A World that Once Was

November 4, 2019

Last month I travelled to a meeting at Winthrop Rockefeller’s former ranch atop Petit Jean Mountain in rural Arkansas accompanied by my wife and sister. Little did I realize that we were going back in time and for all the good reasons!

As we drove along the country road on a plateau high above the Arkansas plains, barely another car in sight, we passed a farm store with a hand-painted sign “Jams, Cheese and Honey”. We parked the car and went inside. “Anybody here” I called but there was no reply. The store had a nice selection of cheeses, jams, postcards, framed pictures and other stuff. Then to my surprise, I saw something right out of a kinder, gentler time: a large tin on the counter labelled “Money Can”. Out of curiosity I lifted the top of the tin and inside were some dollar notes. I could not believe what I was seeing. We added up the price of the goods we were buying, wrote down our name and the items on the yellow pad by the Can, deposited our money, and left.

I had just experienced an idyllic world more likely to be found in old worn leather books than real life. It was a weekday and Wall Street was on its roller coaster ride once again, fortunes trading hands. Meanwhile I was experiencing a wonderful and charming side of our country.

As we drove down the mountain through small towns of hardly more than 20 houses and a gas station, we mused on this almost magical and innocent part of America. I was shaken back to the modern world when I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw flashing blue lights. My mind instantly went back to an unpleasant experience in New Jersey a year ago when I felt I was “shaken down” by an overzealous police officer. Resisting the temptation to make a break for it, I pulled over and rolled down the window.

Two policemen circled the car. One officer asked for my driver’s license and insurance. He wanted to know if I was aware that I was driving 61 in a 45-mph area. The idyllic world of 15 minutes earlier was rapidly vanishing. I was not sure how my British accent was going to translate. He went back to his car and returned a minute or two later. He handed back the documents asking whether “these two ladies were a distraction”. With a smile on his face, and in a thick Arkansas drawl, he went on to tell me his family came from England and suggested that I drive a little slower on the country roads and watch the towns coming up where the speed limits drop.

Grateful and relieved I took in a deep breath of that sweet country air. I was a million miles from the daily TV commentaries, political headlines, Silicon Valley, M&A, trade wars with China, Fed policy…and even Brexit.

Nick Hoffman