Carolina & Tennessee: May 21 - 23
Well, it's almost too much
to even talk about. There is an oval-shaped area in the US of A that
has something to appeal to everybody. If I were a honeymooning sort
of person this is where I'd chose to go. You can do the outdoorsy
thing--drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, raft, hot air balloon and horse ride
and then luxuriate in the poshness of resorts and then put on your boots
and go see Dolly. But I get ahead of myself.
Seno was watched over by staff
guard Don Jolly at the Biltmore Estate, the US's largest private house.
House, well, I'm not kidding some of the rooms had more square feet than
what some people live in. I think the banquet room was larger than
my house and my house isn't exactly a cottage. The grounds go on
forever and a coffee and cream puff cost me as much as dinner out elsewhere.
So take money if you're headed for Asheville, North Carolina and the "Estate"
because they're not shy about getting $34 + admission price and they don't
care how old you are. The Vanderbilts, I must say, have taste that
Hearst didn't have. I toured his castle at San Simeon just a year
ago and he used a religious theme (a safe choice) to decorate. The
glorious Vanderbilts, who opened their home nearly 50 years before, seemed
to have power as an underlying theme and they pulled it off gracefully.
A must see.
Getting out of Asheville was
a major mess thanks to construction and an accident that occurred probably
3 minutes before I was to go over a bridge. Hope everyone was OK
there. Made friends with the truckers while we waited. Didn't
think I was ever going to get to the Great Smokey Mountains but I wandered
thru the streets of moccasin shops and casinos in Cherokee, NC and finally
found the cool green road up into the mountains.
When it says "view point" here--believe
them. The scenes are Technicolor wide screen EVENTS. Lots of
older motorcycle people out enjoying it. Sky threatening rain so
I put on the rain gear but fortunately didn't need it.
Then there was Gatlinburg--it
is almost as if all that monotonous green makes people long for color and
wackiness. In between Virgil's Motel, Pizza Jerks and the Chapel
of Love is the World of Illusions (as if what we live in isn't enough)
where Superman can see thru your clothes. If you're getting tired
of Precious Moments and mountain baskets and country crafts, hang on--you're
not done yet.
I stayed at a bizarre place
that was supposed to be a hostel but isn't. I was too far out away
from Gatlinburg and I had to say "ma'm" a lot, pet the camp dog a lot and
say I was homesick before I could get a room. I was ready to start
quoting the Bible but fortunately the old angel running the place gaveup
and let me stay. Next morning there was frost on Seno's car cover.
I bundled up and had coffee with the road construction crew on 321 outside
Gatlinburg, thawed out and was good all the way to Pigeon Forge.
In the South, if it will hold
still, they will fry it. I'm not making this up: fried cheesecake.
I was only going to photograph
Seno with a Dollywood sign but I ended up parking and going in. Well,
SURPRISE!!!! ya'll need to start planning your trip there NOW. I
was one of the first ones in the gate yesterday, May 22 and I had a quick
visit--you plan on taking more time. There are performance stages
in different sections and great music going on all day long. It's
more than you can take it but try to anyway. In between are splash
rides, places to shop and the thing I actually like the most was Dolly's
attic and a chance to see her clothes and shoes. Poison Waters, you
would kill for this girl's stuff! Dolly was one of 10 kids
and raised in a 2-room hovel the whole of which is smaller than my living
room. Some of her childhood experiences border on child abuse by
today's standards (she tried to give herself a bloody nose so she could
come in from the cold) but Dolly will never present it that way.
She is exceptional but you knew that already. Go see her personal
story presented at Dollywood and you'll have a whole new appreciation.
Dolly was gorgeous and big-haired
even as a teenager. She does a fine job of thanking and bringing
along all the people who have ever helped her out even a little bit.
One store clerk said she knew Dolly Parton since Dolly was a little girl
and she hasn't changed. This 5'1" blond dynamo deserves all the good
things that come her way.
I liked Dollywood more than
Opryland and more than Disneyland. I took in the 50's show and it
is difficult to believe they can find so many talented people to perform
on one stage. There are no light weights here. It is all top
entertainment and you WILL have a good time and get howdy'd to death.
I bought a plastic flyswatter shaped like a guitar for my buddy Matthews.
That's all I have room for in the car. What I really wanted was the
autographed chair shaped like a butterfly--Dolly's personal icon.
Checked out the car museum
in Pigeon Forge too and saw 007's Austin Martin, Al Capone's Cad, B. Pusser's
Toronado and Hank Williams Jr's bizarre car decorated with silver dollars
and pistols. The door handles and the shifter are all PISTOLS.
Hopefully the firing pins have been removed but if you knowHank Jr., probably
not. Saw "Stringbean's" lime green Cadillace. Didn't
know this story--Stringbean (Grand Old Opry banjo player David Akeman)
was murdered in 1973 for his $$ but the bad guys never found it--his wife
had $2,200 hidden in a tobacco sack in her bra and Stringbean had $3500
so well hidden in his bib overalls that it took the undertaker to finally
find it. Capone's 1928 Cadillac was interesting because he painted
it the same green and black as Chicago's squad cars, reinforced the sides
with 1/4" boilerplate and put in 1" thick glass. The back window
is hinged so it can be dropped down during shoot outs. That Al, what
a practical guy.
