Dollywood was closed.
I will admit that I cried when I found out. Visiting Dollywood and supersizing a McDonald’s meal were the only two things I desperately wanted to do in the states. I know, dream big! I’m not a huge fan of Dolly Parton’s music, but I love her kitsch southern style and I like to imagine she is exactly like her character in Steel Magnolias. She’d paint your nails in a nice, coral shade, gossip with you over biscuits and grits and then come to your funeral in something tight and low-cut.
Anyway, it turns out Gatlinburg, Tennessee – the neighbouring town of Pigeon Forge, where the great Dollywood lies – is possibly the greatest place on earth. It’s pretty much a permanent amusement park, so it was a nice consolation prize.
This was an amazing shop called Aunt Mahalia’s Candies, where they had all kinds of dreamy fudge, boiled sweets and candy canes. It was near a tobacco shop where the shopkeeper told J-man he was welcome to fill up his pipe with free samples. I also saw my first Mormons here, but thought it would be rude to take photos or ask for hairstyle tips (no, really – back combing? teasing? shoulder pads to lift the pouf?)
On the next floor was this boot, hat, whip and gun shop. Channelling Dolly, I thought briefly about buying a pair of red cowboy boots. As J-man was trying to convince me to get them, the owner (who was wearing denim overalls and, for the purposes of this story, chewing straw) said in a rich, southern drawl: “Be careful it might bring out the cowgirl in ‘er and we won’t be held responsible for anything that happens”. Needless to say I wussed out and didn’t buy the boots, fearing I would uncontrollably rip my shirt off and mount a raging mechanical bull, before birthing an illegitimate child called Something-Ray on the spot.
This was taken in the same mall, between a nunchucks and knuckledusters outlet and a quaint shop that sold hideous glass figures of barnyard animals. I was trying to do my best Dolly Parton sexy wink to go with my hooker outfit. As you can tell, that definitely needs more work. It’s hard to wink with a lazy eye and fishnets that are riding up.
Lining the streets were all kinds of wack things like this. Countless fair rides, fudge shops, permanent Christmas villages, gun and ammo shops, diners, grills and fast food chains. There were even the equivalent of carnies in residence – two tattooed brothers who ran the local Burger King and were spotted smoking cigarettes they’d found on the footpath. Only after J-man finished eating his handmade triple cheeseburger.
But it wasn’t all fairy floss and incest. Before leaving Gatlinburg we took a short hike in the Smoky Mountains National Park. There were icicles hanging from rocks, dramatic waterfalls, beautiful tall trees, autumn leaves and… snow!
What an amazing way to spend the first day of December.
Only 23 days ’til Christmas!