Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring Break Loop

Spring Break this year was more than I originally expected. First, Asuka and I went to stay with my mom and Step-dad in Sheridan. The next morning (Friday) we got up and went to Hot Springs for the day. Saturday morning we got up and helped them with moving a little before heading to Memphis to pick up Asuka's mom at the Airport. The next three days I spent driving around Jonesboro and we also went to Little Rock.

Tuesday night was a night without much sleep. We had to leave for Memphis by about 4 am. I didn't intend to sleep at all but decided to take a nap. I reset an alarm (or so I thought) and then I get a call from Asuka. I look at the clock and it says 4:30. I start scrambling around and rush out the door leaving pillows, blankets, a hairbrush, and other items that I would need for the next three days camping, only to get to my car and find out it is 3:40. Oh well, too late now...

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The adventure would soon begin. We dropped her Mom off at the Memphis International Airport about 6 in the morning. Then we started off toward Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton, AR. We stopped at a rest area in Arkansas and slept until about 9:30 in the car. It was one of those places though-- I couldn't go into a deep sleep. I always felt like someone was watching me. We got to Petit Jean and set up camp before hiking to the waterfall. The weather was amazing, probably in the upper 70's or lower 80's. We got back to camp and cooked dinner, went to shower, and went to bed by about 9 p.m. Then I woke up at midnight. The temperature had dropped about 40 degrees in the past four hours. I was shivering.

Finally 7:30 came around and I got up and stumbled into the cold morning air, with a cotton blanket wrapped around me. Two and a half hours later we were on the road to Oklahoma. We had a picnic at the visitors center; I found a geocache and we visited the log cabin of Sequoya, before heading back in to Arkansas.

We drove to the University of Arkansas, enemy territory, so that Asuka could see their campus. It was rather large, and I have to say I am glad I chose ASU over UA. I paid for an hour and a half of parking and the meter expired before we made it back to the car. I was beginning to think we might have to call campus police to help us FIND the car. We finally found it and headed to the store to buy more groceries for the camping that night at Hobbs State Park. Timing had other plans.

When we drove through the park, I had no clue where camping was and the visitors center was closed. I searched points of interest with the GPS and found a camping area not far from Eureka Springs which was to be the first stop for the next day. We arrived and it was a safari park with a lot of big cats, and an RV park. I decided it wasn't the best tent-camping spot and headed on into Eureka Springs for Lake Leatherwood. When we got there, it was abandoned. No one was in the cabins or the campgrounds. The office had a sign "will return at 9am." So we went to a campsite with water but no electricity. We got out and the bathroom had a sign that said, "closed for cleaning; use other side." I went to look and it was dimly lit and dirty. Another aged sign said "please shut the door so the pipes don't freeze." That was too much; it gave me the creeps. It looked like the scene from a horror film. When I got back to the car, Asuka was being cornered by the geese and quickly agreed to find somewhere else. We ended up in a Hotel. The attendant there said he worked at the BCM in Fayetteville at one point, so I asked him if he knew Arliss. Small world.

The next day I showed Asuka the Crescent Hotel, Christ of the Ozarks Statue (from the Hotel), and downtown. Then we headed to Branson. We camped at Tablerock Lake State Park. Finally, a place we could have a camp fire. We set up, paid, and then went into Branson. We got back and cooked in the dark which was an interesting experience. We'd planned on cooking the night before so our fish was soggy. It was cold so we weren't really in the cooking spirit. We ended up with Teriyaki rice, green beans, corn and mushrooms mixed together, and Teriyaki fish ticks. The fire didn't do much to keep us warm. We gave up and went to bed.

At about 6am cold turned to cold and wet. I began seeing white flashes and knew it was a storm rolling in. About 6:20 it got loud with thunder and rain. It was time to evacuate the tent and head for the car. We slept for the next four hours in the car with heat and soft chairs, until the rain stopped. When I went to check the tent I found our clothes, and sleeping gear soaked. There was at least one pool of water.

We cooked and broke down camp, knowing that it would be a long night of cleaning up when we arrived back in Jonesboro. We went to eat at a fish and steak restaurant at Branson Landing, with a little fear of being turned away for the clothes we were wearing. There was no problem, with the exception of being cold. We ate and headed for Jonesboro.

When we got back I unloaded the car. Later Asuka and I set the tent back up in the living room of my Collegiate Park apartment (luckily, all of my roommates were still out of town).  We dried it, inside and out. We washed the dishes. We washed the clothes and towels and pillows. Finally at midnight it was time for bed. Spring break would soon be over.

[I will add photos as soon as I have a chance to get them on my computer.]

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cooking Culture

I have had the privilege to be the driver for a friend and her mom (both from Japan) during the first days of Spring Break. My friend speaks English very well. Her mom knows minimal English and it has challenged me to slow down more when I speak. She knows a little bit of English and can somewhat understand some phrases and even speak some.

Of course, with time, it all gets better. I always say that I learned more the ten days I was in Spain than I did three years of Spanish classes. I am sure her English improved the past three days. But tonight, well its after midnight so yesterday, I was cooking Spaghetti. I cooked most of it before they arrived. However, her mom arrived about five or ten minutes before. Amazingly, we did just fine communicating.

