Decompression

“You should come over. They’re having game night!”

My wife and I looked at each other uneasily.  We were not really accustomed to talking to our neighbors let alone joining them for “game night” at a strangers house.  We declined the invitation at the time, but would take up other invitations in the future.  We were just settling in.

When you move to NWA from a metro area one of the major adjustments will be the level of friendliness and intimacy of not only the natives, but that adopted hospitality of most every transplant who moved here.

People are just generally nice and welcoming.  It can be unnerving moving from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or other metros where you generally mind your own business. Living in these metros, if others are being nice for no reason they have some kind of angle to try and take advantage of you.

I remember my mother visiting us in Los Angeles from a rural ‘burg in the middle of Pennsylvania. I love my Mom, but I remember my embarrassment as she struck up a conversation with whomever she was around; random people in the grocery store, waitresses at the restaurant, the barista at the coffee shop.  I forgot that’s how normal human beings are suppose to behave.

It’s like that here.  All the time. For the first few months my on-going inner dialog when in public was “what does this person want from me?” and “why are they talking to me?” It was actually really uncomfortable. Eyes front, mind you’re own business was my mantra.  It took me sometime to trust that the idle chatter and friendliness was not always some kind of scam in progress….it was people being friendly.  People being…human.

It’s easy to get in the spirit.  Almost contagious.  You easily slip into a habit of holding open the door for others, letting people in front of you in the grocery store, and letting other cars merge in front of you.  For the uninitiated it is down right bizarre.  In Los Angeles the turn signal was a sign of weakness.  Here people readily wave in front of them with eye contact and smile.

There is a surprising paucity of  rude behavior, and when it does happen, the full wrath of Arkansan social norms collapses on you like a vice. Being a jerk is simply not tolerated. Although you will never hear a car horn here.  I think there may be a local ordinance requiring car horn castration.

Random acts of kindness are common place and part of the social fabric of the Bville bubble.  A few months after moving here I purchased a outdoor grill at Home Depot.  Forgetting I had driven a friend’s car (a subcompact), I was left in the parking lot figuring out how to fit my new toy into the vehicle.  I was struggling contorting the grill into the itty bitty Honda.

Up pulls a F-150 truck and a guy jumps out.

“Y’all need some help with that?” friendly guy says.

“What?” I said, suspiciously.

“You need some help getting that home? Do you live near by, I can get it home for you… no problem.” the Samaritan said.

“Ummm no I’m good”

I had my full anti-grift antennae up and waved him on. This was very suspicious behavior to me.  I would come to learn this is just what you come to expect in NWA.  People, in general, help others in need.

A friend of mind related a story about a car accident on Walton Boulevard in Bentonville.  One car had collided with another; nothing severe but more than a fender bender.  In one of the cars were two young children.  Immediately  three other uninvolved cars  stopped in the middle of the road and their drivers raced out of their vehicles to check on those affected in the accident. The kids were fine.  This kind of social responsibility simply doesn’t happen elsewhere.

It works in reverse as well.  You must reacclimatize when leaving the Bville Bubble.  I remember flying back to Los Angeles, making my way through LAX and getting on the rental car bus after a long day of travel.

“Hey, you bumped into me with your backpack” a fellow passenger said to me.

He was clearly irritated with me, but i missed the social cue.  I momentarily forget my social context and said “Oh. My. God! Are you going to be okay?” and smiled broadly.  I thought he was joking. He was not.  I think he took my joking as some sort of a threat rather than playful banter it was intended to be and sat down in an huff glaring at me.

It was at that point I looked forward to getting back to  what I finally regarded as ‘home’. Funny that turning point in your life when the definition of ‘home’ changes.

So decompress. It’s cool. As Leo Babauta recommends… Breath.  Relax.  People here are for the most part WSIWG.

And if you are invited to game night: go.

You Can Do What?

One of the first things you will notice moving here from a metro area is the refreshing and somewhat disorienting lack of governmental regulation and oversight.

For example, say you wake up one day and have a fixin’ to go kill some squirrels.  You can waltz into your local Walmart Super Center, buy yourself a nice bolt action rifle, walk out and go shoot some squirrels.  All within about 10-20 minutes.  Yes, you need an Arkansas drivers’ license and there are hunting seasons, but they are pretty liberal…especially for squirrels.

For me, nothing quite captures this governmental laissez-faire as much as the 4th of July in NWA.

My first 4th here I marveled at the large firework tents that sprouted as if a circus convention arrived in town.

kingkong
Firework City, photo courtesy of Jason Mitchell

Walking into one of the large tents on Rainbow Road (past the family of gophers that inexplicable lived in the hedges right next to the road) I pulled into the lot not sure what to expect. When I walked in I couldn’t believe the vast quantity and quality of fireworks whose use would result in misdemeanor charges back in Southern California.

The young store keeper (ring master?) was not the distant and indifferent adolescent I had become accustom to elsewhere; he was an enthusiastic firework aficionado. He provided an expert and personal overview of his curated pyrotechnical wares.

“Would you like to see some?” the young man asked.

“What now?  It’s 3 o’clock on Saturday?  Can you do that?”

With a hesitation he withdrew to a dirt clearing about 20 feet away from the tent and started setting off fireworks.  He lit one after another…giggling after each one burst into the air. I grew a bit uncomfortable,  Was this normal?

I made my modest purchase of firecrackers and rocket type things he demonstrated and made my way home.