Stock car racing is big in
the South--you'll have to stand in line to play with the Nascars at their
version of Disneyland there along Highway 44l. Legend has it that
moonshiners were the origins of what has become one of the most popular
sports today--racing. I'm in just the right place for this!
Testosterone is thick in the air down here.
I enjoyed Highway 411 yesterday,
very civilized road, not much construction and fewer trucks. That
all went away when I had to get on I-75 for the crush into Chattanooga.
I had no plans to stop here but I happened to see the words CHOO CHOO on
the city map and I thought, what is this?
Big surprise. Major wonderfulness.
When I pulled up I saw a BIG train on top of a building and neon lettering:
CHOO CHOO and I thought that's all it was. Then I noticed that the
building itself looked a lot like a train depot so I wheeled in.
This is just too good! I have to calm down to write.
The Holiday Inn people, the
same folks with those 50's yellow and green signs and the creamed corn
and Rotary meetings--this group--believe it or not somebody had the smarts
to look at the Chattanooga train station and say, hey, let's do something
really exceptional. They have. I applaud with both hands and
I'll get everybody else to applaud too. They also took Victorian
train cars and turned them into elegant suites. There's a model railroad
display and a white, very Southern dining hall, train clocks, fountains,
blooming roses (how did they get them to bloom that early?) and there is
(are you ready for this?) DINNER IN THE DINER.
I plunked down more for a night's
stay than 11 camp sites. I don't care. It was like being in
the Buddha's pocket. I had to wake up several times in the night
just to soak up my train car's ambiance. My dinner in the diner was
scampi, champagne and Ceasar salad while I looked out past the fresh pink
carnations at the white iron gazebo over the splashing fountain.
I mean, REALLY!
Ernest Porter was Seno's personal
guard and I thank him mightily for his help. Ernest said that
when he was a little boy his mama would bring him to this train station
for his ride to Alabama to see relatives.
Thursday, May 23
Reluctantly left the CHOO CHOO
Conference Center and resort that used to be the Chattanooga Train Station
and headed west again. I needed I24 and someone had removed the westbound
directional sign. Please fix that soon.
Got a few miles under me, the
road took a dip into Georgia and when the Rest Area sign came up for Tennessee,
You never know who is going
to step up to the car and start a conversation. I haven't had very
many in the South. It is as if they are all car nuts and don't need
or want anymore information about Seno. That's cool. But I
meet a celebrity at the Rest Stop. He is a one million mile man.
Huh? David Swisher was the first to do 1,000,000 miles on a BMW motorcycle.
He gave me lots of good information for gear to wear and be comfortable.
Says he's ridden in 5 degree cold and done all right. OK, gortex.
One of the best roads yet:
Highway 64 into Fayetteville, TN. Had lunch in a jail. Saw a purple
hearse. What a friendly place! Met Charles Higgins and his
son (biked the Oregon coast) AND HIS SON -everybody all spiffy in suits.
Oh, funeral. Well, Alyce obviously likes purple, come see a purple
hearse. They pulled it into the sun for me. I've got a hearse
too--same 1973 as this one. So now I know what it would look like
going from black to purple. Nice people. Everybody kind and
friendly and helpful.
I like Fayetteville.
Met Linda May, pretty blond lady with outasight sunglasses and if you need
to buy or sell property, give her a call. She'll treat you right,
I am sure. Her husband restores old cars and she said she had to
find out what on earth Seno was so she could tell him. When I told
her what I was up to she said she'd pray for me. You can bet I'll
wring dry any help in that department.
Also met Jeff Neal who is a
newspaper reporter and joined me at the library for a little gab fest and
photo shoot. He's been with Elk Valley Times newspaper for
2 years now and he's met a lot of interesting people too.
The only one who was a little
suspicious of this strange female in town (me) was the waitress over at
Cahoots. But then she hadn't seen Seno and he opens all sorts of
doors. If you have a dog or an old car people will just talk to you.
So I may forget and just assume everybody knows and loves me and they go--wait
a minute, who the devil are you anyway? I wanted information about
Cahoots because it is really a very unique place. Save your appetite
if you're traveling thru Tennessee because you can say that you've eaten
at a REAL JAIL if you eat at Cahoots. Built in the 1860's, made of
limestone and used as a jail until 1970.
So what other towns do you
know where you can dine in the callaboose and see a purple hearse?
Can I find great places or what?
Back on the road again.
Marilu has plans for me in Arkansas and I'm way behind schedule (as if
there really is one!). I am super happy and rested today and totally
thrilled with my last 24 hours worth of adventure and I keep singing that
song in my head, "The Chattanooga Choo Choo." Do you know all the
words? I'm missing some.