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In Arkansas, the leaves don’t drop, but the ice just might.

In Arkansas, the leaves don’t drop, but the ice just might.

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The Garden of Underdog Objects

Gene Hatfield’s Sculpture Garden, Conway, Arkansas

A bicycle hung in a tree…. Scrap aluminum foil molded into a dancer…. Abandoned bedsprings recoiled into the shape of a man…. The trash, friend, it seems to be alive.

Gene Hatfield rescues lugged-to-the-curb junk from the garbage truck and the landfill. On a certain corner lot, somewhat concealed by yellow pines and maples, he reinvents—he reincarnates—perceived garbage in a menagerie of sculpture. This we shall call the Garden of Underdog Objects. 

Gene Hatfield started compiling his sculpture garden in 1962 when he moved into a house on the corner of Donaghey and Simms streets in Conway, Arkansas. A painter, sculpture, and collage artist, Hatfield taught at Arkansas State Teacher’s College (UCA) from 1948-1985. Many of the pieces in Hatfield’s sculpture garden have been photographed and registered with the Smithsonian Institution’s Save Outdoor Sculpture program. On November 23, 2012, Gene Hatfield will celebrate his eighty-seventh birthday. We wish Gene and his sculpture garden the very best. 

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September 30, 1955 Trailer

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Neurotic and Yet Attractive:

The Mystique of James Bridges, James Dean, & Conway, Arkansas

James Bridges (1936-1993) was an Arkansas filmmaker known for several big films in the 1970s and 1980s, including The Paper Chase (1973), The China Syndrome (1979), and Urban Cowboy (1980). In 1976, Bridges brought Hollywood to the sleepy Arkansas town of Conway, where he filmed the autobiographical September 30, 1955, about a small group of friends reacting to the news of James Dean’s death.

James Bridges, Paris High School, Class of 1954

That Day

On September 30, 1955, the day James Dean crashed his 1955 Porsche Spyder and was killed, James “Jim Mac” Bridges was a sophomore at Arkansas State Teachers College. A small-town boy from Paris (not that Paris), Jim Mac gained some fame in high school when he won the state baton-twirling championship by spinning, flourishing, and whipping four fire batons at once. At ASTC—now the University of Central Arkansas and home to The Oxford American—he studied English, led the marching band as a drum major, and immersed himself in the performing arts scene.

Feature Twirlers Helen Owen and James Bridges, 1954. Photo courtesy of the University of Central Arkansas Archives.

Jim Mac spent his nights watching movies at the Conway Theater, and in 1955, he and his friends discovered James Dean in East of Eden. They were the Silent Generation, raised in the comfort of the Eisenhower years, and Dean’s rebellious and rural cinematic presence spoke to their restlessness and angst. James Dean, the boy on the screen, made it okay to be, as Jim Mac put it, “neurotic and yet attractive.” The question, the litmus test, among Jim Mac’s crew of friends was How many times have you seen East of Eden? 

When he heard the news that James Dean was dead, Jim Mac and his friends, thirsty in a dry county, stole across the county line to Palarm Liquor. They drove back north to Toad Suck Ferry, and on an Arkansas River sandbar, they downed spirits, engaged in a mud fight, and from the dirt, they built Academy Awards for the ghost of Jimmy Dean. Properly into the drink and the muck, they sat in a circle, prayed to God, and then conducted a séance, pleading for a sign from the beyond. A sign from Jimmy Dean.

That night, stinking of booze, they got out the stage makeup, ghost-painted their faces, and donned ghoulish costumes. A car full of youthful mourning, they drove to Oak Grove cemetery and scared the hell out of all the kids necking and fondling each other in the darkness of their Fords and Oldsmobiles. James Dean was dead and these horny kids didn’t care a whit. 

East of Eden, West of Arkansas

 

Jim Mac Bridges as “Papageno” and Janis Purtte (Banister) as “Papagena” in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Arkansas State Teachers College, April 13, 1956. 

Photo Courtesy of the University of Central Arkansas Archives.

Jim Mac attended every theater event in Conway, and that’s how he met Jane Satterfield (now Jane Wilson), then a high-school senior. He frequented cast parties at the Satterfield house and soon became a staple at their dinner table. Jane’s parents—Bush, then mayor of Conway, and Katherine—became Jim Mac’s surrogate parents away from Paris. He would knock on the door, smiling with an unruly mop of hair, requesting that the Satterfield girls give him a trim. Katherine made corn bread and purple hull peas to rival his own mother’s.

Sitting out on the Satterfield patio at dusk, he told them that one needed three things to make it big in Hollywood. The first was to be illegitimate (Jim Mac’s father had abandoned the family when he was young). The second was to not get married. The third…well, he couldn’t tell them the third.

No one talked about the third back then.

Jim Mac told his friend and art professor Gene Hatfield that someday he would leave for California and would perform at the Pasadena Playhouse. In the year that followed Dean’s death, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant were released, and Dean’s mystique grew, in part, from all of his unfulfilled potential. Jim Mac needed to know more about his hero. He needed to perform. He needed California, but he also needed money. He turned to Gene Hatfield for a sixty dollar loan. Hatfield gave the boy the money, and Jim Mac said, “Don’t you want to go with me?”

