Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dollywood or Bust (part 2)


Breakfast:  Hotel - scrambled eggs
9am meeting with THIGH HIGH JEANS - Kerry and Ann (love them)
Memphis Temple - photos
Lunch:  Gus’s Fried Chicken (Mason, TN) - All of the franchises have their batter made in Mason and transported to the restaurant locations. No one outside the Bonner family name knows what goes into that magic mix, but it’s the batter and the method that makes it great. The chicken isn’t just dipped, but marinated, soaked in that secret mixture before it’s popped in the fryer. Vernon (a.k.a “Gus Bully”) ran the business until his death in 2007, still lovingly commemorated on a well-loved dry erase board with an impromptu down-home message: “Gus, Rest In Peace. We love you. 07-24-07.”

Another breakfast in the hotel lobby and just as delicious.  The day started with a delightful visit with THIGH HIGH JEAN owners Kerry and Ann.  They take donated jeans, add some flare fabric to the legs, and stick a quote on the leg.  I brought my own jeans and told them a little about my life and they take the info and find a quote to fit my personality.  Ali and Sandra bought adorable, ruffled, skirts with quotes that fit them each perfectly, it seemed surreal.  We chatted comfortablely for over an hour, laughter and stories came easily.  Ann latched onto Sandra and is her newest fan.  She insisted we eat lunch at Gus’s Fried Chicken and made a map with directions so we wouldn’t get lost, and she called later to make sure we made it.
            With sadness, we departed the great women and headed out to see the real Memphis temple.  It is a small temple with beautiful pink flowers and magnolia trees.  We took pictures, or course, and headed out on I-70 for a scenic route to Mason, TN for lunch with Gus - the Original Gus. 
            We flew past the tiny house-like restaurant, but made our way back easily since there were only two buildings around. It is the size of Sandra’s living room, paneled with wood and covered in linoleum.  The locals stared us down as we entered and sat at a round table near the kitchen and the white board stating “RIP Gus 2007”.  The menu contained chicken and...chicken.  We ate family style from a cafeteria tray - different chicken parts, wonder bread in a stack, cup of beans, and my new favorite coleslaw.  I saw my first Jerry Springer with our waitress - a man found out he was dating a man, not a 
            Hopped on the I-40 to Nashville with everyone in the world.  Holy traffic batman - a semi-truck thought it was a racecar and made us nervous for miles!  Our first stop was a bizarre   Mindfield Cemetery - Billy Tripp's life story since 1989.  Sandra wrote comments, where appropriate - the notes page - then we continued onward.  We searched for a non-existent  fruit stand, mocked Sandra and continued onto the Nashville Holiday Inn Express on Broadway.  It was nice, but definitely a step down from the Marriott.  We took a few moments to freshen up before heading out to the Blue Bird Café.
            The traffic caused the 13 mile drive to take over 40 minutes (and several heart attacks).  The Blue Bird Café sat unassumingly in a small strip mall on the outskirts of town.  We had a reserved table thanks to Sandra (a week ago).  Our concert by Walt Aldridge and Nate Barnes left us wanting hours more acoustic guitar and stories, the two girls seemed to be fillers.  We ate a delicious dinner as we enjoyed to perfect “ambinance”.  This café is known as many a musician’s kick start to fame, including Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks.  Walt has written many famous songs we knew and sang one about dads that made us all teary.  Nick is an up and comer dad, if he had a CD we would have purchased said CD.
            On our way back to the Holiday, we stopped at the Parthenon at the edge of Vanderbilt University.  It is built like the original, but this one was assembled.  We had another photo shoot, testing the lighting and the darkness.  The bugs swarmed and drove us away. We went back to the hotel and were almost lulled into a quiet night indoors, but finally we all shared one bathroom (for better and for worse) and took the Holiday Inn’s shuttle to the downtown lights.  Which happens to be one strip of bars and souvenir shops.  We were hit upon by older gentlemen and crazy people, because those were the only people around.  We ditched that scene and spent much of our time trying on cowboy boots.  No one purchased any boots (we all regret it to this day). We stopped and bought ice cream where famous people are shown in a wedding-style video playing in the shop.  We walked home after less than an hour on the town, worried we would be scared, but it was very safe...and hot.

