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Nemo's Wedding

Started: 2017-11-03 13:46:11

Submitted: 2017-11-05 15:46:11

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits northwest Arkansas to attend a friend's wedding

One of my engineering classmates from college, whom I refer to by his hacker alias Nemo, announced his engagement earlier this year and invited me to attend the wedding in Gentry, Arkansas, along with our group of friends from college.

It turned out that Gentry is in northwest Arkansas, near Bentonville, better known as the global headquarters of retail giant Walmart. Northwest Arkansas has a brand-new regional airport, built about a decade ago to service Walmart (and the rest of the region). There is one daily direct flight between SFO and XNA*, a United Express flight departing SFO in the afternoon and landing in XNA in the evening. (Even Walmart is not immune to the allure of tech in the Bay Area: they have a digital division in Brisbane (tucked behind a lagoon between San Francisco and its airport), and most mornings on my way to work I see their shuttle from my BART station, Balboa Park, to their office.)

[* Locally the airport is known by its airport code, XNA.]


I cashed in frequent-flyer miles to catch this direct flight to XNA. My departure from SFO on Thursday, 5th was delayed because the Blue Angels were practicing for Fleet Week, shutting down half of the airport's four runways. I was upgraded to first class on the flight, and enjoyed a larger seat and free snack service during the flight (while trying not to gawk at what my seat-mate, who seemed to be a pastor, was doing on his iPad on the in-flight wi-fi: he went back and forth between a site that seemed to be rewarding him for generating ad views and click-throughs and cross-posting referral-generating links on social media). My flight path out of San Francisco took me on a tour looping around the city: I could see most of the city, including the hill on which my house sat, laid out in its mismatch of rectangular grids, lit up by the late afternoon sun. We flew over the Golden Gate Bridge, then crossed the bay, and I watched Oakland and the East Bay out the plane window, giving way to the Oakland Hills, then Mount Diablo, and the Central Valley (mostly fallow this late in the growing season), and finally the high Sierras.

I landed in XNA and waited for my ride to show up. It was the first time I'd set foot in Arkansas. My ride turned out to be Caleb, an engineering classmate I vaguely remember from fifteen years ago. (He had flown from Sacramento, via Atlanta.) He rented a car, a "three-door" (according to the rental counter agent) Hyundai that (I discovered the next day) turned out to actually have three passenger doors: the coupe-sized rear seat had its own door on the passenger side. We drove fifteen minutes from the airport to the outskirts of Gentry to the house where Nemo had arranged for us to stay. We met our host, who pointed us to the rooms allocated for us, and bid us good night. (I later confirmed that she was in fact the mother of my high school algebra teacher.)


On Friday morning I got my first good look outside. We were staying at a house on a large lot in the space between the small town of Gentry and the larger town of Siloam Springs. (I wondered about the taxonomy between "lawn" and "field": the house seemed to have a better-manicured "lawn", while the surrounding lots had "fields"; the neighboring lot had several head of cattle and various other livestock.) Google Maps helpfully dove into my address book to tell me that Kiesa's grandparents used to live across the street from where I was staying (that's their old house, in pale yellow, across the road in the picture below).

Gentry Arkansas
Gentry Arkansas

I had almost no idea what was going to happen, except for the wedding invitation, which gave the date, time, and location of the ceremony itself. Caleb had a better idea of the schedule, having actually talked to Nemo in advance of showing up in northwest Arkansas, and knew of a breakfast at a cafe in Decatur, the next small town north of Gentry. We drove there and met Nemo, his bride Jackie, and his friends who had come out for the wedding: Yanthor, Anya, Matt (another engineering classmate, and my roommate at Walla Walla), Humblik, Amy, Nemo's high school friend David, and his wife Hazel.

Large spider in Gentry Arkansas
Large spider in Gentry Arkansas

(I have no particularly good reason for including this picture of a spider, except that I saw it in front of the house I stayed in.)

After breakfast we milled about Gentry, eventually finding ourselves at Nemo's house, crowded with stacks of boxes and piles of books, on a quiet residential street. Nemo enlisted Caleb to make name tags for people attending the wedding, and I attempted to cajole the printer into working (which eventually involved holding down the power button long enough to get it to reset its idea of how many pages the drum had printed), then fed cardstock one sheet at a time into the printer and cut the sheets into cards.

We headed to the wedding venue, a house near Ozark Adventist Academy. I changed into my wedding costume (a suit) and played photographer's assistant, mostly holding the external flash in the right place to illuminate the subjects while Caleb took pictures. As Caleb and the wedding party worked their way through the long list of combinations of people I tried not to flash back to the photos around my wedding, fifteen years ago. It was much more relaxing to not be part of the wedding.

Nemo and Jackie's wedding
Nemo and Jackie's wedding

The ceremony itself was outdoors, on the lawn. Folding chairs were arranged in rows with a view of the patio where the wedding party stood. It was the middle of the afternoon, and it was warm enough that my suit coat began to feel stifling. I had some trouble hearing the homily and the vows, but soon enough the couple were pronounced married and introduced to the audience and the ceremony was over.