In Los Angeles, he acted at the Pasadena Playhouse. He met Natalie Wood. He met Dennis Hopper. In 1956, he met the love of his life, Jack Larson, who starred as Jimmy Olsen in The Adventures of Superman

Jim Mac began writing for TV, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and he won an Emmy. He wrote a play about that September day in 1955 and called it How Many Times Have You Seen East of Eden? He wrote The Appaloosa for Marlon Brando. He wrote and directed two movies: The Baby Maker and The Paper Chase. 

Still, even with all this success, every Saturday morning at eleven, no matter where Jim Mac was, he would call his mother, Celestine Wiggins, to see what she was cooking. In California, no one made purple hull peas and corn bread.

Return to Arkansas

In 1976, he came back to Arkansas to direct the film version of How Many Times Have You Seen East of Eden? This he called September 30, 1955. He teamed with the best Hollywood had to offer. Jerry Weintraub, renowned for Robert Altman’s Nashville, would produce. The composer of the music for East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, Leonard Rosenman, would write the score. Gordon Willis, of The Godfather and All the President’s Men fame, was hired as director of photography. Bob Larson, Jack’s cousin, took on the role of production manager.    

Bridges cast Richard Thomas, star of The Waltons, to play Jimmy J, the James Dean-obsessed central character. He cast Susan Tyrell. He cast Dennis Quaid. Jim Mac searched Los Angeles and New York City for actresses, but he could not find girls who could do the accents. He failed to find anywhere in California that looked like the Arkansas River Valley.

So he decided to film in Arkansas. Jim Mac held open auditions. He found Deborah Benson, of West Helena, to play Charlotte, Jimmy J’s love interest and the “football queen.” He found Lisa Blount, of Little Rock, to play Billie Jean, a wild child who shares Jimmy J’s obsession with James Dean.

Deborah Benson, Lisa Blount, and Mary Kai Clark in front of the Old State House, Little Rock.

His old friend Jane Satterfield now had a daughter of her own, who shared her mother’s and Jim Mac’s love of the performing arts. Mary Kai was star-struck and seventeen, and Jane begged Jim Mac to humor Mary Kai with an audition but to please not cast her.

But Bob Larson and Jim Mac agreed. Mary Kai was perfect for the role of the spunky and mouthy Pat. They paid a visit to Jane and didn’t leave until she consented to letting Mary Kai act in the film.

Jim Mac asked Bush and Katherine Satterfield to play the parts of Jimmy J’s girlfriend’s parents, a state senator and his wife. 

Darby with her grandparents M. M. “Bush” and Katherine Satterfield.

For some, it was the most exciting thing that had ever happened in the sleepy college town of Conway. Jim Mac cast many locals in roles, and as long as they dressed and had hair as if they were from 1955, they could be extras. 

Mary Kai Clark, as Pat, when she’s not castigating Jimmy J for obsessing over the death of a movie star, rolls around on the sand or inside a car with Dennis Quaid. She’s also stealing scenes left and right. In the cemetery, she necks with Quaid, who tells her in no uncertain terms that he has “protection.” Squirming in the front seat, breathy and girlish, she says, “My body says, Go! But my daddy says, No!

By all accounts, Jim Mac Bridges was a kind director and a fiercely intelligent human being. Mary Kai Clark recalls how when she was having a hard time with a scene, “Jim Mac would say, ‘Let’s take a walk,’ He was so warm and loving. He would walk with you and talk you through the scene.”  

Mary Kai remembers being pulled out of school and tutored. She was under contract with Universal and made a whopping seven hundred dollars a week. When Mary Kai started dating the twenty-two-year-old Dennis Quaid, not even her mother—her on-set chaperone—knew.

“Shows you what kind of chaperone I was,” says Jane, with the self-deprecating tone of a tried and tested parent. 

With twenty-some days of filming finished, the crew packed up, and filming began in L.A. The Arkansas cast went to Hollywood. Jim Mac and Jack Larson threw parties that made these Beverly Hillbillies feel like celebrities. He took them to the site on Route 466 where James Dean crashed the car he nicknamed “Little Bastard.”

Mary Kai wanted to stay in California. One day, perhaps as a favor to Jane, Jim Mac told Mary Kai that she had been perfect for her role, just as he wanted, but she didn’t have what it took to be a star. 

A month before the movie’s release, Elvis Presley died. Jim Mac knew about how Elvis approached Nick Ray’s table at a restaurant and asked if he had directed James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. When Ray said, yes, he had, Elvis kneeled in front of him. “Dean changed my life,” Elvis said. 

There were other screenplays about Arkansas. The Occupation of Paris, about what happens to a small town in Arkansas surrounded by army camps during wartime. And then there was Deer Season about prostitutes who populate the woods during hunting season. Neither of these films would be produced, though many others, including The China Syndrome, Urban Cowboy, Mike’s Murder, Bright Lights, Big City, and Perfect would make the silver screen.

