Count on Arkansans to steer you in the right direction

Mike Royko

July 24, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

In his convention speech, Gov. Bill Clinton invited Americans to come visit his home state of Arkansas. He said they'd enjoy it. Having been there several times, I agree. Especially if they meet Ol' Bud.

Ol' Bud was my host when I went to Arkansas. He operated a fishing camp at the end of a dirt road in the Ozarks. This was during a period of my life when I was enthused about catching Ol' Hog Jaw, which is how Ol' Bud referred to large-mouth bass.

Ol' Bud was an expert at catching Ol' Hog Jaw, and we plucked many an Ol' Hog Jaw from the water to the frying pan, the poor things. But don't worry; this is not a fishing story.

There was more to a trip than catching fish. On the last day, as the sun was setting, Ol' Bud would pound on the cabin door and say: "Moan, we gone potty." (Translated: "Come on. We are going to party.")

Partying in that part of the Ozarks isn't quite like hopping a cab and going down to Rush Street in Chicago.

We'd pile into Ol' Bud's 10-year-old Cadillac and roar down the dirt road to a gravel road to a two-lane road, through forests, up and around tall hills, and down into sleepy hollows until we were finally at The Club.

The Club served chicken-fried steak and catfish. Because it was private, it could sell mixed drinks made from hard liquor. And as Ol' Bud's young wife said: "Bud loves those Manhattans. Especially the cherries. He's got a real sweet tooth."

So on my last visit with Ol' Bud to The Club, we dined on the best chicken-fried steak I've ever had, since it was the only chicken-fried steak I've ever had or intend to have.

And Ol' Bud indulged his sweet tooth. That man could really put away those maraschino cherries.

When we finished, we piled back into Ol' Bud's big old Caddy and roared into the night.

By the time we raced up the first steep hill, a thunderstorm exploded, bringing a deluge. We could barely see the car's hood ornament.

Especially since the windshield wipers weren't turned on.

One of us said: "Uh, Bud, don't you think you ought to use the wipers?"

"They's busted," Ol' Bud said.

"Don't worry," his wife said, "Bud knows every inch of these roads."

"That's right," Ol' Bud said. "Kin drive 'em with my eyes closed. Hey, weren't those good Manhattans?"

As we whipped around a few hairpin curves, the lightning crackled, lighting the dense forests and deep hollows. It occurred to us that a car could plunge into one of the hollows and not be found until all the occupants looked like anatomy-class skeletons.

Then, at the top of a hill, where a steep, winding grade began, Ol' Bud did the strangest thing. He turned off the engine.

Someone asked -- actually, it might have been a scream -- "Bud, why did you do that?"

Ol' Bud shook his head. "Forgot to git gas. But if we coast down the hills, I think I got enough to make it back, mebbe."

So we would streak down a hill, then Ol' Bud would restart the engine, and we'd roar up another hill. And he'd turn off the engine, and we'd streak down another incline. All the while with the rain pelting and the windshield wipers dead.

His wife must have heard one of us moan or whimper because she turned and said: "Honestly, Bud could drive these roads in his sleep, couldn't you, honey?"

And Ol' Bud said: "Sure could. Doggone, weren't those great Manhattans?"

There are no atheists in foxholes or the back of an old Caddy in the Ozarks.

Finally, we reached the flat dirt road that led to Ol' Bud's fishing camp. Only a few minutes to survival.

Suddenly, Ol' Bud stomped the brakes, slammed into reverse, roared backward, threw it into forward, roared ahead, skidded to a stop, and lurched backward again.

Then he threw open his door, leaned out, and peered at the road.

"What's going on?" someone in the back seat yelled. Maybe we all did.

"Big ol' rattler stretched across the road. Spotted 'em in the headlights. But I ran 'em down. Hate them rattlers."

"A rattlesnake," some city dweller screeched.

"Yeah, big 'un. But he's dead." Ol' Bud paused for a moment, then shouted, "No, doggone it, he's alive."

At that point, those in the back rearranged the seating by trying to jump up on each other's laps while saying things like: "Don't let it in! For God's sake, close the door. We demand that you drive on!"

Amiable host that he was, Ol' Bud drove on, saying: "If he's there in the mornin', I'll git 'em."

I haven't been back to Arkansas since, but I'm planning another trip. Maybe in the fall, when the maraschino cherries are in bloom.

But thanks to Ol' Bud, I'm not as concerned as some about the possibility of an Arkansas native becoming president.

I don't know about steering the ship of state, but they can sure handle an old Caddy.

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