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The Rice and Duck Capital of America (Stuttgart, Arkansas)



Polishing off a perfectly reasonable Wiener schnitzel à la Holstein at at the Steinhaus Keller in Hot Springs, I decided to go German. Ish. I set my sites on Stuttgart.


That was the night I hung out with my lovelorn lesbian friend, who blessed me with a pillion seat cuddle through town. The physical contact was welcome by both of us. But did nothing to ease her suffering.


When she ghosted our breakfast plans, I fired-up Fritz, punched-up Gangsta's Paradise and hit the road.


The 102-mile journey was a two-wheeled ordeal through the Arkansas Grand Prairie. What's the portmanteau of hot and monotonous? Monhotmonous? Like that.


I didn’t get a chance to ask a State Trooper if anything faster than a combine harvester ever obeyed the 55mph speed limit on the arrow-straight rice field-adjacent roads, but it wasn’t for lack of triple digit travel.


The only thing worse than the searing heat and lonesome landscape: the broken-down towns clinging to life at the intersections of state highways. Small clusters of tumbledown shacks and mobile homes that never saw better days, but plenty of visits from meth dealers. Poverty isn’t pretty.


Downtown Stuttgart



I made my final approach into Stuttgart weary, worn and worried. Once again, a major thunderstorm loomed in Fritz's rear view mirrors. Tru story.


I booked into the Hilton sub-brand by the same name, mauled some Mexican [food], fired-up a cigar under a small awning covering the side door and watched huge bolts of lightning spider web across the leaden sky.


Not the worst way to spend an evening – until the driving rain extinguished half my stogie. A few episodes of American Greed in my cool, clean, dry room lightened the mood, if not my cigar. Or was I just conning myself?


I awoke to clear blue skies and a more moderate temperature in the “Rice and Duck Capital of the World.” Not a combo plate. Rice cultivation and duck murder.


Stuttgart is where Big Rice does its thing, the home of Riceland Foods - the world's largest miller and marketer of Oryza sativa. The farmers' co-op sends some nine billion pounds of rice to over 25 countries via truck and train.


As for duck hunting, I was on the opposite end of duck season. But I was reliably informed that the town takes flight during the world duck calling championship.



I called time on my dirty clothes, dropping them off at the Atlantis Car Wash and Laundry. I parked Fritz in the shade and strolled to the nearby downtown.


Props to the mom and pops clinging to life in 50 percent of Stuttgart’s 19th century storefronts, waiting for customers to peel off what is now the main highway.


Both of my regular readers will notice I spent the first week of my Ridiculously Random Motorcycle Tour in historic downtowns: Paris, Fayetteville, Branson, Eureka Springs, Hot Springs and now Stuttgart (the latter six in Arkansas).


Maybe that's because I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island in the '70's, watching the vital city center that I loved sputter and die, kicked to the curb by parking-friendly suburban malls. A trend repeated throughout the length and breadth of America.



By 2008, Newsweek declared indoor malls dead, killed by over-supply, a shrinking middle class and, now, online shopping (sinking "anchor" stores).


Repurposed indoor malls still exist, especially in cities with inclement weather. But they're a sad, spooky, often decrepit shadow of their former selves; a stratospheric fall from their preeminent position in American culture.


If you didn’t already know it, America is dominated by "big box" stores (a.k.a., "category killers") housed in purpose-built free-standing buildings. If a town or city has money, there's a McDonalds, Subway, Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, etc. Usually all of the above.


What would be the point of touring these identical everywhere outposts of corporate America? Same goes for the new style, family-friendly outdoor malls, dominated by brand names.



And so I've been drawn to the old, bypassed, obsoleted downtowns. Where once upon a time – from the late 1800's to the early 1970's – residents bonded with local store owners. Where they shopped, ate, drank and socialized.


It’s a perfectly understandable, distinctly American evolution. The small shops couldn't compete with national chains’ value and choice.


I suspect that our current loneliness epidemic owes more than a little of its genesis to the lack, indeed the collapse of local commerce. Who shoots the breeze in a Walmart?


Enough about that. Truth be told, I couldn’t wait to escape lower Arkansas. Mississippi was no better.



When I finally crossed the mighty Mississip, I pulled into the Isle, the world’s worst casino.


It's a small, desperate place that turned its back on the river for a handful of ancient, presumably impoverished slot machine players, some of whom were on their last legs. Hopefully not their last oxygen tank.


One restaurant, four equally fried, equally disgusting choices. When I bellied-up to the bar, the two regulars sitting there told me the bartender had been let go. The sole cocktail waitress was on break.


"Welcome to the Delta," the one with the least red nose said before sneaking into the back room for my hydration.


Still, a hundred bucks for ten hours sleep. After washing with a small tube of shampoo – the casino’s sole attempt at complementary toiletries – I bailed at the crack of dawn, heading for Nashville.


The landscape improved immeasurably. As did my attitude. I found myself losing something profound. Which I’ll describe in my next post.


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8 Comments


Shawn Curtis
Shawn Curtis
Jun 12

Cue a dance sequence of Robert frolicking in the rain set to "Unwritten"

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robertfarago1
Jun 12
Replying to

Your wish is my command. Although I hope it never rains while I'm in transit.

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DrMikeinPDX
Jun 11

For several years, I've been following various social researchers who each study a particular bad influence on civil society in general and youth in particular. Think cellphones, social media, video games, etc... Yesterday I ran across an article that connects quite a few different damaging trends dating back at least sixty years or more. It paints a much bigger and more complete picture than I was seeing. It's an interesting read for those of us trying to understand our rapidly changing world.


https://substack.com/inbox/post/144014464

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lynnwgardnerusa
Jun 11

Robert your narrative on downtown retail and the emptying of the mall is just the evolution of retail. Think back to the 1960’s and the big discount stores. First you had Woolworths (the world’s largest discount chain) that grew into Woolco, kreske’s that grew into K-mart, and other smaller discounters like Hills, G C Murphy, Heck’s and others. These stores killed the down town, then bigger brighter stores and malls killed Woolco, K-Mart and the others, then the internet and product specific stores killed the malls. Retail is evolutionary, we won’t be around to see it but Walmart will follow the others as changes in retail we can not imagine occur in the future. The old downtown’s that have found…

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robertfarago1
Jun 12
Replying to

Everything either grows or dies. Will the old downtowns grow again? I hope so. But you're right: we can't anticipate the retail changes of the future. Amazon sold books?

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Dave Holzman
Dave Holzman
Jun 11

This is interesting stuff. I love the photos of the old buildings, and your commentary. Is lodging in all these towns as inexpensive as the $100 you mention here? And how are these cheap places? Do they allow dogs? I could cross afford to cross the country and back if I could spend that little money on lodging. (Otherwise I might have to camp, which doesn't much appeal.)

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robertfarago1
Jun 13
Replying to

The cheap places are good. Sorry to say it, but the downmarket chains are a blessing. Hampton Inn, now owned by Hilton, being a good example. The views sucks, the amenities are old, but they're cheap and the people servicing them (undocumented?) are attentive enough. All of the places I've inhabited are dog friendly.

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