This story was submitted as a nomination to the Reader's Digest "Top 50 Nicest Places in America" contest: a crowd-sourced effort to uncover nooks where people are still kind and respectful in an era of cultural and political divides. Be sure and vote for which story you think should be nominated as the Nicest Place by visiting the Reader's Digest website.
Photo by David Orr via Reader's Digest
In most places, a dividing line acts to separate people – but in this border town, the line brings folks together.
Texarkana is one city that happens to straddle two states, so it has plenty of built-in divisions.
As its name suggests, the Texas-Arkansas border runs right through the town of nearly 70,000. And as you might expect in this part of the country, a high-school football rivalry between the Texas High Tigers and Arkansas High Razorbacks goes back more than 100 years. The annual game draws 10,000 fans.
Of course, few disputes can't be solved by breaking bread, and that's exactly what the town does with another of their annual traditions: the Dine on the Line dinner.
Tables are set up down the middle of State Line Avenue (the state border runs right down the double-yellow traffic lines) and more than 1,000 people come to eat, talk, and have the unique experience of passing the salt across state lines. Diners are invited to sit on either side of the table, and mayors from both towns make a speech.
"You want to focus on working together as one community," says Bob Bruggeman, mayor of the Texas side. "We don't talk about ourselves as Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas; we market ourselves as 'two cities, one community.'"
Sounds good when a politician says it, but goals aren't always aligned. A recent water-system dispute (the cities share the system but have different laws governing it) divided leaders in town, according to Les Minor, editor of the Texarkana Gazette. Eventually, differences were settled, and then it was time to make up—over a handshake on State Line Avenue.
These days, the city is coming closer together all the time. Bruggeman, who graduated from Texas High in 1980, recalls the days when the week of the big game would mean pranks all across town.
"That's really toned down over the years," he says. After all, locals want to live up to the longtime city motto, written in huge letters on a water tower right by I-30: "Twice as Nice."