Fly Hunt: Fayetteville to Mansfield

I was prepared to fall in love again with Arkansas as I drove south along hwy 71. I drove from New Orleans to Fayetteville years ago, and found that I loved the Ozarks. Also, I found Fayetteville to be a lovely town full of hippies and jam bands.

This trip was something else. Here was my first hint that I ain’t in college-town nomore. Yep, squirrel puppies. Do you think they’re breeders? Did they forget to spay their squirrel bitch?

Then, I drove past a revival tent. And, it wasn’t like a “Come to the REVIVAL this Saturday night!!” You know, the kind that draws people from 6 counties like a State Fair, so the five year old can stare wide-eyed at her grandma getting tapped on the head and falling, convulsing to the ground, to the soundtrack of a ridiculously talented gospel choir, while at a nearby table Josie sells her wood-carved squirrel puppy nativity scene, next to the enthusiastic purveyor of fossils that somehow prove that the age of the Earth is less that 10,000 years old. No, not like that. It was more like a used car lot. “Come on down to the tent, folks, every Thursday, we got ‘yer best deals on salvation right here. Holy Ghost early bird special from 6-7pm, but you’ll want to stick around for the miraculous miracle hour beginning at 9pm. Our head to toe salvation package comes with a first through tenth commandment, six-day warranty.” Thank goodness it was not a Thursday, or I would have been SO tempted to stick around. As it was I was hungry, and I stopped at this little restaurant called “Grandpa’s catfish” or something like that. Maybe it was “Jack’s” Anyway, I figured that I needed to eat some local catfish, and grandpa’s recipe was probably great. It was a quaint little converted house. What I really loved about the experience was when I ordered the catfish dinner and the waitress (probably Jack’s great-granddaughter) asked me if I wanted “salad or service with that.” I said, what’s “service?” She said, “pinto beans, cole slaw, hush puppies, dressing (tartar sauce,) and green chiles.” Are you kidding me? Who wants SALAD??? Maybe I should have asked her what “salad” was. Anyway, the catfish was overcooked and flavorless and the cornmeal coating was kinda chewy. The service was awesome. There are very few restaurants to which I would return solely based on the service, but this is one for sure!

OK, so I was feeling like the Arkansans were sorta strange, very religious, and somewhat charming, but then I saw this. I had a very strong, very negative reaction to this sign. Click on it and look at it up close. I found it to be vile and disturbing and asinine and somehow insulting. I felt insulted for Jesus. It made me want to leave Arkansas immediately. I spent a lot of time wondering, who ARE these people? Who, after waking up from his Budweiser-induced hangover, still thought that his idea was good enough to make into a giant (10ftX10ft) roadside sign? Who approved it? Who was the artist? Maybe I just don’t get it. I wondered if it would have been funny if it were educated yet stoned Berkeley hippies making up cheesy slogans about the Buddha. I don’t know. I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to get to Texas, the land of the erudite Coors Light drinkers!

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I rarely laugh out loud while sitting at my computer, but I couldn’t completely contain myself while reading this one.

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Fly Hunt: Athens to Fayetteville

I’m learning that I need to post stuff right away or I’ll lose interest in posting it all together. I’m doing this just for the sake of completeness at this time. I think it’s kinda like research in that it’s really cool and fun while you’re doing it and it’s fun immediately after when you’re analyzing the data, but when you’re finished and it’s time to write it up, it’s boring.

Anyway, Daniel had given me a couple of Roadfood books, so I was looking to hit at least one recommended restaurant along the way. I ended up at Edna’s in Chatsworth, Georgia. I had a great meal of fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cornbread for $5.37! Yum!

Growing up in the southeast, I figured that any day now, the Kudzu was going to completely take over the highways, but I was surprised at how little of it I saw in the Carolinas. I did see a lot in Georgia, though.

Western Tennessee is beautiful. I felt like I was driving through a Grateful Dead song.

I spent the night in Lawrenceburg, TN. I dissected flies until 4am, then hit the road again at 8am. The drive to Fayetteville was uneventful, but pretty. I was in a hurry to get to Bill Etges’ house at a reasonable hour. I arrived at around 7pm. He’d already put several traps out in his back yard, which was a forest, so we chatted over a beer. It’s funny the things you end up talking about. In addition to learning some really cool stuff about cactus-feeding drosophila, I got some good gossip about other biologists! Bill is a super-nice guy, as is his wife. I really enjoyed spending time with them. The next morning, we caught a ton of flies at the traps and took them back to the lab to sort them. This is how it’s supposed to work! By 11am, I was on the road again.

Fly Hunt: Chapel Hill to Athens


It was really rewarding to find the mushroom-feeding drosophila actually feeding on mushrooms! I felt a sense of discovery that I didn’t feel so much when collecting at the baits. After looking at these flies under the scope, I realized that (not surprisingly) there were a bunch of flies that I’d not seen before. They all looked the same at first glance, but after staring at them for hours, I realized that I probably had 3 different species. Corbin wasn’t too familiar with these (and he was super-busy!) so I did my best to key them out, but after about 5 hours, I gave up. I was supposed to be on the road to Athens by noon, and it was after 3pm when I decided to just keep a voucher specimen for each of the groups I’d made and dissect the rest. My plan is to use PCR to amplify some marker gene in the fly gut tissue to confirm which species of fly the gut came from anyway. So, hopefully that works out.

Anyway, the point of all that is that I didn’t get on the road to Athens (6 hours away) until about 6pm on Thursday! My next host, Daniel Promislow was kind enough to let me show up at his house late (2am!) Since we should have been putting out traps while I was on the road, I just decided to be a day behind schedule. So, on Friday, Daniel and I picked up some over-ripe fruit at the Food Bank, put out some traps at the botanical gardens, and then went to meet his friend for a drink at the local wine bar. That was fun. We each got the same flight of reds and did that thing that oenophiles do, with the “I smell…” and “it tastes like…” and “the finish is…” and “do you get?…” Later, we went to a bar/club called the Melting Pot where they were showing a Charlie Chaplin film with a live band doing the score. More fun! Then, we stuck around for the Dromedary Quartet until about midnight. I loved this group! I was totally exhausted after getting about 4 hours of sleep the night before and 2 hours of sleep the night before that, but I kept thinking, “OK, one more song, then we’ll go.” But, I stayed for the whole show!

I should interject here, that the morning after I arrived in Athens, I went out to my car to get my purse and realized that it was not there. I last remember having my purse when I left the bar, Tyler’s Taproom, – fun place, by the way! – on my last night in Durham but I thought that I’d left it in my car, and I’d been assuming all day that it was somewhere in my car. But, it wasn’t. Fortunately, my cell phone, my ATM card, my digital camera, and $200 in cash were all in my pockets! The cable that connects my camera to my computer was in my purse, though, so I won’t be posting any more pictures until I get a new one. Probably tomorrow…

ANYWAY, Daniel and I set out to collect early Saturday morning – first we went to Roots Farm where we found a decent number/variety of flies. Then, we went back to the botanical gardens to collect our traps. Then, we went back to the lab where Daniel helped me sort the flies. By this time, I was out of vials of sterile, colored food, so Daniel gave me vials and “agar” and everything else I needed to make new vials. We sorted the flies into empty vials so that later, once my sterile food vials had solidified, I could transfer them. Then, I hit the road.