Bay's Travel Blog

I don't travel much any more. Resist!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Leaving Pigeon Forge

All righty, time has flown and I have no idea where it went. If anyone finds time cowering under a rock, would you send it my way? I need more of it.

Anyway, when last I stopped writing, I had fallen asleep (relatively easily, thanks to lemon vodka) in the Vacation Lodge on the last night of our long weekend in Sevigeonburgville.

It occurs to me that I have not explained "Sevigeonburgville." See, it used to be you could go to the Smokies and see three separate towns named Sevierville (hometown of Dolly Parton), Pigeon Forge (home of the Pigeon Forge Pottery), and Gatlinburg (home of... nothing). A really, really long time ago, someone decided the answer to poverty in the Smokies was to turn it into a tourist destination. Gatlinburg started the mess, building a whole gob of wedding chapels and adding fake Alpine-style gingerbread to the corners of buildings, adding a "ski resort" (snort), and opening several fudge-making emporiums.

When Gatlinburg started getting visitors, Pigeon Forge decided this whole tourism thing sounded like a grand idea, so they picked up where Gatlinburg left off and went for the glitzier, more glamourous and potentially lucrative theme than "Alpine in the Smokies". Yep. Pigeon Forge really wanted to get the go-karts and kiddie rides tourist market. Silver Dollar City was built in the 1970's, I think, adding a "theme park" to the mix. It was all ultra-cheezy. Then the owners of the Silver Dollar City theme parks hired Dolly Parton to be the figurehead of the Pigeon Forge themepark, and a whole new mecca of cheezy attractions was born.

I remember with fondness the way my mother spoke of Pigeon Forge in the 1950's, when she and my father were still newlyweds and would go to the Pigeon Forge Pottery to look at the pottery that they couldn't afford, and then would walk the banks of the Little Pigeon River, searching for arrowheads. Daddy found a lot of arrowheads up there. Knowing what we know today about archeology, he should have left them there, but he didn't. I have them in a little box in my lockbox. They're cool. I bet you couldn't find an arrowhead in the Little Pigeon River now if your life depended on it.

After Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge established themselves as cheezy tourist hells complete with more plastic, lit-up signage per capita than any other town north of Panama City Beach, the hotel and outlet-mall building craze spilt over into Sevierville. Sevierville has no discernible tourist destinations other than outlet malls. One of them has a large scrapbook store. I'm not actually fond of that scrapbook store, but that's because I'm spoiled by the splendid one in Knoxville -- Scrapbooks & More. Even though they use the adjective "super" in their name, the scrapbook store in Sevierville is not really super. They're kind of mediocre. But I don't think "Scrapbook MediocreStore" would work as well as "Scrapbook SuperStore" works in terms of getting customers in the doors.

So after Gatlinburg built all those wedding chapels and Alpine-inspired fudge shoppes, after Pigeon Forge built a replica mill and a whole bunch of go-kart tracks, and after Sevierville built motels and outlet malls galore, they melded together in a seamless megalopolis that they all refuse to acknowledge as a megalopolis. However, we, the Loftis clan, know a megalopolis when it bites us upon the derriere. Ergo, we have merged the names of three towns into what they are now: Sevigeonburgville.

And I gaze upon the fudge, and I know that the fudge is good.

Listen, if you want to know what the Smoky Mountains are *really* supposed to be like, go to Cades Cove. I wish they would implement an electric trolley for tours through the Cades Cove loop -- the gasoline engines of hundreds of thousands of tourists per year are wrecking the delicate eco-system of the Smoky Mountains. But if you can, go to Cades Cove and see what heaven looks like. I cannot begin to describe the beauty. I don't know how the government ever coaxed the original (sort of original) inhabitants of that valley out of their homes. It is the most gorgeous piece of earth. And, oh, I wish I lived there. I would gladly give up electricity for the chance. It's just glorious.

Anyway, I was snoozing away in the lovely Vacation Lodge that happy Sunday night, and I was warm enough, and if Wesley was disturbed by my snoring and if he thwacked me to make me stop, I was so tired that I didn't even notice it.

As a result, when I awoke Monday morning, I felt refreshed and ready to pack. Hooo, boy! Packing and going home!!! My favorite activity!!!! I was anxious to see how the birds and cat had fared in our absence, and I was nearly desperate to play with my paper and ink pads!

Wesley made coffee in the little coffee maker, and we drank it while throwing things merrily into suitcases or laundry bags. Even the kids helped with our cleaning projects! After several trips to the car, and several repeat-sweeps of the room to make sure we got everything, absolutely *everything* that belonged to us, we were on our way to the office for our official checking out!!!!!

[Note: Even with repeated checks and re-checks to ensure we got everything, I left a Rubbermaid box of Oreos in the cabinet under the sink in the kitchenette. Dang it!!!]

We had several restaurant-type establishments from which to choose for breakfast, but instead of going to a locally-owned and operated place (which we usually do when we're in Sevigeonburgville), we opted for... Cracker Barrel. Why? Because I was craving some hashbrown casserole, that's why!

