I’ve been living down south for just over a year now, and in that time it stands to reason that I have identified a number of things that I just cannot stand about this place. But on the flip side of that coin, I’ve also found a few things that I actually like.
Imagine that. I’m being open-minded. Admirable growth on my part.
So, in classic David Letterman style, and without further ado, I present to you, my loyal–if somewhat flabbergasted–fans, my list of ten things that I love about Tennessee. Oh! And don’t worry, next time I’ll present my list of things that make my skin crawl.
(Please note that these are not presented in any particular order and no animals were injured, molested, or otherwise abused in the compiling of this list.)
10. It’s March 18th and it’s Eighty Degrees
In fact, it was seventy degrees at about 9:30 this morning, as I learned when I opened the door to head out to the gym.
Now don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen in the mountains. It does, of course. It just won’t happen consistently for another three months and it rarely happens at 9:30 AM. Once it does happen, it will only happen for another three months.
Here in the molehills, this kind of weather is a common thing and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
There may be some deeply disturbed people who don’t appreciate this gift; I am not one of them.
9. It Doesn’t Snow Here in the Molehills
I haven’t seen snow since March of 2011. Alright, that might be stretching the truth just a little. But it would be stretched just a teeny-tiny-little-bit. I did my research before moving to the molehills. Months worth, really. I studied historical weather data; I actually checked the weather out here almost daily. A common theme was that it just doesn’t snow here. I was skeptical, but hopeful.
I wasn’t disappointed.
In fact, I can only remember two incidents of snowfall here this past winter. One of those times, I think I saw six, maybe seven snowflakes. The second time the snowfall was actually fairly decent. I think I counted fifteen snowflakes.
Now if you ask a Tennessean, they will tell you the winter of 2010 was sheer hell on earth. But Tennesseans aren’t used to snow. To a Tennessean, a bad winter is one snow fall of about one inch. So they aren’t exactly a good measure on the subject.
God bless the molehill people. If they had to suffer through a real snow fall–like the kind that we get in the mountains–I suspect that the incidents of people jumping out of windows and predictions of the return of Jesus would jump exponentially.
Yes, it was a grand winter and it’s all over now. It lasted two months. The coldest months here are January and February. And the coldest days here would be shorts weather in the mountains. I can count on two hands the number of days this past winter that I would say were truly cold. The rest of the time it was just luscious.
I’ll take it.
8. Spring has Sprung and it’s “Sprunging” all Over the Place
I like themes. They make for good movie sequels and spin-off TV series. So since we seem to be on a theme here, let’s just go with it.
Apparently spring comes early here in the molehills. I took this photograph myself a week ago. If I had been so driven (and less busy), I could have taken this same photograph a month ago.
That’s right boys and girls. The trees here started budding out around the middle of February.
Every place you look you’ll see trees covered with flowers of every hue imaginable. Up and down every country driveway and in window boxes everywhere you’ll see flowers at full bloom. Birds are singing, children are playing, dogs are barking, people are biking.
You won’t see this in Colorado until at least mid-May. In fact, back in the mountains, they live with the possibility of several more major snowfalls and those snowfalls will be very heavy.
I’ll take the flowers.
7. History Around Every Corner
For a lover of everything history, and especially of the Civil War, Tennessee is a dream come true. Did you know that we are second only to Virginia in the number of Civil War battlefields?
It’s true. I am surrounded by battlefields just a short drive from home: Stones River, Franklin, Nashville, Spring Hill. The list goes on and on.
Tennessee overflows with history. From Civil War battlefields to the blood-stained floors of plantations turned hospitals, to the Trail of Tears, to moonshining. The molehills are a history lover’s best friend.
I’m going to Shiloh next!
6. The Apple Store at Green Hills Mall
It’s Apple. In a store. In a mall. Here. In the molehills. “It just works.”
Need I say more?
5. An Amusement Park Named After Dolly Parton
Yep. In true molehill eclectic style, east Tennessee possesses its very own amusement park named after none other than everyone’s favorite 9 to 5 country singer with undoubtedly severe back problems.
