Down and Out in Arkansas

January 26, 2011

Ohio Club, Hot Springs, Ark.

5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Notable Matter: Prominent photo of Al Capone, to bathroom says “Grandpa’s Workshop”

I fell in love with Arkansas the moment I crossed the state line and saw a man with a Jason mask four wheeling along the shoulder of the highway against the flow of traffic.

I drove from Tennessee to Hot Springs, Ark. to salve my wounded soul and aching body, which had, more or less, been in a car for two weeks.

Hot Springs, Ark. is known for its eight bathhouses however, the women at the tourism office and the guy at the hotel had no idea when the city’s major attractions closed. Arkansas.

The Ohio Club

I go to the Ohio Club after soaking in the baths. I’m wrong. It isn’t a dive. I ask for directions to a dive bar. They are withheld. Strangers are more concerned with my safety than I am. I stay.

I love this bar. It was gangster hangout and I love gangsters. Al Capone, Bugs Moran and Owney Madden loved the springs and gambled, drank and philandered at the Ohio Club during prohibition.

Despite the great atmosphere — 1920s décor, mahogany bar, mezzanine level perfect for stripping — and the club’s sordid history, I can’t talk to anyone. I’m depressed, have to think about some stuff. Mind goes back to the bathhouse.

Bill, Boob, B…

Every state lays claim to something — world’s largest prairie dog, largest ball of twine, etc. Hot Springs, Ark. is the hometown of Bill Clinton, the country’s most publically excitable president. It is also home to the world’s largest natural breast. I know. I saw it.

I walk into the bathhouse. Four pools, varying temperatures. Pass on the middle pool, which is behind a full length, glass display wall. Pass on the left pool, too cold. Three fat, hairy old men in the right pool, a couple sucking face in the upper pool. I choose the old guys. Don’t need love in my face.

Notice a group of large women sitting in chairs, watch them, listen to their accents. Watch in horror as one woman’s swimming suit gradually succumbs to the weight of her left breast. She notices when the suit hits mid-nipple. I tell myself I’ll be OK. I’ve been to nude beaches, seen other breasts. I will recover.

But then…a middle-aged woman who is au natural walks into my bath. Until she sits, her curls and my eyes parallel. I want to flee. Don’t want to be rude. She talks. I think of germs.

I relax. She’s cool. Traveling to Arizona with her partner for an RV festival. Partner’s  Each has a daughter. One on each coast. I want to join them. Don’t ask. Have to tend to a minor task called figuring out my life.

The Ohio

Thinking about the bathhouse pulls me out of my funk. Put away pad, pull hair back. Ask owner to recommend a Baptist church. She looks at me funny. Asks man at the end of the bar, request passes every mouth.

Woman: “Honey what are you writing?”

I tell her about the project, make it known I’m not a Baptist.

“Honey, I’m Pentecostal you can go to church with me.”

Man laughs.

“I was thinking Baptist would be good since I’m in the south.”

“Oh you’re in Baptist country. They’re crazy you know.”

Man: “Don’t tell them you don’t believe.”

Woman: “Oh God no.”


“They’ll make you go to the front of the church so they can convert you and you’ll probably have to stay up there and sing.”


Woman: “Don’t listen to him.”

They say 90 percent of the community “goes to church,” which means they think they’ll be saved if they show up a few times a year. The woman yells down the bar that I don’t believe. The only atheist in town comes over. We talk about science, his experience with the Church of Christ, the reason he stopped believing.

Lesbians and atheists in Arkansas. Interesting.


11 Responses to “Down and Out in Arkansas”

  1. Kevin said

    So, what is your current quest exactly? To visit a Baptist church in every state? Or, to visit random churches? Just curious…

    • thumpme said

      Random churches. I’d like to go to a church of every denomination I can find. I chose to go Baptist in the south because when I think Baptist I think south. No real reason other than that. Trying to hit them all. Get a real taste of different churches.

  2. Josh said


    Good luck with your trip. I am jealous about the dive bar part. Let Ellis or I know if you make it to Tampa or Fort Lauderdale. Take care.

  3. farlane said

    I just want to say that your blog is amazing. Thanks, and I hope that you find wisdom and joy in your travels.

  4. Kevin said

    Thx for the clarification. BTW, you’re welcome to try my church here in town. I can be your host and we can get you access to all sorts of good stuff! Let me know!

    • thumpme said

      I would love to. I’ll be back in Michigan sometime in May. Possibly the 18th? I’ll keep in touch because that Sunday might work. The next following day I leave for Iceland.

  5. Mike Cope said

    You’re in my old territory there, Ivy.

    Undergrad: Harding University (Searcy, AR)
    Honeymoon: Hot Springs (yes, fill in the punch line)

    Plus a good Church of Christ atheist to go with it!

    If you swing by the College Church of Christ in Searcy, you’ll be where I preached from 1984-1991.

    Love your travelogue!

    • thumpme said

      Ah! Cool place for a honeymoon. I thought about hitting Texas, but I didn’t have enough time or energy really. I think at the end of this new project, I should map out where my readers live and take a road trip. Of course I’ll only stop by those who have invited me. Not interested in restraining orders.

  6. Mike Cope said

    Well, you’re invited!

    Here’s what my area looks like (pictures I took on a bike ride):

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