We were seated immediately, because it was mid-morning on a Monday in the mid-season. And because it was finally May, the specials all included strawberries in the titles. It took me and Woodrow about three seconds to decided we needed the big, special strawberry breakfast collection. I knew that we could probably share one and still be stuffed, but Woodrow is 12 and everything that implies. He dug in his heels and *insisted* that he should get his own breakfast. This particular special included 4 pancakes smothered in strawberries and whipped cream, 2 eggs, a breakfast meat, a side dish, and biscuits. OMG. Anyone in possession of their brain could tell you that this was going to be a huge meal. Still, Woodrow wouldn't share, so I got my own strawberry special along with Woodrow's strawberry special. I honestly cannot remember what Wesley and Emily got; whatever it was, it was perched on the corner of the table because my and Woodrow's breakfasts took up 89% of the table top's surface.

The coffee was predictable. The pancakes were scrumptious. (I managed to eat two.) The eggs were adequate; the sausage links were yummy, and the hashbrown casserole was manna from heaven. I could *live* on hashbrown casserole. It's a heart attack on a plate, and it is worth dying for.

Stuffed, we waddled out to the parking lot, climbed into our loaded car, and finally headed home. It had been a cold but lovely weekend, and as usual, our birds and cat were all fine when we finally returned to them. Even the Amazon parrot didn't bite me when I finally got back! I think he's mellowing out. I wish I could learn that trick!!!!

A summary of Sevigeonburgville thoughts in my next post, and then I can start writing about our upcoming next trips!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pigeon Forge (Sevigeonburgville), Part IV

It's a good thing it was a short trip, or I would have forgotten everything by now. But it was a short trip, and not a lot happened. So I remember the interesting things *vividly*. And wowzers, was Sunday night a trip! This is the nailbiting part of the trip report. If you are easily frightened, or if you have a particular affinity for ducks and ducklings, be prepared to avert your eyes. I'm just warnin'. Is all.

So, when I last stopped ranting and raving about freezing my butt off in Dollywood on that frigid Sunday morning, I was snuggling into my bed while my children were leaping into their swimsuits and heading out for the pool. The pool at the lovely Vacation Lodge is heated. But the air remained not heated. When I awoke, Woodrow was still in the pool; Emily was shopping for souvenirs (and spending too much money), and Wesley was lounging in a chair next to the pool.

Yea, verily, and I looked upon the pool, and I saw that the pool was good. I wish I had thought to take pictures from the balcony.

Without benefit of caffeine to help my brain awaken from the much-needed nap, I lost an hour or so while staring blankly at the television. The television was located over the fireplace, which I had set on "Hellishly Hot." (I'm not saying it was toasty, but I think I saw demons dancing around in the back of the fireplace. I'm just sayin'. Is all.) I shivered there next to the fireplace and tried not to watch CNN. That chick in Georgia had just been found in New Mexico, and everyone was ranting and raving and stomping around about how inconsiderate it was of her to take off days before her wedding. I didn't mind the ranting and raving. I'm kind of *partial* to ranting and raving. But they kept showing the SAME TWO PICTURES of the chick, and her face was eerily frozen in the same smile in both pictures. I keep thinking if I ever meet her, she's going to have that same frozen, wide-eyed smile. How does she *talk* with her face set in stone like that?

Just FYI; I'm originally from Georgia; we don't all look like that. Most of us have a whole *array* of different facial expressions. Also, I don't know anyone who bolted from her wedding and set off a massive manhunt for the missing bride. It was just *that chick*.

Anyway, Wesley came inside first, and he decided to get a nap now that I wasn't snoring. Then Emily came home with too many souvenirs and not enough change, whereupon I lowered the boom and confiscated the one souvenir she wanted the most. She'll get it back when her room is clean. And it's two weeks later, and that stuffed wolf is still hidden. Miss Em, if you're reading this, get offline and CLEAN YOUR ROOM.

Then Woodrow dashed in from the pool, shivering and shaking water in all directions. I cranked up the fireplace from "Hellishly Hot" to "Smelt Copper."

After Woodrow was dressed and bundled up in front of the roaring fireplace, watching some sort of Japanese anime cartoon, my cell phone rang. It was my sister Yamy!!!! Wesley groaned and rolled over, so I grabbed my jacket and went outside to talk to my sister. We had a marvelous conversation, at the end of which I said, "Wow! We need to leave for dinner! Wesley's still asleep? Weird."

I got off the cell phone and shook Wesley awake, telling him we needed to leave if we were going to meet Mike and Lisa for dinner. We were going to meet at the Alamo Steakhouse. We went there last year and had a *fabulous* meal in an empty restaurant. It was by far the best meal of last year's picnic experience, even better than Bennett's Barbecue, and we were all eager to experience it again. Wesley got up and seemed a little groggy, but I was busy telling the kids to put on clean shirts and find real shoes and things like that. By the time we got *in* the car, I started to wonder if perhaps Wesley's blood sugar was a little low.

Ahhhhhhhhhh, life with a guy with diabetes is *so* exciting.

As Wesley pulled out onto the first road, I asked, "Sweetie, is your blood sugar a little low?"

