My Trip To Branson

I got back Sunday night and as a friend drove me home from the airport, I made a vow that I would never travel again.

Of course, this happened after pleading with St. Christopher (the patron saint of travellers)  to keep me safe in future travels, as the big Continental 737 swerved all over the tarmac in one of the most frightening landings of all times.    The jet wobbled from side to side severely with the wings dipping perilously close to the ground each time,. threatening to cart-wheel.  It had something to with  “wake turbulence” created from another plane that had just taken off ahead of us.  I don’t understand the math or the science of it.  Hell, I still can’t figure out the molecular structure of the nothingness of air that creates the friction makes air travel possible.   But we landed without incident.

The flight itself  though wasn’t completely without incident.  I sat in the very back of the plane, butted up to the restrooms.   I couldn’t move my seat back at all.  I just sat straight up.   I was in seat 38D.   An aisle seat, thank you very much and that meant I was ass and crotch level with everyone on a mission to empty bladders and/or colons.    They still lined up even though the Flight Attendants asked that they wait in their seats until a ‘lav” was vacant.  Ignoring the rules resulted in my seat being  one very unpleasant  place to be.   Someone who shared a similar seat on another flying Continental property several years had a far worse experience.  That passenger was actually attacked my horrific by-product smells.  He wrote about it on a Continental  napkin.  It’s the stuff of legend and I even blogged about it a few years ago.  God love him, but I didn’t have quite the olfactory assault he had, but we shared the same horrible view.

As the plane started its descent into Denver, I was finally “ass and crotch in face” free.  We landed in Denver where I sat for my three-hour layover.   My only experience with Denver is being at the airport.  I know that doesn’t constitute “going to Denver” but where the airport is, I couldn’t see any mountains.  Where are they?

I finally landed in Springfield, MO vis a vie a United Express jet with 16 other souls; the bulk being uniformed pilots getting rides home from their trips in Denver.  Having lived with a member of this profession for about six years and it being the SINGLE WORST period of my life, I couldn’t get comfortable.   Dark suits; the epaulets in the shirts with three bars indicating First Officer; four for Captain and those damn ugly black shoes and black Gold Toe socks.  I sat there and tried to quell anxiety.  It was hard.  I felt like a fat girl in a sea of Victoria’s Secret models–and Victoria’s secret, by the way, is  getting my ass in ANY of her clothes.    Many pilots have God complexes and many also have many girlfriends and wives–simultaneously.  They are, by and large, a promiscuous lot and the ones I’ve met are charming, arrogant and complete assholes. 

Fidelity to them is the name of  some insurance company. 

Springfield is a small airport that’s nice, contemporary and oddly vacant.  No one was there and I walked through the terminal on two separate occasions.

My friend, Melinda was waiting for me outside Baggage Claim and I was ready to go home after 11 hours of flying and lay-overing.   Her home is in Cape Fair, some 20 miles away from Branson proper.  Hers is a lovely place, on a 300 foot cliff with a panoramic view of the lake below.  I didn’t take pictures.   I’m not a snapshot kind of gal, so you’ll just have to trust me, it’s a beautiful home as is the land surrounding it.

The next day, we woke up early and headed to Branson.     I was, for some reason, expecting something more along the lines of Las Vegas.  It wasn’t that.  It is a small, sleepy town in the Ozarkian foothills that was forced to grow up quickly and is still suffering from many growing pains.   Branson’s glorious start in the world of entertainment began in the late 60’s when some country lovin’ musical family opened a theater to showcase their jug, wash tub and kazoo playing prowess.  I guess that makes sense.  If they wanted to play for people, they had to offer up a venue for self promotion.   Actor, Tom Laughlin couldn’t land an acting gig in Hollywood for love or money…unless he was willing to spend his own, so that’s exactly what he motionm.did.  He wrote and produced his own movies and hired his family as actors and hence, the Billy Jack serial was born.   Other  “entertainers” followed suit.   Picker/player, Roy Clark was also one of the first to open a theater.  Mickey Gilley, too.   And Hollywood writer/producer type person,  Paul Henning, inspired by a Boy Scout camping trip to the Ozarks, created the Beverly Hillbillies which ran on CBS television until 1971.  The  five episodes of Season 8 (1969) are set in the Branson area when the Clampetts returned to their home which might shock a lot of people.  The Clampetts weren’t from Tennessee or Kentucky.  No,  when Uncle Jed was shootin’ at some food and up through the ground came a bubblin’ crude, that was the result of ancient dinosaur poo beneath the Ozarks in northern Arkansas.

And last weekend, I saw most of their family members in Branson;  dentally challenged people named Viola Mae and Skeeter.  Everyone smokes in Branson and their faces and hair reflect it.   Again, the natives aren’t a pretty people. Sorry, but they ain’t.

Aside from that, and as best as I can tell, Branson has evolved from full-tilt Hillbilly Capital to a sort of Mecca for those with walkers and blue hair.  How and when this happened is beyond me, but the older clientele is definitely part of the city planning.   To accommodate the seniors, there are defibrillators and oxygen at the ready on almost every corner in something called the Branson Landing., an open mall area adjacent to a river.  Don’t ask me the name.   Again, I don’t know why its become a place where older people flock–perhaps it reminds them of days gone by because its populated by performers who were once A-listers in those days gone by.   The Oak Ridge Boys, The Brothers Osmond, Andy Williams, some Japanese fiddle player named Soji who I vaguely remember from cheesy Bob Hope specials on NBC back in the 70’s and of course, the “fish out of water” comedic stylings of former Supreme Soviet comedian, Yakov Smirnoff.   This is like bad dinner theater that never ends.  The only people missing from the “Roster of Once Relevant” is Charo, Lola Falana and Gary “Radar” Bergdoff of M*A*S*H and Match Game fame.

The scene was ubiquitous:  seventy-something women in festive Christmas sweatshirts or modified button downs shirts with hand painted scenes from their home states, shopping for ornaments or Branson memorabilia, as their bored-to-tears,  Hush Puppied, gimme cap wearing husbands waited for them (or for Death to strike quickly) sat on park benches outside the stores.  I saw this scene repeated everywhere I went. 

I found Branson to be a place that I will say I once visited.  Once being the operative word.  I’m not at all a fan of country music and I find it rather sad when Has Beens just can’t let go of that fading spotlight.  Why can’t they go the  Lyle Waggoner route?  Remember him?  He’s the handsome actor and former model, best known for his work on The Carol Burnett Show, from 1967 to 1974 and for playing the role of Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman from 1975 to 1979, realized he had no future in  Hollywood. 

He was older; still fetching, but not the kind Hollywood could or would utilize, so in 1979, he founded “Star Waggons”, a company that leases customized trailers for use by the entertainment industry.  He’s done quite well for himself and from what I hear is far more successful (READ: $$$$) than he ever was when in front of the Panaflex lenses.

Why can’t some former big names just let go as Lyle did?  Is it ego or is it because they don’t know anything else but a show business career?    Is it the allure of attention and celebrity that keeps them seeking more and more or it, even when they’re well beyond their prime?     And by prime, I mean no semblance of a career in more than 20 years,  Is Branson a place where aging performers go to die?  When landing even a bit part in a matinée performance of “Barefoot In The Park” at the “Pass The Salt Dinner Theater” in Boca Raton even seems unobtainable??

I don’t know, but after two hours of sitting through an excruciatingly bad Yakov Smirnoff show lasted and hour and a half too long, I know I wanted to kill myself.


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