Jim Mac would return to Paris. He would return to Conway. He’d visit the Satterfields and leave with dishes of Katherine’s purple hull peas and chili sauce, which he would share with Katherine Hepburn back in Hollywood.

In 1990, Jim Mac was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, and he died in 1993. He was buried in Paris, and the day of his funeral it poured down rain.  

Every February 3, Jim Mac’s birthday, Jack Larson and Jane Wilson talk on the phone, reminiscing about their dear friend Jim Mac.

Birthday cake from the crew.

Mary Kai Clark, Jane Wilson, Darby (Wilson) Wallace, and Katherine Satterfield.

Beverly Wilburn Pascoe, Katherine Satterfield and Bob Larson on Front St., Conway.

Arkansas Cast in front of Old State House, Little Rock.

September 30, 1955

In the mid-1970s, American film and TV looked over its shoulder to the 1950s—take the films American Hot Wax and American Graffiti and the TV shows Happy Days and Sha Na Na for examples. The effects often seem nostalgic and saccharine.

In one of the final scenes of September 30, 1955, Jimmy J tells Billie Jean about seeing Rebel Without a Cause. While comparing the film and it’s central character’s alienation and confusion to his own, he says, “There’s a guy in the movie named Plato. Now Plato’s kind of, well, he’s kind of in love with James Dean. You know. Well, he’s not really in love with him. He likes him. He likes him kind of the way Eugene likes me, and kind of the way that I like James Dean.” It is perhaps the central unveiling of the film, addressing idol worship and hinting, ever so subtly, at homosexuality.

Bridges’s film might make some nostalgic, but it is also feels fresh and riveting. On one hand, it tells the story of how mid-century America reveres its cinematic and pop idols, but it also displays a white-hot weirdness that should be embraced. With subtexts of sexual liberation and spiritualism, September 30, 1955 casts a light on a sleepy Southern town so that we may see discontent and unblinking love hand-in-hand in the Natural State.

Photographs courtesy of Jane Wilson and The James Bridges Collection at UCA. 

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Pirating at Ennis Cave

One by one, the Cave Pirates surface from the culvert pipe that shoots seventy-five feet down into the labyrinth of Ennis Cave. Squinting in the daylight, the Pirates are covered in mud.

A woman named Hardcore assists a fellow Pirate as she removes a bandage from her arm, revealing a snakelike scar. She recently had surgery on her elbow, and she’s in pain. She says, “If you could go in so soon, I thought I could too.”

Two months after chemotherapy for breast cancer, and only a week and a half after completing radiation treatment, Hardcore entered Ennis Cave for the first time.

To enter a Cave is to overcome fear of one kind or another: heights, darkness, bats, enclosed spaces, or the unknown.

It’s ninety degrees up above, and we stand in a sinkhole that is air-conditioned by cold air blowing from the cave mouth, where it remains a consistent fifty-eight degrees. I’m dressed in a secondhand Army surplus flight suit and skateboard helmet with a headlamp affixed with duct tape and Velcro.

The leader of our group is a self-described “over-educated, ex-paramedic, ex-fireman, grease monkey” named Batman. Angular and lanky, Batman is married to Hardcore, a blond with an easy smile. Theirs is a subterranean marriage.

We’re about to descend, and I’m pondering my general ineptness as an adventurer.

I’m remembering last summer’s snorkeling trip, when I had a panic attack in the Belize Barrier Reef, causing my wife to throw up and subsequently be seasick.

My wife is also readying herself for the cave. She has what she calls a “highly-evolved vestibular system,” meaning a good sense of direction and susceptibility to motion sickness and vertigo. Watching the shaky camera in The Hunger Games made her sick two days.

The climb down is slow going, and when I reach the bottom, a bat flies inches from my face. On the wall sit smaller bats, like bite-sized Snickers, that glisten with condensation.

The Arkansas Ozarks have over two thousand documented caves, only eight of which are commercials caves. Advertised on billboards, these caverns feature groomed footpaths, lighting, stairways and sometimes elevators, and a gift shop upon exit, where you can buy postcards, T-shirts, rubber hatchets, or a geode to call your very own.

While commercial caves have their appeal, you haven’t experienced a cave until you enter a wild cave. Most wild caves, whether public or private, are gated and locked for liability reasons.

In 1985, two cavers from the Missouri Ozarks, Randy and Kevin Rose, purchased the Ennis property. There are over four miles of mapped cave at Ennis. For the last twenty-eight years, the Rose Brothers hold the Memorial Day Blowout for cavers from around the country.

From 1939-1943, Ennis was mined for manganese, an element used particularly in steel alloys. Legend has it that in the late nineteenth century, the James-Younger Gang used Ennis as a hiding spot. The Younger family still lives in the area. The access road bears their name.

Batman tells me that there are a number of caves near Ennis that he won’t enter because he suspects that within them people make meth. “I’ve got no reason to mess with those people,” he says.

