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2010.07.29 I Need a Vacation from this Vacation

"Hey, Troy!  Would you like a free three-day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?"

Anyone would say a hearty "yes!" to a question like that, of course.  Even if, as in this case, it was asked in the same tone of voice as the average pervert asks "Hey, little girl!  Want some candy?"

As it turned out, my oldest known nephew (aka N1) was planning to turn 18 years old in the not to distant future.  The entire family latched on to the idea that he needed one final "kid's vacation" before he became an adult.  Especially latched was the younger nephew (aka N2) who figured that he'd get to go along for the ride.  The grandparents knew they had no chance of keeping up with a pair of teenagers, so they invited the boys' fathers along.  Both of them had to work those days.  That's how Uncle Troy got an invitation.

Technically, Uncle Troy had to work one of those days as well.  However, I asked nicely and managed to get that day off.  Well, I might have laid on the guilt a little to help get the day off.  You see, a few weeks before, there had been a holiday Monday that I had wanted off.  The other guy on the shift had taken the previous holiday Monday off, so I figured it was my turn.  I had a plan.  I figured I'd ask if he wanted that Monday off.  If he said that he didn't, I take that Monday off myself.  If he said he did, I'd remind him that he'd taken that last Monday and it was now my turn.  It was a brilliant plan.  It couldn't possibly fail.

It failed.

"Say, buddy, are you planning to take Monday off?" I asked innocently.

"No," he replied.  Before I could spring my trap on him, he continued.  "Technically, Sunday is the holiday.  Monday is a regular work day for our department.  We both need to be here."

That exchange shamed me into not asking for that Monday off.  It was a big surprise when Monday came and he wasn't the one to show up to work with me.  "Why are you here instead of the regular guy?"

"I don't know.  I got a call last week saying one of you was taking the holiday off..."

Come the next Monday, Troy was the one getting the day off.  The grands and the nephews and Troy saddled up and rode out.  The original plan was for all five of us to ride in one car, but no one car we had could comfortably seat five.  Still, it had always been the consensus had always been that it was better to all crowd together than deal with the constant hassle of trying to manage two cars.  I was understandably confused when we packed up two cars.  "Oh, we talked it over last night and decided it was better to deal with the hassle of trying to manage two cars than all crowd together."

Of course, once we got on the road, all I heard was this:  "Where is he?  Are they still back there?  Did we make that last turn together?  Where is he?  How did he get in front of us again?  Does he know which hotel we're going to?  Where is he?  That does it!  Once we get to the hotel, we're all piling into one car."

Of course, once we all got into one car, all I heard was this:  "Move over!  Are we there yet?  Push the seat up!  Move over!  You're sitting on my hand!  Has anybody seen my drink?  Move over!  Was that the turn right there?  Where are we going, anyway?  Move over!  That does it!  Once we get back to the hotel, we're taking both cars."

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

I noticed the pattern early on.  I managed to get double desserts for most meals by betting against the nephews on whether we'd take one car or two for the next outing.

We tried a few new things this year.  One was Jon Dee's HYPNOTIZED Comedy Show.  Actually, one of the nephews had seen it before.  We showed up at the ticket booth a couple hours early.  I went ahead and purchased the tickets.  We ate and came right back.  Well, I tried to get the nephews to come right back, but they wanted to stop and shop along the way.  As seating was designated as first come, first serve I wanted to get there early.  In the end, we got there 15 minutes before showtime.  The nephews were shocked and dismayed at the long line.  We were the last to show up.

About two minutes before showtime, one more group arrived to stand in line behind us.  "Ha ha, Uncle Troy!  We weren't the last in line after all.  You were wrong."

"Yes, nephews.  Once we get back to the motel, be sure to tell your grandmother that there was one whole other family in all of Gatlinburg who were slower than we were."

"We sure will, Uncle Troy!"  For being related to me, they sure are slow to catch on to sarcasm.

The comedy part of the show was pretty good.  I had a few good laughs.  There was even a tiny bit of magic, and that was pretty good, too.  The rest of the show was not all that entertaining to me.  I'm not a big fan of hypnotists, though I admit that Jon Dee was good at what he did.  I'm also not a big fan of audience participation.  This show was pretty much all audience participation.  I'm also not a big fan of nephews jabbing me in the ribs with their elbows every 20 seconds asking "Did you see that?"

All told, though, it was worth the money.  It would have been worth more if we'd remembered the coupon entitling us to a free CD.  Oh, and while we were encouraged to take all the pictures we wanted, video was strictly forbidden.  More on that later.

Another thing we tried was Magic Beyond Belief.  I like magic.  I was a bit of an amateur magician myself in my younger days.  I can still occasionally amaze and astound a friend or relative by pulling the odd coin out of the odd orifice.  I can honestly say that there were only a couple of tricks in the entire show that I couldn't immediately see how they were done.

According to the hype, if you go to the show trying to figure out how the tricks are done, you won't enjoy said show.  I beg to differ.  That's like saying if you know how a piano is put together, you can't enjoy the music it produces.  It's the showmanship (or "patter") that makes the show worth seeing.  This show had some pretty good showmanship.

