My wife and I took a few days last week to travel to East Tennessee in order to visit people we’d never met before, visit old friends, visit family, and do a little sightseeing. This was to be our first long trip in the new-to-us 2004 Volvo XC70 we bought about a month and a half ago, and I was looking forward to the journey.
We got a late start on Wednesday and made it to Knoxville before five of the clock Central Time where we met our hosts for the evening, a world-renowned blogger and her beautiful family. As she herself noted in a recent post, for all its pitfalls and the fact that self-directed interactive media usage and electronic contacts with other people may exacerbate the human tendency to unhealthy isolation, the Internet also provides contact with others one would never otherwise know. I’ve used this quote before and still do not recall its provenance, but “we read so that we will know we are not alone.” Sometimes we get to meet the people who populate our lives with their writing. This lady turned out to be exactly who her writing says she is. We were surprised and happy that she and her family trusted us enough to let us infest their home for a night.
On Thursday my wife, my son, and I spent most of the day at the Knoxville zoo. Our son liked the elephants best. We saw other animals, as well, notably the white tiger, white rhinoceros, and a red panda. A Mozilla team was setting up to tape a segment about the red panda or firefox to highlight the group’s Firefox browser software.
Thursday afternoon, we drove to Sevierville where I had online booked reservations for two nights at a “resort” time-share condominium. No, we didn’t buy a time-share; I found the property offers hotel-like bookings at a reasonable price. The Sevierville traffic was unlike anything I had seen since I left the Los Angeles area.
It took us what seemed like an hour to drive two or three miles past many electronically animated billboards proclaiming the same five messages. We stopped at a Kroger to buy some groceries for our stay. My wife stayed in the supermarket at least another hour. I read a book, our little boy napped, I monkeyed around with the Cross Country’s “W” winter-mode transmission setting. My son awoke. I played him a Veggie Tales lullaby CD. He objected. I tried to reason with him. I read out loud to him from my “Five Views” psychology tome. He objected. My wife returned with maybe two bags of groceries stating that Kroger supermarket was differently organized than most Kroger supermarkets. We got back on the traffic-jammed highway.
The Mapquest directions had us driving down in to a neighborhood of dusty single family dwellings with no real likelihood of a resort of any kind around that corner ahead. We got turned around, back on the main cross-street and back the direction we came from. I had the bright idea to stop at former fast-food restaurant building bearing notices that it is the Sevierville Welcome Center. Inside I found a counter staffed by employees of the “resort” we’d booked with, and I was able to get a completely different, yet really useful, set of driving directions to our accommodations.
At the check-in center, pictured above in the image shot from the balcony-patio of the deluxe suite we eventually got settled in to, there was trouble. The front desk clerks declared that they had no record of our reservations. For the first time in my adult traveling life, I had completely failed to write out my confirmation number on a slip of paper to keep in my wallet. I attempted to retrieve from my Internet provider’s webserver the confirmation email the company sent me after I’d booked online at the company’s own website, but the email program I use at home deletes the messages from the server in the retrieval process. I talked with another clerk, who, like the first, said all of the facility’s units were completely booked. My wife walked in to the lobby looking agitated and I told her, “There is a problem, I am trying to get it sorted out.” I suggested to this clerk, who seemed to function at a somewhat higher level of cognition than the first, that she contact the company’s website management team to figure out the problem. She did so. After a wait of another quarter hour, the woman returned to the line stating that she had found our reservation, and asked to speak with the desk agent.
Back in the car, my wife was furious over the delay of something like an hour, and our little boy was almost inconsolable – he’d slept all the way from the zoo at Knoxville to the Kroger Supermarket in Sevierville, then dropped off to sleep again during our subsequent driving. But he awakened hungry and with a desire to get out and play which were both thwarted by the long wait strapped in his astronaut class car-seat. In our one-bedroom deluxe unit with complete kitchen, living room, patio-balcony, whirlpool bath, and so forth, the little guy refused to be comforted for about 20 minutes, but eventually settled down given a little milk and a snack while my longsuffering wife prepared the evening meal.
Fifty or sixty years ago, Sevierville was probably a pretty place. Pictured above is the view from our unit. In the distance, you can see what may be a mountain.