Later my friend arrived and commented about how I was breaking the noodles. She also commented on portions, etc. It is amazing how different cultures can be, even when it comes to the ways we cook some of the same foods.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Public Transportation in Arkansas

Big cities have something in common. Something good. Something helpful. Something places like Arkansas don't see much of. They call it something like public transportation. Strange right?

I know that to have a metro system in Jonesboro or any other Arkansas city for that matter isn't a great idea. But an inter-city train isn't such a bad idea. Decent bus systems are not a bad idea. Sidewalks and bike lanes might be the cheapest and simplest idea of all and they are not a bad idea.

Buses: Arkansas has inter-city buses like Greyhound. They take forever to get to their destination. But those buses are not the ones I am talking about. The ones I am talking about are the ones like JETS (Jonesboro Economic Transport System) that take people in the city from one bus-stop to another. It is great that Jonesboro has a service at all; some cities in Arkansas do not have a bus system. However, Jonesboro needs more buses and more bus routes. I remember riding the bus one afternoon from my dorm to the mall. If I drove, it would take about 10 minutes. By bus it took around half an hour or more. The bus comes to each stop every hour or every other hour, depending on the day of the week. 

The timing is because there are so few buses and routes. If they had more buses, more routes make since. With more routes, the current routes could be shortened to have one overlapping point for transfers. Shorter routes would allow the bus on a given route to run more frequently, maybe every half hour. Also with more buses, there could be more than one bus on each route in each direction.  In addition to new routes, a transfer system would be needed.

I learned about transfers quickly in Washington this summer. They had a card with a magnetic chip. Passengers load money on the card and swiped it on the bus. It recorded information about when they got on. If it was swiped again within the next two hours on another bus, it was a free transfer and the time was reset.

Trains: There are plenty of trains in Arkansas. One of the largest companies I know of is Union Pacific. What we do not have a lot of is travel by rail. There are a few AMTRAK stations in the state. Tickets are generally expensive and it is not typically used for traveling in the state. We do not need subways, but a decent rail system would be nice. It wouldn't have to stop everywhere, just major cities. Cities such as Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Texarkana, Fayetteville, West Memphis, Jonesboro, Search, Conway, Russellville, and Fort Smith could be connected by rail.

Rails can run a straight line and require less space than roads. Math tells us the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Yes there may be slight curves in the rail line but, it is still shorter than using multiple roads that go different directions. There would be fewer curves, and less traffic on the rail allowing travel at higher speeds. Between the distance and higher speed it should cut off some time on the trips, although some routes might require a transfer in Little Rock or other "hub."

As long as the benefits outweigh the costs it should be a good idea. I use a full tank of gas when I make a round-trip to Little Rock and back. With rising gas prices the short trip can take a toll on my wallet and bank account. The train-system could be a part of the state government. If there were a charge of maybe $10 for a one way trip from Jonesboro to Little Rock, I think it would be worth it. The trip would be faster and cheaper than driving, not to mention less tiring. And even at that cost, the government should have money to put back into the system, if not even having some left over to use in other areas of the budget.

I honestly feel like the biggest hurdle for this might be getting it started (as with city buses). It would require tax dollars. However, to ease the situation a little, it could be a gradual project. There might even be agreements with railroad companies already in the state to use their tracks temporarily until the state can fund projects to have their own tracks with better routes. In the long run, I think it would help a lot, at least in the future. It would help cut down on traffic on the roads, fuel consumption, and maybe even be a step towards being greener.

Sidewalks/Bike Lanes: Jonesboro is a little behind in this area. Although I think they are a lot better than Conway in many aspects (bus system, parks, etc.), they don't have many sidewalks. I don't think I have even seen a bike lane in the county. 

A friend and I walked from the Arkansas State campus, down Stadium Boulevard to South Caraway Rd. Then we took South Caraway back to campus. It was about a 10-mile hike through Jonesboro. Most of that hike did not include sidewalks. During the journey we saw several problems. If we were lucky enough to have a pedestrian light, as soon as it would turn to walk, it would begin flashing red don't walk signs again almost immediately. Without sidewalks, we were often very close to the side of the road. We walked through people's yards many times to avoid being hit by an oncoming car, especially on the busy roads.

ASU has a high international population. Most of those students cannot drive. There are many students from the United States that cannot drive either. Whether it be because they do not have a license or a car, they sometimes have to walk to places they need to go such as Wal-Mart or the Mall at Turtle Creek.

Bikes are another option for transportation but it is dangerous. There are no sidewalks to ride on. There are no bike lanes on the roads to help keep cyclists out of the way of traffic. If the city, county, or state built bike lanes they could even temporarily help pedestrians. 

Other statements:
I have picked on Jonesboro in most of these statements. That is because it is where I spend most of my time. But it is inclusive of many places in the state, especially the larger cities. The projects would cost money which might mean increases in state and local taxes, but they would be worth it.

In the long run people can save time, money, the environment and lives with public transportation. It also provides a service to many people who don't have other means of transportation. The creation of the public transportation does not mean people have to use it, but there are a lot of people, myself included, who would use it, especially if it made more sense. I would love to walk more often on nice days, but without sidewalks I am hesitant. With sidewalks I would be a lot more likely to walk, not only saving money, and the environment, but living a healthier life and exercising.