Pine Bluff, AR, got our business today because of a roadside sign for
It'd get lots more business if it added a roadside sign for its murals.
Thirteen of these masterpieces stretch out sideways from Main Street.
We walk back and forth across the main drag like laces on a sneaker,
heading up to the historical courthouse featured at the end of the
road and on one of the murals (the one above ... click on it ... see
how massive it is? How lifelike? That's Allen in the middle, with suspenders. )
We're alone, though, like Pine Bluff wasn't expecting us. Which is
sad. Because it embarked upon this mural project to attract tourists
and one Web site said it was working. But it doesn't look like it's
working today. We're alone. Well, almost.
There's a barber shop still open for business, and a few customers
hang around outside. A few doors down, a man in a pink suit and white
hat sits in front of a closed store and next to a buggy overflowing
with stuffed garbage bags.
It looks like it's just us and them.
Most all the other shops either closed for the day (it's after 5 p.m)
or have been exhaled into the suburbs, knocking the breath out of this
little historic downtown.
I look around and see a classic take on aging gracefully -- or not.
Imagine a town from the 1940s, like Bedford Falls. That's what Pine
Bluff feels like to me. Only George finally left to tour the world.
Classic architecture embraced by renovation stands in the shadows of
its cousins in disrepair. A dynamic aviation mural leads to a ghetto-
like collection of apartments. The promise of restoration enlivens a
gorgeous 1924 movie house. But when?
To enjoy these paintings, we navigate past these buildings and through
a sea of shards, rusted pipes and a roped-off excavation sites.
Well, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds. The town is clean and the
wide streets allow for safe zig-zagging.
And the murals. Wow. Ignore my blathering about the town's bad
breath and be consumed by the art.
My favorite is the main street scene from 1888 (above). It captivates
me. I stop. I stare. I start taking lots of pictures.
I listen. From somewhere, over my head, I hear a clear, tenor voice,
singing a beautiful, unfamiliar collection of notes. A riff. Where's
it coming from? I look over my shoulder, thinking I'd see a nearby car
with the windows rolled down, the radio blasting or a loud speaker on
the side of a building angled my way. Nope.
I continue to take pictures, but the voice sings to me to stop. And
just listen. I stand there, eyes closed and listen. It's surreal.
And then I see him. Around the corner. It's the man in pink (below). The man
pushing the grocery cart, wearing a pink suit and a white hat. He's
singing. Please. Don't stop.
He doesn't. He's crooning. Serenading an unseen audience.
I give him a silent ovation as we walk away.