Gas, Grass & Ass

Seeking a self-sustaining life outside the city and a new start for her marriage, this twenty-five-year old woman boldly embarks on proprietorship of a full-service gas station along a highway in rural Arkansas. Her hope to live and work at her own place of business soon encounters not only the end of her marriage but also the entrenched conservatism of the rural South. Joyful in recounting her experiences with an endlessly astonishing parade of human nature, Campbell portrays a unique slice of American life at a pivotal time with the fall of Richard Nixon’s presidency and the end of the Vietnam War. Buoyed by a wellspring of support and companionship, Campbell struggles to hang on to her dream of independence.

Excerpt:

At that time, the University of Arkansas split its football season between the Fayetteville campus and War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, a concession to the Little Rock elite who considered it their prerogative to host ‘home’ games. So on the three weekends that Fayetteville hosted the games, traffic from Central Arkansas and elsewhere backed up for miles along Highway 71 as game time approached. After the game, the Conoco could count on plenty of sales as the out-of-town football fans headed home.

We stayed open late on those nights, bugs flying into the lights shining down from their high perch over the gas pumps, the steady hum of traffic on the road. If the Razorbacks had lost the game, the line of taillights carried with them a somber quiet acceptance that not every game in life is a win. If the team won, the nighttime traffic diminished as rowdy fans lingered in town to celebrate in the raucous bars along Dickson Street, guitar licks and drum beats echoing into the night. George’s, the Swingin’ Door, The Library and more were standing room only, their floors sticky with spilled drink.

I recruited helpers from Cousin Dave’s gang although Dave himself wasn’t having any of it. He’d worked enough for his folks when they owned the Conoco, he said. One of the friends I hired for a late night of football traffic was Mark Y. His lanky frame stood well over six feet tall, his twenty-year-old body filled out with field work on his family’s farm. Despite a thicket of light blond hair and a handsome face, he was miserably shy, but he needed money, and so that night and several other times, he forced himself into the public eye. Dave, JR, and the rest of the gang encouraged him to do the work—none of the rest of them wanted to pump gas until ten p.m.

One of those nights, the guys were watching television with me in the apartment when Mark suddenly appeared at the door, a red flush on his cheeks.

“There’s a woman out there,” he gasped. “Big fancy Continental. She’s… she…”

We all sprang up and crowded around Mark, trying to guess the crisis.

“What? Is she sick? Hurt?” I said.

“No, she…” He glanced around at the guys standing there, waiting to hear then his gaze came back to me. His head dropped forward as he looked down. “Lordie,” he muttered.

“What?!”

He stammered more then finally got a few words out. “I…I walked up to the window and the window was down, and… Well, first, she smiled at me.”

“She smiled at you?” Dave bent over laughing. “What the hell?”

“No, she, uh, she… her skirt was pulled up and I could see…Lord help me.”

“What?” JR demanded. “Could you see her panties?”

Another uproarious surge of laughter poured out the open door into the night. Mark’s face had turned beet red.

“No, damn it,” he said, jaw twitching. “There weren’t no panties.” …

~~~

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Domes

zome is stretched dome

A ‘zome,’ a stretched dome. One of several domes constructed in South Washington County Arkansas at a rural intentional community.

In the 1960s and into the early 1970s, geodesic dome structures cropped up around the world, including in Northwest Arkansas. Some lasted, many did not.

Based on the idea that what we see externally informs how we understand ourselves internally, domes epitomized a philosophical approach to human habitation.

dome1Traditional architecture with its multiple separate rooms leads to a segmented self view, according to this argument.  Rounded open space such as provided in a dome fosters a more holistic view of self and the world in general.

The dome concept was developed by Buckminster Fuller. Fuller discovered that if a spherical structure was created from triangles, it would have unparalleled strength.

3-8ths or half geodesicIn 1928, he wrote:

“These new homes are structured after the natural system of humans and trees with a central stem or backbone, from which all else is independently hung, utilizing gravity instead of opposing it. This results in a construction similar to an airplane, light, taut, and profoundly strong.”

looks like a zome

None of the eleven or more domes built at the intentional community have survived.

The sphere uses the “doing more with less” principle in that it encloses the largest volume of interior space with the least amount of surface area thus saving on materials and cost. Fuller reintroduced the idea that when the sphere’s diameter is doubled it will quadruple its square footage and produce eight times the volume.

Fuller worked towards the development of a Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science which he defined as, “the effective application of the principles of science to the conscious design of our total environment in order to help make the Earth’s finite resources meet the needs of all humanity without disrupting the ecological processes of the planet.”[i]

eye doc dome

Optometrist office in Fayetteville, newly built in 1970s.

Domes were built not only by idealistic hippies pursuing an improved state of consciousness but also ended up in use at commercial locations. A enhanced dome built to house an optometry practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas remains in good condition.

Newman's dome homeOne of the surviving residential domes in the area includes bump-outs and other additions that make for a more family-friendly features. This one includes a basement and a rear deck.

Other commercial uses included the Southern Energy Fast Oxide Reactor (SEFOR) built in south Washington County near Stricker. SEFOR operated from 1969 to 1972, when the original program was completed as planned. It was privately operated by General Electric and funded by the United States government through the Southwest Atomic Energy Associates, a nonprofit consortium formed by 17 power companies of the Southwest Power Pool and European nuclear agencies.

Southern Energy Fast Oxide Reactor, Stricker, '78 (SEFOR)The facility was then acquired by the University of Arkansas in hopes that it could be used as a research facility. However that never happened and the university has been paying $50,000 in maintenance fees yearly since. SEFOR is still considered contaminated and the University continues to seek federal funds to clean up the site.

Climatron, St. Louis, '77Another example of dome construction in commercial application is the St. Louis Climatron, part of the Missouri Botanical Gardens built in 1960. Controlled environment in this large dome re-creates a lowland rain forest.

Due to limitations of materials and use requirements, domes today are built for only a few applications, most notably sports arenas and as a complement to other structures such as churches where a separate dome feature may add another dimension to sacred space.

 

 

Photographs courtesy of Denny Luke, a longtime resident of the area.

[i] http://bfi.org/design-science/primer/environmental-design-science-primer