Monday, March 15, 2010

Anniversary Adventures (Part 6)

On Saturday, we'd had a very nice morning already, with flapjacks from a different flapjack restaurant where the `jacks were thick and tasty and the bacon salty. (Afterwards, we were already plotting how best to persuade the new place to crumble the salty bacon into the actual pancake batter for our Sunday morning trip.) We had then browsed around downtown Gatlinburg, looking in shops once in a while, but not really buying anything. We'd been planning to hit the Ripley's Aquarium, but kind of balked at the $40 price for the two of us to get in there. So, instead, we wound up blowing nearly $20 on EARTHQUAKE: THE RIDE.

That's right, we were somehow suckered in (*COUGH*COUGH *THEWIFEWANTEDTOGO *COUGH*) to forking over good money for Earthquake: The Ride. Let me just tell you something about Earthquake: The Ride. If you're an adult human being, or above the age of, say, 14, you're not going to enjoy Earthquake: the Ride unless someone else is paying for it. Not to spoil the experience, but there's no actual earthquake during Earthquake: The Ride. Instead, you're ushered into a mini-subway car, with maybe eight seats all told--and you know the ride is for children at this point because while your ass can fit in the seats, the seat belt will NOT buckle around an average-sized adult waist, let alone mine--the doors close and you're "off."

You know those rides at Disney World, where you're stapped into the little car, or miniature pirate ship, and you're led around on a track through a maze of adventure, color and wonderment? This wasn't one of those. Oh, there was a track, all right, but it went in a straight line. This meant that as the mini-subway car could only move forward and backward, therefore all the storytelling of the ride had to be done via the subway intercom system, which featured a paniced person screaming about how there had been a massive earthquake and chaos was about to ensue. There were a few other visual storytelling clues as well, such as the large crate through the slats of which could be glimpsed some sort of large ape. Hmm, wonder if that'll come back later? Then there was the matter of the ceiling of the tunnel ahead of you collapsing, causing the mini-subway car to stop just shy of destruction, back up a bit, then move forward anyway, the back of it tilting up perilously close to a 4 degree angle, which was just enough to nearly dislodge me from my unbelted seat and nearly made me spill my coffee. But it was okay. The car righted itself and began pulling backward, only to be suddenly and viciously attacked from the front by a giant rubber anaconda that had sprung out of the hole in the tunnel floor! The car then backed through the tunnel--with the announcer announcing some aftershocks all the way--passing the now well-escaped and menacing gorilla in the crate and some chunks of reinforced concrete that seemed to be swinging from pivots, and then back to the starting point, where some large and rubbery creature loomed into the window just as you thought your ride was done and all was safe. All told, it probably took less than two minutes.

"Wow, let's do that again," we said as we walked out, past the line of children and their harried and lighter-of-wallet parents. At least the kids would probably get a kick out of it.

That was far from my only fateful decision of the day, though. In fact, I still had the consequences of my fateful decision from Friday to attend to. After the temperature had soaked into our bones, we decided to head back to the cabin to soak those cold bones in the hottub. And this we did.

After a while I got out, dried off and very shortly found myself wrapped up in my robe, standing on the back deck of the cabin, a Blue Moon beer in hand and the beautiful, snow-flecked landscape of the Smokies spread before me. Seemed a perfect time to light up my stogie.

I fetched my cigar, lit it, puffed away at it until it took. It was very smooth and quite pleasant, as I had been assured at the tobacconist's that the Baccarat Dolce Far Niente would be. I continued to puff on it, taking in the surrounding vista, my mp3 player softly playing an interview with John Hodgman, while, a few feet away, the wife soaked in the hottub upwind.

The thing about smoking a cigar, though, is that it takes a long time. They're meant for chewing on while playing poker with the guys, or savoring in front of a roaring fire, in some kind of Minnesotan hunting lodge, while sipping cognac from a Riedel Vinum crystal cognac glass. And while I was certainly enjoying mine, it was taking a lot longer to finish than I really wanted to spend cold, robed and partially wet on the back of a chilly cabin. However, I was determined to make it through to the bitter end. Oh, how bitter that end was to be.

"Are you sick yet?" the wife asked a few minutes later.

"No," I said, defensively. But within a few minutes more, I began feeling a bit off. Between the cigar's taste, the smoke and the beer, my stomach was starting to feel less than stable. And still I puffed away, cause the damn thing wasn't done yet. Then, quite suddenly, it became apparent to me that not only was I definitely going to throw up if I took even one more puff, I was likely going to throw up regardless. I dropped the cigar into my beer bottle and rushed to the bathroom to wash my face, hoping to get the smell of smoke off of me before its overwhelming sweet and smooth stench put the hurt on my stomach even more. Didn't work. I could still taste cigar. Before I could even attempt to brush my teeth, the levies gave way and I took a lengthy stroll down the streets of Hurl City.

"Mmmm hmm," the wife said, once I returned, green-faced to the deck.

For the next two days, I could smell cigar smoke at almost all times even three days later could still pick up the occasional whiff of it. Oh, yeah, that's why I don't smoke regularly.

Though we were already two days into our trip, we'd still not really gone out for a nice anniversary dinner. Our Friday night meal was takeout pizza from a local pizzeria and mostly we'd otherwise eaten flapjacks. So out we went into the night to try and find a restaurant.

I'd seen a Cuban place in town that I thought might be fun. I've always been told Cuban food is some of the best tasting stuff ever, but have never had any. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn and wound up driving back through the more touristy section, littered with chain restaurants. I kept driving, hoping to come to something nicer, or to Pigeon Forge, whichever came first. Then, we spied it... a great big log structure that looked very much like the sort of hunting lodge one might be able to enjoy a fine cigar within had one not already been put off of them for at least a year. It was called the Park Grill Steakhouse and it looked like salvation.

Inside we were greeted by very friendly hosts, who led us past a massive double-sided salad bar to a waiting table in this massive establishment. It was busy, but not too busy. Our waiter was friendly, but not overly in-your-face friendly. The piano music was pleasant and not too loud, played by a man who was a very skilled pianist, but who could have doubled for a gold-panning miner if not for his suit. The bread was fantastic! The prices on the menu scared us at first, but it was our anniversary weekend, when you're supposed to splurge a little on the finer things. We both ordered steaks, which were cooked to perfection and garnished with love. They were some of the best tasting steaks we'd ever had.

Now, both the wife and I have experience as wait staff in restaurants--the wife in a high-traffic seaside, tourist magnet restaurant, me at a busy Pizza Hut--and we were both quietly observing the staff of this one. No one seemed to be stressed out. Everyone seemed to be pitching in to help one another out. Someone who wasn't even our waiter asked if we needed refills without prompting. The place just seemed to run like a well-oiled machine, burning high octane clean fuel. It was amazing. On our way out, we noticed that near the foyer of the restaurant were hung pictures of all the staff. Most of them had been working there for over five years, and some since the place had opened in 1995. Apparently the owners treated their people right to the point that some were making careers out of their jobs there. Knowing this somehow made the dining experience all that much better.


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