Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pigeon Forge

Raise the Barn - Keith Urban (with Ronnie Dunn) (mp3)
Johnny Quest/Stop That Pigeon - Reverend Horton Heat (mp3)

I spent last weekend at a family reunion outside of Pigeon Forge.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are the anti-New Orleans. I'm not sure one can truly love both places. It would be like loving both Betty and Veronica, or Ginger and Mary Ann. You can like one and love the other, but you can't love both and be a normal human being.

We only entered "PF proper" -- otherwise known as one long damn strip of road -- for one brief block, because the town was too busy hosting two biker rallies, one Elvis Presley Fan Club reunion, and hell, I dunno, several Southern Baptist revivals, perchance. Whatever was getting hosted, there were even more people clogging up that single road than usual.

In New Orleans, life is all about what happens after the sun sets. Where do you eat dinner? Where do you get the best drinks? Of what kind of nightlife experience would you like to partake tonight?

In Pigeon Forge, life is all about what happens at breakfast. Which of the 229 pancake restaurants shall you visit today? Does blueberry syrup or pecan syrup go better with your country ham, wherein is packed enough salt to cure leprosy or stay afloat on a small lake? Where are those dark blue socks you had planned on wearing with your plaid shorts and loafers, and where's that package of Werther's Originals you'd brought along? Which of your six pairs of black leather chaps would look best today, and does it go better with the half helmet or the three-quarters?

In Pigeon Forge, traffic is already at its peak level by 10 a.m., as bikers and motorists of all shapes and sizes pour onto the road looking for a good outlet bargain, or trying to find the perfect go cart track, or seeing if they can figure out which closed-down bungee jumping place is the one where that feller done got hisself kilt the other week.

In New Orleans, it's illegal to drive anywhere before 10 a.m. lest those hungover tourists go get themselves kilt like them idjits up in Pigeon Forge who go bungee jumping for giggles.

New Orleans is 67% African American. Whitey makes up just over one-quarter of the population. By contrast -- and I do mean contrast -- Pigeon Forge is almost 95% white.

The only thing whiter than Pigeon Forge is Ivory soap.

(EXAMPLE: I dare you to find one African-American depicted at right. Like a "Where's Waldo?" contest. Show me any other thriving business in the US that can so baldly ignore all minorities in their promotional materials -- it's not even a photo, fer Chrissakes, it's a painting! They didn't even require a real live African-American to model for it! And if you're staring really hard at that girl in the light blue tank top, thinking, "She might be black..." then you're only proving my point.)

When my family ventured briefly onto the strip so that my girls could ride GoKarts and Bumper Boats, we actually saw an African-American couple. They were riding in the bumper boats right before we did, and I could have sworn that all the other honkey boats spent most of their time trying to spray that couple.* When they got out, totally drenched, they were smiling and happy, so I kind of gave them this look of "Did you realize you're the only two black people within 10 square miles unless Darius Rucker is playing Dollywood this weekend?"

Honestly, I don't think they cared. Which is simultaneously a sign of progress for our country and also a sign of what it must be like to live in North Dakota. Except without all the pancake houses and outlet malls.

The other way Pigeon Forge is the anti-New Orleans is that the former is practically bleached of all vices. Alcohol is limited to Pabst, Bud and Franzia and ain't sold on Sundays. No strip clubs. No beads or drunk losers saying things like "Show your t*ts!!" (and that's not "tots," but thanks for playing, Napoleon). Hell, they don't even have any karaoke bars... although you can pay to go watch a group of overly made-up Tammy Faye-esque white people in glittery outfits who have been pre-arranged to sing karaoke on stage.

And, only in Pigeon Forge can you watch "The Miracle," a moving passion play musical about the Life of Jesus. You can have your soul saved for only $40 a ticket!

(Just be sure not to accidentally impale yourself on one of those angels' swords. God's Angels will be one of the next contestants on Spike's "Deadliest Warrior"!)

I mention all of this to note: what better place than Pigeon Forge for my family reunion?

