By Rhes Low
If you’ve ever had the privilege of driving I-30 passing through Arkansas into Texas, you’ve encountered the wild and wooly tourist trap that is the “Texarkana” border.
Within the actual town of Texarkana lies State Line Boulevard, which marks 11 miles of the state line between Texarkana, Texas and Texarkana, Ark. A tale of two cities. At one time or another there is a strong likelihood many an inebriated teenager has escaped the law by racing toward that road, crossing into their state of escape and standing beer held high, open barrel mouth taunting the fuming yet forlorn police officers standing helpless in the wrong jurisdiction having once again failed to catch the unruly brood before they crossed the state line into safety. Though the aforementioned tale is a leftover teenage fantasy and likely not the best representation of this; state lines are a beautiful reflection of the American dream. They represent freedom, movement, a new life.
On a slight strip of land, sandwiched betwixt “Ole River” and the Gulf of Mexico, is a state line establishment that reflects how we as a nation can come together under one roof and exist with honor, decency and a lot of revelry. The decency part may be a bit of stretch but they do have a church service under the tent portion of the iconic facility with a banner stating, “it’s okay to not be okay.” So, maybe there’s hope?
Throughout the years, this place has been celebrated and unraveled by keyboard and pen stalwarts much greater than me. Standing on the shoulders of giants, I’ll humbly attempt this word exploration of The Flora-Bama Lounge and Package Store. Of course, It’s better known to you and me as simply The Flora-Bama.
The lounge and package store are a distant memory of a bygone era. Now it is a sprawling megaplex of wood, sand, bushwhackers, and canvas located just off the Gulf of Mexico smack dab between the Florida-Alabama line.
It is many different things to a wide sociological array of patrons whom, per our modern sensitivities, should not be under the same roof. I mean. we live in a time where a difference of opinion means we must be enemies and we have to verbally beat each other down until one of us submits or sheds tears of blood. So what is the deal with the Flora- Bama?
How can bikers and frat boys stand shoulder to shoulder raising a glass to a wandering country tune? Is it a normal sight to see a 70-year-old out of work charter boat captain pouring out his cares and woes to a conservative aging socialite from Mobile? The world of the Flora-Bama is out of whack… and that’s just what the world needs.
There is one weekly event, I’ve recently discovered via my sister, that takes FB (not Facebook) to a whole other level of social anomalies.
Bingo at the Flora-Bama is a glorious revival of the spirit which makes sense as it is held underneath the same tent as weekend concerts and Sunday church. Every weekday from 1 to 4 p.m. you are likely to find a table or seat amongst the obsessed regulars, the visiting families with energetic children and the white-haired “snow birds” just in from the northern cold. The game is free so there is only one card per person, per game. This keeps everyone on an even playing field, as no one can increase their odds by purchasing multiple cards.
Then again, the “even playing field” comes crashing down when you realize, if new to the venue, you can barely understand the bingo-caller. His accent is a blend of British, Irish, Cajun and Southern Alabama. I’m guessing it is a brilliant purposeful affectation meant to add an element of listening skill to a game based entirely on luck.
As the bushwhackers and virgin daiquiris flow from the always-present libation stations, one must be very wary of the pace of the game as to not miss an “owa ninety-whanna.” It may be just what is needed to win the $25.00 gift card to the Shrimp Basket, a t-shirt sporting the back bay elfinesque face of the Bayou British Bingo caller or any one of the $2500 in daily prizes.
This is the caller’s show, by the way, and it is managed with an artfully spontaneous dumb-witted exactness that keeps the show on the go. The performance rolls from plucking an excited child from the audience to judge the accuracy of the winner’s card to corny, dirty jokes that lead parents to quickly shove bingo daubers into their kid’s ears.
My wife and I took three of the four kiddos, ages three, ten and eleven (we left the 1-year-old at the condo with the grandparents) and we all had a magnificent time.
I highly recommend this adventure to all shapes and sizes. It’s free and it occurs during a magical time called happy hour. Between a couple of virgin drinks and some not so virgin drinks, we only spent $21.25 for three hours of great fun. The wife and I left the Flora–Bama with our wallets still bulging and our kid’s heads filled with exceptionally graphic bathroom art- one of which featured a wide mouth frog. That is a warning, by the way. The silly off-color jokes typically fly over the kid’s heads but the visual bathroom art will assuredly last a lifetime. Apparently, the upstairs bathroom has the stall art gallery — so, stick to the downstairs bathrooms and your kid’s minds will be saved from the unseemly… well, until they turn on the internet.
Rhes Low lives in Oxford with his wife and kids.