Very few distractions lie between Fayetteville, Arkansas, and my little airplane bungalow in Brookside, here in Kansas City.
I brunched with my friends Carla and Molly today, 15 June 2014, after two days of basking in the tender mercies of Brian Aldridge and his sweet wife Trudy MacDonald Aldridge. I needed this break: The stresses of life had triggered a raging outbreak of shingles such as I have not suffered since going on a maintenace dose of anti-viral medication two years ago. Friday to Sunday with old friends and new, people who — like others, here — love me without reservation, calmed my jangled nerves and restored my inner peace.
As I turned north on I-49, I promised myself a detour or two at flea markets, should I spy any open along the road. I missed one as I drew close to Bella Vista, for it sat to my left and my attention had been snared by signs threatening the end of the freeway. It flashed past me, a promising row of antique shops, but I told myself that I’d see more, assuming I did not run out of highway and have to turn around.
As it happens, “FREEWAY ENDING” only meant that we would lose the rapidity of limited access and a center parkway for a dozen miles. I kept my eyes divided between traffic and curb, alert to any shops. 49 ran through a lovely stretch of undeveloped land including a park or maybe a golf course — verdant and lush, as it cut through the last stretch of Arkansas. Beautiful but unbroken, not by stores or houses.
A few miles into Missouri, I had about given hope and was thinking about coffee and a restroom when a billboard promised THE TWO BEST FLEA MARKETS ON THE HIGHWAY. I shot over to the righthand land and exited, turned right, went for the block which the sign instructed, and turned at the roadside banner beckoning me on, two blocks south. A mile and a half later, I began to feel as though I’d entered the Twilight Zone and cast a suspicious eye in the rear view mirror. Had that SUV followed me? I turned rapidly, two sharp lefts and a right, and made my way back to the access road. I found a clean-looking gas station and pulled into the handicapped space. I’d lost him, thankfully.
I only saw one other sign for a likely place to junk shop before the dog-leg at I-44. The sign seemed professional, maybe even supplied by the Highway Department, and encouraged me to exit, cross under the highway, and take the overpass a half mile. After three miles, I made a U-turn at the Barton County Electric Cooperative and headed back to I-49.
I rummaged in the console and found several CDs that still play in my Saturn’s cantankerous player. Before spanning the entrance ramp, stopped at a red light waiting to turn, I started the first one. As I accelerated into traffic, Bonnie Raitt filled the car. She, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, and Neko Case took me home.
Unloading the car took less than ten minutes. I started a load of laundry, put the weekend’s newspapers straight into recycle, and rummaged in the cloth bag from the Fayetteville Public Library to gingerly extract the treasures that I brought back with me. I put the bowl and pot that Trudy made at her art class on my dining room table. I found a lovely photo of my mother-in-law, sweet Joanna, for the tiled frame that I got for a dollar at a clutter-shop. I placed it on my buffet next to the glass angel which Trudy bought me at another place, during our afternoon together on Saturday. I stood back, surveying the results, changing the angel slightly, adjusting the bowl. Satisfied, finally, I locked the house up again and came out to Panera’s for a salad.
They’re playing jazz on Satellite radio and a couple of little girls are running around, giggling and calling to each other in their frilly pink dresses and sparkly hairbands. The sun is setting, casting a lovely glow on the room around me. The salad refreshes me. The place is cool and clean. It’s Sunday night, the day before a new work week starts, and I’ve taken the long way home.