The Tyree family has just returned from a much-needed vacation in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area.
The experience was simultaneously relaxing and dizzying. Some industries are inordinately represented in the retail mix, so we could never remember if our landmark was a pancake house beside a wedding chapel beside a miniature golf course or a pancake house inside a wedding chapel across from a miniature golf course or...
Even the local businessmen sometimes get confused, which has led to some interesting civil rights lawsuits about the definition of marriage. ("Do you take this little windmill to be your lawful wedded...")
18 years ago Melissa and I went the traditional hometown church wedding route, but I can understand the appeal of running off and getting married on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Happy couples get to escape the routine, admire the mountain vistas, and tool around in a honeymoon car marked "Just Mauled."
Tradition and heritage are really important to the local populace. They want to honor their forefathers and foremothers -- but most importantly, Aunt Jemimah! I'm afraid the pancake restaurants have set themselves up for trouble. Any day now the Federal Reserve will declare the industry "too buttery to fail" and bulldoze a mile of motels to make room for the new "flapjack czar's" office.
Gideon, of course, was fascinated by the Dinosaur Walk Museum in Pigeon Forge. It was educational, but controversial. The museum forces you into one of three camps: (a) those who believe the dinosaurs reigned for millions of years, (b) those who believe the dinosaurs existed only from the time of Adam and Eve until the Flood, and (c) those who believe the dinosaurs frolicked until a comet destroyed their source of pancakes.
The mountain communities still have their share of kitschy mom-and-pop businesses and remnants of the old hillbilly theme, but they've done a lot to shed their "tourist trap" image. I think this came about when they developed the tourist "catch and release" program.
We got to walk in a winter wonderland thanks to The Incredible Christmas Place. You can find year-round yuletide carols, decorations, toys, etc. The kiddies can even visit Santa Claus. Unfortunately I didn't get to ask Santa about the legend that Dolly Parton got greedy one year and hung something other than her stockings by the chimney with care.
Against her better judgment, Melissa accompanied me and Gideon to the Ripley's Motion Theater. This rough-and-tumble attraction represents your tax dollars at work, since it's part of the "Chiropractor Full Employment Stimulus Act." Don't worry about signing anything on the back of your driver's license; going on the ride is de facto evidence of wanting to be an organ donor. ("Please exit to the right, as that is the direction your pancreas was last seen traveling...")
Everyone told us to visit Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, and it was a worthwhile trip. I just wish the Obama administration had as much "transparency" as the marine exhibits. ("At one o'clock we'll have the feeding frenzy of lobbyists...")
We enjoyed our vacation, but we have no pretensions of being cool, cutting-edge folks. Gatlinburg is crafted to appeal to nostalgic down-to-earth types. Remember: what happens in Gatlinburg stays in...your repertoire of corny stories that leave the listeners glancing at their watches and wishing a black bear would come along and eat them.
Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.