May 12, 2008

Hot Springs

A monumental event occurred here in Shreveport this weekend. In honor of Mother’s Day, my wife and I pawned off our little one on a visiting Grandma Liz and Auntie Emily, and high tailed it for the rolling hills of Arkansas. The plan was to spend a night away from Annie, relaxing in the historic Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs. Massages were lined up and some hiking was in order, but in reality all that mattered was that we had 24 hours of not thinking about our baby.

I know that this can be a difficult moment for a lot of couples, um, not this one. We were busting at the seams to get out for a while. I suspect we felt this way because we have been so far away from family this year and consequently rarely get time away. The few times we have had a babysitter they were just here so we could get dinner or see a movie. This weekend we had a chance for the whole shebang and this Dad wasn’t passing it up. Listen, I definitely missed Annie, but only in the sense that not kissing and holding her all day made me feel empty. Any time these feelings set in I just kissed and held my wife.

What would have been a relaxing night had we stayed in a Howard Johnson in Monroe turned into a ridiculously relaxing day in a great old hotel, in a city that did a lot of reminding of the northeast. Hot Springs is a little town squeezed into a sharp cleft of a canyon and the streets are lined with great old buildings, street lights and, well, hot springs. It reminded me of Brattleboro, Vermont or for you real locals, Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, only with a sustainable resource that has attracted millions of people over the years.

It’s funny how sometimes you hear a descriptive name for a city and don’t put two and two together. Not only were there rows of bath houses (all but one closed down) in Hot Springs in which you could utilize the naturally steaming baths, but every other block had a hot spring fountain in which the locals all got their water…for free. The springs have not only sustained tourism and local business for over 100 years, but they nourish the locals too. The first time I saw someone filling up one their 20 or so containers, I asked her (very politely) if they were getting their drinking water. She looked at me like I was crazy and assumed that I was being critical. So she incredulously pointed at the ancient woman who was already mid fill and told me that if I didn’t believe it I should ask her mother who was 88. She did look good. Can many 88 year olds carry two gallons of water?

Once we toured the now closed Fordyce Bathhouse and saw the crazy, archaic, torture machines they used as therapy I knew I had to give a “bath” a try. I was happy to read though that they discontinued the “electro-bath,” which ran a current through the water to help ease skin ailments. The sign on the ominous looking tub dubiously told us that there were no known fatalities, but that possible electrocution was not the reason they were no longer in use. It sounded to me like a nice hour of hot tub relaxation in the traditional, but surely updated to modern tastes, style would do my ailing stay-at-home-dad body some good.

I scheduled my bath for the hour that my wife was getting her massage. When we arrived at the spa we parted ways; she to left where the ladies are still separated, me to the right, where my fate awaited me. How could a process, any process, which has been practiced for 100 years not change at all? We don’t still drive Model T’s. Last time I checked, families don’t sit around on Saturday nights listening to The Lone Ranger on the radio anymore. So why was I staring at an ancient porcelain tub with what looked like an outboard engine in it? Why, when I entered that tub naked as the day I was born, was I getting a full body loofah scrub from my older, decidedly male, attendant? Many a man would have bailed out at this point, but when I’m in Rome, even if I’m naked, I roll with it.

After 20 minutes in the tub, and some more nudity in the Sauna, I took a little hot towel induced sleep on some kind of old cot. Normally there are other steps to the bathing process, but I slept too long. Sadly I missed the sitz bath (kind of a full-assed bidet) and the needle shower, damn, and the steam cabinet.

My last treat was a quick massage performed by an even older male attendant. I haven’t received many massages and they have all been from women. I always thought this was the way to go. However, think about this guys. There is always a moment in your massage where one of you, and I’m not talking about the masseuse, thinks about IT. When you have a masseur all of that thinking goes right out the window. You have no worries about how you guys will be perceived. There’s nothing left but a good old burly rubdown that leaves you a bit dazed and totally unaroused.

The only thing left to do was eat dinner, survive our weekly wave of ‘Nadoes, and get our first totally thoughtless night of sleep in ten months. You don’t realize how different it is to sleep without the possibility of waking up to sooth or feed a baby. It is something I would love to get re-acquainted with. Naturally, while we made the three hour drive back home in the morning we were itching to get back to Annie. When we arrived, brimming with excitement and love, Annie casually looked up from her breakfast and in a baby’s amazingly adaptive way turned back to her tray of rice and bananas like we never left.


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