Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Up, Up, and Away!

Last week, we were treated to a real-time drama, played out on television, where a 7 year old boy might just be in danger, as he floated in a homemade helium balloon over the Colorado countryside. The entire nation watched as eyewitness news teams covered the event, all speculating on the boy's condition. In the end, it was determined to be a hoax, and the thrill of the chase was over.

The Colorado sheriff in the case, told reporters, that he believed the family was innocent, and it was just an accident. 24 hours later, he changed his mind!
The first time I saw this family on TV, I could tell there was something wrong. The father did all the talking, and he hardly sounded like a man who nearly lost a son. He was obnoxious, and arrogant during the interviews, to say the least, and the fake crocodile tears did little to diffuse that vibe. If he want's to be an actor, this man needs to go back to school, because he's the worst I've ever seen!
In the meantime, the sheriff never asked the obvious questions.
First off, why the hell were the kids not in school? It seems funny that they were all just hanging out at home on a schoolday.
Next, how in the heck did the family get enough $$ to buy a bunch of helium, and mylar to build a balloon?
And, why would any responsible adult name their kid "Falcon"?? I had a 1962 Ford Falcon, and it was not very reliable. It finally lost the main bearings on the Indiana Toll Road, in a grand display of smoke.
This Falcon was history!
Fast forward to 2009, the Falcon in the story had allegedly climbed into the balloon to go for a ride, but in reality, had climbed up into the attic over the garage to hide.

The cynic in me says this is just one in a long line of hoaxes, perpetrated to give someone their 15 minutes of fame. The family made sure they hit every news show on the circuit, in order to make their case, but it was on the Larry King Show on CNN, that things began to unravel. Falcon (the kid, not the Ford) stated that he hid and pretended to be the victim "for the show". The news media finally put two and two together, and figured out that this was pure BS.
Thousands of dollars were spent chasing the runaway balloon. All manner of law enforcement followed it's every move, while flight paths were shut down in order to provide a safe passage for the "Balloon Boy".

ABC news had interviewed another hoaxer the day after the "Balloon Boy" debacle, and he mentioned some of the great hoaxes of our time. Like the "Runaway Bride", who faked an abduction to cover up the fact that she was, in my opinion, fugly!

He also mentioned the biggest scam so far, which has cost us thousands of lives....WMD's.
The US invaded Iraq in order to neutralize chemical weapons. Since there were none, a new cause had to be manufactured, and there was nothing to base this fear mongering on. WMD's were invented! They have no definition, much like the word "stuff". The whole hoax depended upon American's fear that them "Al Keidies" were gonna do something to us!
As with any hoax, the truth finally came out, but not without a great loss of life.

I wonder if any hoax is worth that? And what of Falcon? If he goes back to school, will he be a hero, or villan? Only time will tell, but parents, PLEASE don't name your kid something stupid. You never know when he'll be on the national news!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Branson, Part two

I got to thinking about Branson Missouri again this afternoon. Yes, there are a huge number of people who visit there, and drop tons of money. However, I would guess that the average median age of the visitors is a lot older than one might think. The kitschy "hillbilly" references across the city cater to how those of us in the Ozarks are perceived by outsiders. Baby boomers remember shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies", and comic strips like "Lil' Abner", that painted us as hayseeds, without a clue as to how the world worked.

Back in the late 1960's the notion came up that hill folk were somehow "cute" and an idea was born to take some land on Highway 7 South of Harrison Arkansas, and turn it into a "Hillbilly Theme Park". Al Capp, creator of "Lil' Abner" was brought in as a partner, and "Dogpatch" was born. People came from all over to marvel, and laugh, at the actors and actresses dressed as quaint hill folk. The park was littered with old cabins brought in from around the state, and it looked like a mountain village with rides, right there on the side of the road. The problem is that the whole idea was rather demeaning to people from around here. We were perceived as slow, illiterate dolts, who did nothing more than drink moonshine and sleep all day. Funny, huh?

Over the years, as the crowds of visitors got younger, they failed to see what their parents and grandparents saw in the place. It didn't help that "Lil' Abner" was no longer in the comics section. Young people just didn't get it, and by 1994 (I think) the park closed for good. Now it sits there, as before, looking like a small mountain village that has been abandoned, and left to the ravages of time.

Oddly enough, that same theme is echoed in Branson, just North of the Arkansas border. Sure there's entertainers there too, but none of the kids of today can identify with them. This got me to thinking, "What will happen when all the older folks that went there, are replaced by the younger ones? Will Branson still keep it's image as it does today, and will today's youth give a care in the future?

Even some of the shows that feature performers from the 1960's hold nothing for the youth of today. America is changing, yet Branson is still rooted in the past. It's doubtful there will be a Snoop Dog's "'Fo Shizzle Theater" on the strip any time soon! Nor will there be gambling, another lure for the younger set. The city is a sitting duck for the same thing that happened to Dogpatch.
It will be interesting to see if the city, and venues adapt to the changing age of the visitors, or fade from the scene, discarded by those in search of something new. I'm making no bets on the outcome, but I'm going to watch with a great deal of interest!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A trip to Branson, Missouri

I grew up in a small town in Illinois...honest, it wasn't my idea, I was just born there! As a child, it seemed we were constantly bombarded with television ads promoting some place in Wisconsin called "The Dells". What a "Dell" was, happened to be beyond my comprehension at the time, but the thought of some of the things in the ads had me curious to see them. "Ride the Ducks" the ads shouted, and "don't miss the Tommy Bartlett Water Show"! I remained curious as I got older, and found that a "duck" was an amphibious WWII vehicle.

