Thursday, July 15, 2010

Take me to the river

After the disappointment of the Roy Rogers fiasco, Mr. Hall felt Mrs. Hall could use a little cheering up. Noticing the sign down the street from the theater, he gently pointed her in that direction. “Don’t feel bad- maybe you’ll find something here to interest you…” and as the words were leaving his lips he saw her eyes light up. “Can we go in here?” she asked excitedly, but he was already digging out his wallet to purchase tickets to the World’s Largest Toy Museum.
Filled from floor to ceiling in largely homemade shelves and glass boxes, the toy museum is meant to be enjoyed informally, by way of self guided tours. Most folks meander in and, lost in a reverie of happy memories, just gravitate to the area of their choice. The Halls were no different; Mr. Hall headed to the toy planes and cars, Mrs. Hall to the robots and spaceguns. Three hours later, they emerged blurry eyed but blissful.
“Let’s take a ride down the strip and find out what this place is all about,” suggested Mr. Hall and they hopped into the rental and snagged a spot in the line of cars moving slowly along the main thoroughfare. After about two blocks, it was pretty evident.
If the city of Las Vegas had too much to drink, went slumming about one night and ended up having a love child with the Wisconsin Dells, the result would be Branson, MO. Mrs. Hall was just about to say, “All it’s missing is the ducks…” when suddenly, a large brightly colored amphibious vehicle bearing lots of screaming children, all tooting noisy duck calls, rolled by them. “OK, that’s it,” she said. “Now it’s official. As Frasier Crane would say, ‘I’m on a bus to Hell.’” But, as TV has so often taught us (and it has taught us so much!) how a story begins is not always how it ends.
The ride down the main drag was interesting, to say the least. To say the most, it was horrific. Branson pulls out all the stops when it comes to tourist trap chicanery, and it looked like some of the displays had been plying their wares for several decades. "I like the way the layers of disrepair and neglect add a scarifying dimension to the exhibits," said Mrs. Hall. The afternoon was wearing on and hunger was started to peck away at their patience. "How about this place?" asked Mr. H. "It's advertising 'All you can eat Fried Green Tomatoes and Liver and Onions'!" "Together?" she asked, "That sounds horrible." "This one says 'Have a Rootin' Tootin' Boot Scootin' Weekend!!' Does anyone around here not drop the last letter of their words?" The clerk at the toy museum had made a recommendation: she happily announced that they had torn down all those old 30s, 40s and 50s hotels by the river, and gutted the entire area to make room for a whole new waterfront, complete with coffee shops, ice cream shops and condos. Mrs. Hall had visibly shuddered at the thought of that sort of historical destruction, but at this moment, almost anything seemed preferable. "To the waterfront!" was their rallying cry, and three miles and 55 minutes later, they were there.
Parking in front of the Branson Hilton on the waterfront, they expected to find the same sort of chain store originality exhibited in any one of 5000 franchises around the country, but instead were pleasantly surprized. Cooler than the stifling humidity further up the road, they found the sounds muffled by the mist rising off the river. Several elegant and youthful dining establishments were bubbling over with customers, and on the steps leading down to the river, families were gathering for the free hourly fountain display. The Halls took a table at a seafood restaurant near the dock for the river cruise ship and watched the fog roll over the river and swallow up several smaller vessels. Rain passed to the south of them, and when the sun peeked out again, the revelers on the patio with them toasted a beautiful rainbow over the bluffs.
After dinner, the Halls strolled about the walkway and took a short ride on the trolley. Full of fishy goodness, they maneuvered the rental lazily through the crowds on the main street back to the hotel and fell fast asleep, dreaming of their next destination.
Next episode: Meet me in St. Louis. Stay tuned!

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