Monday, January 21, 2013

Red Dragon Buffet and Van Winkle Mill: An MLK Day Meditation on Place

Some days offer a vision of what a place has been, what it is now, and what it will be. Saturday was such a day.

In the morning we took a day trip to Van Winkle Mill, a hiking trail at Hobbs State Park that is an ongoing investigation of a small Ozark community centered around a sawmill that operated between the 1850s and the early 1900s. If you have small children and live in NWA, this is a great starter trail. While you walk, you explore an Ozark stream and springs, and you get to puzzle out what the ruins used to be and how they worked. Visit the link above to learn more about the archaeological dig projects.

Van Winkle Mill is also located on the road that passes north and south up to Pea Ridge, so it is the point where both the Union and Confederate armies passed en masse during the early stages of the Civil War.

Hobbs is our closest state park, and we ought to hike there more often than we do. It offers great views of Beaver Lake and sports an incredible interpretive visitors center. We love the twists and turns of the drive--lots of motorcycles and sports cars out today because of the great weather--and we love checking out all the lake homes.

After our hike we stopped in downtown Rogers in the restored historic portion along the railroad tracks. Got coffee and sweets at Méridien, a "desert salon" and café on the increasingly upscale main street of the city situated along the historic rail line. Played on the playground (in NWA you can play on playgrounds year round but not every day). 

Later in the evening, we went to a very different part of NWA, the section of Springdale near the airport. We ate supper at Red Dragon, a Chinese buffet on 265 (Old Missouri). Not the fanciest or healthiest option for Saturday supper, but some pretty tasty seafood and noodle options, and with a few of us recovering from various illnesses, it was a relief not to cook, and the kids got to pick what they ate.

That part of town is incredibly diverse. For better or worse, much of the time the circles our household run in are more Fayetteville-centric, and the cultural/economic cohort we spend time with is fairly homogenous. Springdale is not homogenous. And it is fascinating. This restaurant is just up the road from Don Tyson Blvd (of Tyson Foods fame), across the road from the airport, just a block down from the Jones Center (an amazing community resource center established by a family who made their fortune in the trucking industry), and about half a mile from the Rodeo of the Ozarks. Head east from Red Dragon and you are immediately in small town/rural Arkansas. 

The largest cultural groups in this part of the city are Latino and Marshallese. In fact in Springdale the "minorities" are now the majority. This was represented in the buffet in a major way. When we started eating we were the only Anglo family in the restaurant. In addition to the Asian family who own the restaurant (their kids were watching anime on their iPad in one language (perhaps Japanese?) with sub-titles in a second language (perhaps Cantonese?)), the restaurant was full of many Latino families, plus a group of Marshallese men who were having a business meeting.

English was only the language used for commerce and hospitality. At individual tables and the desk and kitchen, the languages of the heart were many and varied.

Later, some families that looked to be from small towns west of Springdale were coming in for an evening supper. So you had in that one place an increasingly multi-cultural urban community mixing with more traditional rural Ozark and small town culture. By the time we left, my imagination was overwhelmed by the diversity and what it might mean for that to be a community here, and for us to be there in the mix. What a change it represents from the time the Van Winkles set up that mill with their 18 slaves in the 1850s.

Tonight at that buffet I saw a vision not only of what our city already is, but where it is headed. It is the vision I will keep in my head as I anticipate what our church will need to be in the next fifty years, by the grace of God. Red Dragon buffet is only a few miles from Good Shepherd, and there are very few churches out that way (and no ELCA church in Springdale). These are our neighbors. But more than our neighbors, they are us. We are them. We are we together. 

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