Yesterday I decided I needed to get out of town for a while, so I got in the car and headed down Chapman Highway.
There's a statue down there that I keep intending to go see and keep not getting to, so I figured I might as well just go while I had no firm plans and needed to fill some of my time. According to my directions, I could find it easily on the Sevier County Courthouse lawn:
It's not that eagle statue, though. It's the statue of Dolly Parton:
I didn't expect the statue to look so much like her, though, or at least like she looked in a specific era before plastic surgery. I guess it makes sense that it should, but I thought it would end up more like bad wax museum figures, where it looks vaguely like them and your mind fills in the rest of the resemblance by suggestion. Not so in this case:
That's definitely Dolly.
Since it was already early and I was only a mile away, I decided I might as well go spend a few hours in the most wonderful, most horrible place on earth: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I like to refer to Pigeon Forge as Ten Stoplights Worth of Awful, because it's like Vegas and Branson and Hazard County and Walton's Mountain all rolled into one somehow, all shiny and touristy and awful and dazzling all at once. It's the "all at once" part that really kills the whole thing, because there is no concept of restraint. Nothing is too bright, too out of place, too terrible to contemplate building in Pigeon Forge, transforming the road to the most beautiful national park in the region into ten stoplights full of the tackiest tourist crap available in the United States.
I don't mean the regular stuff, like the fifty or so pancake houses:
I can't even imagine 47 different kinds of breakfast.
I don't even mean the stuff like the two different Christmas outlet stores across the street from each other:
It's stuff like this:
That's the Titanic Museum and Attraction, opening in Spring 2010. It's now the first thing you see when you come over the hill by the Wonderworks:
And that's the central conflict in the town of Pigeon Forge. The city can't seem to decide on an identity, choosing between down home touristy stuff that makes you smile and over the top artificial stuff that couldn't seem more fake if it tried, like the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride:
I walked past it on my way to see the statue on the front of the Lazer Arcade:
When I walked past, I noticed the two tourists staring at the dinosaur, but I figured they were doing the same thing as me, walking around, staring, soaking in the tacky. When I went past again, walking the other way a good half hour later, they were still there, and I thought, "What could possibly be that interesting?" and looked closer. They're mannequins. The tourists in front of the fake jungle filled with fake dinosaurs are fake people. I can't think of anything that sums up the bad side of Pigeon Forge better.
Given that, my friends always ask what I love about Pigeon Forge, and it's the slightly less fake side. I have a soft spot in my heart, the same one that likes giant Rubik's Cubes and the World's Largest Ten Commandments, for older homemade tourist attractions, and they're still there in between the minigolf with the extremely blue dyed waterfall:
and the light up neon ice cream parlor:
I mean places like the Three Bears General Store:
which inexplicably only has two bears, or Lid'l Dolly's outlet store:
where you can stand and wonder what possible letter that apostrophe could be replacing, or the Smoky Mountain Candy Makers:
where the mural on the side caught my eye. I mean, look at that kid:
He may be smiling, but his eyes are soulless black pits. Was I going to get candy, or going to hell at the hands of a child monster straight out of Japanese horror? The answer, of course, was sugar:
Sugar of all kinds, including still being cooked:
I don't know what was in the kettle, because I didn't ask, but it was steaming and boiling and spinning away:
And, of course, it wouldn't be a tacky touristy candy store without the obligatory chocolate Dolly Partons:
I've only been in two candy factories in Tennessee, and I've seen chocolate Parton bosoms in both. I'm starting to wonder if it's just East Tennessee, or some kind of statewide thing, like Florida oranges or Georgia peaches. Come to Tennessee, and enjoy our chocolate celebrity boobs!
Leaving the candy store, boobless, I realized I was only a few short steps away from the Hillbilly Village:
Not only did they advetise souveniers and gifts, but also an exhibit of moonshine stills and hillbilly cabin life:
Why, it was practically a museum! After spending a minute falling in love with the vintage metal elephant ride out front:
I hurried inside to be educated. The first thing I learned was that hillbillies and racism go hand in hand, based on the items in the gift shop:
It probably explains why I saw George Bush bumper stickers in the parking lot and not a single one for Barak Obama. After I saw enough of the memorabilia, I decided to tour the exhibit, which looked more like a vacant lot:
It kind of was educational. I learned that hillbilly women often lounged on the porch without feet:
that hillbillies built their cabins with their own hands and also made moonshine:
that the cabin roof let in a lot of daylight:
and that these may or may not have been one or more moonshine stills:
I also learned that the Hillbilly Village doesn't recognize that there might, alphabetically, be any male names between Joe and Joey:
so I stomped off in a rage without buying anything.
Fortunately I almost immediately saw an older, run down mini golf place that happily let me walk around their course for free:
Give me a rotting shark:
or crumbling castle:
and my heart soars again.
God bless America, and God bless Pigeon Forge in all its touristy, jerky-pushing glory:
Now if they would just hurry up and get that Titanic exhibit open so I could start trying to convince someone to go with me.