And while I have yet to actually visit Dollywood, you just have to love a theme parked named after Dolly Parton.
This summer they’re adding an attraction named the Wild Eagle. It’s a roller coaster with, umm…wings. Now to me this just seems wrong on every level. But for those who like, well, flying roller coasters, knock yourselves out. Whatever floats your boat. Whatever pops your top. Whatever bakes your cookies.
I think I’ll stick with the Busy Bees ride, thank you very much.
God love you Dolly! You’re one of a kind!
4. Little Las Vegas
I’ve been to Gatlinburg twice now and I have yet to decide what I think of it.
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are two towns in the eastern part of the molehills. They are tourist towns in the classic sense of the word. With businesses like the world’s largest “As Seen on TV Store” in Pigeon Forge and the ever amusing Dukes of Hazzard museum called Cooter’s Place, these two towns live and die on tourists.
But with a name like Pigeon Forge, how can you possibly not visit?
Both towns sport a Las Vegas style strip and the traffic is horrific. If heavy traffic is an annoyance to you–like it is to me–it’s best to let someone else do the driving. I suggest the local trolley service. Morning, noon or night, 365 days a year, these streets are clogged to the max.
Gatlinburg, like Las Vegas, isn’t exactly a family town, but it isn’t exactly not a family town either. There’s lots of seediness here. But there’s also lots of family fun to be had. For example: perhaps you’re interested in taking the kiddos out on the town for some nice ice cream and chocolate covered grasshoppers. Well, you’ll be sure to find plenty of ice cream shops, but be sure to cover their impressionable little eyes, because along the way you’ll pass plenty of seedy establishments like Sexy Stuf [sic] which bills itself as an adult novelty store.
While we can debate the apparent lack of ability of purveyors of fine adult merchandise to spell the word “stuff,” we cannot debate the quirkiness of a town where you can buy a teddy bear in one store and something entirely different in another store right next door.
Even Las Vegas isn’t this obvious.
And the best and quirkiest part of all? Pancakes! Yes, you read correctly. Pancakes. I have never seen so many pancake restaurants in one place in all my life. These people really, really, really like pancakes. There are literally dozens and dozens of them in a relatively tiny space between the two towns. The ever-present International House of Pancakes in Pigeon Forge seems like a sad after thought among others with names like the Little House of Pancakes, the Log Cabin Pancake House, Atrium Pancakes, Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin, the River Road Pancake House, the Smoky Mountain Pancake House, the Ole Southern Pancake Restaurant and of course the famous, venerable and always insanely busy Pancake Pantry.
Only once have I not seen a line about three blocks long waiting to get into the Pancake Pantry and that was only because we were nearly the first in line shortly after they opened. By the time we were done with our 10,000 calorie breakfast, the line was–you guessed it–three blocks long.
Oh yes: they only take cash.
Ah Gatlinburg, I love you if for no other reason than that you are very, very weird.
3. The Parthenon and the Park of Random
While we are discussing the bizarre, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Nashville’s replica of…wait for it…wait for it…the Parthenon in Centennial Park.
The replica was built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897. Why, you ask? Because Tennessee fancies itself “the Athens of the South” and as such they decided to go just a tad bit overboard, spend a whole bunch of money and build not just a replica, but a full-scale, true-to-size rebuild of the original. By golly, if Nashvillians were going to do it, they were going to do it right!
Today the Parthenon is home to an art gallery. Yes. You can go inside. It’s not only authentic on the outside, it’s authentic on the inside too.
Tennessee is wildly eccentric and the Park of Random, or Centennial Park as it is officially known, is further evidence of her eccentricities.
My girlfriend lovingly coined the name the Park of Random because, gosh that’s exactly what Centennial Park is. Very, very random.
