Off To Branson!

The night before, we followed our lists and checked off each item as we packed our bags and threw them in the back of our soccer-mom-mini-van-family-vacation-Honda vehicle.

House/pet sitter arranged - check.
Clothes - check.
Personal hygiene items - check.
Swimming stuff - check.
iPad - check.
3 laptops - check.
My camera gear - check.

Youngest-daughter and the Mamma-woman are all excited, but go to bed and promptly fall asleep. I'm not so excited and lay in bed, not thinking any great earth-shaking thoughts or even the soul searching questions we all are prone to agonize over in the middle of the night when we are all alone with our thoughts and doubts and regrets in the darkest hours.  I was just laying there listening to the night-time house noises, trying to figure out what made each one and making sure my damaged heart was still beating with some sort of frequency. The last time I looked over at the clock it was 1:47AM and I thought, "If I fall asleep right now, I can get 5 hours and 13 minutes in before the alarm goes off." It had been 9 minutes since I last looked.

I awoke at 6:27AM, 33 minutes before the alarm would start blaring. I don't know why I spent money on an alarm. It gets set all of the time, but I can't remember the last time it actually went off before I woke up and switched the switch. After a quick shower and throwing a couple of last minute things in the car, I woke up Mamma-woman. Her excitement level was evident as I only had to ask her twice to get up before she did. It only took once telling Youngest-daughter to get up. Amazingly, it didn't take all that long for us to have all of the last minute items loaded and ourselves in the car and at 8:45 exactly, like a herd of turtles, we were off to the nearby town of Conway to do a couple of errands, fill up with gas and head north to Branson, MO.

Last year we went to London. This spring I purchased a new 4-wheeler for Youngest-daughter. In between, I was single-handedly providing the hospital with its annual profit and paying for an in-ground pool for every doctor in the county while wife & daughter ensured the recession was over for our local businesses. In short, I am now financially embarrassed, so this year's vacation, while not a stay-cation, is a near-cation. Branson for a few days and then a short little road trip to check out a few old water-powered mills in the area and back home. Branson is ok, but we've been there, done that and if you know me, you know I usually do not enjoy revisiting a place unless it is some kind of an awesome nature place like Big Bend or Arches or Yellowstone. Branson does not fall into that category.

I was soon driving all alone with the Mamma-woman and Youngest-daughter in the car with me, but the drive north on Hwy 65 from Greenbrier is a nice little drive of a couple of hours over mountains and through valleys. Good thing the scenery was nice so I didn't need company or conversation to keep me awake. Soon enough, the GPS told me it was time to exit. The girls woke up when I slowed down and we were in Branson. Us and, by my conservative estimate, at least 1/2 of America. I haven't seen so many cars in one place since I was in New York City a couple of years ago. From one side of Branson to the other is about 4 miles. It took almost an hour to get to our hotel which, of course, was located on the other side of town. The broken down motor home on the steep uphill 1-lane road didn't help. When we finally passed it, the large amount of fluids below it indicated a blown engine. Poor guy.

The view from our room.
We finally made it to The Hampton Inn, a decent choice between price and quality which meets my requirements for a family stay - safe, clean, Internet connection, free breakfast. Youngest-daughter was happy when she found out Disney was included as a TV channel and there's a pool. Jacuzzi for Dad - bonus! We were several hours early, but I flashed my gold-colored Hilton Honors card and they checked us in to a room which had already been cleaned. The view wasn't exactly the best, but it was clean, had a nice flat-screen TV, a good air conditioner and two queen beds - early birds that are taken care of can't complain.

The Landing Shopping Strip
After transferring stuff from the car to the room, resting up a bit and looking through some brochures, we decided to head on down to the Landing shopping center to eat and see what we could see. We fought the traffic going back the other way this time and saw a heavy-duty wrecker towing that disabled motor home. It only took about 40 minutes to get to the other end of the strip. We managed to find an open parking space about 1/4 mile from the stores (how many people are here in Branson for goodness sake?!!) and worked up an unwanted sweat walking the blacktop parking lot in the 98 degrees and full sun. We cut through Bass Pro Shops for the A/C it offered and after a few hundred more feet walking in partial shade, we entered Cantina Laredo.

Disappointment. The hot sauce wasn't spicy at all and who serves green string beans with a chili relleno dish? Not anybody from Texas, that's for sure. When the menu says beans in a Tex-Mex place, I expect re-fried or black beans. Evidently an unrealistic expectation. We had another surprise when we walked out of the eatery - rain! It cooled things off a bit for the 20 minutes or so the water fell, but then the clouds departed, the sun returned, the heat returned, and about 98% humidity came with it. We kept window shopping, but entered a few stores we normally wouldn't have to take advantage of the cool air inside.

Kimberling City July 4th Festival
After sweating out any extra calories we ingested eating our share of chips and salsa (I said the sauce wasn't hot, I didn't say the taste wasn't acceptable), we ambled back to the car and headed to the town of Kimberling City a few miles outside of Branson. They were having a 4th of July festival with what was touted as a good fireworks show. We didn't have specific directions and we were headed where we had never been before, but we had no problems finding the place as we just followed other cars once we got within a couple of miles and followed the signs as we got close. $5 to park (money helps pay for the fireworks) on the side of a grassy field and we were at the festival.

A daughter and her daddy playing Frisbee.
It was a nice little event - nice folks, jump houses for the kids, food vendors, parents and kids playing Frisbee, people sitting in lawn chairs visiting and listening to a good band playing good music. Lots of smiling faces. The All-American festival.

We ambled along, looking around, listened to a few songs by the band and made our way across a store parking lot to a high hill overlooking Table Rock Lake. That's where a bunch more folks were sitting in lawn chairs and we had heard the fireworks show would be over the lake so we found a good place and plopped ourselves down. We sat next to a man & his wife, 4 girls who looked to be between 12 & 14 and a little boy of about 3 with long hair. I wasn't sure he was a boy until I finally figured out 2 of the girls were the daughters of the adult couple and Amber, who was taking care of the little one is a niece. I never did figure out the other girl, maybe just a friend of Amber, but I overheard enough to know the little 3-yr-old was a boy named Dudley. Dudley? Really? Guess it's a family name or something. First person I've ever heard actually named Dudley. Calling a 3-yr-old Dudley seemed kind of wrong somehow.

The band had a really good horn section!
Anyway, once the dark settled in, the fireworks commenced and as fireworks shows go, it was pretty darn good! They were shooting from a platform in the water and those things shot up plenty high enough way above the hill most folks were watching from. There was a patriotic music sound track to go along with the show and a number of people had their radio's tuned to the station and playing it loud enough for everyone to hear. Great ending with lots going off one right after the other. Nice show.

When it was all over, we easily made our way back to the car. Getting out took a while, but people were being nice and letting people on the side cut on in to the line. I got carried away in the spirit and let a few in myself. We finally made it back to the hotel about 11:00pm. Washed up a bit, brushed my teeth like a good boy and fell exhausted into bed. Good view or bad view from our window, it didn't matter as I didn't look even once before closing my eyes. No problem getting to sleep this time!