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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Recap: Hot Springs, Arkansas

Before I was so rudely interrupted by the threat of a tornado the other night in Hot Springs, AR, I was trying to post about the great day I'd had there.

It was a hot one as I made my way from the Mississippi delta to into Arkansas along some back roads. By the time I got to Hot Springs, it was well into the 90s.

I had two goals for the day: lunch at McClard's and finding an Arkansas quartz crystal.

Suddenly my air conditioner wasn't keeping up. I was driving right into the sun, and I felt like I was roasting. All I could do was open all the windows and press on.

When I got to sleepy Hot Springs, ordinarily I probably would've gotten something light, but I was starved. I had also built up McClard's to be a very big deal with the help of these people.

This is Jane and Michael Stern, the authors of Roadfood, "a coast-to-coast guide to 700 of the best barbecue joints, lobster shacks, ice cream parlors, highway diners, and much, much more."

The Sterns say McClard's is their favorite barbecue spot.

"If we had to select the best ribs in America (what an awesome task!), we'd think about Dreamland's smoky bones in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and racks of velvet succulence at Van's Pig Stand in Shawnee, Oklahoma. But our holy grail in McClard's in Hot Springs, Arkansas."

The McClard's story is all about the sauce. Back in 1928, when it was simply a trailer court, a customer couldn't pay his bill and offered his barbecue sauce recipe instead. It's a winner, alright. For me it settles the battle between tomato-based sauce fans and vinegar-based fans. This sauce does both, and does it very well. Proof that it doesn't have to be an either-or situation.

But that was about all there was for me at McClard's. I stopped in there mid-afternoon and sat at the counter. No one seemed to care.

Finally the waitress took my order. It came, and I took a photo of it. Check out the saltines. Hilarious.

The sauce was fantastic. It more than made up for the ribs not being fall-off-the-bone tender. The beans were like re-fried beans, and were very good. The tamale was full of cumin, which I usually like, but I just didn't know where it fit here. I also ordered pork shoulder, which you can just barely see under the ribs. It was dry and very unsatisfying. The saltines I could not figure out. Any ideas?

The waitress never checked with me if everything was good. Instead she slipped out to leave. I had to practically chase her outside in order to give her a tip. Moments later, I saw her climb into a low-slung cherry red Pontiac Trans Am and drive off into the shimmery heat.

The bottom line is that I had a much better barbecue experience in Memphis.

This is not first time I've completely disagreed with the Sterns, but it will likely be the last. I'm not sure who makes most of their decisions, but I think I have a pretty good idea. Note the emphasis on "ice cream parlors" in their previous book description. Many of their reviews seem to talk about great food but then get completely lathered about PIE. I think I'll roll my own dice from here on.

I too rode off into the shimmery heat. I was on a vaguely-planned mission to find some prized Arkansas quartz, which is reputed to be some of the best in the world. I am very serious about stones and consider them as tools instead of mere objects of beauty. I have quite a collection now, and even take them along on my road trips.

For some time now, I've been wanting to find a self-healed quartz crystal. Self-healed crystals are thought to be able to teach us to heal ourselves. All jokes about ObamaCare aside, I think the larger message of these interesting times is that we must all take a more active role in our own health, growth, and development.

I have a long way to go, but I've come a long way too. I credit these tools as being a big part of the process.

I headed to Mount Ida where I knew there were several rock shops, but had no addresses written down. It was all done on a whim. I just sort of let myself be guided.

The heat was almost unbearable, and I almost turned back out of frustration more than once, simply because I was not seeing any shops. The last thing I wanted was to drive all the way out into the boonies for nothing and have to drive all the way back, wasting time and gas. But I kept going.

As can happen at times like these, a higher power seemed to take over, and I stopped struggling and surrendered to it -- something that I'm still not that good at, but getting better.

I finally reached Mount Ida after what seemed like an eternity and started seeing tons of rock shops. It was now late in the day, thunderstorms were threatening, and I was now worried about how to find the right shop before it closed.

The idea came to me just to focus on finding one that specialized in quartz. And then there it was, a shop that had a huge sign saying ARKANSAS QUARTZ CRYSTALS. It doesn't get easier than that.

I stepped inside and knew right away I'd found the right place. But there was a new challenge: amid the many hundreds of similar-looking quartz crystals, I had to find the right one for me . . . or I had to let the right one find me.

It was like the grail scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I had to "choose wisely."

Again, I surrendered and just wandered around the shop with soft eyes. They all seemed to blend together, but I zeroed in on one that reminded me of someone. Ha, it reminded me of myself!

I remember my Mom (who gave me my first crystal) once told me that during my first visit to the doctor as an infant, I was showing him how strong I was by doing a form of push ups on the examination table. I saw myself in this beautiful quartz crystal.

It looks like it's doing push ups!

It was soon apparent, though, that this was no ordinary quartz crystal. As I brought it over to the cash register, the store's proprietor started pulling out description cards for each different quality of the crystal. One after the other.

First, it's self healed. It's also a penetrator crystal because of the arm-like crystals protruding from it. Because of these, it's also called a manifestation crystal. And it's a record keeper crystal because of its several triangular markings on the surface of it (which you probably can't see in the photo). This piece should be in a museum. I am so thankful that I found it and that it found me.

I drove back to Hot Springs as the clouds rolled in and the temperature started to cool, hearing warnings about dangerous thunderstorms approaching the area.

That night in my hotel room, as lightning struck nearby and the Weather Channel radar was a sea of red, I felt protected by my newest friend.

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