Diana McDaniel Hampo
Rocky's Corner to Touchdown Jesus.........................Man,I love driving up Central
Updated: Feb 22
Everyday after work, I drive north on Central Avenue and often times I fall in love with Hot Springs all over again.
But it's not for the typical reasons.
I love driving by businesses like Stubby's because I know my friend Chris Dunkel is in there. I absolutly love his bbq chicken, but I love Chris even more. Seems like I've know him forever and he's such a great dude. Back in the 90's, I started the Springs Magazine. Chris was one of my first clients. Stubby's
was on Park Avenue then. Chris was really young and handsome, maybe 24, and my daughter Mary was 4 or 5 years old. She had such a huge. heartbreaking crush on Chris. Mary drew him pictures and gave him art projects with lots of glitter. And he was always so kind. Chris is the same kind of man now.
I drive past and think, "Chris is in there, that's a good thing."
Then I pass Rocky's Corner. Holy hell, all kinds of memories wash over me like a tidal wave, but my favorite is knowing Gina Diorio is behind the bar. This beautiful, big mouthed woman is amazing, just like the Rocky's pizza and her mom's Italian salad dressing. Raukus, fun, opinoated and so loving, Gina is a classic and so is Rocky's., You never know who you'll meet there, bookies, horse trainers, buisness owners, politicians and celebrities.
Rocky's hasn't changed a bit in 40 years. and I suspect Gina hasn't changed in 30. She will say everything that runs through her mind, no filter, and the waitresses at Rocky's will call you "honey."
I worked at Rocky's, for Gina's dad, Joey ,back in the 90s when I was hopelessly broke and singl, with two kids. The Rocky's family took such good care
of me, even though, I suspect , I was a terrible waitress. (I wasn't allowed to ever wait on Virgina Clinton Kelly when she came in with her famous crew of women on race days.)
I love knowing I could drop in and Gina would be there behind the bar, being sweet and loud and wonderful.
When I get to the Central and Grand intersection, I'm blessed. My dad, I. Granger McDaniel, designed the education building of First United Methodist Church along with the fantastic mural of Jesus. Dad has been dead since I was 16, but sometimes, when I drive by the mural of Jesus, I feel like Dad is possibly looking out for me.
Back in the early 60s dad hired mosaic artists from Mexico to create the Jesus you see today, looking so gentle and knowing, with his arms partially raised. A young architectual historian told me a few years ago, some folks call Him Touchdown Jesus because He looks like He's abut to throw his hands up over his head, like a football referee. I can't argue.
When I think about these people and places, and so many others, my drive home is magical. The years pass, things change, but the extraordinary people who built the spirt of Hot Springs are still right here.