"No," he said, and he sounded so reasonable that I foolishly *believed* him.

We were supposed to turn right after that -- going by the backroads again, dontcha know -- and Wesley barely swung around onto the street. Then he proceeded to drive very sensibly, stopping at every stop sign and not once scaring me until we reached the road that would have taken us directly to the Alamo. As Wesley drove straight through the intersection, Emily yelped, "Daddy! That's our turn!"

And Wesley said, in the most implacable, calm, unflappable voice, "Yep."

And he drove straight on.

My emotional state very rapidly changed from "sorta sanguine" to "genuinely alarmed." When Wesley has low blood sugar, you just don't know how he's going to react. He isn't reasonable. I was quickly trying to weigh my options. Thank heaven he wasn't driving 70 mph on an interstate -- but even 25 mph on a winding little road is scary enough when the guy behind the wheel isn't in control of his faculties.

AND THEN!!! I looked ahead on the road, and way off in the distance -- I'm farsighted, y'know -- I saw some smudges waddling out into the road. DUCKS!!!!!! There were five ducks innocently trying to cross the street without any idea that a madman without enough sugar in his bloodstream was steadily driving their way!!!!!!!

I opened my mouth to say something calm, like, "Hey, here's a driveway, why don't you pull over here," but I was cut off by both of my children in the backseat, who had suddenly spied the ducks and started screaming at the tops of their lungs:


Oh, yeah, *they* really know how to make a bad situation worse. Well, they're kids. I think that's why children were invented in the first place. It makes life more interesting.

All that screaming in the backseat seemed to make Wesley feel as if he needed to prove them wrong. He gets contrary like that sometimes. While Emily's screams died down to whimpers of, "Duck... duck... baby duck.... daddy's gonna ... kill... the baby duckies," and Woodrow's shrieks became so piercing that dogs began howling in the distance, Wesley continued his slow, unswerving, abiding trek toward those innocent, unseeing, unaware, pedestrian ducks in the middle of the road.

I did the only thing I could do. I intoned in my most authoritative, deep, impressive, I-am-not-scared-of-you voice, "Wesley! Stop the car this instant! I insist you stop the car right now!"

Scant inches from the oblivious, unhurried ducks' heads -- they were literally so close that I could not see them in front of the hood of the Camry -- the car came to a smooth halt, whereupon I reached over, put the car in park, pulled the brake up, and pulled the keys out of the ignition.

Then I jumped out, walked around to the driver's door -- shooing ducks on my way -- and ordered Wesley to get out and go sit in the passenger seat. He followed all my orders without comment. When he was safely in the car, I turned on the vehicle and turned it around. Yep. Right there in the middle of the road. As I've mentioned, it was a back road, and it was Sunday evening, so there was no traffic the whole time those ducks waddled slowly toward a parking lot near the red-roof outlet mall.

Whipping back around, I hollered at Emily to call the last number used on the cell phone and tell Mike we were late and Wesley had low blood sugar. She *very* nicely did just that. As I drove past the front door of the Alamo, I rolled down a window and hollered at Mike and Lisa, "DO YOU HAVE ANY CANDY????"

Why am I so poorly prepared in situations like this? You would think I would've learned by now.

I parked the car, and as we all entered the restaurant, a hostess greeted us, whereupon I snapped, "My husband has low blood sugar and I need some candy or a Coke or orange juice or SOMETHING RIGHT NOW!!!!!" She handed over three after-dinner mints. They were the good ones, too. Chocolate, wafer thin, with the thinnest layer of minty creamy filling.... Mmmmmmmmm.... Wesley wolfed them down like they were no better than Pixie Sticks. Harumph!

While Wesley was waiting for his brain to return to his control, we were seated in the non-smoking section and began perusing the menu.

To be *totally* honest, if I described the meal in detail, you would be bored stiff. I don't have nice things to say about it. I don't have *terrible* things to say about it. The service was adequate, but the food was... eh. Ordinary. Compared with the sublime meal we'd had last year, it was a terrible disappointment. Besides, Emily didn't feel completely well. I ended up leaving early to take Em back to the hotel so she could lie down, and going back later. I got no dessert. They make good desserts at the Alamo. But I didn't get any. Harumph, harumph.

Between worrying about the traumatized ducks, Wesley's blood sugar, whether Emily was going to faint from illness, and whether Woodrow was going to yell about the ducks again, I really couldn't enjoy the whole thing. Even Wesley said later that it wasn't as nice as last year, though, so it wasn't just me. The Alamo's standards are slipping. Not highly recommended. We'll try a different place next year, I suppose.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the grocery store and got some Advil for Emily, and then headed back to the room. The rest of the evening is completely dull. I was finally warm, but we did keep the fireplace going -- just, cuz, y'know, it was our last night and all.

I ate a raspberry jelly Krispy Kreme for dessert, and I am sorry to confess that I have lost my touch with jelly doughnuts. I dribbled quite a lot of bright pink jelly all over my shirt and jeans. I'm glad I didn't have to go out after that -- I'm sure the cops would have thought I had murdered someone. I fixed a lemon vodka and Sprite cocktail (the insomniac's best friend), and by 1:00 in the morning, I was snoring away happily... only to be thwacked a good bit and told to stop snoring. *Sigh*.

