25X: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

It’s 8:00AM as I’m writing this. Do you know where your favorite Lance+Jeff contributors are?

Nope, not Japan. Or Hawaii. Or even New York City (just an expensive hop, skip, and jump away from us normally). Nope, y’all, we’re currently in Gatlinburg, Tennessee to find our Christmas spirit; Dolly Parton is our guide.

A lot of us will travel for the holidays: some to see family, some to vacation, some to visit the model tour bus in front of Dolly Parton’s museum, Chasing Rainbows (I think that’s also the name of Liberace’s museum…too soon?). Travel, for many, is synonymous with the holidays, and if you can find a way to enjoy “the journey,” maybe singing along at the top of your lungs to really cheesy Christmas songs, then it can actually be a fun, memorable component of your holiday.

A few years ago now, Lance and I were on our way back to Michigan to visit my family for Christmas. When I was a kid, my immediate family lived in Maryland while most of my extended family called the Great Lakes state home, so I was familiar with this drive and knew how grueling it could be. But let me tell you, having the back of our Honda Fit (good riddance) stuffed to the brim with Christmas presents, so full you couldn’t open a door without something falling out, all the while sipping Salted Caramel Mochas and listening to Kenny and Dolly sing “A Christmas To Remember”…that was a good time. It felt a little magical, like we were two dentists bringing in tow a sleigh full of misfit toys.

Now, normally I’m all about packing up a bag and having a bit of an adventure, sometimes (::cough cough::all the time::cough::) to a fault–sorry, bank account. That’s why we flew down to Disney World for like 38 hours last weekend, and why we’re here now for Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas (we’ll save the musings regarding Lance’s Mecca-like religious experiences at Dolly’s theme park for another post.)

And it’s not like I usually mind long car rides. But something about yesterday’s drive just had me in such a foul mood (except for the gas prices, which are under $3.00 a gallon here in Tennessee! Now I know why Connie Britton wanted to film Nashville on location!). We left at least an hour later than planned, then hit lots of inexplicable traffic, tacking on an another hour or so to the trip. I couldn’t sleep in the car because no matter how low you keep the volume on the stereo, our Fiesta’s so small that your head is always near a speaker.

Then Lance had us route through Johnson City, Tennessee on the way to our hotel in Gatlinburg, The Mall at Johnson City being home to a Bath & Body Works test-scent store. A test-scent store, as you might gather, is where the company sells products before they may be released nationwide, taking stock of what does and doesn’t sell before mass producing it. This means Lance could get his well-moisturized hands on some candles that would normally not be released until next year, if they were going nationwide at all.

I’m all about “the hunt,” so to speak: devoting an illogically large amount of time to procure something you most likely don’t need. I do this a lot with couponing, re-buying things multiple times in an effort to get the best deal (though I’m sure an argument could be made that the amount of time and money wasted on this make it totally not worth it.) But at the end of what at that point was an 11-hour ride, all the while being constantly stuck behind people on I-81 that considered the speed limit a wild, dangerous proposition, the last thing I wanted to do was stop at a mall.

Then Lance plugged the hotel’s information into the GPS to see the time to the hotel from the mall.

“When’s it say we’ll get in?” I asked.

“Umm. Never mind.”

I reached for the GPS. “What’s it say??” I began to panic.

“9:30,” Lance whispered.

“9:30???” I yelped, a mix of shock and outrage. That meant another two hours in the car, after we were done at the mall.

The mall would end up being about an hour out of our way. With that realization, I lost it, becoming filled with irrational, boiling irritation. I wanted to cry and scream at the same time. Let’s appreciate the journey and not just the destination? That concept was so far lost from me.

So I sat in the passenger’s seat after stopping at the mall (had to stock up on Tiki Beach three-wicks!!), stewing with some unnecessary, indescribable mix of emotions: anger, irritation, sleepiness. I was DONE with this effing car ride.

Then we pulled off the highway and into Sevierville, Dolly Parton’s hometown and just two towns over from our hotel. That’s when I saw this:

The whole road, for miles, was framed with these gorgeous, enormous Christmas light displays. None of this blow-up lawn Santa shit here–these we’re beautiful, complex-but-simple for the fact that they were all made from lights.

It was something that just took my breath away a little. Something so simple, yet tapping into the part of my instinctual brain which finds comfort with light in the darkness.

In those moments, as we were passing by these wonderful displays, I didn’t think about the drive at all.