We had originally planned to visit Dollywood in nearby Pigeon Forge on Friday, but decided instead to just goof-off around the property and eat lunch at a restaurant on the grounds of an apple orchard, buy some candy, and eat ice-cream. I took my son to the playground where he slid down large tubular slides, swung high in a toddler swing, ran around only a little bit. Most of his time he spent on the slides. After that, we got some putters and rubber golf-balls and played an approximation of miniature golf on the nine hole course adjacent the playground.
The Applewood restaurant turned out to be a pleasant, not-inordinately-electronically-animated dining experience. The waitress served a basket of “fritters” (hush-puppy-like fried dough-balls) served with apple-butter. Our little boy liked these.
I’ve gotten a little ribbing for it from others of my generation who as teenagers enjoyed watching Magnum P.I. and remember a humorous book declaring that real men don’t, but I enjoy eating quiche every now and then. Somewhere I think I have posted my wife’s vegetarian quiche recipe which, when followed, produces something like manna. At the restaurant, I ordered their quiche, and, while not bad, per se, it was not very good being heavy on some kind of oily cheese paste and large, floppy black mushrooms.
After the meal, our boy wanted to run around on the big lawns outside, so we ran around on the grass for awhile then went to the candy store and bought saltwater taffy in various flavors as well as root beer and spearmint hard candies. According to Weight Watchers, about an ounce of hard candy equals one Weight Watchers point.
On the way back to lodgings, our boy took a short nap in the car and my wife stopped in at a teacher supply store. My son and I spent more time on the playground while my wife shopped a couple of scrap-book supply stores. In the evening, all three of us played miniature golf. Our little boy personified the toddler-hazard on each of the greens, attacking our golf balls with his club as the rolled to wherever we tried to hit them, or picking them up and moving them to wherever he thought they should have gone. The game was pretty funny. After dinner I used the facility’s weight room and sauna. I didn’t accomplish any deadline-related work on Friday.
Saturday morning we checked out after having washed our clothes and finished off leftovers for breakfast. The desk clerks declined to charge me for our stay. Checking my account once we returned home, it appears that when the company lost our reservations online, it also lost and did not recover our billing information. I consider that adequate compensation for the inconvenience of the lost reservations.
Again we found ourselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way to Gatlinburg where the traffic became more dense and moved even more slowly. Our destination was Ripley’s (the Believe it or Not people) Aquarium. The attraction there we most wanted to see was the penguin exhibit and its Penguin Tunnel – an underwater crawl-through clear tunnel through which to observe penguins swimming. The aquarium was packed, and we overpaid for unhealthy food-court meals while there. On the other hand, the exhibits were pretty awesome. Here a re a few pictures:
Because the Cautious One, my wife, was feeling a little unwell by the time we finished up at the aquarium, I asked the woman who took money at the parking garage booth for directions to I-40 that did not include a return through Sevierville. She suggested we motor through the state park and drive back via Townsend and Maryville, which we did. The XC70 needed fuel at Maryville, and I asked further directions back to Knoxville where we planned to stop and see friends from a church we all formerly attended when they lived in our town. We eventually found our way to their house via the Pelissippi Parkway (I think I may have spelled that correctly). We enjoyed introducing my son to place-kicking and punting out back, and catching up over pizza. We really liked the color scheme at our friends’ house and Caution-Lady brought home 8 x 10 color samples for our house.
On Sunday we drove back via Cookeville. I attempted to get some work done on the laptop in the car while the Cautious One drove. One of the benefits of having a “good car” that is an automatic is that my wife can share the driving chore and I can sometimes read, doze, work, or look out the windows. At Cookeville we had lunch with my wife’s uncle and aunt. My wife’s aunt had prepared lunch for us, and it was good to eat a home-cooked meal after a few days on the road. My wife and her aunt went to Kohl’s to look for I cannot recall what. Her uncle, our son, and I stayed around the house. My son and I rolled his toy excavator and two toy diesel engines down the home’s somewhat steep driveway after walking down the street to look at some elaborate inflatable Halloween decorations. Then we went inside and watched part of a funny Tony Curtis/Janet Leigh/Dean Martin movie. Finally, my wife and her aunt returned to the house and in a little while we got underway and drove home.
All in all a very pleasant few days.