By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
In April of 2008, Joann and I took a photography trip to the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. In the mountains of Arkansas, we made our way to an historic mountain town known for its mountain music. I just knew Joann would enjoy this town since I had read about how the local musicians sat around town playing music every night. We arrived during a cold wave, and all we found was one lone person playing their guitar outside. The mountains were beautiful, but the weather was not cooperating for people to be picking outside.
I had also read about a swinging bridge near town. The only thing I knew about it was that it was on Swinging Bridge Road, but my map didn’t show any road named Swinging Bridge Road. (Irwin, our trusty GPS companion, might have come in handy here, but this was before his time.) So we spent some time driving up and down the roads looking for the swinging bridge, but we finally decided to give up, at least for the time being. We spent the afternoon exploring the town and we managed to find an old mill that I had read about before the trip.
Then we stopped to check what time the music store opened in the morning. As we made note of the hours, we saw two women sitting at a table outside an ice cream shop. Joann jumped out of the car and went over to ask them if they knew of the swinging bridge. They did know where it was and gave Joann directions. They also told her that the bridge was damaged in recent floods and was not open to traffic, but that we could get close enough to look at it and probably take some pictures. They also told Joann that they had spent the day at a conference and were still an hour from home, so they had to get going.
As Joann repeated the directions to me, we realized that we had driven right past the road earlier (twice!) and had not noticed the sign either time. We decided to check in at our motel before heading to the bridge and, while we relaxed for a few minutes, we made a short grocery list of things we should pick up on our way back from the bridge.
Leaving the motel, we followed the directions and figured out why we had missed the road. It was a small side road that angled back kitty corner to the highway about halfway down a steep hill. We finally saw the road sign as we passed it yet again. So we had to go a ways down the road to find somewhere to turn around so we could return to the elusive Swinging Bridge Road.
We followed the road to the bridge, noting the devastation left by the flood. As Joann got out of the car, another car pulled up behind us. Joann looked back, and then leaned into the car.
Joann: “I think we’re being followed.”
Joann: “It’s those two ladies from the ice cream shop.”
Ruth: “You’re kidding, right?”
Joann: “No, I’m not kidding, it’s those two ladies from town, only now there are four of them.”
Ruth (laughing): “You didn’t tell them where we’re staying, did you?”
Joann (grimacing): “Actually, I did because they asked me where we were staying. I just thought they were being nice.”
They came over to our car and said they just wanted to make sure we found the bridge. Again, they said they had to get going because it was getting late and they had to work the next day. So they turned their car around and drove away. After they left, we talked about how funny it was that they had come to check on us, and how they must have waited for us while we checked into our motel. After photographing the bridge, we headed back toward town. Along the way, we stopped to capture an old gas sign.
After that we passed some fresh road kill and Joann asked me if I wanted her to turn around. Bear with me here; it’s a little hard to explain why we would stop for road kill.
Before we left on this trip, I told Joann that I wanted to see an armadillo in Arkansas because I had never seen one before. Shortly after entering Arkansas, we saw lots of them along the roadsides. The only problem was that they were all dead. At this point in our trip, I thought we were about out of armadillo country, so my chances to see a live one were nearly gone.
So as we passed the armadillo on the side of the road, Joann laughed and asked me if I wanted to stop and take a look at it up close. I’m usually game for a little craziness, so she turned the car around, found a safe place to park, and we walked back up the hill to the armadillo. Locals probably got a kick out of seeing two people from Wisconsin on the side of the road, bent over a dead armadillo, but it was interesting to see. We walked back to the car and turned around again to head for town.
On the way back to our motel, we stopped at a large grocery store and bought groceries and a few other supplies, spending about a half hour in the store. Then, as we came to the corner by our motel, we noticed an oversized rocking chair in front of a store that we had driven past, not once but three times, without noticing. (Doesn’t it make you wonder just how much stuff we miss in our backroads travel?)
Those of you who are familiar with the Laugh-in show from the late 60’s and early 70’s might remember an oversized rocking chair that Lily Tomlin sat in as she played little Edith Ann. She always “told it like it was” and ended each skit by saying, “And that’s the truth! P-l-b-b-b-t!” Joann was eager to have her picture taken in that huge chair, so she climbed up into it and I snapped her picture.
As she was sitting there clowning around like Edith Ann, a car pulled out from behind the store and stopped next to the chair. We looked over and our jaws dropped as we realized it was the same car with the same ice cream shop ladies. They sat there for a minute waving enthusiastically and then drove away.
That night at the motel, we talked about how odd this whole episode was. Were we being stalked? Those ladies had supposedly been on their way home a couple hours earlier. Instead, they must have been waiting somewhere while we checked into our motel. Then they had followed us to the bridge, and they must have waited around somewhere while we checked out the armadillo road kill and went grocery shopping. We joked about being stalked and laughed about how those ladies must have been watching us as we moved around the town. And we wondered where they waited each time we detoured to look at something and while we went shopping. And then we double-checked our deadbolt!
The next morning, we spent some time at the music store and then stopped at an old-fashioned drugstore for chocolate malts before we left town. (Look closely; don’t those malts on the end of the counter look good? They were awesome!) As we drove out of town, I checked the mirror. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure we weren’t being followed.
Happy Shunpiking, and be mindful of who’s watching you!