When you were younger, did your parents ever load you up into the car on a cool December night and drive you around to look at christmas lights while holiday music played on the radio? Neighborhood after neighborhood you would slowly drive through while your mom, with her head on a constant swivel, called out to you which way to look to see the lights, as if the brightness of them didn’t automatically reveal their position. It was a special night, but before too long, you probably got bored, and might have even started to complain, ready for the ordeal to be over. Now imagine driving more than ten hours to look at Christmas lights. That’s what I did this weekend, and I managed to have a good time, so until you do that, I don’t want to hear your whining about half an hour in the car looking at neighborhood holiday displays, no matter how excruciating you build them up to be. Yesterday my wife and I went from Memphis, Tennessee to Branson, Missouri, where we met my mom, grandmother, youngest brother, and his girlfriend at Silver Dollar City, an amusement park that CNN ranks as one of the top 7 places in the country to see christmas lights.
We arrived around noon, a time of day my stomach likes to think it is entitled to lunch, so we walked around the park browsing the food options for a few minutes before deciding on sidewinder fries. If you don’t know what they are, sidewinder fries are kind of like potato wedges that are not as thick, and twisted into the shape of grooves on a screw. If you’re the boring and unimaginative type of person, you can certainly get them plain, but if you want to live a little and attempt a little fun in your life, you can do what we did, and get the fries topped with bacon and cheese. The word that best sums up my order of bacon and cheese sidewinder fries would be “fine.” They were fine, not great, and not bad, but somewhere in between, a few ticks past edible. If you ever find yourself at Silver Dollar City and are starving and desperate for something to eat, the sidewinder fries will certainly assuage your hunger, but it’s not something I would ever make a point of eating again.
After lunch we rode a few rides, then decided to watch a show, the It’s a Wonderful Life musical. It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic christmas movie, one of my favorites that I try and watch every year, and I generally like musicals, so I thought it would be great, combining two things that I like so much. I was mistaken. The show wasn’t terrible, but I found my concentration waning through the performance, not completely being sucked in to the story, wondering just how much longer the show could go on, and was happy when it finally ended. I couldn’t believe it only lasted an hour and ten minutes, because it felt like at least twice that. It wasn’t nearly as good as the movie, and thankfully they left out quite a bit of the story, keeping the audience from having to suffer through any more time than was necessary. There’s a reason those actors aren’t on Broadway.
When we left the theater it was starting to get dark outside, and by the time we met up with Landon and Maggie, who had wisely chosen to skip the show, the christmas lights were turned on. There is a train in Silver Dollar City that goes around the whole park, so it seemed like a neat idea to ride around on it an look at the christmas lights rather than having to walk through the crowds of people that, like us, had gathered to witness some holiday magic, but the line for the train stretched probably a quarter of a mile long, and suddenly walking didn’t seem so bad. So we walked, around the whole park, and looked around in awe at all of the thousands of lights hanging all around us. I can honestly say that I’ve never in my life seen anything like that, not even in christmas movies. It was nothing short of amazing, which is probably why so many people were there to witness it, and get in the way.
Leaving the park we were literally in stand still traffic, and I don’t mean in our cars. The amount of people trying to leave the park at one time was so many that it took us over ten minutes just to walk out of the front gate, while from the other direction, people were rapidly pouring through the gate having just arrived at the park. We got on the bus that would take us back to our cars in parking lot 5, but unfortunately, less than two minutes into the ride the bus stopped. There was another bus in front of us, and in front of it, was somebody lying in the road, surrounded by paramedics. The driver announced over the intercom that somebody was in the road and that the bus would have to stay stopped for an indefinite amount of time until the situation could be rectified. I thought about singing “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” to lift everyone’s spirits, but given the situation at hand, it seemed a bit inappropriate, so I refrained.
After a few minutes the bus driver announced that he was opening the doors to allow anyone who wished to get off and walk back to their cars, the opportunity to do so. Everyone in front of us got off the bus, so it seemed like the thing to do, so we followed suit. As we stepped out of the doors and into the cold night, the bus driver yelled out to follow the walking path straight across the parking lot we were in, and it would lead us directly to parking lot 5, where we needed to go. We followed the walking path until it dead ended into a truck, which as I’m sure you can surmise, was not parking lot 5, but luckily behind us were some locals, who made a point to tell anyone within earshot that they lived in the area and visited the park four or five times a year and claimed to know exactly how to get to parking lot 5. We listened to them, which turned out to be a mistake. We followed them under a bridge and ended up in a parking lot, a deserted and desolate parking lot 6. We could see lot 5 across the busy street, but it was separated by a big fence and speeding cars hurtling down the road. At least we weren’t the only idiots who followed the “locals” to the wrong parking lot. We eventually ended up running across the street in the few seconds when no cars were coming, and walking along the fence until it finally ended and we could get into our parking lot. The lights were great, and although the end of the night wasn’t the most fun, it will certainly be an experience that I remember for a very long time, and that has to count for something.