Monday -- packing! Leaving! Breakfast!!!! And home again, home again, jiggety jig!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Hello! We interrupt this regularly scheduled Travel Blog, already in progress, to bring you breaking news! The next time I travel, it'll be in this brand new, gas-conserving Toyota Prius!!!!!!!!!! I just bought it last night. Isn't it the cutest thing??? I need some Flower Power magnets for it, don't I? Eeeeeeeeeee!!!!!! Cute car! Save gas! Good for the environment!!!! I have to go hug a tree now. We now return you to the Travel Blog. :D Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

See? It can't really be compared to the swings, yet it is. Emily and Wesley had successfully survived the nearly-hour-long line and were finally ready to ride the thing. I forget the name, but you can't miss this ride at Dollywood. It's near the ferris wheel. Posted by Hello

Dollywood/Pigeon Forge, Part... I forget

Sunday, May 1st....

OK, it's a week later. Yeah, I've had a rough week. Don't ask. Also don't ask me how much I've cried today over having an incompatible stupid computer that doesn't want to communicate with professional graphic designers' computers. Those people are whole 'nother race unto themselves. And their computers are, too.

Anyway, it was cold and not raining at Dollywood. Wesley and Emily stood in line for almost an hour to ride a thing that was like the good old fashioned swings ride, but bigger. You know the swings, right? The Swing-a-ma-jig? You get in one of several little swings that dangle from a giant umbrella-shaped top, and the whole thing goes around and then the main beam telescopes up, and it tilts mildly from side to side, slinging you around high in the air in nothing but a swing. I used to really dig the swings before I developed my healthy respect for heights. There's a new ride at Dollywood (for once, *not* a Disney rip-off), but it goes much higher than the old swings ride. So there are shoulder harnesses to keep you from falling from a height of 60 feet or so. I wouldn't get in that thing if you paid me. I'm a huge weenie for heights.

After Wesley and Emily rode that thing, we all went to the picnic pavilion and for the "picnic" portion of the day. Wesley had been informed -- no doubt by a company representative who was trying to brainwash the employees into happiness with the picnic locale -- that the menu was supposed to be improved. I'm not big on brainwashing. I know what it is, and I know how to avoid it. I am a world-class Skeptic. I let my tastebuds do the thinking, thankyouverymuch.

The food is *much* worse. It gets worse and worse every year. It's getting to the point that I would almost prefer to go back to public school and eat in a cafeteria. At least in the last couple of years, they served the yummy fried potatoes. A person could live on those, for heaven's sake. This year the yummy fried potatoes were replaced by horrible, mayonnaise-laden, mushy potato salad. I love a good potato salad. This was not one. The meal was rounded out by lukewarm, bland burgers; lukewarm, bland hot dogs; lukewarm, bland "barbecue ribs" (snort!!!!); baked beans; and potato chips. Do you see a green vegetable in that menu? No? Hmmmmm. I thought maybe it was just me. I would have knocked over little old ladies for a salad.

We sat with Mike and Lisa, Lisa's dad, and their nephew. At least the company was good. And I was very surprised to discover that Mike and Lisa were the couple wearing the dragon shirts we had bolted past when we were running for the park entrance around 10:30 that morning. Lisa and Emily discussed dragon shirts a bit. I have to admit -- Lisa makes them look good. She looked *cool* in hers. I almost get it now. Not quite -- but almost. I'll be a cool mom someday if I work really hard at it and hang out with Lisa more often.

About fifteen minutes into the "meal" (snort again), a woman stood up and gave out "door prizes." Wesley has won a door prize every year except one. It's a big joke for us, but it's true -- Wesley always wins a door prize. It's usually gift certificates that we can use in the park. I like those because then you can buy a cheezy souvenir and not feel like you've wasted actual money, so that makes the kids happy and easy to get along with. They also give out *one* ticket (at a time) to Dollywood or the sister waterpark (Splash Country? something like that). ONE ticket is utterly useless. Who would pay the admission price for anyone else in the family? They should give away at least a *pair* of tickets. The year that Wesley won a ticket to the waterpark, we gave it to a guy who also won ONE ticket. At least *he* might have gotten to use them.

All this grousing is just a preamble to say -- Wesley didn't win a door prize this year. Bummer. At least my kids are old enough not to beg for cheezy souvenirs any more!!!!

Dessert was peach cobbler with non-Mayfield's ice cream. The cobbler was mostly crust. The ice cream was not Mayfield's. The only people who are as addicted to a regional ice cream brand as Tennesseans are to Mayfield's are Texans who love something called Blue Bonnet. If I were running a company picnic in Texas, I would serve Blue Bonnet. I would not force them to eat Mayfield's. And in Tennessee, one should eat Mayfield's ice cream. Period.

OK, so, kids, let's recap:
A. Bay didn't get enough sleep last night.
2. Bay's hair is STILL WET.
III. It's FREEZING in Dollywood.
d. Lunch was horrible.
v. It is Sunday. In Dollywood.

