I've been thinking all weekend about this post. The first post after the big weekend dog show in Pine Bluff. Now that it's arrived, I've got nothin'.
Okay, I've got more than nothing, I've got a weekend-full of eye-opening experiences, sights of wonder, and hillbillies, but would you believe I'm still working on putting it into a coherent whole? Or maybe several coherent wholes, spread over a few days. Let's start, shall we?
Belle had her third and fourth AKC shows this past weekend in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The thing that struck me about the area of Arkansas that we were in? It looked just like Louisiana. I seem to recall from my childhood that Arkansas was all about mountains and green trees and quiet hidden springs, but it seems that when winter wraps Arkansas in it's snowy cape you get the same thing Louisiana has--lots of brown grass and bare trees. Granted, Pine Bluff had something that LA doesn't: snow.
Okay, so snow wasn't simply falling from the sky but there were some patches of snow left over from a storm a while back that lay in areas which never got out of shade, and therefore lasted the whole weekend. I made a very small snowball the first time I laid eyes on this white wonder, but then I realised that dignity and restraint were the order of the day for a professional dog handler's helper, so I discreetly flung the offending comet at a passing Bichon and went back to the grooming area to see if I could hold something heavy or move some kennels around.
I will give AR this: they've got deer like some states have drive-by shootings. Which is not to say that you can't travel the highways at night without fear of being shot. I spotted at least ten deer in about an hour, a number that is, for me, unthinkable, and they all seemed to be free of firearms. I'm used to seeing a single deer once a year or so, maybe packing a secondhand rifle. I'm not used to seeing a whole gang of cavorting, disarmed woodland creatures all in the space of about sixty seconds. But there they were; white dapple-backed fauns and big brown and tan does, foraging in the deep ditches flanking the highway, drinking from clear pools of standing water, or casually browsing someone's flowerbed for the choicest new snapdragons.
Another interesting point: my sense of being an outsider disappeared in quite a strange manner. See, I'm used to feeling like the outsider. I travel about as far and as ably as a tortoise in concrete, so whenever I venture much farther than the next town I get, understandably, a little shaky. And since I was driving this trip, naturally we got lost just before arriving at the convention center/hotel complex. And by the time I had asked directions of every numbskull Taco Bell employee and foreign national manning a BP or Shell station, each of them uniquely lacking any sense of location and narrative ability, I was ready to explode with ich ein bin auslander-type fury at the next "Where The Hell Am I?" stop. By the time we arrived at our destination by dint of having been everywhere it wasn't, I was, naturally, a little frazzled and feeling every inch of that five hour, 230+ mile trip. My bed and my cozy office were a very long way and time away. When we finally walked into the lobby of our very nice hotel, leading a tired Borzoi and an equally tired Papilion on leashes, it all changed.
There were people all over the place; checking in for the night, riding the glass elevators, looking for the swimming pool, and haranguing the overworked bellhops.
And they all had dogs.
Dogs of every make, model and brand. Big ones and small ones, loud and quiet ones, long and short and hairy and nearly bald. And then it hit me with the force of an unexpected snowball flung by a complete stranger: I was now dog show people. I belonged there just as much as anyone else did. After the initial shock passed and an open class Saint Bernard had mixed me and an exceedingly well-spoken Doberman a couple of Smirnoff Silver martinis all my stress and the anxiety of the trip fell away, along with all my inhibitions. We belonged here, me and Mrs. Irrelephant and Belle and Penny and Sweitzer the Doberman. We were here to show our dog in the ring against other dogs (well, not Sweitzer, he was there for a conference on Global Economics,) and by all of heaven's stars we were going to stay.
It also helped that we had a fifth floor smoking room, so I could sit in the provided office chair, prop my feet on the couch, open the curtains and stare out across all of white, ice-frosted downtown Pine Bluff and smoke my pipe, just like I'd do at home.