Every once in awhile I have criticized the Razorback submarine that the mayor of North Little Rock brought to his city. I wrote that there were many more important things that the city needed. And I have never seen or written a good word about the Imax theater that the town’s aviation big-shots built close to the Little Rock airport. I thought it ought to be in downtown Little Rock. After all, no one boarding or leaving a plane is going to have the time to see a movie.
Well, I’ve sort of changed my mind.
For the first time in 16 years I have had a 4-year-old boy in my house whom we wanted to entertain. His name is Benjamin McCord, our grandson who lives in Austin, Texas.
Anyway, after a week of taking walks, watching videos and playing with toys, his grandmother and I had to start looking for other things he could see and enjoy. Naturally, we took him to watch the Travelers play in War Memorial Park, but he wasn’t too excited about that because his mother and father take him to ball games all the time in Round Rock, Texas (besides that’s triple-A, not double-A ball). And anyway, the game got into extra innings — and the Travelers lost.
Ben likes trucks and always points out the big ones when we are driving. My wife’s nephew who lives near Pinnacle Mountain is an independent driver who takes his huge rig all over the country. Luckily, he was in town for a few days rest so we took Ben out to see his truck, and he got to crawl all over it, much to his delight.
Ben also likes trains. So I called a friend who works for the Union Pacific to see if I could drive Ben into the huge, 24-hour-a-day hump yard in North Little Rock and let him go up in the tower and watch freight trains be assembled. But my friend informed me that since 9-11 the government hasn’t allowed visitors to go into these yards because of fear of terrorists.
So I took Ben to the Little Rock Zoo one afternoon. He liked that for a while, but it was so hot that day that the animals were asleep under trees and bushes. So we didn’t get to see very many, and he really didn’t like the snakes in the cages inside the buildings. I didn’t either. One of them was 15 feet long.
The next day my wife mentioned the submarine in North Little Rock, which is open to visitors Saturday and Sunday on the bank of the Arkansas River. She thought Ben would like it, and besides that, she also wanted to see it. I tried to talk her out of it since it was such a hot day, but we went.
The USS Razorback was built for our World War II Navy in 1944 and did its duty chasing and attacking enemy ships. In 1970 it was sold to the Turkish Navy, and in March 2004 North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays bought it largely because its name was USS Razorback. Of course, the submarine was named for an ocean creature rather than the University of Arkansas football team, but what did that matter to a UA alumnus like the mayor?
Every group gets a deck hand to take them through the 311-foot submarine to explain what you see and to tell the sub’s history. Our deck hand was Brian Thomas, a 20-year-old college student, and I was glad to have him when I saw that we had to climb straight down into the sub on a 12-foot ladder and climb straight up on a 14-foot one to get out. Brian put his arms around Ben and helped him do his ladder work. Walking through the different compartments was most interesting, and Ben was fascinated.
The next morning I accidentally saw the Imax’s much-too-tiny ad in the daily paper, saying that it was not only presenting movies but also films and lectures in the “EpiSphere” (a planetarium). So on Ben’s last day with us, we found ourselves leaning back in our seats looking up at a film made by the astronauts during their space explorations. This was followed by an uncomplicated and beautiful film of all the planets. Then we were treated to an interesting showing and explanation of the stars we would see that night in Little Rock, a talk made by Pam Shireman, the director of the EpiSphere. Ben listened and never took his eyes off the planetarium.
I think almost any kid would like to walk through a boat that could take him to the bottom of the sea and then the next day see all the stars and planets high in the sky. Ben really liked it. And so did his grandparents.