Later that night, at around sunset I slinked out to my back lawn to test my new toys out.  It was very quiet and lightning bugs strobed in the early evening air.  Being that is was July 3rd I surmised it might be permissable to test one or two of these out.  I ignited the fuse of one rocket and I ran back and watched. It it flew into the air with a “fffflllllffffttt!” and then exploded with a bang that echoed off the surrounding houses and hills.

“Oh sh*t that was loud” I thought to myself.  I was fairly sure I was going to see security or the police show up soon. I went inside thinking it was too risky to light another.

Little did I know.

July 4th started pretty tame.  By early afternoon you would here some local pops here and there and the occasional report of machine gun fire from lady fingers. Later that day I began hearing what seemed like the “KAAA – BOOM” of mortar fire behind my neighbor’s house

Curious I walked down to street to see what was going on.  There stood my middle aged neighbor in flip flops and golf shirt with a small group around him flinging M-80s into the storm drain one after another.  I watched for a while then walked back to my house and waited for security to show up to harsh everyone’s mellow.  Security never came.

Once night came, all hell broke loose.  It was like the Do Lung Bridge scene from Apocalypse Now. There was nearly non-stop explosions and lights in all directions for a solid 3 hours.

Later in the night I saw in the near distance what seemed like 9/10th scale version of Disneyland’s Forever firework display.  I would later learn it was just a neighbor with a keen interest and budget for pyrotechnics.  Truly awe inspiring.

I am sure there were some injuries.  I am sure there was some drunkenness.  I am also sure those states were highly correlated.  But the spirit in the air was very light hearted and carefree, but respectful.  There were no fights or loud arguments.  There was no vandalism.

Later, I saw my M-80 wielding neighbor stumbling up and down the street picking of the paper remnants of his expended arsenal.  Others did the same, picking up discarded cups and cans. The mayhem stopped around 11pm and all was quiet again.  In short, people by and large respect and take care of their own community here.

So while the regulation is light, the civic mindedness of the people who live here makes such regulation largely superflous.  By and large, people do the right thing because they know it is the right thing to do…not because they are compelled to do so by the rules.  I hope that spirit perseveres.

That night, I marveled at this new found freedom as I pondered the acquisition of some squirrel eradication weaponry myself.  My kids fell asleep exhausted from all the commotion and the next day we were back to the normal rhythm of the summer.  It was all-in-all a pretty incredible 4th.

I look forward to this 4th of July here in NWA. Please take some time have some cold ones, a hot dog or two, and apple pie.  I would also encourage you take a moment to think about the gift of freedom we enjoy everyday and the responsibility that imbues upon each of us.  Thanks for reading. I wish you a safe and happy one.

 

Beach Guy in Bville

“Dave, what’s wrong?” my wife asked.

I stared ahead in the car, unable to speak.  I was flush and sweating and it was November. I was freaked out.  I had agreed to move to Arkansas, a state I had to look up in an atlas a few months earlier, and now we had touchdown in a rinky dink airport which, in my fevered imagination, they just cleared the cattle off the runway.

“I’m fine,” I said unconvincingly.

In the backseat was our Nanny, Nina, and her girlfriend, Monica who I had both somehow miraculously convinced to move here as well. That was quite a sales job and I think they were both as freaked out as me.  It was the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2014 and we were touring what was to be our new home.

My wife did her best to reassure me, but I grew up in small town America and I knew all about it. After a tour of duty in Toledo, Ohio for a few years, I was not real thrilled to subject myself to small town life again after living 20+ years under the blue skies and cool breezes of Southern California from which we just came.

I kept mentally chanting to myself like Chirrut the monk from Rogue One:

“I can live anywhere for 3 years.

I can live anywhere for 3 years.

I can live anywhere for 3 years”

I remember passing a bunch of fields and woods on our trip to the Doubletree Hotel. I got out of the car and stopped. I froze as I looked in the distance at a mega church with three GIGANTIC crosses.

3crosses

This didn’t help.  Now, no disrespect for those who are religious, but what went through my mind at that exact moment was the more extreme form of southern Christianity that includes parishioners speaking in tongues and handling snakes.  Not. Dave’s. Scene.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

Fast forward to three and half years and here we are…and quite happy.  Northwest Arkansas is a weird, rugged, friendly, and amazing place.  Every time I walk out of the tiny Northwest Arkansas Regional airport I feel the stress melt away as I am greeted by the rich smells, beautiful skies, and sublimely content people of Northwest Arkansas.

I had mixed emotions about creating this blog.  On one hand, I wanted to keep this secret to myself so the magic of the area would be preserved and people wouldn’t consider moving here.

On the other hand, many are compelled to move here because of their careers or other circumstances.  That can be tough. In the end, I want to help those people out. It can be tough to get adjusted, so I thought I might be able to help some small way.

If you are considering moving here, the bottom line is this; it’s pretty damn nice.  Every transplant who has been here more than 3 years has this story:

“We moved here from [location] and didn’t plan to stay more than [<=3 years] but we really liked the area and so have been here for over [> 3 years]”

In this blog I plan on relating my observations about the area as a complete outsider. I grew up  in the Northeast and called the Southbay of Calfornia home for more than 20 years.  My hope is for me (and hopefully others) is to provide some guidance, information, and solace about the area to get your acquainted with NWA.

So I hope you will read Bville Life and participate.  If you would like to write or have questions please give a holler at dave@bvillelife.com.

Talk to ‘y’all’ soon.