In October we at Cross Auto Supply celebrate the anniversary of the store's opening in 1950. We send out flyers in September's statements, we make phone calls, advertise, and tell everyone who walks through the door to come to the event, which we affectionately call "The Tool Sale." We could have gone with "Cross Auto Supply's Birthday Bash" or "Cross Auto Supply's Anniversary Celebration," but here in Arkansas, in the auto parts industry, "Tool Sale" evokes the same excitement, the same festival quality as either of the first two options. At the tool sale we, as the name implies, have tools on sale, but we also have balloons, free beer-can-coolers which I learned are called "koozies," chips, chili, and Petit Jean's token red hot dogs. Cross Auto Supply has three stores, in Russellville, Morrilton, and Conway. The tool sales are lined up like machine-gun fire, one after another. Trish and I got to go to all three because the work we do in the office can be put off more than the work the counter people do, which requires them to actually be present to wait on customers.
People come out of the hills for free food around here. At one point we had a line that stretched out into the street and up the block. There were the people who had gotten the flyer in their statements, people who are loyal Cross Auto Supply customers wearing their grease-smudged shirts with their names embroidered on them, the mechanics, body shop guys, the road department employees with their orange vests, the oilfield workers in their jumpsuits, and the people from the hills with stringy hair and missing teeth with their graphic tees, the ones that say things like "Do something with your life. Get me a beer," and "Why couldn't I be rich instead of good looking?" shirts with pictures of dogs with floppy ears that say "Can't hear you. Don't want to." There were skater kids with black hair who should have been in school, who smiled awkwardly when you smiled at them sulking through the line getting their free chili dogs, and the Walmart people who saw the balloons from across the street and knew that where there are balloons, there's free something. It was a good mix, an Arkansas mix.
We must have served about 1,000 hot dogs, we went through onions and pickle relish as fast as we could put them out. Chili was everywhere. Everyone got a koozie, I ended up with three myself. Yesterday was Conway's tool sale, the last one. About 1:00 we started slowing down and I sat down for a minute in the shade, only one of my eyes wouldn't adjust to the light. I went inside to see if it would work itself out and when it wouldn't a sense of dread that I've been waiting for for about twenty years descended upon me. When I was about eight I got a migraine headache. My dad gets migraines and when my vision started going all wrong he sat me down and told me what was happening and what to expect, but nothing could have prepared me for the pain my eight-year-old head was about to endure. I've been on my guard ever since, but had somehow avoided getting another migraine until yesterday. I was praying that I had just burned a retina from the glare of the sun on the aluminum pans sitting around, maybe it was just a fluke thing, maybe I got some scalding chili in my eye or some jalapeno juice. My vision eventually got better and I was praising the Lord for his infinite mercy when the pain hit. I put on my ridiculous sunglasses with these giant Polo symbols on the sides that I never wear until the pressure on my nose became too much, I took my hair down, I sipped water and Sprite, and eventually gave up and sat down in a little ball in the shade. Things had wound down enough that Trish and I were told we could go home. I knew I wouldn't make it back to Russellville without throwing up and I did not want to throw up in Trish's car, which meant that I would have to either roll down the window and throw up ON her car or throw up in my purse, in her car. I decided to try to get it over with before we left. When I came out of the bathroom, hair a mess, face all pale and splotchy, eyes squinted against the florescent lights, Trish had everyone all gathered around in concern looking at me like "was it the chili?" and I had to contort my aching face into a smile and explain that it was a migraine thing, and that we were probably safe from a massive lawsuit for poisoning half the town with tainted chili. I made it back to Russellville, back to my car, back to my house, back to my bed, koozies in tow, to sleep it off.
I woke up feeling better to the cable guy knocking on my door. That was yesterday evening, I've been thinking about the tool sale since then and wanted to tell you about it. If you're ever in Arkansas in October, it's a thing to see, not for the tools or the red hot dogs, not the clever t-shirt quotes or the cute chili server balled up in the corner hiding her eyes, but for the people and the snippets of conversation and those Southern sayings (I don't know how many people asked for their hot dogs to be "baptized" with chili), just to mill about and listen to people talk. It's truly a different world down here.