Nearly a hundred cavers have hauled their campers, tents, and gear to this section of woods about thirteen miles east of Mountain View and a mile west of Penter’s Bluff on the White River. To access the property, you first must pass by the Cavetaker and his sign that says TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT. SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN.

Batman takes the lead. Mudslide runs tail, making sure that no one lags, wanders, or damages living formations, some of which are thousands of years old.

Passages twist and turn, the only light our headlamps and few flashlights. A fungus grows on the cave ceiling, and it looks like a million tiny balls of mercury. Little jewels of gypsum and calcite are everywhere. Jumar and Pixie, two of the younger cavers, point out what they call “cave ‘giners” on the ceiling. Another youngster, IQ, disappears again and again, reappearing like a cave ghost.

Batman forges ahead. Along with Hardcore and daughter AbbiNormal (who’s at Disney World band camp), they have logged countless hours exploring Ennis and know the cave better than most.

Batman says that what’s most important to him is to get kids involved. He tells me that a few weeks ago, his daughter led her first solo tour. “I was so proud of her,” he says, his voice cracking with love.

Batman also has the ear of the Cavetaker. Together they’ve dug out restricted tunnels, constructed ladders and walkways, put in ropes and handholds, all of which allow others to more easily explore Ennis, but always respecting the fragile and living formations.

In the Anthrodite Room, tiny spikes and slivers form on crevices and cavities in the ceiling. We stop for a rest. We turn off our lights. Instant black. Images begin to form in front of our open eyes. Cave hallucinations? The shadows of the last images the eyes saw?

With the lights back on, Batman says, “I want to bring Tim Burton down into Ennis some day.”

“Johnny Depp is my favorite actor,” Jumar says, “though I can’t say that he’s hot anymore, not since one of my friends said that my dad looks like him. That’s just too weird.” We discuss Johnny Depp, his various Burton roles, his guitar playing with Marilyn Manson. “Someday I’m going to eat a Subway sandwich down here,” Jumar says. All we have on this trip is granola, jerky, and candy bars. 

We hike to the first of several entrances to Crystal’s Room. The first is all of ten inches high. We each army-crawl through the passage, and I feel more like a snake than a soldier.

As we sit hunched in a room the size of a pup tent, Batman says, “Someone covered the entrance.” He begins to dig out rocks and gravel. Hiding the entrance to the most fragile of spaces, like Crystal’s Room, prevents damage. When Batman has finished digging, I laugh and sigh. Batman has uncovered a tunnel eight inches high.

I remove my helmet, lie on my back, and stretch my arms out. I exhale and pull myself through, as if doing a pull-up. My belly catches, and I think, Here it comes! Here comes the panic. I’ll get stuck and need to be pulled out. They’ll call me Cave Gut! They’ll call me Jaws of Life!

But with one more pull, I’m through. This is what Alice felt, and it is the nature of caving: entryway after entryway, one rabbit hole after the next.

Inside Crystal’s Room, a gentle slope rises to a high wall, and all along are tubular helictite formations, like a diorama constructed by Tim Burton himself, glassy fingers less than ten inches high. They look like they would snap if you so much as blew on them.

The Cavetaker sits in an area of the cave known as the Maze. Here, in a small room, with several tunnels branching off, he rests at a table where candlelight flickers on cans of tomato soup and sliced peaches. He’s been hauling dirt and rocks, but as he turns to us, he seems the cleanest of us all. His hair and beard are white and neatly trimmed. He is absent of cave gear, except a carbide lantern, which through a reaction with water creates an acetylene flame. He wears overalls and a T-shirt. His arms are like granite columns.

For the last fifteen years, most of it spent without electricity or running water, the Cavetaker has maintained the property (above and below) for the Rose Brothers. He leads us to Jack and Emma Junction, where his two dogs are buried. Batman helped him with the lamb-shaped headstone, engraving the dogs’ names and helping the Cavetaker haul it down into the Maze. For the lamb’s eye, Batman engraved a bat.

In the Maze, beyond where anyone ventures, the Cavetaker has a bunker filled with food and supplies. He listens to Coast to Coast AM, the place on the dial where all things paranormal reside. He’s prepared for end times—it’s 2012, after all.

To the Cave Pirates, he speaks of a creature that resides in the cave, the Cave Demon, which is possibly a Bigfoot or an alien. At Ennis, he typically has a solitary life, and I cannot help but think that all stories arise from the cave.

We head to the Breakdown Room, which is a grand theater of destruction, car-size slabs of rocks littering the floor. Rock slabs the size of a railroad car look ready to drop from various points in the ceiling. It’s the perfect locale for a drone-metal video for a song that embraces entropy.

“You’ve got to alligator crawl,” Mudslide says. We’ve arrived at the entrance of the Waterfall Room.

A small tunnel awaits, the bottom filled with water, mud rising on the sides. Pixie, the smallest among us, goes first, twisting her body this way and that, like a contortionist who has forgotten her routine.

