Sunday, October 02, 2005

About that submarine ... (From the Arkansas Times)

Every once in awhile I have criticized the Razorback submarine that the
mayor of North Little Rock brought to his city. I wrote that there were many
more important things that the city needed. And I have never seen or written
a good word about the Imax theater that the town's aviation big-shots built
close to the Little Rock airport. I thought it ought to be in downtown
Little Rock. After all, no one boarding or leaving a plane is going to have
the time to see a movie.

Well, I've sort of changed my mind.

For the first time in 16 years I have had a 4-year-old boy in my

house whom we wanted to entertain. His name is Benjamin McCord, our grandson
who lives in Austin, Texas.

Anyway, after a week of taking walks, watching videos and playing with toys,
his grandmother and I had to start looking for other things he could see and
enjoy. Naturally, we took him to watch the Travelers play in War Memorial
Park, but he wasn't too excited about that because his mother and father
take him to ball games all the time in Round Rock, Texas (besides that's
triple-A, not double-A ball). And anyway, the game got into extra innings -
and the Travelers lost.

Ben likes trucks and always points out the big ones when we are driving. My
wife's nephew who lives near Pinnacle Mountain is an independent driver who
takes his huge rig all over the country. Luckily, he was in town for a few
days rest so we took Ben out to see his truck, and he got to crawl all over
it, much to his delight.

Ben also likes trains. So I called a friend who works for the Union Pacific
to see if I could drive Ben into the huge, 24-hour-a-day hump yard in North
Little Rock and let him go up in the tower and watch freight trains be
assembled. But my friend informed me that since 9-11 the government hasn't
allowed visitors to go into these yards because of fear of terrorists.

So I took Ben to the Little Rock Zoo one afternoon. He liked that for a
while, but it was so hot that day that the animals were asleep under trees
and bushes. So we didn't get to see very many, and he really didn't like the
snakes in the cages inside the buildings. I didn't either. One of them was
15 feet long.

The next day my wife mentioned the submarine in North Little Rock, which is
open to visitors Saturday and Sunday on the bank of the Arkansas River. She
thought Ben would like it, and besides that, she also wanted to see it. I
tried to talk her out of it since it was such a hot day, but we went.

The USS Razorback was built for our World War II Navy in 1944 and did its
duty chasing and attacking enemy ships. In 1970 it was sold to the Turkish
Navy, and in March 2004 North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays bought it largely
because its name was USS Razorback. Of course, the submarine was named for
an ocean creature rather than the University of Arkansas football team, but
what did that matter to a UA alumnus like the mayor?

Every group gets a deck hand to take them through the 311-foot submarine to
explain what you see and to tell the sub's history. Our deck hand was Brian
Thomas, a 20-year-old college student, and I was glad to have him when I saw
that we had to climb straight down into the sub on a 12-foot ladder and
climb straight up on a 14-foot one to get out. Brian put his arms around Ben
and helped him do his ladder work. Walking through the different
compartments was most interesting, and Ben was fascinated.

The next morning I accidentally saw the Imax's much-too-tiny ad in the daily
paper, saying that it was not only presenting movies but also films and
lectures in the "EpiSphere" (a planetarium). So on Ben's last day with us,
we found ourselves leaning back in our seats looking up at a film made by
the astronauts during their space explorations. This was followed by an
uncomplicated and beautiful film of all the planets. Then we were treated to
an interesting showing and explanation of the stars we would see that night
in Little Rock, a talk made by Pam Shireman, the director of the EpiSphere.
Ben listened and never took his eyes off the planetarium.

I think almost any kid would like to walk through a boat that could take him
to the bottom of the sea and then the next day see all the stars and planets
high in the sky. Ben really liked it. And so did his grandparents.

Originally published 29 September, 2005 in the Arkansas Times


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