Last week I was to attend a writers conference and sign a few books, but unfortunately I came down with a nasty bout of diverticulitis and couldn’t attend. Bummer. Had it been anything like my last conference it would have been a guaranteed hoot! I know first hand…
Whoever said “getting there’s half the fun” has definitely made the trek from Boca Raton, Florida to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. That being said, the only thing that could possibly top the trip out– was the journey back.
It was my first writer’s conference, as well as my first trip to Ozarks. I arrived in Razorback country and boarded the official shuttle bus at the airport, taking my seat next to the driver, Miss Josephine.
“Hurry up, dearie. We’ve got to make a stop first,” she said as I climbed in.
It would be the first “unscheduled” stop of many on my pilgrimage to Oz. It was dusk before we arrived at the hotel in the very “unofficial” muddy pickup truck.
What time will you be back for me on Sunday, Joe?” I asked.
“Nine o’clock sharp. But my brother in-law, Ezra might be driving you,” he said, as I waved goodbye.
Inside the lobby I spotted my dear friend Gina.
“What took you so long?” she asked.
“Have you ever seen the movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said.
“I just starred in the Ozarks version,” I laughed, recanting my unorthodox escapade from the airport that included Wal-mart headquarters, the Sonic Drive-in, a teeny bopper chauffeur, and a cowboy.
Word circulated like wildfire about my journey and by the evening cocktail hour, the entire room was in on it. So much for anonymity. It was enough to garner an award for coming the farthest at the honors banquet—a conference first.
”What’s the Showcase Award?” I whispered to Gina as they announced the winner.
“The theme has to include the Ozarks,” she said.
Too bad I didn’t have a story to enter, but then again, maybe I did.
Sunday morning rolled around and it was Cowboy Joe’s bother-in-law, Ezra who picked me up in the old white cattle truck.
“Eureka Springs is really beautiful,” I said, admiring the scenery.
He was a friendly older man, whom, like everyone else appeared anxious to show me what the area had to offer.
“Did you see Lake So-In-So?”
“Uh, no, I missed that,” I said as the truck came to a screeching halt and headed down the obscure side road.
“My plane leaves at two,” I said, worried as we zoomed along.
It was way past nine when we passed the pavilion alongside the lake where a small wedding was commencing. Not two feet away from the barefoot bride and groom there appeared to be a scuba class in session complete with folks in wetsuits, flopping around in fins and tanks and making their way to the bank where the steam was rolling off the surface creating a misty veil effect. I wondered if they were part of the wedding party or the entertainment.
“My first time to the Ozarks,” I made the mistake of mentioning. “Arkansas sure is beautiful.”
“I’m from Missouri, right over the border,” he said proudly. It’s real nice. I suppose you’ve never been to Oklahoma either, huh? It’s just up the road a piece,” he said, pointing.
“Maybe next time.” I replied.
“No time for waiting. I can fix that lickety split,” he said, as the truck suddenly veered off the main road while I held on for dear life.
I soon discovered Ezra was not only a weekend chauffeur, but the president of the Ozark Travel and Tourism Board. We traveled down the potholed road, dust flying, my luggage nearly bouncing out over the tailgate. I was more than a bit rattled as we tooled along the empty road not passing a single car, truck, or coon as we silently bounded deeper into the woods. My nerves were getting the best of me. I wondered if anything happened to me out there in the sticks if my obituary would say that my body discovered in Oklahoma or Missouri?
“We’re here,” he announced, pulling up to a log cabin as if we had just arrived at the Governor’s Mansion.
Ezra’s cousin Maudie’s place sat in what I believe was Missouri, but it could have been Oklahoma. Or Canada. The plumpish woman instantly appeared on the porch with coffee and warm muffins as if she’d been expecting us all along. I admit Ozark Hospitality might have my native Georgia Hospitality beat. On the porch swing she entertained us with stories of her youth and life as a chicken farmer. After a while I reminded Ezra I had a plane to catch.
I hugged her as if she were a long lost aunt and climbed in the truck.
Back on the highway I was relieved to see the sign, Airport– 20 miles. I knew I should’ve kept my mouth closed when we passed that pumpkin field, but my curiosity got the best of me.
“That’s my field,” he announced, taking the sharp right into his driveway before I could spit.
I suppose you know what happened next—Two minutes later I was riding shotgun with his wife, Ethel upon her Little Gator touring his prized pumpkin patch.
“I’m going to miss my plane, Ethel” I said breathless, perched on the hillside as she hefted pumpkins into the back.
“Jeepers!” she squealed, abruptly turning around, nearly dumping me out in the process.
Quickly we jumped into the truck– grandkids, Ethel, and my souvenir pumpkin, roaring into the airport just in the nick of time.
Finally onboard my relief turned to concern as I passed the pilots in the cockpit with the operator’s manual in their laps. Oh, that can’t be good.
“Uh, this is Chuck from the cockpit. We’ve been talking to the boys over at McDonnell Douglas and we’re going to buzz the tower a couple of times and if nothing falls off, we’re going to shoot for Atlanta.”
Dear Lord! Fingers and toes crossed. I prayed as we taxied. If I survived this, not only was I coming back, I was going to enter that Showcase Award Contest—and take first place.
Until next time…
The Possum Queen