Saturday, April 1, 2017

50 for 50: Pre-8 -- Meeting up with Steve (for Zorbing tomorrow!)

This is a crazy-ass 50 for 50 trip.  My first two stops are for visiting friends I haven't seen in over a decade.  Also, both are friends I met on the internet.

I first met Steve in the world of "Jekyll & Hyde" fandom.  If I recall correctly, I first connected with him back when my internet connection was dropping every twenty minutes for no known reason -- the router was a first generation Apple AirPort; the computer was running Windows; my ISP was ... lord, I don't even know, probably early Earthlink.  Everyone blamed everyone else.  Earthlink blamed Apple; Apple blamed the Windows PC; Microsoft blamed Earthlink.  I couldn't even get anyone on the phone to troubleshoot the damn thing, rather than just pass the buck.  I went on the Jekyll & Hyde mailing list and just begged if any of the nice "Jekkies" out there could try to solve this.  Steve offered to help.  That's kind of who Steve is.  (He also diagnosed it in a few phone calls.  That is also who Steve is.)

We met in person a few times in New York -- he'd come up from Tennessee and I'd fly out from L.A.  We'd see some shows, meet for a few meals, and -- on a handful of super fun occasions -- go the Tony Awards.  (I describe attending the Tony's as "a once-in-lifetime experience I did a couple more times.")  But the trips fell off (damn you, American Theatre Wing, for moving the Tony's out of Radio City!  :::shakes fist at sky::: )  and the e-mails slowed down, and we fell out of contact.  As you do, sometimes.  And, as you do sometimes, we reconnected on Facebook.

Which sort of explains how I find myself in a hotel room in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  

For all my California pals, let me explain Pigeon Forge:  It's ... Southern Vegas.  Remove the gambling.  Remove the night clubs.  Remove the sin from "Sin City."  Add more Jesus.  You still have tons of hotels; you still have tons of theme shops; you still have shows every night with annoying flashing advertisements up and down the main road.  Except, instead of Cirque du Soleil, your shows are things like the Hatfield McCoy Dinner Feud, and I am not making that up (we're seeing that one tomorrow night).  Also, every few blocks, there's an old timey photo place.  And a moonshine tasting establishment.  There are lots of "family fun" things -- go-karts, alpine coasters, Dollywood, laser mazes, and one of the few places in North America where you can bounce down a hill in a big plastic ball (that's also tomorrow).  Putting it another way:  there are dancing fountains in front of one of the hotels, but rather than "Con Te Partiro" in front of the Bellagio, it's Van Halen's "Jump" in front of Margaritaville.

It's also a buttload of fun.

After a (mandatory) stop at a local Starbucks, and a quick driving tour of Knoxville (go Vols!), we drove out to Pigeon Forge.  Our first stop was an alpine coaster at a place called Goats on the Roof.  (Because they have goats.  On the roof.  Just go with it.)  We had each bought a Groupon for a ride, but, due to a certain amount of confusion at the box office, we actually ended up with two tickets each.  There was no line, so we walked right on.

It is GREAT to have no line at an alpine coaster, because then you don't have to worry about having to brake to make sure you keep the necessary distance between your car and the car in front.  I'm a bit more of an adrenaline-fan than Steve, so I took the first car, and just tore down the hill, full throttle all the way down.  Twice.  Yay gravity!  

We stopped at "Mel's Diner" for lunch, which is exactly like what you imagine, and had tasty burgers and fries (and I may have had a root beer float).

Then we went over to the Island, home of the Margaritaville with the dancing fountains.  We sat in some deck chairs out by the fountains and just mellowed out for about a half hour.  We walked around the shops, rode the giganto ferris wheel to take in the view, and obtained some dinner before our first show, the Darren Romeo magic show.

Man, part of me SO wants to switch hats and go Full Critic on Darren Romeo, because, honestly, I could do 1500 words on this.  It's what I would call a Vegas-style show (and he did, in fact, have a solo show at the Mirage, as a Siegfried & Roy protege).  You're talking about mostly pretty standard illusions you've seen before -- lots of levitation, lots of disappearing and reappearing, a sawed-in-half, a metamorphosis -- but each one is surrounded by a production number or audience-interaction.  (At one point, I got a little annoyed, thinking, "you're doing 5 minutes of business based on the fact that you managed to force a card on a six-year-old.")  But Romeo's "thing" is that he's also a legitimate singer, so he's singing -- mostly non-original stuff -- during most of the show.  (During intermission, while waiting in the restroom line, I idly wondered about whether this show was legit from a licensing standpoint.  WTF is it when he sings a Broadway song in a full performance around an illusion?  It's not a concert; is it a dramatic performance?  A derivative work?  And why am I wondering this while I'm on freakin' vacation.)

Oh man, I need sleep.

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