Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Trip to the (Family-Friendly) Strip

BRANSON, MISSOURI--The tour is winding down; tomorrow we return to Texas. In the meantime, we had one more stop to make: Branson, the family-friendly Vegas of the Ozarks. I had never been here before, but I remember when my parents came, so I knew all the stereotypes of everyone here being really, really old. (Let's put it this way--Mom and Dad aren't exactly young anymore, and they were making fun of the old people when they got here. Mom told me yesterday to "watch out for the little old ladies in the prune line," but, being on a bus and all, I'm pretty sure I'll be avoiding those prunes.)

But let's back up a second, because I have some cool pictures. On our way down this morning, we stopped off at Meramec Caverns in Stanton. I hadn't been to a cave in a while, but this one had some pretty cool stuff, both natural (the formations themselves) and manmade (the interesting uses of lights). Here are a few random pictures for your enjoyment:

A cool use of lights
The Theatre Room
I'd highly recommend a visit to this place if you're in the area.

Around mid-afternoon, we ended up in Branson. The first thing that struck me was the traffic. I realize that this place has grown explosively in the past few decades, but it's too bad that nobody had the foresight to make the main drag, 76 Country Boulevard, wider than two lanes (with a turn-lane in the middle) a long time ago. (Doing so now would completely obliterate the pools at several of the smaller, older hotels, where these areas practically abut the street.) To their credit, there are a couple of alternate routes (labeled on both the streets themselves and all the local maps by color) that bypass the bulk of the traffic, but I could see how the congestion might get to people after a while.

Branson has been likened to a kindler, gentler Vegas, and there is a fair amount of neon on the Strip. Many performers who are no longer on the pop charts have been able to carve out a good living here; looking at the names on most of the signs (Andy Williams, Glenn Campbell, Mickey Gilley, Paul Revere and the Raiders) is like a trip back through time. There are also more miniature golf courses than you could shake a stick at, and one of them included a three-level go-kart track that I'll have to try the next time I'm in the area.

Our show of choice was Jim Stafford at his eponymous theatre. It's been a while since Stafford was charting with novelty hits like "Spiders and Snakes" and having a weekly variety show on TV, but he's still extremely funny, and his guitar-pickin' (pronounce that first word GIT-tar, of course) has only lost a step or two at the age of 63. The crowd was not all old-timers, as my parents had joked; in fact, most of the row behind us was some very well-behaved preschoolers.

Unlike our previous stops, there were actually open restaurants to be found near our hotel here when we got back from the show, so we didn't have to either eat ridiculously early or order pizza in the room. Tomorrow, we depart for home at a leisurely pace, and, after four hotels in five nights, it'll be great to spend tomorrow night in my own bed.

No rolls were throwed in the making of this post: We intended to stop at the famous Lambert's Restaurant in Ozark (It's the home of "throwed rolls," which means that they really do throw them at you when you want more), but when we arrived, it was after 1:30 and there was still at least an hour wait...on a Sunday afternoon! We ended up eating elsewhere, which allowed us to sample another local treat: Frozen custard, from a great place called Cool Cow Custard. (I recommend the "S'Moores.")

I'm a twenty-percenter: I may not put much stock in polls, but I have no argument with the one that says that one-fifth of all vacationers take their laptops with them. (It's resposnsible for all these posts, after all.)

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