Monday, October 19, 2015

I'm in awe

We're back from Branson. It was interesting. . . one of those things where having survived the experience and satisfied your curiosity you find yourself thinking "Thank God I'll never have to go there again." The rampant commercialism isn't the problem. The city is one giant tourist trap, but it certainly doesn't pretend to be anything else. All the blatant trying to suck dollars out of tourist wallets is actually kind of fun. As I've noted before, Branson is Las Vegas without the hookers, booze, and slot machines. It goes way over the top in a multitude of ways, and it does so with a G-rating. It can be a nice break from reality. No, what shoves Branson into the "never want to go there again" territory is the combination of the infrastructure and the terrain.

There is no level ground in Branson. None. It is an extremely hilly city -- saying it's in the Ozarks is kind of a clue, but nonetheless, it seems to be exceptionally lumpy. Lots of ups and downs and twists and general weirdness. And the hills are steep -- no gentle grades. Then take and overlay that with a main street, Branson's "strip," that is still two lanes (although sections do have a center left-turn lane), bumper-to-bumper traffic, and a secondary street system that is emphatically not a grid, and things get interesting. We were there during the week in October, which is late enough in the tourist season that some motels are already closed until next Spring. Branson in July must be a driver's Hell. It does not help that all the maps the local tourist information places provide are "not to scale" (kind of an understatement) and stylized to eliminate the numerous twists and turns that occur out in the real world.They also haven't been updated for awhile, which throws in yet another level of frustration. It can be a tad annoying to realize that the landmark you were looking for going by the map no longer exists.

Because we were there for only one night, we went to only one show: Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. I have no complaints about the show: it's fun family entertainment, basically a variety show with horses, and the food was good. We enjoyed it. The show mixes elements of rodeo (variations on barrel racing), trick riding, county fairs (a pig race) and an old-fashioned variety show that includes a magic act. They bring in members of the audience a couple times, e.g., there's a chicken chase where kids from the audience have to encourage chickens to cross a finish line. I hope everyone involved with it, both entertainers and support staff (servers, cooks, ticket counter people, the stable hands mucking out the stalls) get paid a decent wage because they work really, really hard. The performers aren't just doing trick riding and singing, they're also the stage hands shuffling the props around, and the servers aren't just trying to get hundreds of Cornish game hens on to people's plates before the birds cool down, they're also having to act as cheerleaders to keep the audience worked up and engaged. I can see why the show advertises itself as the most popular dinner show on the planet; it was a Thursday evening during the off season but there were very few empty seats in the arena. It was fun; I've no doubt they get a lot of repeat business.

We decided we had time on Friday morning to check out a couple of the other attractions. The Younger Daughter and I decided we liked the sounds of the Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure, and as a sop to the S.O. we'd also go to the Branson Auto and Farm Museum. The Butterfly Palace is exactly what you'd expect: a building with a large room in it that is filled with various butterflies, all quite colorful, and tropical plants. It was nice in a very mellow way. You amble around admiring the butterflies and being mildly astonished by just how big and colorful some of the tropical species are. Eventually you realized that wearing a red sweater into a butterfly garden was not such a great idea as more and more butterflies notice something that registers as a possible food source. After you end up with so many butterflies crawling over you probing the acrylic yarn hoping to find nectar that it starts to resemble something out of a low budget horror film you leave. Moral of the story? Never wear red into a butterfly garden. Being mobbed by butterflies is a very strange experience.

Chuckwagon manufactured by Moline. Asking price is $40,000. 
The Butterfly Palace was actually a pretty typical example of its type. The Auto and Farm Museum, on the other hand. . . holy wah, that place left me in awe. Not because of the quality of the collection, mind you (although there were some pretty nifty tractors, horse-drawn equipment, and special interest autos on the floor). No, what had me in awe was the marketing genius of whatever person or persons came up with the idea. The "museum" is not a museum at all. It's the showroom for a specialized used car and tractor dealership. With a few exceptions, everything on display was also for sale. People pay about $18 per person (I'm blanking on the exact cost because Tammi paid) for the privilege of walking around a used car dealership. Granted, those used cars are not your typical recent model used cars, but that's kind of nitpicking. It's a dealership -- and they've suckered you into paying for the privilege of browsing the showroom floor. I have no doubt whatsoever that there are people who visit that "museum," spot the GTO or Firebird or Hudson business coupe of their dreams and actually decide they're going to buy it. I know I came to a screeching halt when I spotted the 1973 Scamp. Granted, it wasn't exactly like the Scamp I still wax nostalgic about -- this particular Scamp had dual carburetors, a 340 4-speed, and a custom black leather interior -- but I could live with the fact it didn't have a slant-6 engine, automatic transmission, or a peeling vinyl roof like my all-time favorite car did. I know how to shift for myself.

All it would have taken to make me a happy camper would have been $20,000 in cash to drive it home, which is a mere $19,700 than I paid for a Scamp the first time around.

In addition to the cars, the place also sold some remarkably over-priced and ugly metal yard art. If I'd had (in addition to the funds to buy the Scamp) another $3500 in loose change kicking around, I could have purchased a rooster that stood about 8 feet tall. For less than a grand, I could have gotten a more or less life size Wessex Saddleback pig, either a sow or a boar. Obviously, someone buys that crap, too, otherwise they wouldn't bother peddling it. There is indeed a sucker born every minute, and it's pretty clear lots and lots of them go to Branson.


  1. there's a sucker born every minute...and Branson is proof..hah

  2. Thank you for this. I know I shall never visit the place.


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