Can you guess what the next step is? Yes. This is the part where we leave the nice, warm picnic pavilion and re-join the throngs and throngs of people in the park. And while I thought it was fairly crowded earlier in the morning (remember, Wesley and Emily stood in line for one ride for NEARLY AN HOUR), at least eleventy-hunnert people had *joined* the throngs of people in the park while I was not eating the icky lunch.

I turned to Wesley immediately and said, "Let's leave. Let's leave right now. Let's go back to the hotel, get a nap, let the kids freeze in the swimming pool, and let's come back around 5:00. The park's open 'til 7:00. We can do it. Let's leave right now."

And my darling husband, who, if we were in Disney World would have said, "Oooh, yeah, that's a great idea!" instead said, "There's no way. No way! We can't leave now!"

We checked the lines at the bumper cars -- long. The lines at ALL the rides were now long. Woodrow wanted to go back to see the eagles. The eagles were up the hill near the Crafter's Holler stuff (and the steel drummers). There's a nice little loop rollercoaster up there called the Tennessee Twister. I love that coaster. Last year I rode it twice in a row without getting off because I got there early in the morning before the crowds had gathered. It's a sweet little ride. But by the time we got up the hill, the line for the Tennessee Tornado was about an hour long.

Ya know what? As I get older, I find I have slightly less patience about standing in lines. I didn't want to ride the Twister if I had to stand in line.

I grumped down the hill to find Wesley and Woodrow looking at eagles. We tried to think of something else to do. No, that's not true. I'm making myself sound better than I actually was. Truth is, I was in a full-blown snit over the whole thing. The park was PACKED with humanity, and it was *still* so cold that my nose was actually *hurting* from how cold it had gotten. My toes were numb inside my sneakers. I was just freezing, all the lines were long, nothing was going to get any better, and I was hungry *and* tired.

Thank heaven, Wesley and Emily and Woodrow finally realized that it was *not* going to get any better, and we all left the park.

Whew. Just in the nick of time.

We got our hands stamped before we left for good -- because I was convinced we still might come back at 5:00. All I needed was a nap and a decent snack, and I would've been good to go. Besides, I hadn't ridden the Thunderhead Gap. That's a *sweet* wooden roller coaster that they debuted last year. Y'all -- I'm not kidding -- I love the Thunderhead Gap. It's an *excellent* coaster, and I'm still shocked to the core of my being that it's in Dollywood. If you get a chance to ride it -- as long as the line isn't an hour long -- it's definitely worth the trip. *Highly* recommended.

So despite the fact that I hadn't ridden a single ride -- not ONE -- I left Dollywood. My hair was still damp, and I made Wesley turn on the heat in the car until my teeth stopped chattering.

Back at the lovely Vacation Lodge hotel, we were surprised and disappointed to discover that housekeeping hadn't made it to our room, even though it was just after 3:00 in the afternoon. We called housekeeping and asked for fresh towels, and that was all we got for the day. I was way too tired and grouchy to put off my nap for another minute. As Woodrow and Emily changed into their swimsuits and prepared to hit the pool, I cranked up the fireplace, crawled between the snuggly blankets of my bed, and promptly fell asleep.

Finally -- *finally* -- finally I started having a good time. I was warm. I love sleep. And no one fussed at me when I snored!!!!

OK, this post is long enough. I'll do the evening portion later!!!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The blur in the green car and white shirt is Woodrow. This was the first year he was tall enough to drive his own bumper car!!!!! He spent more time here than anywhere esle in the whole park! Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Can't really write

I have tried twice -- this makes three times -- to tell you about my evening. I can't. I saw Rachael Yamagata tonight. She was the opening act for some guy named Ryan Adams. I didn't like Ryan Adams, but I loved Rachael Yamagata. I cried all of my make-up off during the first song. When she finished and they were setting up for the other dude, we went back to the stage door --

Well, really, I went outside to smoke a cigarette during the intermission, and Wesley went to take the camera to the car. (I didn't take illegal pics, but I had promised the security guard that I would put the camera in the car at the first chance. I had brought it just because I *hoped* to meet Rachael.) You would have to understand how old the Tennessee Theater is, and the fact that it touches on three streets of a city block. I was standing at the front door, smashed in a crowd of clueless people (half my age) who kept staring at me because I was still swiping tears off my cheeks and smoking. Wesley went out the front door and down a side street, and on his way back from the parking garage, he saw Rachael standing next to a tour bus and talking to a pair of fans. He asked her if she would be there for a few minutes, and ran to the front just as I was coming around the corner to look for him.

I met her and cried all over her. She hugged me and said that people like me are why she keeps writing. She signed my CD, "Bay, My soul sister! Stay beautiful, Rachael" -- I cried some more. We got a picture. I'm sure it's completely crappy. I look like hell even when I'm at my most pristine. By the time I talked to Rachael, I had been crying for almost an hour. I'm surprised she didn't run away shrieking from the scary bag lady with the mascara streaked all over her face.

Anyway, mere words cannot possibly convey what a lovely experience it was, and I keep crying just remembering it. The girl is a poet. And she's a beautiful old soul.

