I'm the product of an adventurous single mom. Most every weekend of my childhood, she'd strap her kayak atop her car, strap me into the passenger seat and head for some higher-altitude destination. When she'd drive through Pigeon Forge, on our way to Gatlinburg or beyond, she'd clench her teeth and keep the windows rolled up tightly until we'd made it safely into the cool, dewy air of the Smokies. And she'd wonder aloud about the blatant consumerism: that endless, garish strip of billboards, putt-putt golf courses, wedding chapels, bungee-jump platforms, arcades and outlet malls. And to think Pigeon Forge was just a sleepy mountain town until the Great Smoky Mountain National Park opened in 1934 and turned it into a tourist town.
It's Friday the 13th at 10 a.m., and already it's 80 degrees. I'm steering down I-40 with an unwilling passenger/boyfriend/photographer strapped into the passenger seat. We're on our way to try indoor skydiving.
The next day, Saturday, it's storming fiercely outside. I call up the friend that's supposed to go to Dollywood with me, and tell her nevermind. I don't want to drag along anyone on a day that promises to be so soggy and drab.
At the bar that night, I find myself telling friends that they need to come bungee-jumping with me, that we need to ride the roller coasters at Dollywood. I think, for a second, about becoming an American Coaster Enthusiast, about bungee-ing feet-first the next time. It doesn't sound like me saying these things, and I like that. I've proven myself wrong--in part. None of this is to say that I've decided to wholly embrace the riff-raff on the Pigeon Forge strip. In fact, it's downright disconcerting that such a place serves as the gateway to the splendid Smoky Mountains. It's like Anna Nicole Smith and Hillary Clinton living next door to one another. The people who come to visit Dollywood are presumably interested in vastly different things than those who come to hike and paddle in the Smoky Mountains. But perhaps this is just another exercise in living in concert with one another. And just like Mom said, you gotta find the fun in any situation.