written Monday, November 3, 2008 -- Branson, MO
How does something like Branson get started? Yesterday, I talked with an old-timer who's been coming here since 1959. In those early days, the population of Branson was less than 100 people, there were two motels with a total of 16 rooms available, a few fishing cabins along the river, and a sprinkling of other sleepy businesses. That was 50 years ago.
Today, the official population of Branson is about 6,000, but that grossly understates reality. Because so many people live just outside Branson's city limits, the real population of the area is more like 30,000. And when you throw in the number of people visiting (as many as 8 million every year), the number of people around here can be upwards of 65,000 on any given day. There are more than 50 theaters in the area with over 60,000 seats available -- more seats than Broadway in New York I've been told. This week alone about 100,000 veterans will be here for the annual Veterans Day celebration.
As of this writing, we haven't explored the area yet. We just arrived yesterday afternoon, and after we got settled in our parking site at the Ozark Country Campground, we watched a little football and did some chores. But we had to drive through much of the Branson area in order to get to this RV Park and what I saw made me shiver and my eyes glaze over. Besides theaters, there's every imaginable tourist trap and attraction. There are supposedly more than 800 restaurants. I wrote yesterday in the "What's New" section of my homepage that Branson reminds me of a mix of The Wisconsin Dells, a touch of Las Vegas, a pinch of Dollywood, a notion of Nashville, and a sparkle of Disneyland -- and I'd add, the roll-call from the home for aging performers. Dar loves this stuff so, because I'm that kind of guy -- giving, compassionate, and willing to do almost anything to make my sweetie happy -- we'll be here until Friday.
The drive down was uneventful yesterday. But man-o-man, the hills in this part of the country are daunting. The closer we got to Branson the higher and steeper they were. And we were cutting across them, not riding a ridge or vehiculating a valley. Compared to driving the mountains of the west, the grades are certainly shorter but no less steep. We have 400 h.p. and gobs of torque with our big ol' Cummins Diesel, but it was working hard to get us up the hills, downshifting a couple of gears and slowing to 40 m.p.h. at times. Then, as we crested the top of the hill, we got the feeling you get on large roller coasters -- "we're going straight down and we're all going to die!" -- like being dropped out of a cargo plane without a parachute. Let me just say our PAC (compression) brake got a real workout as we encountered hill after hill coming into Branson.
I think it's wonderful how our presidential candidates are bringing us all together in the closing days of this 2 year long campaign. I can feel a unity, a bond, a common passion among people of every political stripe that may be almost as strong as those days of intense patriotism after the Twin Tower attacks in 2001. What's uniting almost everyone in the USA is that we're ALL sick and tired of this campaign, this ordeal, this torture. (I thought torture was illegal?) We're ALL preparing to breath a collective sigh of relief when its finally over, when the TV ads are gone, when we stop getting emails full of hate and lies, when all that's left to do is collect all the yard signs that have become so much litter. We're ALL so bludgeoned that we almost don't care who wins. And we're also of one mind that there's just got to be a better way.