simplistic to say Little Rock's a small world; it is, but there's also something about a shared sense of space, a common appreciation for surroundings, a larger need to connect with other humans than to be alone.

Perhaps I'm waxing poetic because I was in town for special occasions: the wedding of two very close friends and the Jewish Food Festival, where the state's entire Jewish community (count it, 1,800 or so plus a few thousand others munching on the kugel and hamantashen), was in one place, so I saw so many old friends at once. Happy times in beautiful weather; it doesn't get much better than that -- anywhere.

Sometimes it seems that so few people get the chance to live somewhere they never would have dreamed they'd end up, and then to become a part of that place and for it to become a part of them. People in Arkansas say it's a hidden treasure and we don't want too many people to get their hands on that secret, but I don't think people who've never been there can even begin to understand what I'm talking about here. Every place has its stereotypes. Forget about them.