Wild traffic into the Holiday Inn Express Nashville - popcorn and cookies in the lobby, quick clean up
Dinner:  Blue Bird Café -  a music club in Nashville, Tennessee that opened in 1982. The club is famous for intimate, acoustic music performed by its composers. Walt Aldridge • Garth Brooks • Brooks&Dunn • Mary Chapin Carpenter • Kenny Chesney • Rita Coolidge • Cowboy Junkies • Billy Dean • Dixie Chicks • Melissa Etheridge • Art Garfunkel • Vince Gill • Patty Griffin • Nanci Griffith • Ty Herndon • Faith Hill • Indigo Girls  • Alan Jackson • Carole King • The Kindleys • Brandon Kinney • Patty Loveless • Kathy Mattea • Brad Paisley • Bonnie Raitt • Rascal Flatts • SheDaisy • Frank Sheen • Blake Shelton • The Sky Donna Summer • Sweethearts of the Rodeo • Taylor Swift • Pam Tillis • Keith Urban • Chris Whitley • Trisha Yearwood
We saw Walt, Rachel, Kathy , and Nick.  The men of the group were more involved, talented and story tellers.  Walt and Nick were comfortable joining in each other’s songs. 


We woke up early to beat the crowds to the Ryman.  We had a delicious hotel breakfast - eggs, cereal, and yogurt.

Two men beat us to the doors, but the doors hadn’t opened yet.  We were the first people in the doors.  Sandra signed up for a personal singing recording with the Ryman.  The acoustics are “second only to the Mormon Tabernacle” as they stated in their informational video.  Sandra was able to record a song with Joshua, where other musical geniuses have recorded. 

The auditorium first opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892. It was built by Thomas Ryman (1843–1904), a riverboat captain and Nashville businessman who owned several saloons.  It was used for Grand Ole Opry broadcasts from 1943 until 1974, when the Opry built a larger venue just outside Nashville. The seating is a reminder of the auditorium's origins as a house of worship, hence giving it the nickname "The Mother Church of Country Music".

We went back to the strip to check out some famous places Sandra knows about.  We stopped at the Gruhn Guitar shop.  We checked out the guitars that cost more than my car and Sandra purchased a guitar strap and we all got some .50$ guitar picks.  Onto the printing press of old school printing - Hatch. 

If you follow music, art, and culture of the American South, sooner or later you're bound to run into the letters, images, and unmistakable "look" of Hatch Show Print. We're one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America, and over the years our posters have featured a host of country music performers, ranging from Country Music Hall of Famers Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, and Johnny Cash to contemporary stars such as Garth Brooks and Wynonna.

We were so hot, it was time for some popsicles!  These were not your everyday popsicles, but special fancy cicles from Los Plantas.  The girls ordered lavender, rose petals, chocolate covered avocado - who knew?!  Then we say goodbye to Nashville.    With no plans for lunch, we decided to go easy and eat at a Tennessee staple, White Castle.  I ordered the sliders, turns out they are grilled in onions.  I made it clear I COULDN’T eat onions.  They were not happy about it and let me know that my burgers would be cooked on a grill made for a lesser grill.  The burgers were okay.  I drank Mellow Yellow that I thought was lemonade, and it made me ridiculously coo-coo the rest of the day.

An unexpected surprise was the treehouse in Crossville, TN.  This is a 6 story minister’s house built among  the trees.  There is a chapel somewhere around the 4th floor.  The builder ways he was told, by Jesus, that He wanted a church in the trees.  We climbed around, carefully, for almost an hour, among several other tourists...children.  Impressive.


Hello Pigeon Forge, Ali welcomes you and everything you stand for.  The drive through town was like a family style Las Vegas; packed streets, big animated buildings, lights, and hotels with fancy water parks.  It was a lot to take in all at once, but we did it with big smiles on our faces.  Sandra maneuvered us through town and finally into the Smoky Mountains. 