I stand a foot taller than Pixie and outweigh her by eighty pounds. I think to myself, alligator crawl? I’m not even going to try it. I squeeze through on my belly, the water cold. Flight suit sticks to my skin, gloves slick with clay, hiking boots thick with sludge. When I lift my head, it’s to a small ramp, nothing but empty distance on either side. 

Hardcore encourages me on. I grip a bent ladder that drips with mud and is secured with ropes around what looks like a lump of clay. Hardcore smiles up from the bottom of the ladder. I think, right, Batman’s a self-described “over-educated, ex-paramedic, ex-fireman, grease monkey.” He and Hardcore wouldn’t put me in danger. When we first met, Batman told me that the Pirates had practiced carrying out a live body on a stretcher board. Wasn’t this very room where they practiced?

When we finally arrive on the floor of the Waterfall Room, we are nothing but amazed, even those who have been here dozens of times. Endless curtains of white and rosy brown drip from the ceiling. These formations are like all your pleasant dreams and nightmares melting upon one another, like the drapes that open to the afterlife. As you walk around, the formations seem to shift and change, every angle different from the next. It’s enough to make you feel lost, even though the space itself is small. 

Water flows from the hundred-foot ceiling and slaps into a shallow pool. The water is pirated from a stream. This is where the Cave Pirates get their name—the name is not a reference to stealing from the cave but in homage to the cave’s own thievery.

I come to understand that each grand room in Ennis Cave is not defined by the formations within. Instead, it’s the challenges you overcome to earn the room. The scaling of the obstacles increases the sensory experience of what you observe. There is joy in pirating into each and every room. 

On the way to the final stop, the Birthday Room, my wife stumbles on flat ground. She says, “We’ve been walking on uneven ground for hours!”

“How about Cave Lush for a nickname?” Batman says. 

“I surrender to the walls changing to floors changing to boulders, finding that all of my body parts can be used as feet and that I enjoy being in contact with the stone, gravel, and even the mud. I cave!” So says the Cave Lush.

As the sun descends, the grills and campfires are fired up. Corn on the cob, chicken, jambalaya in tall pots. The night goes dark. Out come the pirate hats and the grog. There is dancing in the firelight.

And down below, it’s still dark in the cave, the beauty growing one pirated drop at a time. 

—Ennis Cave, 2012, Tyrone “Scratch” Jaeger

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Stuck on a Truck @ Toad Suck

Last weekend, twenty-five men and women in Conway, Arkansas, put their hands on the red, waxed body of a Ford F-150 truck—four days later, only one person was left standing. The winner drove the prize home.

The Stuck on a Truck competition, as the event is known, started in 2001 as part of the Toad Suck Daze festival that takes place each year in May. The contest is inspired by the 1997 documentary film Hands on a Hard Body, which chronicles the excruciating, and often excruciatingly boring, days of the entrants in a similar competition, in Texas, to win a Nissan Hardbody truck.
 

 
This is how you play: you don
t remove your hands from the truck. This year’s contestants endured high temperatures and sleep deprivation from noon on Thursday through the weekend and, for a few of them, into Sunday evening. Contestants are allowed a five-minute break every hour and a fifteen-minute break every six hours. Prizes are awarded to the last five people standing, but most go home with nothing. Fans can watch the action live in the stands surrounding the manhandled truck or at home on the SOAT website. (The non-action of the silent, stop-motion webcam is surprisingly captivating.)

The only thing more riveting than the competition itself this year was the obsessive reporting of the members of a SOAT Facebook betting pool started by Ben Lownik, a student at Hendrix College here in Conway. Tyrone Jaeger, Hendrix College professor and contributor to The OA, placed his bets and spent thirty-nine hours keeping an eye on his chosen winners at the truck or watching the action unfold online. Below, read the dispatches of this year’s biggest SOAT superfan—and find out who stayed stuck on the truck. 


Stuck on Stuck on a Truck

The Last Man Standing

by Tyrone Jaeger

Day One: Thursday

8:34 a.m. 

My pick for first off the Truck: Matt Grisson. Anyone who defines competitiveness by racing the spouse to the car is easily distracted. I’ll challenge Matt Grisson to a crawfish pie-eating contest at 5 p.m., and he’ll leave the truck.

My picks for going the distance:
1) Brian “Old Man” Root, last year’s second place finisher
2) Mo “Actually Likes to Do the Dishes” Skelton
3) Amy “The Fletch” Fletcher

10:30 a.m. 

This just in: “ATTENTION: The contest has been rocked by four disqualifications. ADJUST YOUR BETS ACCORDINGLY IN THE NEXT HOUR.”

11:00 a.m. 

I add Joseph “Not that Joseph Smith” Smith to picks to replace Brian Root, who is disqualified for being a resident of Florida. (Root is also outed as a professional handathoner.) Joseph’s in the three spot and the other two move up a notch.

12:14 p.m. 

Joseph “Not that Joseph Smith” Smith is not nearly as tall as I typically like my motivational speakers to be. No wonder he considers himself an “accomplished bachelor.”

Day Two: Friday

8:12 a.m. 

