Monday, January 19, 2004

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Good morning! Yes, I have return-ed. I have been in the Great Smoky Mountains area for the last three days, staying in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The occasion was that my daughter, who has an interest in musical theatre and performing arts, wanted to audition at the Dollywood theme park down there. So, like good parents should, we all packed up and took her down.

When I was a kid, my parents and I would take Summer vacations in Gatlinburg (another tourist trap, I mean mecca, in the Smokies) practically every year, sometimes even going back in the Fall. So I quite naturally developed a sentimental attachment to the area and all the motels and attractions. Side note: comics and books I remember buying in Gatlinburg: X-Men 94 (1975), Brave & the Bold 60 (second appearance of the Teen Titans!), and one of the "Days of Future Past" issues of the Byrne/Claremont X-Men, along with a ton of Doc Savage, Avenger/Justice Inc., and Dr. Who paperback books. But the last time I was able to visit the Smokies was 1983, with my in-laws to attend a toy distributors trade show (my pater-in-law was owner of a museum-type attraction back then). After that, after noticing how so many of the old places that I liked as a kid were gone and replaced by malls, McDonald's and the like, so I said "I don't want to go back, I've had enough of this mess". And until this weekend I was as good as my word. Thing is, about ten years after that prophetic utterance I began to kinda want to go back, maybe stay in a cabin in the mountains or chalet or something, and not necesarily spend all my time on the strips in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge...but by then I was in my sadly-still-ongoing wage-slave-with-mortgage-and-family situation and just couldn't see my way clear to it. For 20 years. Then, my daughter decided to give Dollywood a shot, and we decided to go whether we could afford it or not.

We left at 6 PM central, fully expecting to roll in to our hotel sometime
after midnight, but made great time and got there a little after 10:30 CST. After we checked in, we thought we'd better make sure how to get to where we needed to be the next day, so we headed out and found Dollywood (not too difficult- Dolly and her Wood are God in Pigeon Forge) and where the auditions were being held. Then I decided that I wanted to see Gatlinburg again after all this time and we headed straight over. So much had changed, but in an odd way some things were still the same. The streets were configured the same way and some old motels and attractions were still there, and I was all over the road pointing to Theresa and Abby "Look! That's where Hays House used to be! I think ... was there or ...was over there!" I became tiresome quickly, I'm sure. Anyway we were hungry by this time so we went to the packed Denny's in PF and had a quick late supper/very early breakfast. We were waited on by a fellow that reminded me a lot of the homeless cabaret singer in The Fisher King, and we also saw two Elvis impersonators! We then went back to the room and retired for the evening, all of us being too keyed up to sleep much. The audition the next morning was held in a big auditorium in Dollywood, and at least 200 performers showed up for it. Singers, dancers, bluegrass groups, the whole gamut. Even a clown, who came in full clownish regalia...guess he got hired, he was the only one! Anyway, they gave each performer a number and called them onstage in groups of 25 to do their thing. Abby was in the second group (even though her number was 51), and her actual performance went very well. She sang two songs, and she said later that she saw a couple of judges saying favorable things as she performed...the whole thing seemed to go well. So now she waits for a call, and we shall see what we shall see.

We got to wander around in parts of Dollywood, which is basically a replica of an old-fashioned Western town. It seemed to be pretty nice, if you're into Old West/Old South type theme parks. Of course, still on my nostalgia kick, I was walking around trying to see if I could recognize anything from its previous incarnations as Silver Dollar City and Goldrush Junction. Sigh.

By then, my wife's sister and some of her friends had decided to drive down as well, and had rented a cabin in the mountains outside Pigeon Forge. We went up there afterwards and hung out for a while, went back out to look around and shop a little, came back to the cabin (really steep Blazer protested a bit), hung out some more and had supper, then went back to our room, because the cabin, while very nice, was too small to sleep seven people comfortably. Then the rain set in. And it rained all that night and all day the next day, when we tried to go wander around Gatlinburg before we left. It was a sodden, wretched, miserable day, and of course I failed to bring an umbrella, cap or jacket with a hood, so after buying some candy from the Smoky Mountain Candy Kitchen, something Theresa had her heart set on since she was dieting the last time we were there and had to pass, we took some pictures and headed for home.

And that's the story of our weekend adventure. Thanks for reading. More stuff later.

Oh, by the way, appropriately enough today is Dolly Parton's 58th birthday. BSBdG's to ya Dolly, and give my baby girl a job, willya?