Branson, baby...

Ah, vacation. After a long, hard, hectic, eclectic and (relatively) successful year of hard labor, I was sitting in my palatial second floor cubicle at the Bergstrom Technology Center when I got a call from Meemaw (Texas for grandma). She offered me an opportunity to accompany her, my great aunt Barbara, and my cousin Brett to Branson, Missouri. I told her I'd think about it...

Branson: The holiday destination of choice for White Bread, Red State America. The Vegas of the Ozarks (without the gambling and liquor, of course). Counting this trip (obviously I said yes), I have now journeyed to Branson five (!) times in my life, which seems absurd to me considering that 1) It is the complete opposite of most places I go on vacation (I prefer adventurous, non-touristy locales with people different from myself.), and 2) I have never chosen it as a vacation destination (It was generally nearby, and I was generally with friends or family.). I spent time in Branson in 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, and now 2006, which perplexes, impresses, and depresses me all at once (I just know I'll end up there in 2010 for a conference or something - mark it down). All that said, the 2001 trip prominently involved a good wedding (my compadre Jacob, who played the part of Sancho on the Ohio State trip), the biggest Bass Pro Shop in the world, and Yakov Smirnoff, so Branson is currently on my good side. Throw in an opportunity to see my relatives in East Texas (who number roughly half the population there), to spend time with Meemaw and Brett, and to play as much golf as I want, and the decision was made. Branson, baby. Branson...

Now to understand Branson, you must realize that there they hold the following two truths to be self-evident:

1) America is the greatest nation in the world, and we Americans should be proud, patriotic, and honor those who fought and died to make her free.
2) The good old days were the best there ever were, and wholly worth reliving.

You can see these truths expressed in every show you see in Branson. All of the theaters make a point of honoring both America and her veterans in some way. In both of the shows I went to (more later), the average age probably topped 70, and half of the audience were either veterans or wives of veterans. Yakov Smirnoff's show is patriotic from beginning to end - Yakov loves America so much that he wrote a love song to the Statue of Liberty, which he (of course) performs at the end of his show while waltzing across the stage with the Statue of Liberty. That's patriotism, and though the Yakov act rates almost "fatal" on the Unintentional Comedy Scale, the whole atmosphere makes for a nice break from a culture that has forgotten that, in this world with devils filled, freedom demands sacrifice (But I digress...).

Also, in Branson, the "good old days" are alive and well. The vaudeville-style variety acts that formed the backbone of entertainment from pre-radio era through the early years of television are the dominant format. Jim Stafford's show (which we took in on the second night) featured Jim singing songs that were big hits for him in the 1970's (apparently, he was a big star or something), his kids playing numbers on the piano, lots of clean humor, gentle ribbing of the audience, and a trap door illusion. It reminded me of something one might see on the Ed Sullivan Show (which was before my time) or the Carol Burnett Show (which, shockingly, wasn't...). As a lover of tradition, I enjoyed Stafford's show. For the majority of the Audience, who grew up watching Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Sid Caesar and the like, it must have been a welcome trip back to another time.

(Tangental note: Prairie Home Companion on NPR is a living legacy of vaudeville that remains contemporary due to great writing and a resurgence in American Roots music. I highly recommend the movie - it may be the best movie I've seen this year. Well, either it, or Snakes on a Plane...)

A few more Branson items:

1) If I were made the benevolent dictator of Branson, my first act would be to put an end to the canned music in the shows. On our second night there, we went to a show that featured highlights from about 20 popular Broadway shows. It starred Merrill Osmond and a cast of young performers from England. In the opening number, a medley from 42nd Street, the company broke into a tap number... which seemed amiss, and as I processed it... I realized that the tapping was canned, and the cast were only acting like they were tapping! What the crap? Well, needless to say, I was shocked and chagrinned, mortified and stupified. Fortunately, the rest of the show acquitted itself nicely with real singing and a legitimately impressive ballet number to "Memory' from Cats, but why on earth would someone use canned tap anywhere? ANYWHERE?!? Canned tap does not belong ANYWHERE other than a 2nd grade Christmas pageant. Anywhere else, canned tap is an outrage. AN OUTRAGE I TELL YOU!