Jumbo runs out after the break, cartwheels, lands, and grabs the back of the tailgate hard enough that everyone else (already on the Truck at this point) bounces awake. Unreal.

8:15 a.m. 

Joseph “Not that Joseph Smith” Smith is first off. Good luck on planet Kolob, Joseph.

8:17 a.m. 

Only three things will stop Amy “The Fletch” Fletcher:
1) Tanning bed withdrawal.
2) Her one-handed technique, which kills people come Saturday and Sunday.
3) Jumbo.

10:04 a.m. 

Luke Martin keeps chatting up Jumbo, thinking that they’re simpatico, that they’re truck buds. My guess is that soon I’m going to look over at the webcam, and Luke Martin will be gone. Vanished. Jumbo will be smiling. His throat will be making a swallowing motion.

1:07 p.m. 

Ronald “Wants a Safe Vehicle for His Boys” Upson is off the Truck. He was last seen leaving Conway with his sons tied to hay bales in the bed of his El Camino.

1:08 p.m. 

Who’s next? You know they never leave one at a time. Weak soul sees weak soul and thinks: It’s okay. I’m not the only one. Sleepy. So sleepy.

1:16 p.m. 

Oh, no! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Jumbo just put on his T-shirt arm bandanna that doubles as a napkin. Luke Martin looks to be lunch.

1:22 p.m. 

In the days before the socialists took over the government, if you walked off the Truck you were deep-fried and served in a waffle cone to the remaining contestants.

2:31 p.m. 

Update: Renee “Dream & Dream Big” McGhee is off the Truck. Evidently dreaming big is standing on the Truck for 26 hours and 30 minutes.

2:23 p.m. 

Ginger “Her Big Hair Sets Her Apart From The Other Contestants” King can’t seem to keep her one foot in her flip-flop, and she was resting her head on the back of the Truck. It’s not looking good, Ginger fans.

2:03 p.m. 

Johnny Tipton: out. Last seen waking from a nap with fellow concrete worker Ronald Upson.

2:11 p.m. 

Johnny “Recently Became Smoke-Free” Tipton sighting at the Tobacco Super Store.

10:38 p.m. 

Most of the stuckers are looking pretty awesome. Tonight the moon is full. I suspect that at least one of the stuckers will turn into a werewolf, probably Jason “Every Tactic Available” Hocott or Charlie “Wags” Wagner.

Day Three: Saturday

2:16 a.m. 

Oh my. Aim Aim… Fletch… Punkincakes… Big Red… Flex… otherwise known as Amy Fletcher has gone to the tanning booth in the sky. She’s off the Truck after a piddling day and 13 hours. My board—my top three—is in ruins. My hope for glory dashed like a bottle of spray tan smashed against the bumper of a sticker-covered truck!

2:32 a.m. 

As Bodemeister, tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby favorite and winner of the Arkansas Derby, sleeps and dreams of unicorns in fields of blue grass, thirteen souls are left standing, hands on a truck, waiting and waiting, thinking of Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Just keep dancing…

Amy Fletcher, in the pink headband, returns to the scene of her demise.

6:34 a.m. 

Keri Davidson decides she’d rather watch the Kentucky Derby, but first she has to flee Faulkner County for Pulaski County to get the mint julep fixings. Off the Truck before sunrise.

8:00 a.m. 

Jumbo’s legs are pale, even his tattoos have faded. My heart drops and I wonder why he is not receiving medical attention.

Oh wait! Jumbo is wearing white compression socks. Disaster averted.

8:34 a.m. 

It’s official: Jumbo is digesting Luke Martin. Some time around 7:00 this morning, the judges noticed that Martin had disappeared and questioned Jumbo, who pointed toward the midway and then spat out a pair of eyeglasses.

8:36 a.m. 

Russell Dorsey is off the Truck. Yes, Russell Dorsey was on the Truck (though no one paid him any mind).

9:45 a.m. 

After my mother-in-law and I try to convince my wife to get on the Truck next year, a Hendrix student promises a “kickawesome pit crew of Hendrix SOAT fanatics.” This brings tears to my eyes. (Kickawesome, it should be noted, is a term coined by Conway’s own Kris Allen, who evidently won a contest called American Idol. I don’t think he’s ever competed for the Truck.)

11:02 a.m. 

Apparently Kayla Scott doesn’t know that Jumbo swallowed Luke Martin like a mustard-covered corn dog. She’s been chatting the big man up, and you know what happens next…. Gulp.

11:05 a.m. 

Interesting that Mo is yawning. I was actually just going to mention that I love the way he’s dominating the corner. The fact that he was hallucinating stormtroopers earlier is also in keeping with ’09 winner Chuck Speer, who saw spaceships on Front Street. The Stuck on a Truck God is a Sci-Fi God!

11:13 a.m. 

This morning, Jumbo’s slightly smaller brother asked me to verify his spelling of “Yankee,” like the baseball team. He then discreetly held up a sign for Jumbo that said, “She’s like one of those Yankees girlfriends.”

Jumbo’s brother holds up a motivational sign.

