Lincoln, Arkansas Rodeo: 43 Years in the Making

Bull RidimgIt  has been 43 years since I last attended the annual Lincoln Rodeo in the state of Arkansas. In the time period between visits, I have been overseas(for over years), married twice, fathered two children and only recently moved back to the country of my birth. The rodeo, which runs over three days, started on Thursday and as I am working on the latter two nights,  I opted to attend the first night of festivities.

Time has marched on for me since that last visit and time has moved on for the small venue as well. One particularly telling moment was the sighting of a young cowgirl, dressed in all her finery, texting on her iPhone while easily sitting and riding her mount.

It was a surrealistic moment which spoke volumes about the female of the species being able to multitask and the technology that these modern rodeo participants have access to.

(Sadly, I was not able to get a picture. Besides the sight momentarily throwing me, it was far too dark and using a flash seemed ill-advised.)

Arriving that little bit late, the first thing I did was grab a rodeo burger and a cup of rodeo coffee. A long standing tradition that dates back to my childhood. My late father always headed to get food the second we arrived at the rodeo grounds.

Another tradition involved getting new cowboy hats, boots and a rodeo shirt, all ivory poppers and with the long tails that kept the thing tucked in. While I did not sport new boots, or a brand new hat, I did have on one of my father’s old western shirts. Memories of attending the rodeo in days gone by flooded my mind as the smells of horses, cattle, burgers and freshly raked dirt caused a bit of olfactory overload.

Calf ropingAlmost the entire event was spent in the company of my “cousin-in-law” who works for the same organization that I do. Good conversation, good vantage points and an overall sense of good bonhomie from the crowd made the night an entertaining one.

Only a handful of people were competing in each event, unfortunately I missed the bareback bronc riding, but each gave their all and this was a good buildup to the Springdale rodeo later in the summer.

There were not as many people as there used to be and I seem to remember the grounds being much brighter in terms of lighting. Cowboy hats were not in overabundance, although I did wear my straw one along with my Cornwall western boots.

The rodeo has changed somewhat since my childhood. Girls were now competitively roping calves, which was the biggest difference, and the bull riders all wore protective helmets. One thing that has not changed, however, is the innate beauty of the young women riding their steeds around the rodeo arena.

Each one possesses a poise and incredible confidence that is displayed by  their expert handling of the horses they ride. Whether  moving around the grounds “backstage” or racing barrels, they are one with their mount and are pictures of grace and control. It is easy to be thrust back to one’s teen years and fall in love with these western lasses.

All had long hair that streamed down and out under their cowgirl hats as the rode hell for leather to beat the timer. While it was impressive to see, one could easily imagine that each one had extensions rather than naturally long tresses. It did not detract from the sight, but, like the iPhone texting rider, it seemed like it could be another sign of the times.

(It is also lovely to see the connection these young ladies have with their animals and family. One young rider was cutting tight circles around her father, on her horse,  just before heading out into the arena to do her bit in the barrel race. The amount of trust between the two was incredibly touching.)

Youngsters at the rodeo participated in a calf catching exercise (although they grabbed a flag off the creatures tail rather than actually wrestle with the animal) and it was a cute display that warmed the heart. There was also a goat roping event outside the arena…

The rodeo kidsAll through the night the announcer kept the crowd informed about a line of thunderstorms headed the way of the event (which contained several tornadoes) and after things wound down the storms did finally arrive.

It may have taken me 43 years to attend a function that was a memorable part of my childhood and things might have been that little bit lowkey, but, it was an enjoyable night and one I would not have missed for the world.

The Lincoln Rodeo runs for two more nights and is an inexpensive way to spend an evening. The weather is meant to be a bit blustery but that only adds to the atmosphere.  Stop by and check it out if you can.

 

Four Corners Kitchen Fayetteville’s Best Kept Secret

Fayetteville's Four Corners Restaurant

Anyone entering the shopping precinct off of N. Garland Ave in Fayetteville, Arkansas would be hard pressed to find Four Corners Kitchen. The light tan colored building, with its sparse decorations sits where the Hogs Breath Inn used to do business, squeezed in between a laundromat and a Dollar Store.

