Pigeon Forge 2: Forge Harder – The Gatlinburg Chronicles

Happy Columbus Day everyone.  Apologies all around to John Oliver and Co. for yet again stealing their thunder to open a post, as well as to Al Pacino who’s “overblown parody of” himself in that video is a clip taken out of context from Michael Mann’s  excellent cops and robbers thriller Heat. I will not apologize for returning to Tennessee for one more week though and I hope you’ll see why the rest is the best and worthy of another post. As fanatically devoted followers will remember, last week I began to detail some of my recent adventure in the land of Dolly Parton. Today you get to hear… the rest of the story! Uhh, I guess I should say “sorry” to the ghost of Paul Harvey too while I’m at it.

In case you’ve ignored last week’s post and the link to it I’ll catch you up with the short version: the weekend before last saw me and a small group of friends in Tennessee for the wedding festivities of one those friends. We spent a good chunk of the trip in Pigeon Forge, the weird and wonderful tourist town that is the capital city of Dolly’s Domain. The wedding was actually in Gatlinburg, which will be the subject of today’s talk. But before we actually get down to the nitty-gritty of our fun experiences in G-burg, let me introduce you to the gang. You already know my name is Alex, but out of respect for greater anonymity I won’t reveal the Christian names of my pals on the world wide webs. Instead I’ll give them each a pseudonym to perfectly describe them without further description. The main subject of the trip was the groom whom we’ll call Groom Man. This is not to be confused with the term “groomsman” which the other two relevant parties in this anthology were, but not-so-secretly I hope that everyone does confuse them anyway for the sake of my mild sadism. Mwahaha. Next up is the Best Man, Gondola Man. Yep, Gondola Man. And last but not least, Narcoleptic Loudsnorer, who spent most of the trip unconscious in the back seat of my car with his mouth open. I mean to say he slept a lot and often snored very audibly with mouth agape. Why, what did you think I meant?

Where Pigeon Forge seared our senses with its touristy excess, Gatlinburg was more of a smolder of campsites bridging the gap between ever-developing touristy excess and Smoky Mountain National Park. I enjoyed its natural setting, but wasn’t as crazy about its thin, steeply inclined switchback roads. However, once we were up in our mountainside dwellings it was well worth it simply for the view.

We indulged in a few of the traveler’s indulgences of the town like the vast expanse of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums and attractions, the highlight of which was Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and not just because we went into it intoxicated. There’s nothing quite like walking daydrunk through an aquarium, but I can tell you soberly that it was one of the best aquariums I’ve visited. Add it to the list of recommendations I made at the end of my Shark Week post. The giggly effects of the alcohol wore off before we left the aquarium, but it dealt it’s damage to our wallets when we all purchased our tickets and agreed to pay about $10 more for two extra tickets to use at any of the many Ripley’s facilities in the area. We put one of these tickets towards their haunted house and it was an experience. The outside of the haunted house/manor/mill/whatever the fuck it was supposed to be along the main street of downtown Gatlinburg looked respectable enough. We walked into the line and were greeted by a charming young woman with a mutilated face that was clearly makeup to all but the foursome of middle-agers who wobbled in and remarked at the rash they felt was genuine only to be met with her accurate remark, “Y’all smell like moonshine.” Us and the moonshiners were placed in an elevator and sent up to the upper level and greeted by her “brother”, i.e. the only other staff member working that night. He took us into a funeral parlor and instructed us to place our hands on the shoulder of the person in front of us for what I assumed was just an encouraged precaution for the first hallway, but I was sorely mistaken. As it happened I was the lead dog and was tasked with leading our convoy through unlit hallway after unlit hallway. There were a few sudden noises and items either hanging from the ceiling or jutting out from the walls that touched you in the complete darkness, but the only thing that frightened me was having to blindly press my hands on the walls beside (and occasionally before) me so that I didn’t inadvertently lead our stumbling bunch of lemmings down an emergency staircase. We did accidentally find our way into an off limit area simply by me choosing the wrong direction to take. This then necessitated that the moonshiners in the back turn around and lead us out the rest of the way which was the point I was truly most afraid. As it happened, we made it out alive and well enough to negatively criticize the experience yet still come to agreement that it was worth the $5 it cost us.

The eeriest moment of the night came before we even made our way over to the haunted house. We stopped to eat dinner at what we were under the impression was a family restaurant, but such preconceptions were left at the door when we were greeted not by one, but two bouncers. After unsuccessfully attempting to decipher the thick Cajun accent of the bouncer closest to us a waiter directed us to a table beside the bar where another waiter came to take our order and seemed displeased that we actually desired food. Narcoleptic Loudsnorer and I happened to order the same drink and entree which prompted me to remark that we must be evil twins. What are the odds that I’m not the only person on Earth who enjoys Guinness and shrimp po’boys? For as foolish as I was in that moment, our server topped me. Confused, and obviously concerned by the “twin” remark, he gave a very frightened look and asked the two of us identical order friends, “Are you two brothers?” “From another mother,” I responded with words I never had said seriously before and still didn’t mean in that instance. Now, Loudsnorer and I look nothing alike and are clearly not related by such a close connection – a fact that our server was aware of –  and it quickly became apparent that he was fearful that we had another kind of relationship that he was trying his damnedest to be accepting of. Maybe we should have brought dates, or at a least paid for a hooker, but as it happened our server jumped to a conclusion that made him uncomfortable and his attempts to appear undisturbed by it made him behave strange enough to make us also want us to leave the premises as quickly as possible. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amused by his quick, awkward handshake without a word spoken with each of us when he handed us our checks.