Wouldn’t it be just fantastic to go to one place and witness exciting attractions like a Tennessee Air National Guard jet stuck on a stick which is stuck in the ground? A train engine from the Nashville, Chattanooga and Saint Louis Railroad sits just behind the jet on a stick. Maybe a sunken garden is more your thing. Or! You can spend at least several minutes visiting a large section of the park dedicated to a guy named John W. Thomas who was, at one time, the president of the Nashville, Chattanooga and Saint Louis Railroad. Let’s not forget the aforementioned replica of the Parthenon. And to top it off, the various seating surfaces for park goers look strangely like electric chairs…all except for the ones that look like the palm of some giant’s hand.
With the exception of Mr. Thomas’ statue and the locomotive engine (which by the way are greatly separated one from the other in the park), all of these things are seemingly unrelated. Hence: the Park of Random.
Yes. Nashville is full of eccentricities.
2. The Opryland Hotel
Imagine a hotel with not just one, not just two but three gargantuan garden atriums inside the hotel. Imagine a hotel with a four-story waterfall inside the hotel. Imagine a hotel with a full-on “river” containing water from more than 1,700 rivers (the mountains and the molehills are both represented) inside the hotel.
Imagine all of this and you have the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville.
It is indeed a spectacular hotel. And in typical Nashville fashion, it is very, very quirky.
The most common physical reaction among the uninitiated walking into the Delta atrium (the largest of the three) is a look of shock usually accompanied by a jaw drop. Here you will find the “Delta River,” which, as mentioned, contains the water from 1,700 waterways from around the world. For a measly ten-dollar admission fee, you can take a ride on the river on a “Delta Flatboat.” While on this–again–quirky ride, you will be treated to a guided tour of the atrium. By the time you’re done, you’ll know all about the tens of thousands of plants, trees and shrubs in the atrium.
Here you will also find an assortment of fine dining choices, ice cream and world-class shopping. Which, translated, means that you’ll pay five bucks for a Coke.
My personal favorite is the Cascades atrium.
Here’s where you’ll find that towering forty-four foot tall waterfall. And yes, you can walk behind it. While not as large as the Delta atrium, the waterfall is a stunning–and terribly loud–effect.
There are no boats here. Just water and lots and lots of plants and towering trees. You’ll find more first-class restaurants and the famous Relâche Spa. If you’re traveling with a girl, I highly recommend it. She will thank you and you’ll score points.
Let’s face it guys, we need points and lots of them.
Last–but not least–is the Garden Conservatory.
The Garden Conservatory is the smallest and by far the most intimate of the three atriums. As with the others, this atrium is full of flowing water and towering trees, but on a much more personal level.
As you walk along its secluded pathways, you’ll be treated to a babbling brook, tropical flowers and lots of fish. It’s the best of the three to steal a kiss in a hidden spot.
Whether for a night or a week, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel is a destination not to be missed in Nashville. It is gargantuan, it is overwhelming, it is beautiful, it is indeed something to write home about.
And yes, it is very, very quirky.
1. A Girl and a Horse
And finally, we have arrived at the number one thing that I love about Tennessee.
Drum roll, please!
At the beginning of this journey through some of the places and the things that I love about Tennessee, I stated that they were in no particular order. And while that was true for the first nine, I can emphatically state that number one in the countdown is in fact in its proper place at number one.
“…forty yards of naugahyde, a girl and a dream. What can I say?” –Larry Donner/Throw Momma From the Train
On April 8, 2011 I met a girl. A beautiful girl. A joyful girl. A wonderful girl. A funny girl. A girl that keeps me laughing.
And she owns a horse.
If that isn’t quirky and eclectic, I don’t know what is. Most people own a cat, a dog, maybe even a parrot or an iguana.
Not this girl. She owns a horse.
And, she makes me happy. I’m going to marry her, and together we will own a horse and a Chihuahua. That’s quirky.
And so, in first place is a girl I met a year ago. She’s number one and always will be. She’s what has kept me here through trials and tribulations.
Moving away from a place where you have spent half of your life isn’t an easy thing. It’s big and it’s scary.
She has made it bearable; and in fact, enjoyable.
“The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope.” –Sarah Connor/Terminator II: Judgment Day