Ryan Adams was a complete waste of time for me. I like one song, but otherwise... I don't know; perhaps I am too old. I had to keep my fingers in my ears because of the volume. The theatre was full of young people slinging beer in all directions and dancing badly to the loud music. Wesley liked him, but I kept leaving to stand in the lobby and talk to a security guard. I mean, it was more peaceful than the Ryan Adams segment of the evening.

But I would listen to him for four more hours if it meant hearing four of Rachael's songs.


And she didn't even play my most favorite songs. She said she would play them the next time she's in Knoxville. And nuttily enough, I *believe* her.

I'll post the photo if it isn't too wretched.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sevigeonburgbille, Part II

Sunday, May 1st -- Morning

When last we saw our erstwhile heroine, she was staring at the ceiling in the lovely Vacation Lodge motel, located in beautiful downtown Pigeon Forge, anticipating a day of fun and frivolity at the lovely Dollywood "theme" park. Join us now for the second installment, which we like to call: Hell Freezes Over. OK, that was a little snotty of me. Still. I'm a fairly snotty person sometimes. Especially when it comes to freezing my tush off at a company picnic. I'm tired of it. I'm too old to freeze this much.

Anyway, back to the point. I eventually went to sleep, so of course Wesley spent the rest of the night thwacking me about the head and shoulders trying to get me to quit snoring. I know, I know -- delicate Southern flowers such as my glorious self aren't supposed to confess that they snore. But I do. Oh, yes, I do. So does Wesley. The difference is that I sleep like the dead, whereas Wesley is a very light sleeper. So while I snooze happily through both his and my own sonorous noises, Wesley wakes up and thinks that I'm the only one making all that racket, and then he expends tremendous amounts of energy trying vainly to make me stop.

At home, y'know, he wears ear plugs to bed. He forgot the ear plugs for Sevigeonburgville. :::sigh:::

So I didn't get much sleep because not only didn't I go to sleep at 10:00 (geez), when I finally *did* go to sleep, Wesley woke me up and told me to stop snoring. Insert vicious cycle here. Go to sleep. Snore. Get thwacked and reprimanded. Roll over. Go to sleep. Repeat. Ad infinitum.

Finally, the cruel people let me wake up. Wesley had gotten up, taken a shower, and had gone to Krispy Kreme for coffee and doughnuts. He brought two humongous boxes of doughnuts, too. And he got me some real half & half for my coffee!!!! He's a keeper, even if he thwacks me a lot when I'm trying to sleep.

For those of you who are still new to Krispy Kremes, I'm sure you'll be shocked and disgusted to learn that I actually prefer cake doughnuts to original Krispy Kremes. I grew up with Krispy Kremes. They're too sweet for my taste. So I was delighted -- no, *ecstatic* to discover that Wesley had wrangled some plain cake doughnuts just for me!!! He also brought a dozen classics, three raspberry jellies, three lemon jellies, and three chocolate-frosteds. I spent about an hour drinking my coffee, nibbling a cake doughnut, and trying to protect the two remaining cake doughnuts from my kids, who have inherited my preferences in doughnuts, much to Wesley's dismay.

As a result of my laziness, the morning got totally away from me. I still had to shower and put on makeup, not to mention getting dressed and ready for the day, and that's when I discovered The Great Tragedy of The Picnic of '05: We didn't bring a hair dryer with us.

I have thick hair. I have LONG, thick hair. I have masses and masses of long, thick hair that takes hours to dry by air. Heck, even with a hair dryer, it still takes forever to get it dry.

Tick, tock, tick, tock, the clock taunted me. The park was opening at 10:00. Anyone with half a brain can tell you that in order to make the most of your day at a theme park, you need to get there an hour before the posted opening time. I'm not a morning person, but even I recognize the value of this advice. Most theme parks will open a half hour *before* their posted opening time. You have to get there a half hour before then to get a decent parking spot and a good place in line at the gates. Last year -- even in the freezing rain -- we were there an hour before opening and were the second family in line, which meant I got a lot of thrill rides under my belt before anyone else had even traipsed into the park, for cryin' out loud!

There was nothing I could do about it this year, though. My hair was wet and the morning was frigid. The Weather Channel was predicting a high of 64 degrees. OMG. Disaster. I finally just pulled myself together and pushed the kids out the door so we could get started on our day, even though my hair was still wet and I was going to freeze even if the temp climbed to 78 degrees.

We got to Dollywood about 10:15. Maybe a little later. So of course, we were parked 'way out in section C. We had to wait for a *tram*. Geeeeeeeeeeeeez. This is not going well. It didn't improve.

While standing in line for a tram to the park, I thought, "Maybe it will warm up enough... maybe it will.... maybe I won't freeze!" While I stood there in the sun, I really thought I was going to catch a break.

I was wrong.