I ended up standing in the right place to accidentally become part of the receiving line, shaking hands of random people who came through the line and introducing myself as an old college friend of Nemo's. (This I found ironic, given my negative reaction to being shoved into the receiving line at my own wedding and greeting hundreds (thousands? It felt like thousands) of people I didn't know.)

The reception was in the courtyard, surrounded by three wings of the house. (The most important feature of the courtyard was shade.) After eating, and a lot of sitting and talking, the couple cut the cake.

Nemo and Jackie cut the cake
Nemo and Jackie cut the cake

As the afternoon wore on the local guests departed, leaving family and friends who traveled to attend the wedding. I changed back out of my costume suit into civilian casual clothing and hung out with the remaining guests for the rest of the evening.


In lieu of going to church, I found Pour Jons, a hipster coffee shop in nearby Siloam Springs, and enlisted Yanthor to join me (and provide transportation). We hung out there and drank our coffee, then joined the church potluck at Gentry Seventh-day Adventist Church, which featured an appearance by the newly-married couple.

After lunch I walked past the church and Ozark Adventist Academy across the road and found the rendezvous for the afternoon's primary activity, a hike in the nearby branch of the Ozark National Forest. The hike took us through the rolling Ozark hills to the Illinois River (which goes nowhere near Illinois), past the river, nestled below the overhanging bank of the river, and back up to the parking.

The evening's entertainment featured hot dogs roasted over a fire in a pavilion near the church I helped gather kindling and boot-strapped the fire into a raging conflagration in the fireplace, then tended it as the evening progressed. After eating we played Secret Hitler (while getting an overview of the rules and the setting I quipped, "Oh, this is about Germany?") and settled in to play, sitting in front of the fire place while trying not to get too hot.

I played a Liberal in the first game. The Fascists won by electing Anya, the secret Hitler, who had not at that point had any real role in the game. In the second game, I was the secret Hitler, and I managed to burnish my pseudo-liberal credentials early in the game when I was elected Chancellor and selected a Liberal policy to enact. When I was elected Chancellor later, once enough Fascist policies had been enacted, I was elected unanimously -- and then revealed my secret role card to reveal that the Fascists had won the game.


Pour Jons Coffee Shop, Siloam Springs
Pour Jons Coffee Shop, Siloam Springs

On Sunday morning, I went to Pour Jons for another dose of hipster coffee with Yanthor and Anya, then visited their host family, an elderly couple who had lived in China as missionaries sometime while they were younger, and still occasionally spoke Mandarin to each other. Yanthor introduced me as having dabbled in Mandarin, and we exchanged a few words in Mandarin until I was out of my depth. (I was intrigued by the Chinese-style banner on the wall featuring a Chinese-style Jesus.) Our host pulled out an electric-powered demonstration steam engine, which he had received when he was 8 years old. The heating element was made of sheets of mylar, which he was carefully hoarding because he wasn't sure he could replace them. He filled it with distilled water, plugged it into the wall and we waited for it to build up pressure and start spinning the fly wheel.

Tabletop electric-powered demonstration steam engine
Tabletop electric-powered demonstration steam engine

We headed back to the pavilion for breakfast, then shuttled back and forth between the wedding venue, the pavilion, and another building on the church grounds putting all of the tables and chairs back that had been used for the wedding. We returned to the wedding venue to hang out for the rest of the afternoon, playing a couple of games of Fluxx, and eating a light lunch before the party broke up around 17:00. Yanthor, Anya, and Matt drove back to Lincoln, and Caleb and Nemo dropped me off at the airport.

N779SK at XNA
N779SK at XNA

There was only one direct flight per day from XNA back to SFO, leaving early in the morning, which didn't seem especially convenient to me. I picked an evening flight leaving XNA at 19:00 heading to Houston, connecting to a mainline United flight back to San Francisco. I was upgraded on my flight to Houston, but ended up without storage at my feet for my bags in-flight. My flight from Houston to San Francisco was delayed long enough to finish and post about the rest of the summer. (For some perverse reason I seem to spend most of my time writing while in an airplane or airport.) My flight to San Francisco boarded and I settled in for the flight home.

As my plane was on approach to San Francisco, the flight attendants paged "any doctor on board" who was willing to assist a medical emergency. We landed, and then the PA announced that paramedics would be meeting our flight at the gate and asked the rest of us to stay seated until they did their job. I saw paramedics board, and presently the elderly passenger walked off the plane, assisted by the paramedics, followed by a handful of worried-looking middle-aged family members, and then huddled in the gate area outside of the flow of traffic.

My plane landed at midnight, after BART goes to bed for the night on Sunday. When I stepped out on the curb to wait for my Lyft home, I smelled the almost-overpowering oder of campfire from wildfires that had sprung up in the North Bay within the past several hours. I caught a ride home, happy to be back home, and happy to have had the opportunity to attend a friend's wedding in a part of the country I'd never visited.