In order to make the trip more enjoyable, we started by upgrading Oliver’s car seat and turning him around to face forward. He was pretty excited about it, he kept saying, “NEW car seat! NEW car seat!” However, once he got a little tired, he started demanding, “Lean back!” and looking around for the recline button. It’s a little harder to get a nap in when you’re not facing up at the ceiling.
Our first stop was Cincinnati, and I must report that there were dead daffodils on 3/22 in Cincinnati. That’s right, spring had already sprung by March 22nd. We happened to arrive on Anna’s birthday, so we let her pick the dinner spot. She mentioned Benihana, and I have to admit I was pretty excited for the kids. I thought they’d really enjoy the show, and I thought that Benihana is like the original Japanese steakhouse, so it would be sure not to disappoint. I was wrong! No fire and no shrimp throwing, two things that you simply cannot have a Japanese steakhouse without! So the kids didn’t really care much about the show, but they still had a good time, because there was ice cream at the end.
We didn’t stay in Cincinnati long, but we also had time to visit an extremely beautiful park, where there were white and purple trees in bloom like crazy. And thus began my long nightmare known as “Southern Allergies”. Uuuuuuuuuuugh.
After driving for a bit, we saw a water tower that said, “Florence Y’All” and Sara said, “Well, I guess we’re in Kentucky now.”
(Side note, turns out there is a funny story on how that water tower came to be — check it out!)
By the time we got to Tennessee, we started really getting into the mountains. Suddenly, road signs started warning us of construction on a tunnel ahead, combined with an accident. We were advised to use a small state highway to avoid the mess. We decided to heed their advice, despite the fact that no other car seemed inclined to agree. We got off on the local highway and took a long, steep, winding drive through the back woods of Tennessee. It seemed very remote. Just as we started to hear strains of banjo music, a really bad noise started coming from the car.
I thought maybe something was caught under the car, since it seemed to be a grinding kind of noise, but I got out and checked and there was nothing there. We didn’t know what to do. We were just coming into a little town, so the terrain was a little more level, and we figured out that the noise was related to the brakes (which we had been using fairly continuously on our little mountain adventure). Whenever I hit the brakes, it was like a grist mill chewing on a strip of metal.
Just as we were about to exit the town, I saw a shop that said “tire and brakes” on the side, and I pulled a quick u-turn and darted in there. Sure enough, the front brakes were completely shot — right through the pads and down to metal on metal (which is exactly what it sounded like).
LUCKILY, they were amazing and nice, and fixed us up in about an hour and a half, while we ate our lunch. I was prepared to pay the out-of-state-tourist tax and call myself lucky, but the whole thing cost less than $200. (A couple of my co-workers are considering driving down to Tennessee to get their brakes fixed from now on.) In fact, they said I didn’t really even need to replace the rotors, despite the fact that I had been grinding them directly, but if I wanted to replace them, it would cost “$25”. In other words, rather than being stranded in the middle of the mountains with a broken car, I got new brakes for probably less than half of what it would cost at home, and it basically didn’t even interrupt our trip. I said to Sara, “I hope nothing else goes wrong, because we just used up all of our luck.”
Justice did demand that Sara leave all of her shower stuff in the hotel in Cincinnati in retribution, but I think we came out on the winning side of that karmic transaction.
Oliver’s phrase for the trip was “Oh, what is that?” He started saying it about 100 times a day about anything he could think of. Often is was about something he’d never seen before and wasn’t sure what it was, but sometimes it was about something like a door, or the spaghetti he was eating. This would have quickly gotten on our nerves, but something about the facial expression he used when he said it combined with the tone of voice made it more funny that annoying. He would just make a face and say, “What is that?” like he was just looking at the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen, rather than a ceiling fan.
We were staying just outside of Gatlinburg, and I knew that it was pretty touristy. However, I was totally unprepared for the monstrosity that was Pigeon Forge. The only thing I can compare it to is the Wisconsin Dells. It’s touristy, but like over the top, amazing touristy. Like full size replica’s of the Titanic touristy, or giant upside down Greek temples. Would you believe the kids slept through the whole thing? Thank god, because I don’t know how I would even begin to explain that place to them (although I have to admit, I’m pretty disappointed that Sara wouldn’t let me go to the Lumberjack Feud).
Finally, after a long, multi-day car ride, we arrived at our cabin…