Saturday, February 13, 2010

Anniversary Adventures (Part 2)

Arriving in Gatlinburg on Thursday evening meant we pretty much had an extra day on our hands for Friday that we wouldn't have had if things gone to our original plan. We thought this was awesome and soon headed out into the rainy Friday weather to find ourselves some breakfast, choosing a flapjack establishment that had caught our eye the previous evening. I don't know if this was one we had eaten at during our trip 10 years back, but the food and service were good and soon we were filled with flapjacks and bacon.

We looked over a few of the pamphlets advertising some of the shows available to see in Pigeon Forge and began making a list of things we'd like to do and see. But because we had this "extra" day on our hands, we decided to just take things at a leisurely pace. So often vacations can be even more hectic than everyday life, with deadlines to meet if you want to fit in all the things you want to do. As far as we could tell, though, our only real deadline was getting back to Borderland by 2p on Monday, so the vet didn't charge us an extra day for jailing our dogs. Our philosophy became, as the wife says, "If you feel froggy, jump."

After breakfast, we drove closer to the downtown area where we spotted a bead shop in one of the store-clusters present throughout downtown Gburg. The wife is a jewelry-maker in her few spare moments and adores nothing more than spending hours in bead stores imagining the potential things she will create. She warned me that I might as well leave her there unless I too wanted to look at beads. I did not, so I fled, but no other shops in that particular store cluster were open. I hoped this didn't bode ill for the weekend. During our previous visit to Gatlinburg, we'd found a great many of the stores and restaurants to be closed for the off-season and those that were open (the flapjack establishments) often closed after lunch. We'd been forced to eat more than one Gatlinburg meal in what has become known in our household as "the shitty Shoney's." I don't know if the place is still shitty, but we didn't have a good time there 10 years ago and were in no hurry to return. Turned out, though, that this particular shut-down shop cluster was one of the only such ones we saw during the trip. It was located on the outer edge of the touristy area, and as you approached the center of said area the shops were all open (at least, after 11a) and seemingly doing decent business.

Through the semi-rainy, blustery cold, I made my way past Cooter's Dukes of Hazzard Museum (presumably owned or endorsed by Ben Jones, who played the character) then the Ripley's Aquarium until I came to a multi-leveled mall we'd visited 10 years back. I seemed to recall a decent music store there and I quickly found it on the first level. They even had Beirut's "Gulag Orkestar" CD I'd been looking for. Further up the levels, I came to a tobacconist where I decided it would be prudent to purchase a cigar. I explained to the man that I don't regularly smoke cigars, but do have one on special occasions and this weekend certainly qualified. He led me into the humidor and graciously did not attempt to get me buy anything obscenely expensive, but instead directed me to some of their milder, starter-cigars in the $6 range. I could just see myself back at the cabin, standing on the rear deck, cigar in mouth, beer in hand, a snow-covered Smoky Mountain tableau spread before me, hottub at the ready, warm wife of 10 years at my side. My purchase of said cigar, however, was to eventually prove a fateful decision.

My next and more immediately demonstrable fateful decision came after I'd picked up the wife at the bead store and returned with her to the mall to wander. We came to the Pepper Palace, purveyor of all things hot sauce. One of their sauces is called the Hottest Sauce in the Universe and Pepper Palace has a challenge for it whereby if you take a taste of it and survive, they'll take your picture and put you on the online Wall of Flame. Now, this sauce is rated at merely 3,500,000 Scoville units and allegedly the hottest sauce chemically possible is around 16 million, so it's technically a misnomer. However, I didn't know any of that going into it. I just knew that my historically evil wife had challenged me to the task and I figured "How bad could it be?"

At first, I wasn't even interested in the photo part of it and was about to have a taste without alerting the clerk, but the wife insisted I let her know first. I'm glad of it, because let me tell you after downing a corn chip one corner of which was liberally dunked in the Hottest Sauce in the Universe, I deserve every bit of that picture. Hell, I deserve a T-shirt! At first bite, the sauce wasn't all that impressive. It was spicy, sure, but didn't immediately kick you in the stomach. The clerk just grinned at me and said, "It's a grower." That's when I realized that the sauce didn't need to kick me in the stomach, because it had already kicked me in the nuts. Squar'. And, just like getting kicked squar' in the nuts, the pain wasn't going to hit all at once, but would grow and grow and grow over the course of several minutes. By the time the clerk snapped my picture, it was all I could do not to bolt for the coin fountain bubbling nearby.

The clerk grinned in the wife's direction and said, "Yep, he's gonna be feeling that for a half-hour, I'd say."

"I'm gonna need something. Quick," I told the wife.

Naturally, the Pepper Palace didn't have jugs of milk at the ready, so I booked it for a hotdog place where I ordered the largest fountain drink Diet Coke they had and supped deep. It was sort of like throwing water on a grease fire. There was the briefest of subsidences of pain as the cool liquid crossed it, but then it flared up even taller.

True to the clerk's prediction, it took about half an hour for the pain to go away, though it did diminish to a dull and kind of enjoyable level after only 15 minutes or so. It might not truly be the Hottest Sauce in the Universe, but it's about as hot as I want to get.


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