Thursday, August 11, 2005

NC Trip Part I - Vegas for Flanderses

So perhaps a full explanation of the NC trip is in order. My friend Casey is currently in the process of travelling from Dallas, Texas to Hanover, New Hampshire to start the MBA program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University. Along the way, he's stopping to meet/stay with his various extra-Texas friends. One leg of his journey was to take him from Memphis, Tennessee, to La Grange, North Carolina. My family's got a house in Brevard, NC, which is conveniently halfway in between.

I don't get to Brevard nearly as often as I'd like, so I took the excuse to make a trip that way, and show off one of my favorite places. So I took off Wednesday evening, and headed for Little Rock. I took a room at the somewhat overpriced Travellodge near the Little Rock airport. If I get access to a scanner, I will blog further on their toiletries. The following morning I was up pretty early and headed for Memphis. Coordinating via cell-phone, Casey and I met up at the Old Country Store, a kind of Cracker-Barrel-on-steroids in the 'Casey Jones Village' tourist-trap (more of a tourist-bug-zapper) in Jackson, TN. On the way I got a good overflight by an AH-64 Apache, which seemed to be slinging four FFAR pods (gotta let my techno-geek out and play sometimes, right?).

We cruised on through and made Knoxville by dinner time. (I should also interject that a C-130 came in on final passing low over the I-440 loop road in front of us as we passed Nashville. Still a techno-geek.) Pouring over the atlas at a Wendy's, we decided to ditch the interstate and try some more back-roadsie, uhh, roads. So we decided to take 441, which ran over to the base of the Great Smokies, and then pick up 321 up to where I40 heads into the mountains. The drive along the base of the mountains would be nice in the setting sun, was our thinking. Before heading out, Casey pointed to the town where we'd turn north and asked, "Where have I heard of Gatlinberg?" This was a fateful question, and it was only my poor memory that just said, "Well, there's something like a ski resort thingy there called 'Uber-Gatlinberg', maybe that's what you've heard of..." It wasn't.

Gatlinberg, and the adjacent Pigeon Forge, are home to Dollywood, and the Great Valley metastasism of red-state Branson excess. Now most of my gentle readers (all two of you) will know that I am an elitist and a sort-of conflicted countrified red-state liberal snob. But I want you all to know that I felt more strangely horrified-fascinated than when I first floated past the guy who sits next to the Guadeloupe River in a folding chair with a camera and a cooler, leering out at passing females from under a banner reading "Tits - 4 - JelloShots". Even the gramatical anomalies of his sign are as nothing to the spectacle of mile after mile of Alabama-themed theaters, "Kountry Bears Revue" (or sommat like that), mini-golf, bungie jumps, arcades, and family-themed restaurants. Scurrying between them were a strange assortment. The whole family in matching pink mini-skirts were distracting in a 'did I just see that?' sort of way. I'm assuming that it was just an optical illusion that the dad was also wearing one, but I can't say for certain.

Then we got into Gatlinberg proper. This is not a place for the faint-of-heart. A genuine pedestrian district for the red-state crowd. But for a place with one street through town, navigation is a nightmare. Two professional geographers took atleast 20 minutes to find the place where 321 turned north. Needless to say, if anybody from the Highway Department, or in a position of authority in Gatlinberg, a proper highway intersection sign would not go amiss.

Once we finally got out of the Gatlintrap, we made our way on over the hill(s) to Brevard. Driving into town I called Casey to make sure he rolled down his windows to smell the Kentucky Bluegrass. There's no other smell like it.

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