Once again I do not wish to generalize a population – in this case the residents of Gatlinburg, Tennessee – nor do I want to jump to a conclusion about a small sample size in the same manner that our server did, but there was an even more obvious moment of homophobia that occurred just before the wedding ceremony. The minister – let’s call him the server’s brother, teehee – was instructing Gondola Man and Narcoleptic Loudsnorer in the waiting room how to stand beside Groom Man during the ceremony. He asked them to stand shoulder to shoulder, so they lined up next to one another so that their shoulder’s actually made physical contact. The minister went, “Whoa!” and quickly separated them, adding, “Not that close. This isn’t Vermont after all.”

It was a bit of a shock to hear such words, and they make for a laughable moment to retell to my more progressive-minded friends, but sometimes I wonder what exactly people like that minister get from their faith that makes them feel that a loving interaction between two people is only allowed if they’re bringing different parts to the bedroom. But I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic in the future.

For now, let’s finalize this journey’s story with the fondant on the decorative tiered cake. The night before the wedding, the four of us celebrated in the typical fashion by consuming alcohol, playing Cards Against Humanity, eating candy, and going bonkers on the i-cade arcade table supplied in the cabin we were staying in. Narcoleptic Loudsnorer lived up to his given name for this segment and went to bed while the rest of us stayed up awhile to continuously comment in amazement that Groom Man was getting married. Once we headed for our beds some time later we were all pretty tired. I was sharing a room with Loudsnorer, and Gondola Man and Groom Man were in a bunk bed in the main room. I was about to fall asleep when Gondola Man started shouting. I ran into the main room to see what the commotion was about and saw Gondola Man shaking his hand as if he had touched something undesirable. As it happens, he had. He was just laying down and went to set his phone on the windowsill when he noticed a black wire. Assuming it was his phone charger cord he went to plug his phone into it. But when he touched the wire, his half-asleep mind registered that it was alive and scaly. Putting the two together he awoke to full awareness and jumped out of bed shouting, thereby causing the chain reaction of all but Loudsnorer waking up. Assessing the situation we realized that there was a black snake coiled up on the windowsill. After some moments of tension we all took a deep breath and sprung into action to go about removing it to the outside without getting bitten by it. While Groom Man and Gondola Man moved the bunk bed away from the windowsill, I checked around the cabin for any other very native Tennesseans that might be hiding in the warmer indoors. I got a real-life jump scare from a broken coat hanger on the closet floor that gave me more of a jolt than it should have. While checking the windowsill above Loudsnorer’s bed he woke up and silently looked at me with an inquisitive glance. I calmly said, “Don’t worry about it. Go back to sleep. If you hear screaming, just leave the door closed.” Instead of asking what the hell was going on like a normal person, he merely said, “Okay,” and rolled over to go back to sleep.

I made my way back to the main room where the window area had been made more accessible to get at the snake. The only problem was we didn’t know how best to get at the snake. I suspected it was a black rat snake (pictured above), a non-venomous species that is common in the eastern and mid-western United States, but still not something you want to get bit by, so we opted to not have any more direct contact with our new friend. Fortunately we all had some sparks of inspiration. Groom and Gondola realized it would be best to put an empty trash bag in the bin and set it under the windowsill to drop the snake into. I remembered my moment of terror moments before and wrapped the broken clothes hanger onto a pool cue to fashion a makeshift snakehook. I approached the probably-not-harmful-but-still-wild animal that we weren’t certain wasn’t venomous as we were in the woods of Tennessee, and I gently nudged him/her a couple of times in an attempt to get the coiled parts uncoiled so I could use my MacGyver hook. The snake initially reacted like a sleepy teenager being stirred by its parents on a Saturday morning, but after more of my probing poking it had an “Okay, fuck this” moment and unraveled all the way. I managed to hook it and pulled it into the bag which we twisted closed and took outside to release our new buddy who was unwelcome in our cabin while we were there. We later positively identified it as a black rat snake, and Gondola Man even worked the story I just told into his best man speech to cheerful laughter and applause that was only helped a little bit by moonshine consumption.

Thanks for reading folks! Feel free to leave a comment or request for a future topic in the comments below or in my inbox at montrememadness@gmail.com. Slither back next week for a biography of one of my favorite American heroes who is responsible for tomorrow being referred to as Mach 1 Day (by me and possibly only me).

<=((((((((((( Happy Mach 1 Day,

Alex

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