(Taking a deep breath...)

(Counting backwards from 10...)

(I'm alright. Maybe I should write about golf...)

2) I played some of the best bad golf of my life in Branson. I shot a consistent 102 on the first day, including a beautiful 5-wood to two feet on a 170-yard par 3 (of course, I missed the putt). I shot a 49-59 108 on the second day, which left me somewhat disappointed in the finish. My cousin Brett, who hopes to be a golf pro someday, didn't shoot his best (he only beat me by 20-30 strokes a day), but he did help me work out the kinks in my putting stroke, so needless to say I was grateful.

3) I grew to miss the cornicopia of healthy eating options in Austin after travelling for 4 days in the "Steak and Shake" region of the country. When you pass a Barbeque shack and start thinking, "Hey, that might be healthy...", you know you're in trouble.

4) Sportscenter Highlight of the trip: On the way home, we made a pit stop at a convenience store in Arkansas. Arkansas people hate Longhorns, and aren't shy about expressing it (some Longhorn fans refer to Fayetteville, the city where the University of Arkansas resides, as Fayettenam). I asked the clerk (who was wearing a Arkansas shirt) how he thought the Razorbacks would do this year, and had a nice discussion with him about the team. I then casually added that I was a Longhorn, and that we were still trying to figure out who would replace Vince at quarterback. The look on his face said, "I know I have to be nice to you, but [censored], I can't believe you [censored] Longhorns won the [censored] championship after we were a [censored] fumble away from beating you." Meemaw then came up to pay for her water, and overheard us talking about football, precipitating this exchange...

Me (insincerely): "Well, I hope that you guys do well until the next time we play you (in 2008)."
Clerk: "Yeah, I think we'll beat you then."
Meemaw (not missing a beat): "No, you won't! We're going to beat the pants off you!"

Brett and I then walked to the car, laughing our butts off as the clerk stood there dumbfounded. Needless to say, we "got on down the road" as soon as we could.

So that was Branson, and so begins what I'm calling "the year of pilgramages." I plan to take a lot of trips to see family and friends, and places where God is moving, and hopefully I will come out with a better idea of what I want to do with my life. At this point, my options are certainly open. During this year, I will try to update the blog once a week or so with my thoughts and progress.

That's all for now...


At 10:00 PM, Blogger Laura said...

lol-great. Meemaw trash-talking a convenience store clerk in Arkansas about a football game 2 years in the future. That's awesome.

By the way, Meemaw isn't Texan for grandma. It's Nate Baby Talk for grandma - you totally named her. You could hardly claim to have mastered the Texan dialect by that time.

At 9:12 PM, Blogger ellen said...

1. In Nate's mind he IS Texas.

2. LOL.....

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Aaron said...

Meemaw trash-talking an Arkansas native is a direct result of two factors that Nate fails to understand when he is surprised by this.

1. Meemaw's generation of Texas fans looked at the Texas-Arkansas rivalry the same way as Texas fans look at the Texas-OU rivalry today... It often determined not only who would have bragging rights between the states, but also who would be the southwest conference champion (back when that meant something), who would play in the cotton bowl (again, back when that meant something) and who would be in line for a national championship. Nate was 14 and I was 11 the last time we played Arkansas with conference implications, so we don't have the same appreciation for the Texas/Arkansas rivalry as people who were around to see the 1969 game.

2. While we all like to claim our East Texas roots, Nate wasn't even born in east Texas. I am a native East Texan, born in Tyler, but since we moved away from Tyler when I was 3, once again, we don't have the same appreciation of the Texas/Arkansas rivalry as someone who spent a majority of their life in East Texas as Meemaw did. Meemaw is a true product of East Texas unlike any of us.

So when you take a step back and consider Meemaw's history and upbringing as well as the history of Texas football, it really makes more sense than anything else that she would have more animosity towards Arkansas fans than any of us.


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