We met Rachel at the Dollywood cabin clubhouse.  Ali almost fainted with excitement.  Sandra helped reorganize the plans for the Dollywood tickets and we were on our way to The Beary Special cabin. We wound around the mountain roads until we arrived at our perfect weekend getaway.  We were giddy and excited.  We toured the cabin from top to bottom and loved every inch.  We unpacked the van, but we were starving so we picked pizza and headed out.  Sandra navigated us through the back roads to avoid the main street.  The pizza did not disappoint, HEAVEN!  We came home and spent a relaxing evening in the hot tub.

JUNE 29, 2012 FRIDAY

Ali could barely contain her excitement, for it was Dollywood morning.  We arrived bright and early with our VIP parking pass, feeling oh so VIP.  We were given lanyards to hold our ID; VIPs are offered free ice water any time we asked, and a G-BOT (Q2Q) to hold our place in line at the rides.  We wore our badges like royalty and looked down on the commoners.  With the weather over 100 degrees, we relished our theater breaks and our free ice water (which we later found out is offered to everyone).  Q2Q reminded us of our Dreamland Drive-in time slot.  We searched for food and found random too-hot-for-summer food and did the best we could.  We were led to our reserved seat section - VIPs.

The shows contained talent above and beyond the teenagers we’re used to at our Lagoon shows.  The show kept us glued even to the point that we gasped and some yelled “NO!” when the wrong girl kissed our main character (causing the audience to laugh).  There were no real lines (due to the heat) so we were able to ride all of the rides before noon!  Wild Eagle is the new ride, the only one of its kind with wings of people off of the track.  The other rides were your typical roller coasters:  Barnstormer, Blazing Fury, Daredevil Falls, Mystery Mine, Mountain Sidewinder, Tennessee Tornado, Smoky Mountain River Rampage, and Thunderhead.              Q2Q bleeped again for our next show, luckily we were VIPs because the Gazillion Bubbles Show was packed with families.  This show fascinated the audience and drew us in for an hour mesmerized with bubbles.  The lights and music drove the show forward.  Our favorite part included the 3 small children volunteered to participate.  One little boy kept reaching out and popping the bubble the Bubble master kept putting around them.  She finally made him put his hands in his pockets and then the other girl started to pop the bubbles too.  We laughed til our stomachs cramped and smiles hurt. It snowed bubbles - magical!  It literally snowed gazillions of bubbles.

Because of the lackluster lunch, our wet clothes (my wet clothes needed a belt), and the heat, we ditched out early and headed to The Old Mill for dinner.  The line contained families all bigger than our table of 5.  We melted into the waiting chairs, tired and exhausted, and slept until they called our table.  Perfect dumplings satiated us until our food arrived.  Heaven on Earth.  Fell into bed without much fanfare.


Dollywood take 2.  Because we had such a successful first day, we were able to relax and enjoy meandering the grounds for a short second day.  We hit a few rides between museums and photographs, but mostly tried to cool off in the 105 degrees.  The park bustled with families, much more than Friday’s trip and we weaved our way from the County Fair section to Dolly’s museum.  Yes, we’ve been in Dolly’s attic and tour bus!  Our shows today were outdoor shows and our energy melted every second we sat in the heat.  The first show was moved into the burger joint (wish I’d known about these burgers the day prior) and the fun acappella group singing and dancing.  Next, Dolly’s extended family performed some old favorites to a crowd of old and young.  Dripping in sweat we dredged ourselves into the air-conditioned souvenir shop. Overpriced trinkets call to us and win.

Lunch was across the street from yesterday’s dinner at The Old Mill Square Pottery House Café & Grill.  My salad satisfied my hunger and I would vote that it was my favorite meal.  We strolled by the stores, the candy store with the giant gummy bears and gummy worms drew us in.  We bought taffies of all flavors and fudge.  Mmmm.  It was lounge around time.  YES!

Dinner was leftovers...

We rented a movie from the Redbox - “Love and War’ and fell asleep before it ended.

JUNE 31, 2012 SUNDAY

Church @ 10am.  We took a wonderful drive through the backwoods of Pigeon Forge to church.  The ward was just like any ward in the world, I love it.  The testimonies in Spanish made me happy.  The spirit is the same no matter where you go to a testimony meeting, thank goodness.

