The Observer, Oct. 22 

More from the Arkansas Lottery beat: The Observer hears from another person who's tried her hand at hitting it big. Who says she can see the appeal of the lottery: A shortcut to Easy Street. Swimming pools. Movie stars.

She bought herself a $2 ticket and took it home. She scratched it off a little at a time. She says she even perspired a bit. “Ahoy!” she writes. She won four bucks.

She returned to the store where she bought the ticket to claim her prize. How do you want it, the checkout lady asked. She said she'd like $4 in gas. The folks behind her in line looked astonished. Why didn't she get two more tickets? Play again? She told 'em, “I'm done! I'm ahead. That's the way we roll.”

The checkout lady gave her a high-five. 

Taylor Branch, author of the recently-released book “The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President,” spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Clinton School of Public Service last week. Branch started off his talk by telling the audience about an experience that made him realize Arkansas “really was a small state.”

Shortly before his speech, Branch was waiting downstairs at the Peabody Hotel for his driver. In his hand he held a copy of his new book, which details private conversations with former President Bill Clinton. Branch was approached by someone who obviously felt very passionate about its contents.

“Do you know how I can get a hold of the author of that book?” the stranger asked. Branch, not willing to own up to being the book's author just yet, asked the man why he wanted to contact this Taylor Branch character anyhow.

“Because my name is Jim Guy Tucker and I'm in that book,” said the former governor.

Branch finally confessed his true identity and the two spoke amicably for a few moments, discussing some of the finer points of the book and sharing a good laugh.

Small state indeed.

An old friend of Ira Hocut, the Times longtime production manager who died a couple of weeks ago, wrote in this week to confess to being the author of a poem the friend sent Ira anonymously back in the 1970s.

The Grady Manning hotel had just been imploded and the Times had reported on that in an issue that also featured some sort of swimsuit-clad model posing outdoors in February and a chili cook-off. The friend wrote:

“I was born in Little Rock

48 years ago,

And I have lived here

most of my life.

I was raised on the Good Book,

I am a true Christian, and

I am good to my wife.

“Not much goes on in Arkansas

That I do not know about.

Most of the new stuff,

I could do without.

“Two ripped buildings,

A half naked girl, and

Arkansas chili to give

Your tongue a twirl.

“Jesus saved us from our sins,

He taught us not to commit crimes,

I thought nothing was better

Than the Bible, until

I picked up the Arkansas Times.”

The Observer mentioned in this space last week that we waited in line more than an hour after David Sedaris' recent talk to get his autograph on our book and a CD we'd purchased. We hear from the Central Arkansas Library that we got off easy by having to wait only until 10:45 p.m. The staff didn't get out of the Connor Performing Arts Center, where Sedaris read, until 1:45 a.m. Sedaris said it was a record.

Over the weekend, The Observer took the kid to see that wonder of Arkansas's natural wonders, Blanchard Springs Caverns. If you haven't been recently, go. Nothing in the world gives you a better sense of the glory of the universe than standing 200 feet under the ground, marveling at all the things Mother Nature gets up to when nobody is looking. The Cathedral Room on the Dripstone trail, for one, is simply stunning — over 1,000 feet long and seven stories from highest point to lowest — filled with a garden of stone. Trust us: there is nothing so beautiful as hearing your 10-year-old gasp in pure, wonderful awe.


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