After riding the tram to the park and running to the front gate (past throngs of people getting their tickets), we passed a couple wearing dragon shirts that Emily pointed out to me, because the woman's shirt was just like the one that I wouldn't let Emily wear that day. See, I'm deluded. I'm always thinking I'm going to get one decent photo of the whole family at the comp'ny picnic. So as of last year, I make everyone wear a white shirt. That way, we cannot possibly clash with the garish backdrop of the park *or* each other. I also always yell at Wesley to take off his [expletives deleted] sunglasses. He *always* wears sunglasses or eyeglasses, and you can never see his eyes in pictures. I'm a freakin' scrapbook artist, and I can't get ONE decent picture of my own husband because of his [many foul expletives deleted] sunglasses!!!!!!

So I was wearing an old white polo shirt of Wesley's, Wesley was wearing a new white polo shirt (with a stripe across the chest), Woodrow was wearing a white polo shirt, and Emily was wearing a white shirt that she had found in the Young Men's department at Kohl's. It was white with grey and black dragon embroidery. Someday I'm going to understand the whole dragon thing. Right now, it sorta eludes me.

Once inside the park, we made our way to the Country Fair section. This has always been our first stop. It has changed *immensely* over the last year, though -- they tore out the log flume and have replaced it with a bunch of new Disney-rip-offs. There's the "Flying Elephant" ride. Hmmmmmmm.... can you say "Dumbo"? I can. I can also say "Mad Tea Cups." There's the Lemon Twist ride for that one. And the beat goes on.

Woodrow wanted to ride the Tennessee Twister, which was the old Tilt-A-Whirl ride. However, it bit the dust along with the log flume in favor of some new kiddie rides. Woodrow was *incredibly* disappointed. So was I. I loved the Tilt-A-Whirl. Yeah, it's lame and easy. It's still fun, and the line was always short.

By this time, I was freezing. So I found a bench in direct sunlight, and the Loftis clan dispersed to ride various things. Woodrow and Emily headed first to the bumper cars. I have fond memories of the bumper cars at Six Flags Over Georgia when I was 9 and 10, so I tried to get some pictures.

Now, the rest of the morning is something of a blur. I was just cold. I spent my time trying to find patches of sunlight that were protected from the frigid zephyr that was blowing through the park. If the breeze died down, it might have gotten as warm as 65 degrees. I can't swear to that, though, because my brain had frostbite. We headed up to Crafter's Holler, or whatever it's called. It isn't a holler. It's a hill. As we passed a theatre-type area, I noticed that the Caribbean steel drummers were supposed to start a show in five minutes, so I opted to stop there and watch.

[Note: See, Dollywood is ripping off the World Showcase from WDW, and they have the International something-or-other Festival in April & May now. It's not anywhere near as cool as the World Showcase. Go to Epcot if you want to see how a theme park can do international stuff. But I was really cold and my brain wasn't working properly, and I kept thinking that I was going to experience something remotely international in flavor.]

Mistake. The theatre was covered. I bet it's lovely in June and July when the park is warm. On May 1st, with still-wet hair, it was FREEZING. The Jamaican steel drummers were bundled up in parkas. OK, I am exaggerating. But they were wearing longjohns under their colorful Caribbean-style garments and jackets over that.

The steel drum show was a HUGE disappointment. I'm sure the musicians are sublimely talented. Unfortunately, instead of playing lots of glorious calypso music, they played American standards on the steel drums. I had absolutely NO interest in hearing "Route 66" on the steel drums. If I want to hear "Route 66," I'll go to a big band concert and hear it played properly by aging white American musicians. From hip Caribbean musicans, I have higher expectations. My horizons weren't the least bit broadened by the show. AND I froze the whole time. I'm surprised anyone could hear "Route 66" over the chattering of my teeth. Geeeeeeeeeeeez.

Are you catching a theme here? The rest of the day goes pretty much like this. Bay freezes. The rest of the Loftis clan can't decide what to do because Bay isn't making decisions for everyone. Bay freezes some more. At some point I broke the ice out of my hair and stood with my family for a digital portrait, and the little photo-takin' dude tried to get us to hold out our hands in little cups so they could digitally place butterflies on our hands. NO. I wouldn't do it.

Lunch was scheduled for 1:00, and I was looking forward to it, because I could see the lunch pavilion was now a covered building, which I assumed would have heat. I was right. Also, Wesley had said that he'd heard the food was improved this year. Unfortunately, he was wrong.

Next installment: Lunch!!!! Afternoon frivolity!!!! NAPTIME!!!!! And dinner!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Pigeon Forge (Sevigeonburgville)

My apologies for the delayed blog. Usually I can get a connection *somewhere*, but Pigeon Forge continues to deny that the rest of the world is actually progressing. In other words, I had no way to update my blog. Ack! Disaster! Catatastrophe! Oh, well, here's my report.

Saturday, April 30 - Monday, May 2

Every year, Wesley's employer holds the comp'ny picnic in Dollywood. They've been doing this -- they say -- for 17 years. I think it's been longer than that. I think it's been forever. I'm actually kind of tired of company picnics at Dollywood. That's just me, though.

