In the Lobby of Good and Evil

When we started our journey from Buffalo, New York to California, we had a vague outline of places we would see. My husband and I generally don’t like making hotel reservations in advance when we travel. It comes down to the principle of personal freedom. Just as we prefer to have our own car and not depend on modes of transportation that reinforce collectivism, like flying, we prefer to have the freedom to stop our travels for the day when it suits us in the moment.

Although we had no idea what hotels we would be encountering on our way to California, we knew that somewhere in Arkansas would be a good stopping point. That stop turned out to be the city of Hot Springs. When we arrived, we encountered an unusually cool day. We decided to stay at the Arlington Hotel, famous for having many prominent guests throughout its long history.

Although it originally opened in 1875, the current iteration of the hotel dates from 1924. We didn’t know much about its history, but as soon as we entered, there was a fascinating presence of the past no visitor could possibly shake. Our room was on the fourth floor, which turns out to be the floor that was occupied by Al Capone during his many visits to Hot Springs. 

But it wasn’t just Capone who stayed in the Arlington Hotel. Other organized crime bosses, including Bugsy Siegel and Carlos Marcello, frequented both the city and the hotel. According to Larry Henry, “long before Las Vegas became the underworld’s casino playground, Hot Springs, Arkansas, was home away from home for the most notorious names in U.S. organized crime.” 

It was easy to imagine all those players walking around the grand hotel lobby and the underlit corridors and hallways. Much of this atmosphere is still preserved, and not in any affected way. The physicality of the hotel’s space is not presented as some hokey tourist trap, where we get to “experience” the “bad old times” of Al Capone or Bonnie and Clyde. Rather, there is an air of authenticity in these rooms and these hallways. Because most of the hotel is unchanged (thankfully!), its space is a strange brew of past and present.

It was Easter Sunday when we arrived and everything was mostly closed. It was almost 7 p.m. and I rushed to the lobby and the bar to see if they were still serving food. The bartender—a woman in her 30s perhaps—informed me the kitchen would be closing soon. In fact, I had about 15 minutes left to order and even that was uncertain. 

“I have to talk to the kitchen staff,” the bartender said. 

“Thank you, I really appreciate this,” I said.

“Hopefully they won’t yell at me for ordering food so late,” she joked. 

She was relaxed as most bartenders tend to be. She wore a suit and a fedora, and moved fast between putting in my food order and serving drinks to the patrons. 

“Can I have a piña colada,” a woman in a Harley-Davidson t-shirt said. She had the gravelly voice of a smoker, and was quite pleasant. 

“We don’t serve those,” said the bartender, as she pointed to the varieties of whiskey, scotch, and bourbon. This was definitely not a resort in Cancun but a place of American intensity and unapologetic grit. 

“Isn’t this hotel amazing?” I said to the woman next to me.

“Oh yeah, it’s great! This is our tenth time here,” she said with enthusiasm. 

“We’re just passing through, on our way to California,” I said. 

“That’s a long way you’re traveling, but it’s best to be in your own car. Who the hell wants to fly right now? It’s all bullshit,” she said. 

I heartily agreed. My food arrived pretty quickly and as I was getting ready to get back to our room, I passed by a man in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He wore jeans and a t-shirt that loudly proclaimed “Let’s Go Brandon!” The man moved with confidence and ease. 

“Love your t-shirt,” I said.

He smiled. “We’ve had enough of this,” the man said with a determined expression that clearly showed how seriously he took this bizarre Biden regime and what it is doing to the country. 

I would hope that most Americans have had enough of this by now, but that may be a tad optimistic on my part. Some have given up their free will in order to follow this strange form of leftism into the abyss. Why have Americans accepted mediocrity as their mode of being? Why choose self-hatred? Are there really psychological payoffs for those who let themselves be devoured by the beast of collectivism? 

Arlington Hotel is a space where past and present are in a perpetual encounter. Yet the town itself is also a symbol of that encounter. Almost next door to this high-end hotel and restaurant, there sits a dilapidated motel still operating and it even had vacancies. “Low rates and deals especially for senior citizens!” It really brought out the “God’s waiting room” motif. (Strangely enough, very much near the cheap motel sits a boyhood home of former president Bill Clinton, and it appeared to be for sale . . .).

Abandoned gas stations sit there too, like old Christmas ornaments that are barely hanging on to the tree branches. The gas pumps certainly looked like they were from the 1950s or early 1960s, as well as the adjacent building. In a low and grumbling voice, my husband started to impersonate David Lynch’s character, The Woodsman, by reciting the lines,“This is the water/And this is the well/Drink full and descend.” I laughed but I couldn’t deny the similarity between the run down gas station and Lynch’s dark vision of the world in “Twin Peaks: the Return.”

Hot Springs, Arkansas is definitely not “Anytown, USA.” As human beings, we may desire a clean break from the past because it can make us uneasy. But avoiding it only complicates our already complicated souls. It’s best to live side by side with it, and accept the uneasiness that is inevitably part of us. As we were leaving the city limits, a spray painted sign read, “If I am wrong about God, I wasted my life. If you’re wrong, you wasted eternity.” 

About Emina Melonic

Emina Melonic is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Originally from Bosnia, a survivor of the Bosnian war and its aftermath of refugee camps, she immigrated to the United States in 1996 and became an American citizen in 2003. She has a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Her writings have appeared in National Review, The Imaginative Conservative, New English Review, The New Criterion, Law and Liberty, The University Bookman, Claremont Review of Books, The American Mind, and Splice Today. She lives near Buffalo, N.Y.

Photo: A photograph of Al Capone with his associates in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (Photo by Nick Otto / AFP via Getty Images)

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