From New Orleans I headed to Little Rock, Arkansas. It seems really random, because it is! The only reason that I did not continue west on Interstate 10 is because I wanted to see a friend who lives near Oklahoma City. So, Little Rock was used as a rest stop between New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
The drive to Little Rock took me through rural Mississippi which felt quite isolating. Some places were spotty with cell reception, but overall, the state surprised me because it was so green and had a lot of crops. I was also surprised by the homes in Mississippi. When I am bored, I enjoy looking at housing (that I will never be able to afford) and am aware that Mississippi has the second cheapest residential real estate in the country (behind West Virginia). What surprised me, was the disparity between the houses. There were very picturesque southern style homes that could be featured in movies. On the same street, there were very small, run down houses that probably needed to be demolished and rebuilt.
When I finally checked into my room, I was excited to see that the hotel's restaurants and bar were open. Many hotels on my trip still had dining closed due to COVID. I grabbed a drink at the bar, and made friends with the bartender, Crystal, who warned me that it would be unsafe to explore Little Rock by myself. The hotel that I stayed in was along the riverfront. The city is attempting to make it a nicer area so all of the developments in the area were new and clean. This "new" area was only about a block long, though. So, I took Crystal's advice and decided to stay in for dinner.
There were two restaurants in the hotel: Benihana and Riverfront Steakhouse. I decided on Benihana and ordered a sushi (すし) and nigiri (にぎり) combo plate that came with miso soup (みそ汁) and a salad. I was a little apprehensive about ordering sushi in Arkansas, but to my surprise it was great and tasted really fresh.
The next day I drove towards Oklahoma City. I got stuck in traffic several different times, including at the foothills of The Ozarks, because of road construction. When I finally made it to my friend's apartment I felt a wave of relief. For one, drivers in Oklahoma are terrible, to put it nicely. Also, I was extremely happy to see a familiar face.
This friend of mine has been in my life since middle school! We stayed in touch even though our paths have taken us in very different directions. She loves to travel and has lived all over the country. She was really supportive about my solo cross-country trip, even when I was in the early planning stages, and was excited to host me for a night. I also couldn't wait to see her!
Before this trip, I last saw her in late summer of 2019. She planned on moving to Oklahoma to be with her boyfriend and I was getting ready to apply to the JET program. Now, she is engaged to her boyfriend and has a seven month old baby boy! I am not used to being around small children because none of my close friends have kids, but I can tell how lucky she is to have him. He is happy all the time and rarely gets fussy. He even fell asleep holding my finger when we were riding in the back of the car together. She is incredibly happy to be a mom. It was so awesome to see my friend in such a good place in her life.
I was fine with staying in and catching up for the evening, but my friend insisted that we needed to go out. She wanted to show me a "cool" spot in Oklahoma City. Even though the city itself is small, there is a cool new area that has things for all ages called Bricktown. Basically, it is an area with restaurants, shops, live music, art, and an arcade. We enjoyed drinks and appetizers on a balcony across from a place that had live music.
Since I am hopeful that my move to Japan will happen soon, I assume that the next time I see her and her family will be when they come visit me in Japan!
*Please excuse my lack of pictures from this stop, I was having too much fun with my friend.*