The Observer, Sept. 16 

The Observer, always slow on the uptake but interested in The Technologies, has developed a new obsession of late: searching for videos tagged "Arkansas" and posted in the last week on Youtube. You'd be surprised what folks out there in the hinterlands can get up to in just a week.

In one video, a sincere young man with a tiny guitar stands in a front yard and sings an intense but rather discordant song about Cassey. In another, a girl down in Calion shoots a shotgun for the first time, letting the boomstick hang at her shoulder for a delicious, excruciating minute before finally getting up the nerve to pull the trigger. In another (vintage) clip, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum of the 1970s band Black Oak Arkansas gives a tour of their bus (we can't print that fair road-going ship's name here, but it's a hoot). In another, a guy shows how to build a bear call out of a coffee can and a piece of string. In still another, a shovel-wielding man and a big ol' water moccasin go mano-a-snakeo on a muddy creek bank.

It's kind of understandable that The Observer gets a kick out of these peeks into the lives of ordinary Arkansans who think pointing a camera at themselves while they're about to get up to something is a good idea. We are, after all, in the voyeurism bidness.

Seeing the light at the end of this terrible summer's tunnel, The Observer set out Sunday for an afternoon walk across the Big Dam Bridge. It was, as usual, swarming with humanity, dogs, bikes ... and what's that ice chest there mid-way across the bridge?

Two men in blue, firefighters, were approaching us on the bridge with swift intent, staring straight ahead, disregarding our greetings and looks. They halted the pedestrian traffic, shooing people on our side back and gesturing to halt those coming toward us. That's when we noticed the pale green cooler with wheels. It is a sad comment on our times that people were murmuring, could it be a bomb? And not, what yahoo partied so hard he left his ice chest behind?

A man on the bridge suggested that now would be a good time to return to the parking lot. Another man said the cooler had been there for a while and he'd wondered about it.

We watched the firefighters to see what they would do with the chest. They talked among themselves. Then, one leaned over and pulled the drain plug. We could hear the telltale sound of melted ice pouring from the chest. Then, they dared open the suspicious container. Kingdom did not come. They shut the lid, took the handle and began to roll it off the bridge.

Are there body parts in there? a woman who'd been reading too many murder mysteries asked the two. The man who'd been ready to flee now approached the firefighters and asked if he could buy some beer off them, it being Sunday, the day Arkansans must refrain from the sin of drink. Now the firefighters smiled (a bit) and as they descended the bridge, we yelled, "Go Hogs!"

It's a lucky thing for us and the firefighters and Buddy Villines that the cooler was not rigged to blow up the Big Dam Bridge, since we're pretty sure the men in blue were equipped neither with X-ray vision nor any other way to discern whether they were faced with a weapon of mass destruction or group inebriation before they opened it up.

There's never a dull moment around The Fortress of Employment. The Observer's colleague just walked into the office this fine morning and said that he'd been panhandled by a man on his way to work. While that's no surprise given that we work downtown, the sob story behind this attempt was: The man told our pal that he needed money to refill a prescription. He'd had a bottle of the pills before, the man said, but they were run over by a train.

Stay diligent, friends. Trains can strike when you least expect it.


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