Mile by mile, the dreamscape unfolds like an old map, falling into familiar place after place. As the road narrows to two lanes, the residue of the past begins to float by. You pass abandoned cotton gins, long empty houses by the side of the road, their roofs slowly, majestically caving in, as if they had all the time in the world to disappear. They already seem archaeological, like forgotten monuments. The testify, like a stove-in old man at a camp meeting, to both the malice of time and the persistence of memory. Something, something powerful, lives on here. The evidence of it is all around.
You can tell you're getting deeper into the dream by the signs for products that are no longer made, the empty storefronts that went out of business long ago but are still there, some just barely. That one must have been a filling station, to judge by the rusty gas pump outside. You drive on, curve after curve, one half-forgotten vista opening after another, like the endless corridors of some memory palace.
Forgotten politicians live on here in their signs, their tattered images still flapping in the idle wind. Some of the billboards have dated with remarkable speed for a slow-paced land. One touts Blanche Lincoln, now the former senior senator from Arkansas, as One Tough Lady. Why, you wonder, would a U.S. senator have to present herself as macho if she really was?
Hattie Caraway, who really was tough, whipped an assortment of male rivals in 1932 to win a seat in the U.S. Senate -- without having to say much of anything. Huey Long, the Kingfish himself, took care of that. He and his sound truck came to her aid from south of the (state) border. He said everything that needed to be said in '32 and a lot more, as was Huey's way. For nine days he barnstormed the state and Silent Hattie won in a walk.
Six years later, Hattie Caraway would whup her challenger in the Democratic primary, which was, as they used to say in those days, Tantamount to Election. Her opponent? John L. McClellan, who would eventually get to the Senate after all. He was still young in 1938 but already gruff. Miss Hattie took care of him without needing any help by then. His campaign slogan that year was less than effective, or subtle: "Arkansas needs a man in the Senate." Who wouldn't have voted for the little widder woman after that?
Like so many other things, Southern demagoguery ain't what she used to be. Blanche Lincoln's fading billboard is already headed for the fate of all the old Faubus posters you used to see everywhere in Arkansas.