Leftovers for lunch, except Ali and I didn’t have leftovers so we pulled over into a Subway (after trying a Chick-Fil-A who is closed on Sunday - I salute you!).  I wanted to take a nap and play games, but we had plans to hike, even though none of us  enjoy hiking.  We drove through the Smoky Mountains after a quick stop at the smelly information center.  The green mountains feel like Utah but look nothing like it.  After several winding one-way roads we found Grotto Falls hiking trail.  Water packed and workout shoes on we started up the trail.  The trail curved to and fro over rocks and tree roots.  Sandra swore at the world in her head refraining her urge to kill things while the rest of us stared at the ground wondering why we are hiking.  The waterfall had the potential to be amazing, had it been earlier in the spring perhaps.  The water quenched our thirst and our bitter feelings and we rested among fellow hikers in far better shape than ourselves.  My diadora indoor soccer shoes gave up the ghost about a fourth of the way down, it made for goofy down hiking.  I guess 18 years is a long time for a pair of shoes.
(View of Dollywood from the cabins)

A cold freezing shower kept calling my name so I complied, to the benefit of everyone in the cabin.  Sandra whipped up a royal dinner and we feasted on bread and pasta, yum!  We were slaphappy silly during dinner and the feeling never went away.  Ali slowly walked her way down the spiral staircase.  Showing her paisley, rubber, cowboy boots first then the pink sweatpants from Dollywood under a denim skirt from ThighHighJeans, and a thick torso covered in souvenir t-shirts.  Amanda and Sandra laughed until tears fell.  The staircase walk was followed up by a striptease of t-shirts until she made it down to the Sun Studios and denim skirt - quite a cute combo.  I took many photos of both Ali and the laughing audience. 

We played a rousing game of Clue, a game of strategy that failed me yet I won on an almost accidental effort.  (steph, in the cabin, with the VIP pass).  It was at this point we realized we had forgotten the mustaches purchased at Lamberts.  Then the night just became more slaphappy than it could possible have gone sans stashes.  We photoshooted around the cabin before talking ourselves into a night on the town of Gatlinburg (Tennessee’s Park City).

We piled into the family van with Ali at the wheel and stashes on our faces.  Downtown bustled with street performers and loitering people.  We had seen a sky ride that will take us atop the city and give a view of the nightlife.  So we headed directly to it but had some parking stress.  While waiting at a crosswalk, patrons crossing the street pointed and laughed drawing more attention from others and we were then the greatest attraction in Tennessee.  We found parking for $10.  As the parking attendant came to the window he gasped, laughed and walked away.  We exited the van and his wife came over to us, confused by her husband’s reaction, then also pointed and laughed.  Mine looked like snot, she said. 
We rode the ski lift to the top of the mountain.  Ali and I enjoyed watching the people’s slow reaction to our mustaches then seeing Amy’s then Amanda and Sandra’s, it really threw people for a loop.  “I mustache you a question” was on a shirt and we relished the phrase the whole night.  “I was going to say welcome ladies, but shall I say gentlemen...” was our greeting at the top.  How old are we?!  More pictures, more funny looks, and comments, then back to the city.  Ali and I had the “chu-man-fu” (Ali’s name) - hers black and mine grey, the rest had blonde random stashes.  At this point only 3 of us continued with the mustaches while we strolled the streets of downtown.  Even this late at night the air is muggy and hot.  It was our last night and we were reluctant to head home, but we were exhausted and called it a night. 


MMMmmm...sad face... our last morning in Tennessee.  I ate scrambled eggs at the cabin before anyone awoke.  We packed up the van and headed to The Apple Valley Farmhouse for breakfast.  We through our pennies over our shoulders into the wishing well, wishing our individual wishes then found our seats.  Again with the dumplings, it’s a miracle everyone doesn’t weigh 300 lbs+  I inhaled my French toast (off the children’s menu) and sat back stuffed and happy.

Again with the winding back roads through trees and small towns to get to the airport, we still enjoyed the ride.  Returning the van took more time and energy than anyone would have thought possible.  Turns out the car rental place is just at the airport not at any of the addresses listed on-line, go figure.  We planted ourselves near phone charging stations and bathrooms.  I lost myself in Australia’s “Dance Academy” while others wandered aimlessly or slept.  We made it home without much fanfare. Whew.