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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Things I Learned on Vacation

Things I learned on my trip with my wife's family to the Great Smoky Mountains…

10 family members ÷ 1 cabin X 4 days > our patience

Everything you need to know about Cincinnati can be learned from the highway: it is the home of the Big Butter Jesus, the Creation Museum, and the original Hustler Superstore.

Neither I nor my wife can pass signs for Big Bone Lick State Park without making Beavis and Butthead noises.

My charcoal chimney starter was the single most-useful item I brought.

I cannot drink two cases of beer in four days, nor should I try.

A diet of –tos food is not conducive to running. You know, Doritos, Cheetos, Fritos…

My brother (not that one, the other one) has an amazing ability to find the places in any city with a grad-student hipster vibe. He lives in Charlotte, so we met him, his wife & baby in Asheville on a Sunday morning. He's been there only once or twice yet knew exactly where the overeducated inked-up folk eat a locally-grown organic brunch: the Early Girl Eatery. It's very good (and actually not pretentious at all), probably one of the top five meals I've ever had on the road.
Two brothers, living hundreds of miles away, will both inadvertently dress like the same grandfather.

My brother is only sometimes more mature than his two-year-old.

Pigeon Forge is the world headquarters of crap. We passed through on our way to Asheville, and some of the less trashy things I saw were the four different As Seen On TV Outlet Stores.

Anyone who wears a "Hike Naked" t-shirt lacks a sense of irony. To be fair, though, the guy was not in the act of hiking while I saw him wearing it.

If there's anything cuter than a baby, it's a baby on a motorcycle.
Economic indicators are everywhere if you know what to look for. In Townsend, a bare-bones fifties-style motel had a "No Vacancy" sign lit up on Saturday. On Monday, I had never seen the park and surrounding area so empty in the middle of summer.

There are plenty of hidden gems in the Smokies, even outside the National Park. Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Cherokee are such god-awful places that the entire area earned an entry in Jan & Michael Stern's enchanting Encyclopedia of Bad Taste (a book my wife worried that I would use as a checklist). On Saturday morning, however, we went to play golf at the little-known Laurel Valley Golf Club. The view from the 10th tee:
Another hidden gem of the Smokies is the Foothills Parkway. A view from an overlook:

Berea, Kentucky is a much better place than Berea, Ohio. My wife and I knew about the place a long time ago, as we stayed at its historic Boone Tavern Inn one night on our honeymoon fifteen years ago. I'd forgotten what a beautiful little college town it is. Berea College, one of the nation's premier arts institutions, caters to low-income students and requires work-study from all students (thus its ability to keep the Inn, apparently little-used and a very high-class, going for 100 years). While it is very Christian, it is not of the more famously Southern absolutist fire-and-brimstone type; for example, it enrolls two Tibetan refugees every year and has hosted the Dalai Llama. It was the first southern college to become coed and the first to be integrated.

If for a moment you can ignore the crowds, your family driving you nuts, the overcommercialization, the Parks Service understaffing, and the pollution, and you'll see that it's one of the most beautiful places in America.

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DJ said...
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