Branson – What a City!

November 19, 2009

Lu, Yakov, and meLu, Yakov, and me

Last week, my bride and I visited Branson, Missouri for the first time. What a city!

If you recognize that Russian in the above photo you know I’m taking liberty with his famous line – “America! What a country!” Yakov Smirnoff was one of the entertainers we saw during our stay in Branson.

The planning for this trip began several months ago when I received an email listing various destinations where we could stay for under $300 for seven nights. The one place on the list that we had not yet visited was Branson. Since we’d heard some good things about the place, we decided to go there to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

Early on we decided to drive. The “hotel” was a real bargain and we wanted to keep the costs down to a reasonable level. Because Branson is about 600 miles from our home – and not easily accessible via Interstate highways, we opted to take two days to get there and two days to get back. For variety, we decided to go to Branson by way of Paducah, Kentucky, and return on a southerly route through Memphis.

Murals painted on the "Sea" wall

Paducah sits along side the Ohio River where the Ohio is joined by the Tennessee River. Obviously, the town was flooded many times before a series of flood control dams were built. Prior to the construction of the dams, walls were built with flood gates that could be closed as necessary.

Wall with a track for the gateTrack for the steel gate built into the wall.

Passing through the gate in the photo above, we had to walk down hill for quite a while before getting to the water’s edge. The river was a bit high that day, but would have had to rise a great deal (I’d guess roughly thirty feet) before reaching the wall. The wall was about fifteen or twenty feet high. If I was in the neighborhood of a flood that high, I’d begin building my ark!

Besides taking a walk by the river, Lu and I visited the American Quilters Museum. I honestly expected to be totally bored. What a surprise! I was amazed at the art work. The people who created the quilts displayed there would put Betsy Ross to shame.

After a good night’s sleep, we moved on to Branson.

All Aboard!

One of the first things we did in Branson was ride the Scenic Branson Railway. We took the dinner excursion which pulled out of the station at 5:00 PM. We made the reservation in August and never gave a thought to the end of daylight savings time. It was an excellent meal, but we saw little beyond the dark of night as we gazed out the windows.

The next event was the Yakov Smirnoff show.

Yakov singing "From Red to Redneck"

For the uninitiated, Yakov came to American when he was in his early twenties. At the time he could speak no English. Most of his humor deals with his misunderstanding of our language. For instance, he told of driving across the country and being encouraged by signs saying, “Right on! Red”. He also felt very welcome when billboards proclaimed, “America loves Smirnoff”.

The next day we took a ride on a showboat.

My bride waiting to board the Branson Belle

Inside the showboat

The show featured a number of acts, but our favorite was Todd Oliver with his talking dogs.

We saw two other shows while we were there – “The Twelve Irish Tenors” and “Broadway’s Spirit of Christmas”. We were not permitted to take pictures at those theaters.

Earlier I referred to our accommodations as the “hotel”. In truth, it was a condo with a full kitchen, living room, Jacuzzi tub, balcony and much more than we expected.

The "living" area of our condo

To make the entire trip even more enjoyable, I was able to use “points” to get free motel stays in Paducah and Memphis, and Lu won $100 worth of Shell gasoline gift cards. We had also bought gift cards through our church fund raiser for restaurants and grocery stores. Thus, most of the trip was pre-paid! What a vacation!

The motel in Memphis left a lot to be desired. It was along the Mississippi River among a group of deserted warehouses.

Abandoned warehouses in Memphis

There was one other highlight of our trip. While some people might not see it in the same light, we felt honored to have the next picture taken.

Lu, Oliver North, and me

Colonel North was in town for the Veteran’s Day celebration. In fact, Branson, Missouri has an entire week of festivities to honor our veterans. Watching the parade was another highlight for us.

An old fart showing off

When we first told our friends we were going to Branson, many teased us about going there to gamble. Well, it’s a good thing gambling wasn’t our main intention. There are no casinos in Branson.

But there are many great shows, museums, restaurants, amusement parks, and other attractions that make Branson a wonderful place to visit. We were told the average age of visitors is 57, but I assure you there is something to do for people of all ages. As far as I could tell, all the shows are family friendly.

I should also note that I am not being paid for this endorsement, but if the convention and visitors bureau of Branson wants to invite my bride and me back as their guests, we’ll be glad to go!


January 6, 2009

I’d like to make a person-to-person call…

One of the more noticeable changes during my lifetime has involved the device invented by Alexander Graham Bell.

My Bride and I in Brighton

My Bride and I in Brighton

While young folks of today take the cell phone for granted, things were not always so convenient.

My first memories of the telephone are two-fold. If I watched “I Remember Mama” I saw that the house on Steiner Street had a wooden box on the wall; to make a call, the person had to turn the crank to signal the operator of his or her intention.

My parents had a much more modern device. It was black and had a dial. To make a local call, one picked up the receiver and listened to make sure no one else on the party line was using ‘our’ phone. If we heard a dial tone rather than a conversation, it was safe to dial the number. Telephone numbers at that time included two letters – abbreviations for words such as WAlnut, or HIghland, and so on. The prefix was followed by five numbers.

Bear in mind that this was long before the creation of area codes. Back then, the only way to make a long distance call was with the aid of the operator.

The process was quite straight forward: you dialed zero to get the first operator. When she (invariably it was a ‘she’) was told that you wanted to make a long distance call (which could have been less than twenty miles away) she would connect you to the long distance operator.

The long distance operator would ask for the city and telephone number to which you wished to be connected. She would then call an operator in the requested city and pass the phone number along so it could be dialed by that operator. Once the connection was established, the two operators dropped off the line and you could begin your conversation.

Long distance calls came in two flavors: station-to-station, and person-to-person. Station-to-station calls were less expensive, but if you absolutely had to talk to someone in particular – and that person was not there – your money was wasted. Thus, to ensure that the money spent on the call was not wasted, people used the more expensive person-to-person service. Of course, the optional methods allowed folks to take advantage of the phone company.

It was not uncommon for people to make person-to-person calls and ask to be connected to themselves. When he or she was not available at the number he or she had asked the operator to call, he or she would offer to try again later. This was the perfect way to let momma know you arrived at your destination safely.

In later years, after the advent of area codes, when phone companies still charged extra for the twenty mile variety of long distance calls, folks worked out other systems to avoid extra charges on the monthly bill. I knew many people who would never answer the phone until after the third ring. If it was a loved one calling to give the “I got home safely” signal, he or she would hang up after the second ring.

Of course, the phone company found ways to get even. For instance, for many years they charged extra for ‘touch-tone’ service even though the newer technology was saving the company lots of money. It was like the bank replacing a teller with an ATM and then charging customers to use it.

Today’s cell phone technology – combined with other modern advances – has had a tremendous impact on the way we live our lives. Young girls no longer need to be sure they have a dime to call home if the boy gets fresh, and caller ID makes it unnecessary to wait for a certain number of rings.

One of the things my bride and I really like about modern technology is the convenience of asking our GPS navigational device to give us a list of restaurants or motels in the area. We can then use our cell phone to check for vacancies or reservations.

It’s sad to think of all the operators that have been replaced by computers, and I doubt if Alexander had any inkling of what his invention would lead to, but we must admit that, for the most part, the progress has been a good thing.

Look around and you’ll see that phone booths are disappearing from the landscape. In some cases in England, the old phone boxes are being turned into works of art.

I didn't do it! Honest!

I didn't do it! Honest!