When one enters the premises, a sign informs the prospective customer that they should wait to be seated but at around 4:30 pm, a bustling blonde server tells me “you can set where you want.” There is a couple already being served and moments after being seated an elderly gentleman enters and picks out his own table.

The interior is warm and inviting, but almost as spartan in appearance as the outside. Brown oak chairs and booths with faux leather backs and seats make up the seating arrangements. After a complementary glass of water and a brief discussion of the menu, I order my meal (the chicken sandwich) and enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee while I wait.

After a respectable amount of time, in other words not too long a wait, my server brings out a gargantuan chicken sandwich which takes up a decent amount of space on the plate. The home fries, which look more like English chips than American french fires take up another large part of the plate.

The chips (fries) are cooked with the skins on and that, along with the slight coating of sea salt, makes them a delicious treat. There are the usual accompaniments to the sandwich, lettuce, tomato and red onions on the side along with three large pickles. (These looked suspiciously like “bread and butter” pickles and they, like the rest of the meal were very tasty.

Chicken Sandwich, Heaven on a plate

The food arrived at the table fresh and hot from the kitchen and it was made from “local” produce. The furthest ingredient on the menu, according to the staff, comes from Springfield, Missouri. The choices on offer run the gamut; with appetizers that include fresh pork rinds, with a choice of sauces, to a variety of soups and salads that includes a creamy crawfish stew that will have me returning in short order.

While not having sampled the other offerings in the burger arena, a “house” burger, a cheeseburger and a “red eye braised pork shoulder” sandwich, the chicken burger was a behemoth sized repast that could have fed two. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I polished off the sandwich and all but four of the fries. I did, however, refrain from sampling their homemade ice cream, or even the homemade sorbet. Next time, perhaps…)

The food delivered with a smile to my booth was juicy, flavorful and, as its pièce de résistance, came topped with perfectly cooked crispy bacon. Coffee came freshly brewed and in a “bottomless” cup and the service was spot on, so much so that I zealously overtipped.

Four Corners Kitchen is spotless and well lit. The establishment, and its chef, Wesley Douglas,  will be celebrating their three year anniversary in roughly one week’s time. (As mentioned earlier, the place is where the old Hogs Breath Eatery used to be and as a nod to the other, 30 year old establishment’s giant baked potato specialties, offer a “Hogs Breath” baked potato.)

Even the beers on offer are “local” craft beers, although my server did admit that they might have had Budweiser on offer up until recently. Their drinks menu is impressive with a number of different cocktails to chose from as well. Their coffee is excellent; strong and not the least bit bitter. A good choice for those who have no wish to drink and drive.

After two bites of my enormous burger, which was an actual chicken breast rather than a rehashed chicken patty made from the usual inedible bits of the chicken, I declared to the server that this was, in my humble opinion, “heaven on a plate.”

Bacon and Chicken Burger

Four Corners Kitchen is at 1214 N. Garland Ave. The eatery does not appear to have a website but they can be found on Facebook and their menu can be perused here. This is an establishment that “gets” food. Their offering today was mouthwatering to look at and it was sheer perfection to eat.

If you have not discovered this eatery yet, head on over and try them out. You may see me there tucking into some Creamy Crawfish Stew or some other culinary treat from their small but oh so satisfying menu.

Bon Appétit!

Walking and Riding in Place

After a lifetime of traveling as quickly as possible over great distances through various countries across the globe, it seems fitting that this latest journey should take place in the middle of nowhere

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Note: Before becoming distracted by personal issues I was going to enter a writing competition on travel and how slowing down the mode of transport enables the adventurer a chance to learn about foreign peoples and their culture. Missing the deadline of January 15, meant that the essay was languishing unread on my laptop. This is, of course, entirely unacceptable. Here then is the written piece titled:

Walking and Riding in Place.

