I’m using a chicken to measure it.

Whoever wrote the joke that said “I-40 is the best thing to come out of Arkansas” hasn’t driven it lately. Six sections of two-lane highway are funneled into one-lane nightmares between here and Ft. Smith. It took three hours to get 140 miles, compared to the usual two. But Thanksgiving with the parents was good.

I should have taken notes as I drove around, there were lots of ideas for writing. I spent some time driving around the Oklahoma-Arkansas border, and the contrasts are just fascinating. My brother lives in this sprawling shack of a house that makes you think of the TV series “Green Acres,” but the kitchen in his place is as big as my whole apartment. No one goes there though, because the roof is in severe danger of caving in on that section of the house. The garage is built of flagstone, and not in any danger. If I moved in, I’d want to live in the garage.

The town is called Rock Island (named after the railway spur that goes through) and the town hall is a 20 foot square aluminum shed. Rock Island has a population of 709. For the first time, I ventured the two miles to cross the border into Arkansas, to find the town of Hackett, with a population of 694. It freaked me out as I drove down highway 45 just outside Hackett to find palatial estates with two and three story ten-plus bedroom homes. My brother commented: “Oh, you found Beverly Hills.”

A little further down the road was a massive building of at least twenty floors tall, and twice that wide, sitting on the top of a hill. This building could hold the population of the entire county, it seemed. Turns out it’s the national headquarters of a health services company that runs nursing homes, Beverly Corporation. This cements the California-Arkansas connection: the company my brother works for manufactures stretch limousines, and their primary customers are in Hollywood. It’s such a strange combination of affluence and poverty. Sort of like California.

Stephen joked that the Arkansas highway workers needed to go to CalTrans school; in California, the roads never stay tore up longer than a couple of weeks, but they’ve been working on I-40 for about three years now and it just seems to get worse. Next time, I’m taking the backroads; they are in better repair!