11:14 a.m. 

Brandon and Russell Dorsey should get a drink. No one placed a bet on either one. Well, someone bet that Russell would fall first…. I think the tape on Brandon’s sneakers is probably keeping his swollen feet from bursting out of the skin. Just a guess.

11:45 a.m. 

Renee McGhee tried to Dream Big, and she packed up her tent, her back massager, and her extra pair of Nikes in 26 hours and 30 minutes. The best SOAT contestants don’t dream. Dreaming is for sleepers. Hallucinating from sleep deprivation is for winners.

12:03 p.m. 

Back on the Truck. Ginger’s now dressed in her pjs. Jumbo’s back to the compression socks. And Brandon’s pit crew bucked up and bought him a new pair of sneaks. Mo plays the corner. Kickawesome!

12:11 p.m. 

Jason “Will Use Every Tactic Available” Hocott seems to be employing the “I don’t really know where to stand at this party, ’cause it doesn’t seem like anyone wants to talk to me” tactic. Everyone has been going back to the same spot but Jason. He’s not sure where he is anymore.

12:13 p.m. 

Some think that Ginger has changed into pjs because she’s wearing her grandmother’s compression hose (some say diaper). If she comes out in a nightie, I’d start to worry. Does anyone remember if her trainer, the great Terry Odom, ever wore pjs during his 91-hour stand?

12:19 p.m. 

I’ve heard rumors that the three Cauthen boys have a deer camp (read: condo) filled with their SOAT winnings. I heard that in 06, Shane Cauthen, after 87 hours and 46 minutes, just picked up the Truck and left.

Jumbo’s “Pit Crew”: The Cauthen boys.

1:46 p.m. 

Just spent a few minutes at the SOAT tent. If you are friends with Wags, save him a spot on the couch for the Derby. He’ll be home soon. He’s leaning on the Truck, wearing one ball cap on top of another (okay, he’s been doing this for a day), and the interior of his right calf is all red. He’s woozy. But on occasion, they come back from the wooze.

1:53 p.m. 

Van Halen’s “Jump” comes on the radio, and the pj-wearing, ankles-swelling Ginger starts to dance and smile. She’s got game. As does my man Mo, who’s answering football trivia questions. In addition, Stephanie Henson has obviously been training by gardening and doing jumping jacks mid-day. If the face tells the story, Stephanie’s in the lead. She looks as fresh as a daisy. And it’s hot with no wind….

4:00 p.m. 

Did Wags steal the spot in between Jumbo and Kayla? Game on. Wags is gone before the next break. He’s having a mental breakdown.

Day Four: Sunday

8:40 a.m. 

When Stephanie Henson said she was “in it to win it,” she meant the gift certificate to Arby’s that she won for being on the truck for 67 hours and 37 minutes.

8:42 a.m. 

With only five contestants left, you’ve got to believe that there is some serious psychic warfare that goes on. Does one pray-meditate-hope to stay on the Truck or for the others to get off?

Charlie “Wags” Wagner and Melissa “Second Out” Wyles watch the drama of Day Four.

11:00 p.m. 

In other news, Ginger looks like a million bucks. During the break, she was chatting it up with her pit crew and smiling. I talked with Terry “91 hours and 26 minutes on the Truck” Odom, and he has a lot of confidence in Ginger. He says that she was drumming her fingers earlier, but he’s cured her of that. When I mentioned that I thought Mo was looking good, Terry said, “He reminds me of myself.” Mo, you can take that praise to the grave.

12:00 p.m. 

The front end of the vehicle is in a world of hurt. Jumbo’s mother is holding up signs telling him that it will get better. Brandon “Yes, I’m Actually in this Contest” Curtis is snarling at his pit crew. Clint Evans is leaning on the Truck, and at break time he basically needs to be escorted from the Truck. Clint’s pit crew should take a move from Anna “136 hours on the Truck” Johnson’s team and just take a seat next to the Truck during breaks.

1:00 p.m. 

If you’re watching the webcam, you’ll notice all the attention being paid to Clint “Looks Like He Just Got Hit by a Truck” Evans. Clint’s so tired that if the Truck became a bed, he wouldn’t have the sense to sleep on it. Take a nap, Clint.

1:17 p.m. 

Clint’s pit crew has given up. They’re now sitting behind him. And it looks like the Pit Boss is asking Ginger to sing a song. She’ll happily comply.

2:00 p.m. 

Clint goes off while biting his nails. His pit crew should have given him a mani during the fifteen-minute break. Jeez, people! Give that man a $2,000 gift certificate toward the purchase of a new Trane Heating & Cooling System courtesy of Freyaldenhoven Heating and Cooling!

1:15 p.m. 

Overheard at Truck: Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time” is playing, and when a spectator asks the Pit Boss what song it is, he says, “Are you even American?”

Dear Pit Boss, Foreigner is a half-British band named Foreigner.

2:02 p.m. 

Does anyone know if “Jumbo” is his given name? Really, Brandon needs to get off the Truck just so the final contestants can be named Mo Jumbo Ginger.

