Day 40: Little Rock, AR + Jackson, MS by Wookie Kim

Today was a rest day--but only for my legs.

I had an excellent night's rest at the Barnhardt's Airbnb out in Hot Springs Village. Their backyard let me take in the sun and the cool morning air. Their cat also said hello.

I made my way back into the town of Hot Springs to get the traditional bathhouse experience, which I'd just missed yesterday. Bathhouse Row was very quiet when I arrived. A couple was taking a morning stroll.

I headed right for the Buckstaff Bathhouse, the only bathhouse that still offered the traditional experience. For $75, I could relive that experience by getting a bath and massage. Obviously, I had to do it.

Unfortunately, cameras and cell phones are strictly prohibited inside, for obvious reasons. But the experience is best described with one word: weird. Throughout your bathing experience, you're guided by an attendant, who follows you around and tells you what to do. All of this happens, of course, while you're completely naked.

The treatment began with a soak in one of the traditional hot tubs. It looked very grand--for something from the 1920s (let's just say I was a little worried about hygiene...). My attendant turned on the faucet, which immediately released a powerful stream of hot springs water. He ladled a little cup and pushed it to my mouth. "Try it." It tasted like hot water. The water continued to fill the tub. "Now lay back." I laid back and relaxed (read: tried to). 15 minutes later, the attendant returned. "Sit up." I sat up. He pulled out a loofah and started vigorously scrubbed my back. "Okay, let's go."

The attendant led me from one tub to the next. This time I was in what was called a Sitz tub. Imagine a small utility sink. Imagine that sink being the perfect size--for just your behind. Imagine being completely naked and having someone tell you to stick your behind into that sink. And then imagine that person, towering over you, reach behind your behind for a knob, release very hot water, and then ask, "let me know when it's uncomfortable." ("Right now, sir.") I (or, my behind) sat in the Sitz bath for another 10 minutes. Those were 10 incredibly awkward minutes. (Here's what a big Sitz bath looks like.)

My attendant led me to the next contraption--the "steam room." I put that in quotes because that phrase is generous for what I was put into. This was a tiny hot box with a rickety metal door on the front. It was really hot inside. I sat there, counting the seconds, wondering how long I'd be inside. As I roasted, I glanced at the door handle and wondered if it were possible to open it from the inside. It got hotter and hotter, but I had no idea how much longer I had left. At some point, the attendant returned and pulled me out. I was a little delirious.

My attendant next tossed me onto a table. He wrapped my body with very hot towels and then covered those towels with a sheet. Now, I was a living hot towel mummy. The first 30 seconds were really hot, but by the time the towels had cooled off slightly, the mummification process was tolerable, even pleasant. I may have even nodded off for a bit here.

Now it was time for the needle shower. This sounds a lot scarier than what it was. Basically, the needle shower is a 5.1 Dolby surround sound experience with water. I entered a shower stall surrounded by little nozzles all pointed inward and shooting hot spring water at high speeds. My attendant instructed me to stand in there and rinse off the soapy water.

After this, it was time to cool off and head to the massage room. A masseuse gave me a 20-minute Swedish massage. After beating up my body for the past weeks, the massage was perfect. 20 minutes later, I was done. I changed back into my street clothes and headed out of the bathhouse. There were large chairs outside, so I decided I need to visually memorialize the experience by sitting in one.

It was noon now, and I was back on Bathhouse Row. I decided I'd eat here before heading to my first destination for the day: Little Rock.

I found the Ohio Club, which happened to be the oldest bar in Arkansas. It was also a former true speakeasy (for a time, it was renamed the "Ohio Cigar Store") and a spot frequented by America's top mobsters. I kind of got that vibe on the inside. The hamburger was delicious.

And then I was off for Little Rock! My plan was to visit Little Rock Central High School, the locus of the first effort to desegregate our public schools after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board. I'd learned that the high school, which still operates today (in fact, my freshman year suitemate at Yale attended the school!), was managed as a National Historic Site by the NPS. It even had a sparkling new visitor center.

The exhibits were a powerful reminder of the civil rights struggles of the past. As a lawyer, I had a heightened interest in the exhibits. So I spent more time than I normally would inside.

I then headed outside to check out the school. Given that it was only 2 p.m., I expected to see no students. But I found that there were actually a bunch of students milling about outside. I asked one of them whether they were in school, and they said some students had early dismissal of some kind. It was strange to think about how this school had been the site of such an intense and symbolic stand-off--one that ultimately required federal government intervention (11,500 soldiers) to resolve. I wanted to see what the students thought of the school's history, so I approached a small group and asked them what they thought. They said it was cool to be at a school with such history, but that school was school. I asked them what they thought of the constant stream of tourists. They all agreed that they'd learned to tune out the visitors.

I walked around to the front entrance of the school. It was quieter on this side, and I caught a glimpse of the famous school from its grandest perspective.

And then I was off for Jackson, Mississippi! I had plans to stay with my friend, Nathan B., who had worked with me in the Baltimore courthouse this past year and was now working for a different judge in Jackson. After a couple hours, I crossed the Mississippi, that great dividing line for our country. I was now "east of the Mississippi." It all felt a bit symbolic.

Soon, I learned that I was driving through the small town of Greenville, MS in the Mississippi Delta. It was a fortuitous discovery, because I'd recently read John Barry's Rising Tide--which explored the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, one of the (if not the) greatest natural disaster America has ever seen--with Nathan through a book club. I then made a beeline for Jackson, arriving just around 7 p.m.

After drinks with Nathan and some of his coworkers, we headed over to the Mayflower Cafe, which has a long history in Jackson, for dinner. Here, a law school classmate, Shad W., joined. I ate southern fried fish of some kind. It was delicious--exactly what I needed after a long day of driving.

From here, we proceeded to the roof of the King Edward Hotel, where Nathan lived. Nathan and Shad tried to point out the various neighborhoods and features of the city of Jackson. It all felt very small, and very southern. I let them talk, while I marveled at the giant letters from behind.

After catching up with Nathan, it was time for bed. Tomorrow would be another long day.