We used to just drive up there on Sunday morning and drive home that night, but as Wesley and I have gotten older and more curmudgeonly, we don't want to make that drive twice in one day. So we started spending a couple of nights in Pigeon Forge. We've stayed in a few different places, trying to find the exact, perfect place to stay. After much trial and error -- and after staying in a few places that should have been condemned -- we finally found it: The Vacation Lodge. It's older. It's not a glitzy highrise. It's cheap. And we love it. We get the suite with two queen beds, a sleeper sofa, a kitchenette, fireplace, and jacuzzi. We've been in the same room for three years now, and I love knowing what to expect. It's like home, only nicer and cleaner. The family who owns and runs the Vacation Lodge is meticulous about maintenance and the place is spotless.

The one problem is that Wesley's employer, in an effort to keep the picnic cheap, has re-scheduled it to the beginning of May. May is an iffy month in Tennessee. Our weather tends to be unpredictable. Of the last four picnics, only one has had decent weather. Otherwise, I have frozen my tush off. And I'm sick to death of freezing my tush off!!!!!!! Last year we froze in the rain; this year, we froze in the sunshine. My children are so braindamaged that they *still* went swimming in the heated pool at the Vacation Lodge and then rushed back to the suite to shiver in front of the roaring fire in the fireplace. If only the employer would change the picnic to the end of May, or hey, the beginning of June would be grand. But do they? Oh, no. They're sadists.

So -- on with the trip report.

Saturday, April 30th
I didn't want to go. I just didn't. My littlest cockatiel Guido had only been home from the vet hospital for a week, and I didn't want to leave him in someone else's care. Also, I was having serious issues getting packed for the trip. We don't own enough clothing. We don't own enough suitcases for said clothing. I don't own enough pairs of shoes. I only brought *three*, for crying out loud!!!! There's just something wrong with that.

But when Wesley got up (he had worked night shift Friday night), we still managed to pack what we could into the car, and we left by 3:30.

Our first stop was Kohl's in Farragut. I bought some more clothes for everyone except me. I bought myself a summer purse. I know you're shocked -- I'm shocked, too. I showed amazing restraint!!!! Truth is, I don't like modern clothing. Oh, the colors are pretty. But women's shirts are too short for my taste. I want something that covers my hips. I tend to "borrow" a lot of shirts from Wesley for this purpose, so I was looking in the men's department for some shirts for me. Then I discovered that it's hard to find something made of cotton. What *is* it with all this polyester and nylon???? I want natural fibers!!!! So I bought shirts for Wesley, and borrowed one of his *old* shirts for myself on the day of the picnic.

When we made it to Pigeon Forge, the traffic was -- as usual -- completely horrid. They have been steadily widening the roads there for years, and still the traffic is horrible. No wonder the Smokies are filled with ozone. All those fossil fuels belching their fumes into the air. Don't drive through Pigeon Forge with your window rolled down -- you'll choke on the fumes.

Check-in at the Vacation Lodge was quick and easy, and we drove over to our end of the building and unloaded our stuff. The kids were very helpful.

Wesley called Mike and Lisa to tell them to meet us at Bennett's at ... Oh, I forget the time. 7:00 or 7:30. We got there a smidgeon late because we took the backroads and forgot which road to turn on. Hey, we only make this drive once a year!!!! It's easy to forget!!!!!!

We *always* eat at least one meal at Bennett's Barbecue because we love it there. The barbecue is not sweet. I don't like sweet barbecue. I like it tangy and flavorful. East Tennessee is the land of sweet barbecue. I am the only person I know who doesn't like Buddy's Bar-B-Q. That stuff is rank. Bluh. But we love Bennett's and I always get way more than I can eat.

This was the first time we'd ever invited anyone else to come along with us. Mike and Lisa are considerably younger than Wesley and I -- in fact, they're closer in age to Emily than they are to us. Lisa is a sweetheart. Mike is going to be a cynic when he grows up. We like them a lot. They were very nice and patient with my wild children. We had to wait about twenty minutes before we could get a table -- that's how crowded Pigeon Forge was on Saturday night. I've never had to wait for a table there before, but then, I've never dined with a party of six before.

As usual, the food was sublime. I ate more than I should have and still brought a big box of leftovers back to the Vacation Lodge with me.

During the course of dinner, I told the story of the day my '66 Valiant ran out of brake fluid when I was coasting down my mother's very steep driveway and I nearly drove into the old county jail. Woodrow found this story absolutely *fabulous* and repeatedly asked me to re-tell it. I'll write it down for him so he can re-read it as often as he likes. Wesley is not as fond of that story as Woodrow is.

Lisa and Mike discussed dragon shirts with Emily, and we all managed not to talk about work too much. One of the great hazards of company picnics is the fact that all these people all work together and have a tendency to want to discuss work at social events. Ugh. No, please, no talking about work!!!!

Back at the Vacation Lodge, everyone started falling asleep.... except me. I'm the original insomniac. I flipped through the channels until I came across Saturday Night Live (a re-run) and I flipped between that and a West Wing re-run until SNL was over. Then I went to bed and stared at the ceiling. Note to self: Next time, I need to bring my own pillow. The one at the motel is half a size too thin. And two pillows together were too much. Very interesting ceiling? Not so much.

Next installment: Sunday! The picnic! Wretched freezing weather! Big crowds at Dollywood!!!!! And maybe a picture will be good enough to post!!!!