After a lifetime of traveling as quickly as possible over great distances through various countries across the globe, it seems fitting that this latest journey should take place in the middle of nowhere. Leaving behind all transportation of the motorized variety and relying upon “shank’s mare” or the old reliable bicycle to move from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ in one tiny place means a re-think. Although perhaps reprogramming is the better word, but regardless of the action or intent, the idea is the same; downsizing while rediscovering.

In the middle of the Arizona desert lays a smallish burg populated by the few year-round residents and a good number of “snowbirds” and transients. The former all seem to be retirees who are going through some sort of second childhood. The latter all seem to be split into small factions of drug addled vagrants, alcoholics, crazies, new age hippies and some unidentifiable others.

The snowbirds have all manner of motorized, electronic conveyances. They have toys that can take the place of the automobile in all its different forms. The wanderers, aka transients, all walk or ride bicycles, some with hand crafted trailers, and by necessity this group move more slowly across the great arid American landscape.

Moving to this tiny community and slowing down has had the same effect as literally stopping in one spot. Travel has changed from a fast, impatient journey to a specific, or conversely, unknown destination to one so slow that the feeling is akin to walking or running in place.

Travel is now akin to moving on a treadmill or fixed-in-place exercise bicycle. With time shuddering to a stop, the trapped traveller becomes enmeshed in the local population’s life. Faces and lives that would, by necessity, be foreign and fleeting now are familiar.

After living in England for 32 years, the American side of my nature has been diminished. For all intents and purposes I identified, and still do to a massive extent, with the “Brits” in attitude and lifestyle. Getting used to civilization where even the furthest villages from city centres were accessible via bus, or train, or a combination of the above meant the the very space of America was disconcerting.

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While a car was used for most of my time there, it was not a necessity. When first arriving, back in the early 80s, I rode my thumb, bussed or took the train or tube to get around. Later, I got my first car and while it was a necessity for a family. after the heart attack and subsequent surgery, the latest model was sold, to pay bills, and once more it was public transport or walking.

Fast forward to Las Vegas and an unscrupulous boss who provides a deathtrap of a vehicle to drive about in and little pay. This same individual who beat up his wife and ignored bills due seemed well on track to stitching up this ex-ex-pat so a quick escape was in order and this former denizen of “real” civilization; where one can get shopping delivered at home, take a “double-decker” to the corner shop or the train to London for some serious spending, fled to the Arizona desert. Once there, I became trapped in Quartzsite, Arizona (the final resting place of Hi Jolly) sans motorized wheels.

This slowing down, of not just traveling mode but also life style, enabled me to become involved to a huge degree in the lives of the locals. The feeling of belonging to a community steadily increased as each day, which consisted of a minimum of 12 miles round trip, allowed a leisurely look at the folk who populate this quaint yet odd little town.

On top of being away from the country of my birth for so long, ending up in this seasonal town, where snowbirds flock to attend a short but intense rock show full of overpriced BBQ and wood-fiered pizza stalls, amongst other costly snack vendors, living here is really like being in a foreign country. Just the scenery of the desert with its myriad of plants and cacti that flower throughout the year easily distract when traveling at a snail’s pace.

Animals that live along the road, and deeper in the desert, are so used to being inundated by scores of the active elderly that most caution toward the two-legged creatures has dissipated. Ground squirrels may still act a bit mad, but after a mad dash to what must feel like a safe distance, the creatures stop and watch as people walk by.

Lizards also move rather quickly, but like their furry compatriots stop and watch placidly. Coyotes come very close although once movement is detected from their human neighbors, they move away. Mountain lions, rabbits deer, bob cats, wild cats and any number of different species of fowl all come within mere feet of their greatest enemy.

Riding to town and back everyday on a red Schwinn allows the traveled adequate time to see any number of beautiful things. During the day, animals, plants, oddly shaped clouds and the odd mirage, not to mention the occasional dust devil.

