Sideways to Branson

Day 6 — Saturday, September 22

Beautiful Saturday in Missouri, clear skies in the Ozark Mountains, as we headed south for Branson for a weekend side trip off Rt. 66.  On the map it looked easy to take the freeway west to Springfield, then south to Branson on another freeway.  As I wrote earlier, it took five attempts to get it right.  Frustration to the max.  A tiny nugget of paranoid fear lingers in my brain after that interchange, and I’m already worried about doing it again on the way back from Branson.

But we did get to Branson and headed straight to Wyndam’s condos on the edge of town.  Ah, the luxury of staying somewhere two nights, and luxury it was with two bedrooms, two baths, plenty of space, full kitchen and washer/dryer for the growing pile of dirty clothes.  Now I pause to thank the condo donors, Dee and Roy McKinnis, hubby Steve’s brother and sister-in-law in Keller, TX.   A gazillion thanks, dear ones!

Our first Branson outing was the Scenic Mountain Train, a two-hour trip through two tunnels and over two trestle bridges slicing through the Ozarks.  Our particular train had 5 cars for a dinner trip and a couple of observation cars for non-diners.  All 5 dining cars were full, folks enjoying the white linen, crystal, china, silver, bud vase and a three-course dinner.  But I think the six of us in the observation car with snacks and sandwiches had more fun because we were upstairs in a large car with big windows and plenty of room to move around and photograph — until dinner finished and a steady stream of diners came up hoping for a seat and better view.  It was a lovely ride through the rolling mountains, forests, sweeping views and sudden outcroppings of limestone and dolomite, and also great fun to meet the conductor, stewards and fellow travelers.  The train pulled back into the station as dusk faded to a soft sunset.

We checked out the historic downtown and immediately parked the car when we saw a “wine, beer and gastronomical delight” shop, .   Surprise, a shop that could hold its own in any large, sophisticated city.  The owner hailed from Normandy, France, a young man with a charming accent and encyclopedic knowledge of wine.  We tasted, we bought, and we finished the evening with a few glasses back in our comfy condo.

Day 7 — September 23 — Sunday in Branson

Did lots of laundry.  Lunch at Granny’s for ‘home cookin’ which turned out to be heavy on salt, sugar and breading.  The best thing about it was a green salad.  Everyone in the restaurant was supersized with matching plates.

While friend Anna tried to buy a house cross-country via cell phone, email and fax, I headed to the Titanic Museum.  Branson has a half-size replica of the famous Titanic which sank on its maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg.  Well worth doing.  Many, many rooms of exhibits, memorabilia, stories and re-created room cabins and dining rooms of passengers in first, second and third classes…the spectacular grand staircase with its crystal chandelier and carved wood…walking through a door that emerged onto a dark deck, cold and windy, a sky filled with twinkly stars…the wealthy John Jacob Astor suite with its sitting room, bedroom and bath.  When you enter Titanic, you receive a card with a passenger name, an actual Titanic passenger. Near the end of the exhibit, you can check if your passenger lived or died.  I was Edith Evans, a young woman traveling with her family to America in first class. I died, age 36.

But I came back to life when I left the Titanic, eager to see one of Branson’s shows.  Branson is like Las Vegas probably was 50 years ago, one long strip of theatres, restaurants and souvenir shops.  The town is full of star theatres, way too many to count.   Normally Monday is when theatres go dark without performance, but in Branson, shows trickle to a handful for Sunday evening.  Had we known, we could have gone to 10am performances or 3pm matinees, but only five choices for Sunday night.  We picked “Legends”, a Dick Clark theatre featuring impersonators of famous performers.  We rated the George Strait 3 on a scale of 1 as worst and 5 as best.  The Aretha Franklin had great vocal range and hit all the scat/doobie do’s so 4 for her.  The Blues Brothers were crazy great, so 4.8.  We expected Elvis to be the best, and he did look the part, but the voice didn’t cut it, 1.5.  Somebody else was so bad my mind has blocked out the name.  We left before the finale when all the performers sing together.

The brightest spot of the day was a too-short visit to Dick’s Five & Ten store.  This is some place.  Each aisle is dedicated to something specific: Christmas, Easter, Halloween, kitchen, bath, hardware, car, baby, greeting cards, toys, food, old-fashioned sweets, and candies including pick-a-piece for .10 each.  And boy howdy do they have collectibles: Star Wars, Batman, Sponge Bob, Betty Boop, Elvis, Rt. 66, a little of this, a lot of that.  It’s a place you could browse for an hour and still not see it all.  Everyone who walked in lit up like a kid on Christmas morning, and every person left with a bag and smile.  A couple in front of me paid cash, $124 and change, for two medium-sized bags of something, followed by a Hispanic couple with a dozen plastic backscratchers, each a different color.  Great store with great stuff, nostalgia for sale.

Branson is not for people who don’t like crowds or country cooking with its calories, cholesterol and salt.  High end shopping, not so much.  Souvenirs, oh yeah.  Family fun, check.  Cocktails & booze in general, only in restaurants or liquor stores, not a single theatre serves alcohol at performances.  Like Vegas, it feels like a place for several days of fun and shows, but I its autumn leaves and Christmas lights extravaganzas probably would be spectacular.

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