Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gatlinburg, TN

First: This is the last week to enter the SFRStation April contest! Details at the bottom.

Time for the first big vacation of the year! I wanted to check in to see how my mom is doing in the nursing home, and as long as I was there on the western side of Tennessee, visit with my sister and her family.

Mom, awake.

She's lost weight. She's chipper when she's awake, easy to chat with and still joking. But she sleeps almost all the time and it's difficult for her to get warm. The first day, we visited her and she said hello but wanted to sleep. We came back that afternoon, but she was REALLY asleep and we didn't want to wake her.

As it happened, there was a talk with the staff scheduled, and I attended. (Sometimes I get in on these via conference call; sometimes I miss them.) Mom's doc doesn't like to over-medicate; he doesn't want his patients in a daze, but we asked if the staff could convince him to up Mom's meds a tad more because she often reports pain.

I went in the next day and talked for an hour with Mom. My sister was shocked that we had that lengthy a conversation.

Before I left, Mom had me hold hands with her. We NEVER hold hands. Never. I got the impression that she thought this was the last time she'd see me. I sort of had the same impression. But being someone who believes in the data we have about consciousness surviving death quite nicely, I'm not worried about her, per se. I just don't want her in pain in the time she has left. Glad she has such a great staff looking over her, and glad that my sister et al visit her so often.

Brighter things: I visited with my sister and her family. Met the New Dog, Oscar. Discussed the problems they're having selling their house. It's not a great-looking house (it's definitely a fixer-upper and reminds me of their very first rental house back in Fayette-Nam), and apparently it's in a lousy neighborhood on the wrong side of town. Sis said that ten years ago they could have sold it for $95K. Then the Arsenal closed, everyone in town either moved away or are now out of work, and they have lowered the asking price to  $68K. A couple came by with their mother, and Mother disapproved of both the pool and the neighborhood, so no deal. bil says that they'll try once more to sell by themselves, and if that falls through he's going to put an addition on, fancy new fencing, etc, etc.

The entire time, my sister's cell kept ringing. Apparently the entire town knew that she had a carload of black market aluminum foil, and were looking to buy some. After making sure I wasn't taking the plane back, Sis gave me a roll. It weighs in at just a hair under 5 lbs. Whoa!

Allie's waiting for someone to throw to home.
Watched my middle grand-niece play a softball game. She's about 8. Everyone in town has those newfangled lawn chairs that roll into tubes, and they all brought them. Allie was catcher that night, and had twenty "coaches" in the stands shouting at her to move up closer, cover home plate, don't hit the batter with the ball, etc. She survived the experience and even triumphed; her team won!

There was one TINY girl on the team, looked to be about 30 pounds and could very well have been an elvish changeling, as her legs and arms were the size of thick toothpicks. Every time she got to bat, she'd take a powerful stance, feet apart, knees bent, leaning into the pitch, bat high in the air. She'd snarl and growl at the pitcher. Then WHAMMO! she hit the ball with good force. I want a piece of the action on the pro career of that kid!

Maddeningly, my camera decided it didn't want to focus about halfway through, so all these great action shots turned into blurs. I tried everything I could think of to get the focus to work (including turning the camera off and on, hitting "reset," etc.), but nothing. Luckily, the next time I used it it was functioning normally.

Sis and bil were supposed to come with me to visit Gatlinburg, so I took the final afternoon and stayed in my hotel room to get some things done, take a nap, etc. I figured we had another 2-3 days of gabbing to do. Then late in the day my sister told me that she'd decided they weren't going. She'd rather take the grandkids, whom she only sees once or twice every day, to a fun museum about an hour away.

Oh well.

So I took off to Gatlinburg and thank goodness had packed some Pepto. Thought I'd never get out of that one rest stop that thankfully (!!!!) appeared out of nowhere. It had a plaque that said that Al Gore, SENIOR was responsible for the US highway system, not Eisenhower. Gore was the senator who introduced the bill; Eisenhower signed it into law. Oh, the things one learns!

Tennessee is COVERED with churches. I think NC is pretty bad, but TN has it licked. In my sister's town, there were three churches to a block. Out in the country someone will have a huge cross (or three) standing every here and there. Many rest stops had religious literature next to the tourist flyers. When I got to Gatlinburg I discovered there was even an all-church network on the cable system.