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At night flaming meteors, falling stars, unidentified lights in the dark sky and the random fallen Chinese lantern, laying like some exotic corpse by the roadside. These once majestic fiery sights are damned creepy looking after dark, looking like some weird animal huddled and waiting.

Coyotes are seemingly everywhere after dark. Calling to one another, in packs, it is a bit disconcerting to be walking or riding the Schwinn at night with what sounds like hundreds of coyotes all moving closer and signally their presence with the yipping and howling one associates with western films.

The wildlife is not the only thing one gets closer to. The people who live in Quartzsite year round, and the odd snowbird, all become very familiar. After a year of moving slowly through the local’s lives, one becomes accepted as a part of the norm. Little bits of the denizen’s lives become known and shared willingly.

Moving to Quartzsite a year ago meant a slowing down…of everything. This is a world of “yesterday” where the local folks still stop to watch, or rush outside to experience the sensation of, a monsoon-like rain. The Internet provided by TDS is substandard, a step up from early dial-up (it is also overly expensive for what they provide.) and the only alternative is equally expensive satellite or 4G.

While this enforced slow down can be frustrating and not a little infuriating it does have advantages. The illusion of walking and or riding in one place is a mixed blessing of sorts. Having the time to feast one’s eyes on all the glory of nature makes up for a lot of irritation at the “crappy” Internet.

On the other hand, having the luxury to closely observe the desert also allows one to see just how filthy a lot of these seasonal two legged visitors are. As the population of people increases, so too does the manmade rubbish strewn across the hardpan floor. Plastic bags flutter from cactus tines, like a poor relative to the huge plastic Chinese later carcasses that dot the landscape.

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Empty water bottles, plastic vodka bottles, fag ends (dog ends, aka cigarette butts) and empty cigarette packets litter the roadside as do odd bits and bobs of RV life. Bolts, screws, nails, unidentifiable plastic parts and ripped rubber strips from prospector’s tires.

Walking the desert roads, or riding via a bicycle, daily for a 12 to 14 mile round trip may not be the most exciting type of travel, but it is a mode that allows for close scrutiny, intense reflection and a chance for engaging in zen transportation.

This slow mode of transport also allows the traveller to reacquaint himself with this foreign country where the traditions seem odd and the culture has changed from the land he knew in his youth.

Quartzsite: Frozen Eggs and Giant Freezers

It has now been a year since moving to the snowbird nesting home of Quartzsite, Arizona. Also known as the final resting place of Hi Jolly, the man who immigrated to help Uncle Sam’s Camel Corps work on a daily basis, this desert “oasis” for the elderly is interesting to say the least.

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It has now been a year since moving to the snowbird nesting home of Quartzsite, Arizona. Also known as the final resting place of Hi Jolly, the man who immigrated to help Uncle Sam’s Camel Corps work on a daily basis, this desert “oasis” for the elderly is interesting to say the least.  In many ways the phrase second childhood could apply to most of the temporary denizens of this RV wonderland.

In retrospect, the area is much colder in January 2016 than last year’s winter chill. A head start in the latter days of December 2015 with temperatures that dipped below freezing on a regular basis in the night,  cold has taken on new meaning. Not only that but it has also changed the purpose of certain items.

Most notable, the humble refrigerator was transformed into  giant freezer. Every single liquid item, including eggs, became solid examples of their natural state.  Green tea, bottled water, a “bag” of vegetable soup, milk, an energy drink and 10 eggs all were transformed into rock hard immoveable objects.

The eggs did have web-like cracks over the ice cold shells.  After hoping on the Internet to double-check, it was found that one could cook once frozen eggs without fear of contracting botulism or salmonella.  At least according to numerous websites, unless the raw eggs were stored in an device crawling with harmful bacteria, the icy yolks and whites could be thawed and cooked.

After moving the carton of ice-eggs to another fridge, one that was not altered by the constant lower temperature of under 32 degrees Fahrenheit, they became somewhat less frozen, and more “slushy-like” and able to be cooked.  These frozen eggs fried up nicely, in a bit of oil, and tasted “normal” on bits of toast.

