On the Road: Looking at America Through a Layer of Filth, Grime and Bug Guts

Maggie Valley and Cherokee, NC

Along time ago, in a state far, far away, someone looked at the mountains of North Carolina/Tennessee and said, "Surely God can only create beauty. People from around the world must come here and see God's majesty." Then someone else replied, "Beauty, schmeauty! People from around the world should come here to spend money and lots of it." Well those two someones sat down and started to think. One of them could only think when he hummed, so he started to hum. The other needed complete silence to think, so he got up and went over to Tennessee to do his thinking. Who were these people? Actually, they are a literary representation of 6 individuals, a cat and a magical scatting honeysuckle bush. But that's not important, what's important is they took the unshaped beauty of nature and molded it into money making bonanzas.

The North Carolina thinker was half way through humming the second verse of "Camptown Races" when he came up with Maggie Valley and Cherokee, NC. These are quaint little mountain tourist traps located in the Eastern Cherokee Indian Reservation. Every store in Maggie Valley and Cherokee is packed with the finest crap that people only have a desire to buy when they go on vacation. When else are you overcome with a desire to compliment your wardrobe with a shirt, hat or underwear stamped with the name of the town or place you are visiting? Sure, you can buy Lincoln Memorial boxer shorts at a local department store, or a Statue of Liberty tuxedo in the formal department of your neighborhood Wal-mart, but who wants to? In some states it is illegal to own a piece of souvenir clothing that wasn't properly bought while on vacation. In some religions, it's actually a sin. In some dimensions, it's all together physically impossible to make such a purchase.

Dead animals The souvenir business is very competitive in the mountains of North Carolina. Some store owners go that extra mile to get you into their shop, as if the lure of cheap tourist souvenirs made in China isn't enough. While driving through, my brother and I noticed that several entrepreneurs had a "real live Indian chief" waving at passing motorist in order to seize attention. Mangy Bear Other shop owners used the old tried and true marketing scheme of displaying a stuffed animal carcass in front of their store in an effort to signal the way to quality souvenirs.It seems that tourist are attracted to things that should have been dead and buried a long time ago - crude racial stereotypes and dead animal flesh. I fall into the category of "sucker" that is drawn by the magnetism of dead animal flesh. We stopped at a store that proudly showcased a stuffed deer, bear, and what I can only guess was a human skeleton with clothes and a beard. The bear seemed to be rotting very rapidly off the wooden frame to which it was attached. The deer, on the other hand, was faring a bit better. If I remember my Darwin correctly, the deer hide must be far better adapted to survive the rigors of being killed, stuffed, mounted, and exposed to excessive amounts of car exhaust and camera flashes. The deer wins this round of "Survival of the Fittest". (You can catch the "Survival of the Fittest" world championships this Saturday at Midnight on ESPN 12.)

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