Today's Paper State News LEARNS Guide Newsletters Opinion Sports Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: The Discovery by the river

by Philip Martin | May 16, 2023 at 4:17 a.m.

I get annoyed too easily.

About 200 yards ahead of us on the River Trail in North Little Rock there's an SUV. Karen and I and the dogs can easily walk around it, but it shouldn't be there. The River Trail is for bicycles and pedestrians. There are signs prohibiting motorized vehicles, which I presume includes those one-use scooters you find all over the downtowns.

I don't care about the scooters or the motorized skateboards and bikes; the trail is wide enough, and so long as everyone is paying respectful attention there's no harm done. But in my head I am a proctor: That's not what the trail is for. Sidewalks aren't for bicycles; the trail isn't for motorized vehicles.

I'd rather avoid conflict. So every now and then, when some clown bumps over the curb to take a Jeep on a joy ride down the trail, I don't say anything. I don't call the cops. I just smile and mutter "thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers" after them.

The prayers don't work. I've never seen any of these malefactors upside down in a ditch or being lectured by a park ranger.

I suspect this situation is more obnoxious. It's not some teenage thrill-seeker barreling down a riverfront trail. This SUV is parked on the part of the trail that's in front of river-facing homes that, when they sell, will be featured in that Top Six list we run in the High Profile section.

This is just laziness, some entitled neighbor who wants to bring in something around front that he doesn't want to drag from around back. I might get dragooned into helping him unload, because that is what we do in this neighborhood where everyone is on a WhatsApp group text and leaves food out for the feral cat known as Alpha.

("Ooh, let's go see what Alpha is killing today," is a phrase I've heard uttered by a mother to her young children on this very trail on an afternoon when Alpha was in fact toying with a midland brown snake. While I am no fan of esses, I feel bad that I didn't intervene to save the little wiggly guy, but I did not want to get on Alpha's bad side.)

But as we get to the SUV, I notice a couple of things. No. 1, it's a white 2023 Land Rover Discovery with a temporary tag that indicates it had been purchased just a few days earlier. (I later priced the car at around $82,000. I kind of like it.) And secondly, there is an elderly lady behind the wheel.

As we walk toward the vehicle, Madam gets out of the car and asks me if I will help her.

Now my calculus changes. Somehow this nice lady ended up on this stretch of trail and doesn't quite know what to do about it. I can see why; to her right there's a precarious slope down to the Arkansas River. To her left are manicured lawns of nice people who don't need their grass chewed up by an illegal U-turn by a driver who never should have been where she is in the first place.

I suspect she just wants to consult on the best course of action. But no, she wants me to get her walker out of the back of the car. Like a dummy, I do so.

And she starts to walk away.

"Wait," I say. "You can't leave the car parked here. This is a bike trail, cars aren't allowed on it. You'll get a ticket and the fine is $500."

Oh, silly boy. "I don't care about fines," Confused Driver says. "My back is broke."

She needs to get to one of the boats in the marina, to meet a man who--inconsiderate jerk that he is--isn't answering his phone. And suddenly I realize there is a real chance that we are going to end up with a Land Rover in the Arkansas River.

I point out that the gate she'd have to go through to get to the boats is about a quarter-mile behind her, in the marina parking lot. She can't get through that gate unless she has the code. Maybe I should drive her back to the parking lot--I figure I can execute an eight- or 10-point turn and get the Discovery pointed in the right direction--and she can wait for her riverfaring friend to show up there.

"He's not answering!" CD says forcefully. Then, in a gentler tone: "Are you a sailor?"

As I was explaining I was not, competence intervenes. Karen (who, like me, had left her phone at home) goes to a neighbor's house, who comes out with her phone and calls someone who might know how to resolve the situation. Then she and Karen sweet-talk CD out of her phone (and more importantly, her keys).

"Is there anyone we can call to help you?" our neighbor inquires. We get a name and soon some person (whose connection to our driver is vague) answers. After a few moments (during which we step well away from the Discovery, because apparently to start it you only need the key fob to be proximate to the vehicle; when CD suddenly switches on the radio, I worry she might start backing up) we get the name of CD's husband.

When we get him on the phone, he is not helpful. Maybe because he is a little confused himself.

He wants to know if we would drive her back to west Little Rock. ("If I can keep the car," I said in my head.)

Once again, I offer to drive the Discovery back to the parking lot and wait with CD until help arrives, whether it be the boat captain who isn't answering his phone or an envoy from her husband, who sure isn't driving all the way to Dogtown to collect her.

Then help arrives, in the form of three of North Little Rock's finest, who remove a trail-blocking bollard so they can drive their vehicles up to us, with their blue lights flashing silently. One immediately goes to CD and speaks to her in soothing tones, while the other two hear our story. They assure us they handle situations like this all the time.

I'm sure they do. And I'm sure they are as gentle as they can afford to be, even though in any kind of genuinely good society this would not be a routine part of their jobs.

I'm not one for drawing bright-line laws and prescribing regulations, but I don't understand how CD ever got behind the wheel of a large and expensive potential death machine.

I hurt for her, to have been--at least in that moment of bewilderment, which for all I know may have been a transient episode--so lonely and so at the mercy of strangers. I'm sorry I couldn't do better by her, that there was something real and insurmountable between us, a wall I could not breach. But I am not a Boy Scout or a sailor; my training doesn't not extend to fevered souls.

I'm glad the cops showed up; I hope my annoyance didn't show.

Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at

Print Headline: The Discovery by the river


Sponsor Content