It has been discovered that the main fridge is still operating as a giant freezer…All liquid denizens are still icy and hard as a rock, with the exception of a partially filled plastic jug of apple juice. Just why the juice has not become one with the cold and, at the very least, turned into a sort of icy sludge, is not known.

If one Googles the answer, it appears that apple juice contains more sugar and this keeps the freezing rate pretty well contained. As fascinating as all this is, the one thing that the intense, and unusual, cold has not changed, is the amount of Snowbirds flocking into Quartzsite in the New Year.

2016 has seen a massive influx of these geriatric teenagers and  octogenarian young oldsters.  The vendors have doubled and tripled in sized and scope in the last few weeks and the legion of RVs, ATVs and motorbikes have quadrupled. Outside the tents, where one can buy anything from cool sunglasses to various kitchen utensils, a plethora of vehicles now rest, temporarily, while their aged drivers waddle, limp and trot throughout the vendors wares on offer.

There is also an increase in the desert rat brigade, the hippies and love children, not, apparently the same thing, and beggars line the entrances, when the sun shines, of fast-food eateries along the main drag as well as outside the General and Dollar Store.

As a point of interest, these grubby and lost individuals have been forced to move on from a  facility that contains an ATM. This does not stop buskers (musicians) from playing their instruments for change until being moved on by the shop or restaurant owners.

There are those who seem to beg on a professional basis, one woman sports a new car and a sign which proclaims her need. This professional pan-handler wants money for petrol (gasoline) so she can visit her dying daughter, who suffers from a different ailment each week. She is moved on regularly, even the major personally called the 5-Oh to push her along. .

Of course with the new year just being days old and it still being the weekend, this snowbird paradise is chock-a-block (full to the brim) with both the returning population and those who are passing through. California license plates fill the car parks (parking lots) and each fast food eatery is filled to heaving with the hungry, loud, obnoxious and ill mannered.

Children who will, no doubt, all grow up to be as annoying as the 20 something’s who all appear to suffer from ADD, or ADHD and are incapable of sitting quietly, or still.  They are in good company, as most of the elderly enter the dining areas with hearing aides either turned off or down and seem incapable of carrying on a conversation in decent decibel levels.

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While writing about the indigenous population of Quartzsite, Arizona could become a full-time occupation, the setting sun and dipping temperature mandate an early finish to the working day. Riding a bicycle along roads populated by drivers who have little business being behind the wheel of a peddle tricycle, let alone a huge motorized death machine, is hazardous at best and nerve-wracking to the extreme. All the more so after dark.

In order to arrive alive at home,  do not be deceived this writer has been forced off the road and clipped by an elderly driver before and has almost been hit several times by the same type of vehicle operator, it is prudent to depart while there is enough light for both the driver and the bicyclist to see by.

As the cold weather continues, and the stream of snowbirds, and new vendors, keep pouring in, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

 

Professional Blogging: Lessons Learned

Lessons learned the hard way

After working recently as a journalist/editor/manager for an on line publication run by a dubious flimflam man who was more con than pro (as in conman versus professional) a swift exit was made from the grasp of “Frackle Media” who owe hundreds of writers monies for articles written.  It was decided that lessons learned from working for the “seasoned” SEO publisher and professional con artist should be applied to my own “blogging” site.

It should be pointed out that it was the “white-hat” SEO techniques that were utilized and not this nefarious individual’s unethical use of self promotion and lack of promised payment to writer’s/editors and managers hired. It should also be pointed out that some of the SEO used by this man were also “black-hat,” and also not used on this site.

Taking a leap backward, it was further decided that all the time devoted to a website designed to rip off everyone else should be spent on mine own site, owned, operated and published by myself via the auspices of WordPress.  Professional blogging was the catchphrase and like most other things in this life, it was done the hard way.

