Thursday, August 05, 2004


I've got a new theory: You don't know what you've got until it is invaded by yuppies.

I live in Northwest Arkansas. I have lived here for most of my life, excepting the years after my birth in Germany, a couple of childhood years in Kansas and college in Texas and Italy. I never thought much about being an Arkansan until high school, when I became mortified that I lived here. That was mainly due to all the exposure we were receiving because a certain governor of ours from Hope, Arkansas, was running for President of the United States. (It is a very small state. My parents went to band camp with Bill Clinton. I met him once in junior high and I remember him calling my mom by her maiden name. He was very tall. It seems a little surreal now.) Suddenly, I was quite aware that I was living in hillbilly purgatory until I could escape to the "real world."

But I'm back, for various reasons, and I've actually come to appreciate my state. It's called the Natural State, for good reason. Hillbilly stereotypes aside (which are actually quite true,) much of my state is covered in beautiful mountains, lakes and streams (if you can ignore the nasty Tyson's chicken farms sitting beside them.)

I also live in Wal-Mart land. The company headquarters is in Bentonville, Arkansas, about forty-five minutes from where I live. Things in Northwest Arkansas used to be very different when Sam Walton was alive. Love him or villanize him, he was an incredible businessman. Very ethical. He drove around in a beat-up pick-up truck til the day he died (my father once ate in a little diner where Sam was eating. Someone pointed him out, but my dad couldn't pick him out of a group of hunters.) His wife once went to buy a new car and came back with a Cadillac. Sam came home and promptly called the car dealer to come take the car back to the lot. No wife of his was driving around Bentonville in a Cadillac. He also greatly frowned upon his higher-ups having nice cars and living in big houses.

Sam also had a rule that no vendors to Wal-Mart could have sellers and offices in Northwest Arkansas. He didn't like the fraternizing with his buyers. So Northwest Arkansas stayed the same for many years. Just normal. Then, in 1992, Sam died and things started changing really quickly. My old boss worked for Wal-Mart for 19 years. He quit right after Sam died. He said that the week after he died, the headquarter's parking lot was filled with Lexus's, Porsches and Corvettes that had been hidden in garages for years. It made him sick.

That was also when the sellers started moving in. Little by little, every company that did business with Wal-Mart had an office here. Which meant the dreaded yuppie invasion. The traffic is horrendous now, and every other car is a SUV. There are Hummers everywhere. Mini-mansions have popped up left and right. We are now a land of Olive Gardens and Linens-N-Things. I heard a rumor that Starbucks is about to settle upon the land. Many people are cheering this news, but I see it as the hammer hitting the final nail into Northwest Arkansas's coffin.

But it's not just the "stuff." It's the attitude. Just this evening (which prompted this rant), my pathetic 1993 Honda was almost plowed over by a sparkling Eddie Bauer SUV. They honked at me and the sunglassed woman in the passenger's seat looked down her nose at me. I felt like yelling, "Hey! I was here first!" And I mean it. I was here first. I was here before the intersections and megaplexes and spas.

I drove home and looked at a field that I always enjoyed passing. I remembered that it was going to be bulldozed in the fall to built a new Sam's Club. I drove home to my little small town, bedroom community. One of the only towns in the area that Wal-Mart has yet to envelop. In my town, I rarely deal with Eddie Bauer SUVs. My annoyances are more along the lines of Maynard Magee tootling ahead of me, going 22 mph, in his spray-painted Chevie with the decal of Calvin urinating on a Ford logo. Which, truthfully, I will take any day over Miss Mochachino in the Hummer. But it's only a matter of time. My town recently began a "beautification" project. You only know where that leads.

Arkansas, I will miss you.


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