It was shortly after midnight. I was sitting in a local 24-hr diner nearby my hotel, ordering my late-night breakfast. I was vacationing in Pigeon Forge, TN, just outside of Smoky Mountains. Dark and quiet outside, a few customers inside, local twang and country music lightly sprinkle the air. It felt like a scene from Sweet Dreams.
And the sausage gravy was awesome.
It brought back memories of my time in West Virginia and Michigan, the small-town USA. And I suddenly realized something odd: where is the recession?
I've been following the recession since before it blew up, circa 4/07. And there's no doubt in my mind that the current stock market rally is a sucker's rally, with a few more time-bombs and either a painfully slow recovery or a bubble/hyper-inflation ahead. But now, out of New York and away from blogosphere and numbers, life around me is as normal as it gets.
Pigeon Forge is a poorman's Disney. Lots of shows and amusement parks, some of which are not bad and many have distinct southern character. Kids love it, therefore I'm happy; besides, I actually enjoyed a few shows. Everywhere is crowded even though it's still far from peak season. Nothing fancy here, but it's solid, good stuff -- food, lodging, convenience, service, entertainment. Not to mention MUCH cleaner than New York city, which is a given everywhere except maybe Detroit. There'll be a car show Thursday. All hotels are sold out for Thursday night. Parkway (yup, just Parkway) is lined up with all kinds of old cars, quite a few American classics such as Camaro Z28 and Corvette Stingray.
I landed in this country in small-town USA. And this is where I first fell in love with this country. There's a charming, romantic deception to the honest, down-to-the-earth quality of small-town USA, I'm aware of it. But I can't help wondering which version of USA is more real, which is more of the root of livelihood and strength of this country.
New York sits on top of the food/value chain of the economy. It's the equities (or junk) tranche of a CDO called US economy. As such, it reaps huge returns in good times and suffers huge loss in bad. Everything about New York is exaggerated, amplified, blown out of proportion -- rich and poor, civility and barbarics, honesty and deception, geniuses and idiots, over-achievers and lazy bums, harmony and conflicts, awareness and apathy, inclusiveness and segregation.
But out here in small-town USA, even I feel safe and relaxed.
The South, however, shows the other schizophrenic nature of this country.
Dolly Parton flaunts patriotism (everywhere in Dollywood and her separate Dixie Stampede show) and internationalism (Festival of Nations) like her left and right tits. But my distinct take-away is that the former is the real theme while the latter is an overture, an effort at best. The deeply rooted contradiction between the two isms was not much of a problem during the good'ol days of American Empire. But as the world changes, the shallow, self-centered and arrogant nature of popular patriotism, or nationalism everywhere else as Americans call it, will become more and more apparent and difficult to reconcile.
Perhaps the most striking demonstration of this contradiction is Le Grand Cirque show in Dollywood. The only whites are girls walking the stage and one male performer; the rest are all Chinese (and although the white performer was nothing spectacular, he was given the center spot during curtsys nevertheless). Is this a symbol of what America has come to, I wondered, whites doing managing and marketing at the top of the value chain while foreigners (mostly Asians and Latinos) do the hard work? (This is not racial, Good Lord knows, but merely an observation of reality, albeit definitely incomplete and anecdotal. Come on, no observation on human society is ever 100% correct. I'm tired of putting up the standard disclaimer on statistics.) It's only a matter of time before others learn how to do management and marketing. Then what do we do? Should I teach my kids to do actual work damnit?
Speaking of Good Lord, the South feels no need for apology when flaunting religion, no more than Dolly flaunting her tits. During the Magic Beyond Belief show, which is very good, the magician spoke during recess, promising not to preach but went ahead and preached about God and all. The audience applauded and amened. One man stood up and walked out with his little girl in arms; I don't know for a fact whether it was a protest but the timing was certainly conspicuous. I didn't mind it. Besides, the show was actually good. But that was about as in-your-face as I could take it before getting annoyed. I suspect many of my Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim friends would feel the same, if not stronger.
So here it is, my first experience in Dixie Country. Very enjoyable, relaxed, romantic, and peaceful as long as I manage not to over-think and poke the hymen of my shallow being.
I'll be back.
As we walked out the magic show to the car, my 7-year-old declared thoughtfully, after a minute of silence: "Dad, I think I have my mind made up."
"About what?" I asked.
"I think we should make this our next vacation place."