Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas


I was surprised to find out yesterday that Houston is the fourth largest city in the US. I was so incredulous as a matter of fact, that I had to look it up. The 1990 census data confirmed it. Now Tom Waits’ observation (during a SXSW concert) that people in Texas must be friendly, because they have all that space but choose to live together in big groups makes more sense. Scrolling through the list of city populations generated more surprises.

Bakersfield was number 97! Now that’s a shocker, I wouldn’t have even thought it was in the top 100. I’ve always thought of it as a small town. When my family moved there in the early sixties, I have a childhood memory of being fixated with two things as we drove into town: the “Sun Fun Stay Play” sign, which didn’t last long, and the population sign. It read 69,000.

Wow, I thought (I must have been four years old at the time). But compared to my house in the woods outside of Ojai, it did seem like a big city. Of course, as a teenager I had been to LA several times. Now that was a city. Bakersfield seemed like a wide spot in the road by comparison. Thinking of Kerouac lately, I realized that when he passed through it was probably more like 30,000 people.

The second shock was to find that Little Rock is number 96. I’m movin’ on up now. I got myself a de-luxe apartment on the west side. But, friends have been telling me how much Bakersfield has grown since I left (it was around 250,000 then). So I wondered if maybe the balance might have shifted, since Bakersfield was one of the fastest growing places in California when I left.

Shock number three. The 2000 figures show Bakersfield at 396,000. However, Little Rock must be growing faster. The 2000 figure is 548,000. I’m sure this includes North Little Rock, just across the river, which is a fairly substantial place. But damn, I never thought this place was that big either. So much for my small town feeling. I don’t suppose a half a million people qualify as a small town. But Little Rock still has something close to a small town mentality, though I confess that it’s actually less “hickish” than Bakersfield.

There’s a price to be paid for this expansion. I was assaulted by a TV ad warning that Britney Spears is doing a concert here in the next few months. Sheesh. For laughs, I did a search. I wanted to see if she was playing Bakersfield. She wasn’t. Don’t I feel special now. I was also happy to find that if you do a google search for Britney Spears the second site listed is Britney’s Guide to Semiconductor Physics. Thank god for link-weighting. It’s actually a serious site, with serious content. I think more fourteen-year olds should know the ins and outs of the lasers that play their compact disks. I would encourage as many links to this as possible so that it might even dethrone the “official” site!

Just for giggles, I had to look up the figures for Canberra— 313,000 according to the tourist web site. So, the capitol of that continent is smaller than Bakersfield? Now that does make for an interesting picture. Okay, so Sydney is twice the size of LA. . . that wasn’t the point. It’s just strange trying to picture places you haven’t been. I’m sure Canberra has nothing in common with Bakersfield, it just seemed like a funny thing to compare. Or, at least it would be funny if you’d ever been to Bakersfield.

Every city on earth is unique, with its own quirks. It cracked me up when I revisited the lyrics to Cities to catch the bit about Memphis— “I smell home cooking / its only the river, only the river.” Before I had been there, a friend here in Little Rock told me that there was something special about Memphis— “It’s the smell,” he said. Evidently, David Byrne agrees.

However, I must confess that this particular train of thought was triggered by a conversation with a West African native, Marcus, who goes to the university here. It seems that he came into the US through Tijuana, and ended up living in Burbank before moving to Arkansas. We were talking about how different it was here. Marcus was quick to proclaim: “this is the land of opportunity!” as he recruited me to come to an African drum festival on Saturday night. In Arkansas, this is a special event. In California, I could go see wild percussion any day of the week. I miss that part of it, really. But he’s right. It will all get here soon enough. But by then, I’ll probably be gone.

It’s still nearly impossible for me to think of Little Rock as a city. Though, if you photograph it just right, it looks like one.

1 thought on “Cities”

  1. thought i’d bury this down here so noone else will notice, how come i never saw you on icq again after that one time? i guess a few minutes of instant messaging killed any delusions you may have had that i was halfway interesting. ha ha!

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