My g-nieces had been singing a song (on their way home from a church dinner for kiddies) about the Ten Commandments. They got to "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife," and I commented, "or husband," and the older niece (11) said, "Yeah, I thought about that, too." Hooray! But otherwise I kept my mouth shut about women being property and other Biblical stuff around them. At one point, no kids in the car, I happened to mention the fascinating book on Jesus I was reading. I mean, I had just started to mention it, halfway through the first sentence. Then bil raises his fist in the air (he's driving) and begins to shout about how the Bible is all there is and he's tired of people who question a word of it and etc. Yeek! I thought he was smarter than that. Guess his Bible is too weak to stand up to anyone actually sitting down to think about what it says.

So I turned right at exit 407 and drove through Dolly Parton country: Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and then Gatlinburg. It was a Saturday evening (darn Mapquest, that said that the 10-hour trip was only 6 hours!) and traffic was bumper-to-bumper.

Picture Orlando/Kissimmee and Times Square rolled into one flashing neon tourist trap. Then add a mountain of country cheesiness on top. That's this area. I passed a Mt. Rushmore that was composed of Elvis, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie Chaplin. I passed the Titanic. I passed the Hatfield & McCoys dinner show.

Finally got to Gatlinburg, still bumper to bumper. The street lights all had big numbers next to them instead of street names. Huh? Turned out that tourist maps use the numbers as reference. "Go to light 1 and turn left, then right at light 2A."

I had a letter about where to report. FINALLY (thanks, cute Hilton guy) found the right address. THEN I had to search to find the lobby (a block away from the "lobby" sign) and I reported in. The hotel was right downtown and didn't look like a resort to me, but it was next to a picturesque stream. The lady at the desk couldn't find my name in the system. I showed her the letter.

"I don't know why they always send these people here," she complained, and then told me the right place was the other side of town. These guys were a "sister resort" to the one I was scheduled for. After two more stops asking for directions, I finally found the correct road. There was a gaudy water park to my right, and the road continued to my left, so I took the left. And went up, up, up the mountain. My rental car almost conked out. It certainly gave three large hiccups. It was all regular housing as far as I could see, so I turned around, trying not to fall off the side of the mountain to do so, and went back down.

This time I turned toward the waterpark. There was a large building next to it, so I pulled into it and parked. Ah ha! The resort. A "Welcome Center."

No one there.

Oh, there were a few lights and I could hear people stomping about upstairs. I called the number on my letter and was assured that I was at the right place, and people were waiting at the desk for me. Finally we figured out that the Welcome Center was not the lobby. It was a block over.

Whew. Checked in.
This is the welcome/we will have your souls and your wallet center. The entire place is pretty much unlit at night. The actual lobby is behind and up the hill from here, invisible from this angle. There is no signage, other than the resort sign that sits there in the lower center of this picture (unlit at night). The waterpark is to the right, and the street leading up to it is done in Christmas-style (with animals) light arches, which drown out any other lights in the neighborhood. High on the top of the hill there are the "penthouses," 5-story building$$$. There'll be an infinity pool up there soon. Shuttles run through the resort, but not past the cabin I was in, which was high up on the right, because the resort didn't want the shuttle to have to back up, and the road was very narrow up there. (Non-existent by the time it got to about six cabins down from me. Still, two nice drivers took me to the end of the road at times when they didn't have any other riders.)

This was one of those time-share deals where you get a fabulous price for three days somewhere nice, but have to sit through a long "buy from us" spiel. My spiel wasn't until Monday, so I explored Gatlinburg.

They have a trolley system. (Slickest seats in the US! Every time we hit a bump or turned a corner, people sliiiiid across their seats.) Luckily, the resort was on their route, as the Gat. Welcome Center was just across the highway for them to stop at as well. All trolleys end at the Ripley's Aquarium, which is a very nice one, and has one of those tunnels you go through so you can look up and see shark bellies above as they swim past.

I wish aquariums didn't cram so very many fish into such tiny tanks. I always feel sorry for them.

Outside, the Pigeon Forge river, or maybe it was just a large creek leading into the river (which goes into the French Broad, btw) rushes through town, sparkling as it hits rocks in the stream bed. Very picturesque. You can take a ski lift up the mountain or do as I did and use the aerial tram. I figured (judging from tourist brochures) that Ober Gatlinburg, the big tourist place up the mountain, had a nice restaurant to have lunch at.