I've never been to a Las Vegas magic show, but I've seen them on television.  This is pretty much how I imagine them to be in real life.  There was a lot of flash, a lot of loud music, a lot of funny jokes.  There were even some wild animals, though not nearly as many as the advertisements seem to indicate.  In fact, the show doesn't have much in common with the website.  I think the act (and actors) have changed at least a couple of times since the show started.

The thing that really got my mother going was that the "lovely assistants" had some really interesting hair styles.  My mother wasn't impressed that the girls could stuff themselves into tiny boxes, disappear and re-appear, or transform into tigers and back.  Instead, she was impressed that the girls could stuff themselves into tiny boxes, disappear and re-appear, or transform into tigers and back without messing up their hair.

This show also had a bunch of audience participation.  It also had nephews jabbing me in the ribs with their elbows every 20 seconds asking "Did you see that?"

All told, though, it was worth the money.  It would have been worth more if the free family photos they gave us at the start of the show were actually free.  Instead, it turned out that they were samples.  Oh, and while we were encouraged to take all the pictures we wanted, video was strictly forbidden.  More on that later.

The final big show I want to talk about is the Titanic Pigeon Forge.  This place bills itself as the "World's Largest Museum Attraction."  I'm not sure if that means it's the world's largest museum, or the world's largest attraction, or the world's largest museum that's also an attraction, or the world's largest attraction that also a museum, or some combination.  It probably means something like "it's the largest Titanic museum that's also an attraction in the United States that opened this year (except for her sister museum in Branson)."  This is much like saying that is the most visited website in the world (by people named both Troy and Cheek).

Amongst all the advertising (billboards, television and radio commercials, posters, fliers, websites, etc) I'm pretty sure that I heard the Titanic Museum hyped as being full-sized.  However, I also heard it described as half-sized, half-scale, and quarter-scale.  As you can see from the picture, the museum resembles the front half of the ship only.  If it's full-sized, but only half the ship, does that make it half-sized or double-sized?

In addition to having full-sized reproductions of certain parts of the ship, the museum is packed with pictures, reproductions, and actual relics.  You also get personally invested in the whole Titanic story.  When you first go in, you get a boarding pass marked with the name and history of an actual Titanic passenger.  While you go through the exhibits, you're encouraged to look pictures or possessions marked with that name.  At the very end of the tour, there's a big wall listing whether each person on the ship survived or not.  You can also ask the various crewmen more about your person's story.

The only thing I didn't like about the museum was how the ticket lines were set up.  When you walk up, you're herded towards one end of the museum and the only apparent line for entry.  Once you get closer, however, you'll discover that you're in the line for people who already have tickets.  You're then herded to the other end to buy your tickets, only to find out that the only "boarding times" still open are for hours later.  So, you stand in line only to be told you have to stand in another line to buy tickets so you can come back later to stand in that first line again.  In spite of the fact that entry is strictly metered, there's still a big crowd and bottlenecks all throughout the museum.

All told, though, it was worth the money.  It would have been worth more if the lines were shorter and the exhibits were less crowded.  Oh, and while we were encouraged to take all the pictures we wanted (outside of the exhibits), video was strictly forbidden.  More on that later.

Okay, it's later.  Pretty much every place we went had pretty much the same announcement.  It went something like this:  "Welcome of Tourist Trap of Pigeon Forge.  Feel free to take as many pictures of our performance as you'd like.  While we'd love to allow you to make a video recording of this performance, I'm afraid we can't allow that as it would be a violation of federal copyright law.  On a completely unrelated note, a video of this performance may be purchased at the gift shop for $19.99 on your way out.  Thank you and enjoy the show!"

Well, that only goes against everything I've ever read about copyright law in my entire life.  Copyright law just lets the copyright holder decide who makes copies.  The only way that making a video recording of a performance is a violation of copyright law is if the copyright holder decides not to grant permission.  Rather than say that, they make it sound as if they'd be happy to let you video the show if only the law would allow them to.  What's actually going in is that they've sold the exclusive video rights to some other company who are selling the videos at the gift shop.  In fact, based on how every announcement at every show was worded pretty much the same way, I'd say that they've all sold their exclusive video rights to the same other company.

Aside from the copyright thing, it was a pretty good little vacation.  The nephews were just about as annoying as expected.  When they weren't fighting, they were giggling by 10 year old girls.  They also had no concept of space and time.  When we were at the North end of Gatlinburg, they'd decide the next thing they'd want to see was at the South end of Gatlinburg.  Once we were finished there, we'd discover the next thing they'd want to see was on the North end near where we started.  For Pigeon Forge, it was the same thing except for East and West.  Finally, I sat them down with a map and showed them what they were doing.

"You two are about to give your grandfather a heart attack.  Your grandmother has started talking to herself.  I'm about to lose my cool and start strangling nephews.  Work out where you want to be before we go there."

"We understand, Uncle Troy.  We just have one more place to go, and it's just down the road."

"Okay, we'll follow you this time."  On this outing, we were in two cars again.  We followed them.

All the way to Sevierville.