And now ... the best of the stories
Parrotheads, poets and a Paralympics athlete top our favorite features of the year.
What was the biggest story of 2012? Well, for the local flock of Parrotheads, it was the arrival of the top bird as Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band paid a visit to Verizon Arena on their Welcome to Fin Land 2012 Tour. Some 15,000 Parrotheads snapped up tickets for the shindig and enjoyed the beach-flavored country rock of Buffet and band, especially members of the 150-person strong Little Rock Parrotheads, a local Buffett fan club. But fan club is describing this obsession with all things Buffet mildly. As Little Rock Parrotheads president Paul “Sandbar Griff” Griffith said, “Most of us love his music and like his mantra about life. It’s flip-flops and kicking back and shorts, and playing around the water and enjoying life. It’s really a lot of fun. Until you go to one of his concerts you can’t say you don’t really like him.” But Buffett loving is not all about having fun. Just about every Parrothead club raised money for charities, or, as Griffith said, they “party with a purpose.” And what a party that March show and day were.
Back in April, KSSN 96 on-air morning personality and country music radio legend Bob Robbins remembered 30 years ago when his life almost ended. April 7, 1982, was the day Robbins was smashed in the head with a baseball bat by assailants hired by a rival nightclub owner. Robbins survived and remembered it all for an April story on a piece of Little Rock lore. As Robbins said 30 years after the attack: “It’s a part of life that happened that you wished never did. There were families that were affected and had love ones sent to the penitentiary, and it changed their lives forever.”
The Arkansas Literary Festival is perhaps the best free event in all of Arkansas. This past April, food eater/writer/educator John T. Edge was one of the speakers, discussing his new book The Truck Food Cookbook, a travelogue with 150 recipes from food trucks and other street food vendors around the U.S. As Edge said of the food truck explosion: “For the longest time we’ve accepted in America that fast food is bad food. It doesn’t have to be. We’ve accepted for the longest time in America, too, that good food is expensive food. That doesn’t have to be, either. I think truck food, street food, cart food is one of the answers to that.”
Our House, a Little Rock nonprofit assisting with the “needs of Central Arkansas’ working homeless population,” introduced me to two of its alumni: Rafael Rivera and Janis Newberry. Both had electrifying stories to tell in how they went to the brink and came back, even helping start Our House’s Former Residents Educating Society about Homelessness, a group with the mission of educating the public about Our House and homelessness. “We are not [always] that person you see standing on the street corner,” Newberry said in that May article. “We could be anybody. A lot of people still live paycheck to paycheck.”
Want to witness another side of Little Rock athletics? One that doesn’t involve the Razorbacks, baseball or kickball? Check out the Liga de Fútbol MexArk, an adult soccer league of about 35 teams and an affiliation of the Arkansas State Soccer Association that plays its games at Otter Creek Park. The league is Hispanic heavy, and each Sunday when the league plays, Otter Creek Park turns into a party of family, food and soccer.
I dig cheeseburgers. So does the Little Rock Burger Caucus. And the mission statement of the Little Rock Burger Caucus is finding really good burgers. Well, kind of. This group of politicians, state government employees, political staffers, journalists and lawyers really doesn’t have a mission statement, but if they did it would be friendship and burgers. “Literally, we are getting together to have burgers,” said Mariah Hatta, a political consultant and former director of the Arkansas Democratic Party. “There is no other intention or motive behind that.”
I also dig beer. Really great beer. One local who knows about craft beers is The Beer Snob. John “The Beer Snob” Wells. By day he works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. His other job is being The Beer Snob, the publisher of The Official Size & Weight EBeer ENews EMail, a weekly digital newsletter that details local craft beer happenings. Drinking and talking about good beers with Wells and others was definitely a story highlight of the year for me.
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Piece — that was the name Little Rock spoken word group Foreign Tongues gave their spoken-word event back in November at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. The purpose? “I want [audience members] ... to cry; I want them to think; I want them to laugh because poetry is basically my life, but we are all the same as humans,” group member A.P.O.L.L.O. said. “We are all different, but we are all really the same. I want you to see that poetry cannot be put inside a box.”
— shea stewart
One of the best things about covering central Arkansas is meeting so many of the wonderful, unforgettable people who call this place home. More than just great stories — though they have those, too — some tend to carry with them an inspirational sense of purpose and personality that just tends to stay with you. There were quite a few of those this year, but three stand out:
Until she retires and goes to law school, Margaret Sorrows will continue as the yearbook and newspaper adviser at Bryant High School, which she’s been for more than two decades. In that time she’s made the products something others around the country aspire to be, and has the awards to prove it.
But she’d edit that above sentence faster than you can say “stop the press.” It’s the kids who deserve the credit, she’d say. The kids who write the stories, take the pictures and design the pages. They own the product, and she makes sure of that. That they, without her knowledge, nominated her in January to be featured as one of 12 outstanding people doing outstanding things in 2012 should say something.
When her first child was born premature, Crystal Goss felt helpless. So she did what she, as a professional photographer, knew how to do. She took pictures. Lots of pictures. And that scrapbook is now among her most treasured possessions.
So it was kind of a no brainer when she had the thought to approach UAMS, where her son was born, about volunteering to do the same thing for others. With coordinating help from March of Dimes, she’s been able to. Not just that, but she was also invited to photograph grown children to come out the UAMS NICU — boys, girls, twins, even triplets — and are now grown up living healthy, normal lives. Dedicated as the Wall of Hope, the display as her photos serves as a source of strength for those who, not unlike Goss, are struggling with worry and helplessness.
To run a marathon is an achievement. To swim a couple miles and bike for another hundred beforehand makes one an Ironman. To do it all after having lost a leg as a child and lived a life in which everyone always told you you’d never do anything in sports is inspirational. And that’s what Jeff Glassbrenner has done — 20 times over, including eight Ironman races in eight months in 2010.
But it’s not just those races or being a three-time Paralympics athlete that make him great. It’s a persistently positive outlook that includes, among other things, celebrating the day of the accident that took his leg like a birthday. Why? Because it was such a monumental and influential day in his life, he said. It’s that outlook that colors the book he’s writing, The Gift of a Day, and made him such a pleasure to meet.
— spencer watson