2:05 p.m. 

Brandon is out for clapping after the Jesus song.

Mo Jumbo Ginger. Ginger Mo Jumbo. Mo Ginger Jumbo. It doesn’t matter how you say it: It’s kickawesome!

2:16 p.m. 

I’m going to open up a restaurant just so I can call it “Mo Jumbo Ginger.” Everything on the menu will have that as part of it’s name. Mo Jumbo Ginger Chicken. Mo Jumbo Ginger Spinach Salad. Mo Jumbo Ginger Pale Ale. You get the picture. Drop on by. All of our booths are situated in pick-up beds. Person with hands on the table the longest gets to order first.

2:30 p.m. 

If you’re new to SOAT, 2010 winner Terry Odom is currently standing in a green T-shirt next to the Truck. He’s also wearing a hat. White hair. White beard. An inspiration to all of us who like to watch people standing with their hands on a truck.

3:00 p.m. 

Help Wanted: Pit Boss for Stuck on a Truck. Like to stare at people’s hands? Know how to tell time? Like to lean on mirrors of a pick-up truck for extended periods of time? We’ve got a job for you! Ability to listen to awful music for hours on end a plus. People skills and experience not necessary.

3:11 p.m. 

I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think that Mo likes the front of the Truck. He looked more comfortable with his arms up on the back end. I do like that all three are two-handers. They are all well coached.

3:14 p.m.         

What is Mo’s pit crew doing? They’ve got him standing away from the Truck to answer trivia questions? You can’t have Mo standing sideways like that. Not this late in the game. Get to the other side of the Truck, so Mo can face the target. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

3:18 p.m. 

Someone please tell me that they took Mo off the Truck for some other reason than to say good-bye.

3:20 p.m. 

3 days, 3 hours, and 3 minutes. Get comfortable folks. No one wants to go home with a freakin’ lawnmower.

3:25 p.m. 

What the hell keeps happening with View 2!? The webcam is junk. It’s not even really a video feed. It only updates a single image every five seconds. We’re taking this thing over next year.

4:30 p.m. 

Someone just finished proofreading final portfolio letters and is headed down to the Truck! Now if I can just pull myself away from the webcam feed to walk the ten minutes to the Truck.

4:35 p.m. 

Will someone please call me if anything happens in the next ten minutes?

4:40 p.m. 

Starting now…really.

7:00 p.m. 

Possibly the greatest moment of my life: Eating 2-for-$5 turkey legs with my wife in the SOAT tent with Ginger and Jumbo left. George Thorogood is singing “Bad to the Bone” on the radio. Jumbo begins to dance. Ginger begins to dance. I feel the power of SOAT.

7:04 p.m. 

Melissa Wyles, who is much younger than her bio picture would have you think, said that she went off the Truck (17 hours: LOL) because her stomach was upset and the smell of grilled turkey legs made her puke. Both Melissa and Jason Hocott say they’ll be back on the Truck next year. I’ll be placing my $ elsewhere, thank you.

7:05 p.m. 

SOAT fans, I was there when it happened. Jumbo was in pain. He had been hallucinating before the break, uncertain whether Ginger was touching the Truck or not. He kept leaning down and staring at her hands. Then he started leaning over and looking off to the side. Jumbo’s brother told me it was because Jumbo was trying to draw the pit boss’s attention to the fact that Ginger was occasionally leaning on the bumper. During the 15-minute break, Jumbo slept for the first time. He came back looking good but then kept taking his right hand off and looking like he simply didn’t want to be there anymore. He took his right hand off, stood there, and then walked off right toward us. We cowered in fear, and fortunately the Cauthen brothers not on the Truck raced into the ring and hugged Jumbo. Testosterone sprayed the crowd.

When Jumbo came off the Truck, I felt like I was walking by a cave just as an angry bear was waking up from hibernating.

Congratulations to Ginger “A Girl Can Be The” King. We should try to arrange for the betting-pool winner to go out for dinner with Ginger.

7:15 p.m. 

This year’s winner: coached by Terry Odom. Last year’s winner: trained by Odom (at least in the late going). Two years ago winner: Terry Odom. If you have any plans to compete for the Truck, my advice would be to become friends with Terry Odom. Bake him a peach pie. Ask him if he’d like you to wash his truck. Give him a massage while he’s watching PBR on ESPN.

Thanks for the ride, Jumbo. It was awesome.

11:59 p.m. 

After her SOAT victory, Ginger drives her truck to Memphis, where she is participating in a dance marathon. In Atkins, home of Jumbo Cauthen, intense seismic activity has recently been reported. Geologists report that it’s Jumbo sawing some logs. Sleep tight, big man.

Day Five: Monday

3:42 p.m. 

As I’ve been rereading the dispatches from the Truck, two things stick out to me. First, I totally underestimated Ginger. Second, I think Jumbo would have stood a better chance had he not swallowed Luke Martin whole on Saturday morning. Even Jumbo needs a proper masticating technique, and if we learned anything during the SOAT 2012, it’s that technique is everything.


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