In Hot Springs, The Buildings Crumble to the Ground and Imperil the Tourists
They got the crime scene tape out quickly. They had it ready somewhere, clearly. Orange traffic cones were put in the middle of the road, and the tape was run from the Iron Horse Café, out to the cones, and back again. When the trooper showed up, he parked next to the mess and turned his lights on. He turned all of his lights on.
It was the bricks on the very top of the building, the dentil according to an architecture book on my shelf, that crumbled and showered onto the sidewalk. No one yet knows why. Someone speculated there had been an earthquake. “That building is really old” another ventured, as though that was explanation enough.
Perhaps it was. Perhaps quite a bit can be explained by simply mentioning a thing’s age. But I suspect the possibility of stunning natural disaster will still linger in most people’s minds.
The building’s present incarnation is as an entity labeled the Iron Horse Café, and eatery and stayery catering to the seemingly endless supply of tourist dollars. Before that it was a quaint little gift shop full of kleenex boxes and porcelain figurines. You'd go through a back door and cut to the left and you’d get to the old hardware store – that dogleg is part of the Iron Horse, so you can go in from one street and exit onto another. Depot Street. Facing the train tracks. That where you put a hardware store at one time in evolution, where you could unload stuff from a boxcar and wheel it across the street. The old-timers remember when a boxcar full of fertilizer was parked on a siding in late winter, and was sold down steadily as the weather warmed.
That generation is dieing. The need for a boxcar full of fertilizer is dieing. And so, it seems, are the porcelain figurines. It’s a lifestyle, however, that is sought out by the tourists, and they can now rent a room in the establishment they seek. They wake up just where they want to be, but they don’t know it, so they grab a camera and dodge the crumbling façade as they go look for what they slept through.
We lost another one the other day. Floyd was 95 when he went. 95. I knew he was up there, but did a double take when someone told me he was 95. My thought was: there can’t be too many left. Who will be the last one who qualifies as an old-timer? Floyd was a gentleman. He held himself straight up and spoke softly. He had a Faith that was strong and gentle. I once kept a small garden on a spot next to his ancestral farm. His wife and he would drive up periodically and maintain the place. They’d mow the grass – in their eighties then – and dust the indoors. The bed was made and the table was set, though no one had ate or slept there in my lifetime. Floyd would compliment my garden and give me advice. He’d offer me a cold drink of water from his spring. He never spoke an unkind word to me, though I know he didn’t understand my beard or my bare feet or my desire to trellis the beans on bamboo poles.He’d left the farm when he got back from Europe. He first left the farm to go save the world, then went back and got married and moved down the mountain to Hot Springs. He worked at the plant up on the hill. I don’t know what they made back then – it’s gone through so many incarnations. It replaced farming in the lives of a lot of folks, though, only to flounder in these modern days, as manufacturing moves overseas. The agricultural dollar was replaced by the factory dollar, only to be replaced by the tourist dollar. I withhold judgment on this chain of events. I maintain a weakness for a traditional agrarian society, but I know as well as any of its hardships. I welcome the changes in my life, though it is with a tinge of resentment. Where I able to float, I would rise into the sky and watch everything form and melt and form again only to dissolve. I would try to resist the urge to knock bricks down upon it, but I don’t think I’d be able to.