While it might not have been obvious after a single year of BOTG, I am white. My family is whiter than Colonial Bread and whole milk. We spend our days and nights playing white people games like Ladder Golf and Cornhole. We spend our nights talking on porches and playing card games. Our cabin was so high on the mountain that pilots used us and our reflective skin as markers, kind of like lighthouses.

We stayed in a cabin I preferred to call a "cansion." Although the last census report doesn't contain accurate numbers, there are more than 4 million cabin/cansions with hot tubs and pool tables in Sevier County, and 3.6 million of them are located within 10 miles of Pigeon Forge. Amazingly, despite the large population of cansions, they're all "secluded" and "private." Which is true, other than all the old-timers who are annoyed at all the cansions that have razed the once-beautiful tree-topped lush hills will spend all night yodeling to one another hoping to keep people awake and annoyed. You can hear those bastards for miles!

Our cansion had three floors, two kitchens, two outdoor hot tubs, 12 bedrooms, seven baths, two large screen TVs, eight microwaves, a pool table, and one of those touch screen bar games that no one ever plays in bars unless they're drunk or got stood up by blind date.
If you have a family or a large group of people who aren't gonna go all Jack "The Shining" Nicholson on you from being cooped up in a small space for a weekend, I can't think of a more reasonably-priced and enjoyable destination.

* -- This is totally not true. It only felt true for about five minutes, and it might have been less time if the boats moved faster than about 3 mph. There were only six people in boats at the time, and it just so happened that the other four totally surrounded that couple and squirted the hell out of 'em. The odds are good that I'm the only dude who even noticed that I was living a 1950s flashback moment... except in little motorized bumper boats and without the white hoods.


Bob said...

As you well know, I love New Orleans, but I also kind of like Gatlinburg. Not Pigeon Forge so much, but staying in town in Gatlinburg where you can walk everywhere and where there is a mix of nature and commerce, where there are places you can relax, where you can get the fireplace in the room. Thriving nightlife there, too, Billy!

But what you'll really want to know is that of all those breakfast places you noticed everywhere, the best one is on Main Street in Gatlinburg--the Pancake Pantry. All of the others are just pretenders to the throne.

troutking said...

Agree on the Pancake Pantry. Raspberry Delight is pure heaven, especially when paired with the Grill Cooks Medley.

I prefer Gatlinburg too, because it has another important feature that Pigeon Forge lacks...a bypass! Nothing worse than sitting in traffic with plenty of time to stare at mini-golf courses when all you want to do is get in the Park and fish!

As I've said before, when Dave Barry retires (again), his column should transition smoothly to Billy. Well done!

Billy said...

Honestly, all of this is probably just latent bitterness from the "ski resort" also known as "Ober Gatlinburg." The honkies couldn't even spell their stolen German word correctly.

P.S. Taffy and wedding chapels are also very important to the PG/G'berg culture.

Andrea Wallace Williams said...

Well, Billy I have seen you in a whole new light. You are quite the humorist and since I only really knew you as a kid, I must say I am still roaring from this hillbilly town review. Considering I lived there for many years and totally can agree on many aspects of your story telling. Luckily,I knew the back roads and what time to be on the Parkway and when not to be.When my family first moved there in the early 90's, minorities were scarce. Now, not so much. I did the Dollyworld thing for awhile and had to live up to all the expectations tourists have like ,"Are you related to Dolly?"(Did they even really look at me? Ok so I have blonde hair??) The funniest comments I ever heard were, "When do they turn the smoke on?" and "What time do the bear's cross?" (As in cross the parkway, oh they do that about noon!!!!NOT!!!!)
Funny stuff! A little irony for ya...while leaving this comment the verification word was partin...

jed said...

what is a pigeon forge anyway?

Scott Maples said...

"Pigeon Forge: Making Hamilton County look good for decades!" It's just so soulless with no trees, endless neon signs, crushing traffic because public transportation is associated with them thar colored folks. I usually remember the words of St. Kurt: "Come back as fire / Burn all the liars / And leave a blanket of ash on the ground."