Wrong. Nice service, nice tea, crappy food. And it began to sprinkle so that was my excuse for not going on the "choose your own speed" faux-bobsled ride they had up there. I got some nice pics of the valley where you could see bands of sunlight and of rain. Then I went back down the mountain, bought some nice rocks to add to my crystal cabinet, got some free buns from Texas Roadhouse (I'll have to eat there when/if I return to thank them) because Gatlinburg doesn't seem to have any bakeries and the grocery stores all seem to be far away from downtown. I had leftover salad waiting at my room, and I just wanted some buns to go with it.

The next day was Monday, so I went to the sales pitch. Really, they have a nice resort and it's going to grow about 4x as large, with lots of pools and such. The waterpark is free to owners, and though it isn't gigantic, it does have enough size to amuse one for a day or so, plus it had morning aqua-robics. There was a nice fitness center (empty), a spa that even I kind of drooled over, and the model rooms were gorgeous, unlike the rather run-down studio I'd been put in.

Like most of these things, they had a network of resorts you could trade off with, but unlike the plan I'm currently on, these guys not only seemed to know what they were doing, but they would furnish you with complete how-to explanations once you bought in.

The Honduran saleswoman utilized the entire gamut of hard-sales that I've come to know so well. The first price she gave me was $58K, for a 3-bedroom plan available, I think, twice a year? Maybe once, but you could split the bedrooms up to use as many as you needed, so that could be 1 bedroom six times a year. She brought in her supervisor, who showed me more modest plans. Finally she came down to $8K for a studio (meh) and a very interesting share program.

Like I said, it sounded better than the plan I'm on now. People sell their plans all the time, right? I could sell mine. I told them that in two years, after I get all the work done on my house, I'd be interested in buying in. Otherwise: no. Sorry. The supervisor took off for some reason, and I was left with the original saleswoman.

She leaned closer to me and accused me of lying to her. What? Again, she said I'd lied. Then I laid into her, told her in no vague terms what I thought of her tactics and her accusations. She was SHOCKED at my response, though I don't know why. She left to find someone to check me out of the sales pitch (so I'd receive credit for my stay; otherwise I'd have to pay full price for the weekend), and a guy came by.

I told him about the accusations. He left for a moment, came back, and gave me a packet of some perk to make up for it. I haven't looked at it yet, but it's a good perk. Then he offered me a 2-year freeze on the final price I'd been given. To go with the deposit for that, he offered me a perk package to use in the meantime.

It was a REALLY good perk package.

"Sold," I said, and I have a 2-year freeze on the price I was offered, with vacations to be used in the meantime. There's a cruise offer in there that I'll go to Alaska with. I can sell my Festiva membership in that time. Idiot Festiva people. These Westgate people are MUCH bigger than Festiva, AND they seem to be on the ball.

So I hope to be taking great vacations in the coming years!

I had enough time left in the day to get a late lunch and do a picturesque drive just outside of town. Luckily, I confirmed the directions to the road at the tourist info desk in town, and the lady told me it was closed until the next week.

The next day I asked at the resort info desk about this "backdoor" route to Asheville I'd heard about. They confirmed what Mapquest had said, and we traced the route on the cute little cartoon tourist map that all tourist towns seem to have these days. These maps are ridiculously out of scale, so the tiny little bump of a connector road from one point to I-40, was actually 20 miles. (Thanks, Subway person out in the middle of nowhere, who assured me that I was on the correct road!) But still I think I saved a few miles.

In all, Gatlinburg is about 6 hours from my house. I will likely visit again… not to see the touristy stuff, but to take my plein air kit and do some drawing of the bouncy mountain streams, fabulous forests, and magnificent mountains of the area.

Friday's the last day for the big contest! SFR Station is offering three prizes: Grand Prize: $75 gift card (your choice of iBooks, Nook, Kindle, or All Romance) PLUS 16 ebooks. 2nd prize: $25 gift card and 12 ebooks! 3rd prize: $25 and 8 ebooks! Let's see… Oh, the Internet and all the codes… Here's where you enter: a Rafflecopter giveaway They say you only have to enter on one blog to be entered in the big contest.

Did I say "all"? Lots of people are giving little April Fools excerpts. You can sample from a wide variety, and I think this will give you a listing of links for everyone: 

If that didn't work, try going here instead, a simple little link. THE CONTEST RUNS ALL MONTH, so there's plenty of time to try out everyone's sites.

I'll give away a free ebook of your choice of my titles to TWO lucky people! All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog. If nothing else, tell me how many times I used the word "nice."

--Carol Strick


Unknown said...

It was great seeing you Aunt Carol!

Carol A. Strickland said...

And simply FAB seeing you and the kidlings!