Firstly; WordPress.com do not support advertisements on their hosted blogs. For that to happen, one needs to deviate from the norm and go with their .org side of things.  In essence, the blogger is still using the familiarity of WordPress but with additions that include Jetpack, plugins, SEO and picking the right hosting site to power your blog and ensure that your hard work, and the advertisements attached are seen.

This is not, amazingly, very straight forward.

Awareness of the pitfalls brings us to the first word of warning.

Beware which domain purchasing/web hosting service you use.

All offer similar low starting prices, per month (which usually equate to a one-time payment versus a monthly one) and domain name registrations and ownership vary in price but not too much.  Terms like VPS, Dedicated Server, Shared Hosting and so on all help to muddy the water in the decision making process.

What is the difference between VPS and Shared Hosting, do I need to know? Should I care? More importantly is more expensive or cheaper better?

In terms of expense, the best indicator of who one should chose really revolves around two important factors.

  1. The host’s ability to keep their servers up and running (preferably 100 percent of the time, or as close as possible) is perhaps the most important factor.
  2. Running a close second is the support features offered by the host. If your site goes down, or views suddenly drop through no fault of your own, can these providers quickly and efficiently fix your problem.
  3. In essence, expense is not the most important factor in the decision process, although it may become the mitigating factor.

Lost views equal lost revenue via advertisers.

Regardless of whether you have made a penny from your new site or not, lost views equals lost revenue.  This is the “bottom line.” If a hosting company is so inefficient that your site suddenly becomes invisible, several things immediately happen.

Firstly you are silenced. Your voice cannot be heard because the net is not displaying  your articles and fans of your site, or work are not able to find your articles.

This silence means that regardless of whether you use Google Adsense or some other form of revenue generating advertisements on your site no one is being given the chance to help your site earn money.

*Sidenote*

Beware SEO strategists who want to sell you “tricks” designed to bring views to your site.  90 percent of these are black hat techniques that Google hate and they will penalize you; causing your site to lose credibility and ranking.  The best “SEO” will be basic and consist of properly writing your articles and having content that is unique, original and not a watered down copy of someone else’s work.  The basic SEO package offered by WordPress will suffice, more often or not, and while “tricks” may work for awhile, Google will catch on to you and the site, both will suffer accordingly.

Blogging “professionally” means basically that you are using advertisers to earn money for your hard work. It allows you to put your “brand” out there for others to see and your aim is to get revenue from your website while proving that your writing skills are worthy of payment. This will also help you show that, as a freelance writer, you can generate income.

It also means not writing for other sites for free.  Claims that your article will drive traffic to your site are cheap folderol tactics designed to keep money in the publisher’s pocket while you sweat out an article to their specifications.  A friend on Facebook advertised for writers on her website with the proviso: “I can’t pay, but it will drive traffic to your site and there are lots of freebies.” I responded that the only site I write for “for free” is mine own.

Although, that is not entirely true,  when using advertisements for recompense, there is “eventual” payment if one’s site garners enough views. These views, however, can not reach their true potential if the web hosting site you have chosen is not up to the task.

Bluehost.com, the first, and for a very short time current, provider for my site, should be avoided at all cost.  This hosting provider has poorly trained techs for support and if using live chat (prepare for a 30 minute wait on average)  your problems are attended to along with several others, there is no “individual support” here. With their phone support, expect either platitudes, condescension, inept/incorrect responses and a problem not completely fixed, even if it appears to be sorted.

Their pricing is very reasonable, but this is a ploy to lure you in.  Once your site starts taking off (Mine reached over 22K views per month in four short months and was in the process of climbing higher.) problems will ensue.  A mate of mine, a couple of mates actually, hosted their website with Bluehost and ran an average of 500K views per month, after Google changed some policies these numbers fell and it was only later that my friends discovered that part of the problem was with Bluehost.

This will be the first of many articles written that will attempt to point out pitfalls and issues with hosting one’s own website and blogging professionally.  For all those who have made the move already from amateur to pro and have any recommendations of web hosting companies that should be tried or avoided, please do so. Do not, however, include links to said recommendations as these show as spam and will end up in the bin.