Over the years, I learned that the "Dells" was basically a tourist trap, with all manner of ways to take your money. Not quite the romantic notion of "Beautiful Lake Delton" the ads conjured up. We never got to see "The Dells" as children, and even now, I can say I've never been there.

The same is true for Las Vegas. Another place conceived to separate tourists from their money. Though it looked interesting in the photos I had seen, I never had any desire to see it, and most likely never will. Money's too hard to come by, and just throwing it away on gambling seems just wasteful .

We've lived in the Ozark Mountains now for nearly 5 years, and the most famous place in the Ozarks just happens to be Branson Missouri, about an hour from here. Every time we turn on the TV, we see ads for "The Baldknobbers", or "Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede", and a number of other shows and attractions. From the sound if it, Branson seemed to be the biggest tourist trap of all! Each time an ad would come on, I would imagine just what Branson must look like. Huge theatres set back in the hills, with dedicated roads to get to them, I thought. I could imagine Andy Williams driving down "Andy Williams Way" to get to his Moon River Theatre, while the other entertainers had theatres scattered throughout the city, each with their own drives named after them. We knew that a day in Branson was beyond affordable for two of us, so we never even considered going there.

That changed yesterday, when we took a trip to Jasper Arkansas in the beautiful Boston Mountains. the fall colors were just beginning to blaze as we drove scenic route 7 down from Harrison. On the way back, we stopped for lunch, and thought "we're on highway 65, just down from Branson, why not go up and take a look?"

In a short while, we turned off Hwy 65, and onto Hwy 76, Branson's main street. I felt like someone who's never seen a city before, a red necked rube from the sticks, awed by all the traffic and buildings. So, what's wrong with that? This was not what I imagined.

Just the traffic was amazing! It snaked down the highway, a single lane in each direction, as far as the eye could see. On each side of the road, all manner of shows, T-Shirt shops, eateries ,and souvenir shops crowded the road. I can't even recall seeing a sidewalk, the buildings were so close. Jammed shoulder to shoulder, they tried to lure cars from those long lines of traffic. It was an amazing thing to see! How people ever got back out into the ever present traffic line after a show was beyond me. We crawled along like bumpkins, pointing at things along the way.

"There's Dick Clark's Theatre", or "there's Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede" we'd yell. "Look, they've got DUCKS!!!!" I was in awe, yet felt so silly for all my enthusiasm. By the time we got to the Titanic museum (housed in a replica of the front half of the ship, including the infamous iceberg, $18.82 per adult, plus tax!) we were ready to crawl in traffic back towards the old part of town, and the lake.

Historic Branson is a bit less shiny than the strip, but with a huge waterfront development called Branson Landings, it's gaining fast. Yet, just a couple of blocks away, there are old mobile homes on overgrown lots, boarded up homes, and other signs of the way life really is. For all it's glitz, Branson is just another American city, and life still isn't easy for many of it's residents.

I'm thankful I had to see it, and even more thankful we didn't give in and spend the grocery money doing it!

For what it's worth, the real beauty of the Ozarks can be seen in nature, and in it's people. The vast expanses of forest, and clear lakes and streams are the only entertainment I need.

However, I can say I was there, and I sure can't say that for too many other places!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Purpose Driven Life??

We have been scrambling to finish up a job here lately. During yesterday's manic workload, I saw a copy of "A Purpose Driven Life", and it got me thinking.
While I had no time to read it, I gleaned that it was about the "fact" that were all here for a purpose. Like what?

Perhaps superheros, pledged to fight crime, and save humanity, would fulfill that niche, but what about the rest of us mere mortals? We seem to be here to live life by the seat of our pants, never knowing what the future holds. There is no divine plan for us, no accolades for doing something right. We just get by, day by day, and have no idea what's going to happen next. Reality is, that if there is indeed a plan, we ain't invited to participate.
Look around at the successful people. They seem to be laughing all the way to eternity, because they screwed the little guy to get ahead. Is this right? Is this our purpose driven life.....to get shafted by the powers that be?

If there indeed is a plan in place, and if there is a supreme being who cares about us, and has a plan for us, then why would they turn some into heroin addicts, or leave others to starve? Is this a plan? If you're crossing the street, and get gunned down by a drunk driver, is this your destiny?

It sounds like total bullshit to me! We alone can make the choice to go for the brass ring on the merry-go-round of life. There is no divine plan, no sacred cause for us. We're here to slog along until the end. What happiness, and success we find, is totally from our own fighting to do so.
The only realities we face each day are death and taxes, and sometimes feeding the cat. Other than that, we're on our own. It's up to us to find our own happiness, help others, live, love, laugh, and then amaze ourselves with what we can do. The rest of the world could give a shit! The only one who cares about us.....is us!

So, the moral of the story is: be true to yourself, achieve your own goals, not what someone claims is your "destiny". There is no one upstairs rooting us on. No angel cheerleaders in miniskirts urging us to "go, fight, WIN!" Truth is, the cosmos could give a rat's ass as to how we end up, so it's up to each of us to make sure we're satisfied with our lives.
In the end, the only one we have to answer to is our self. Did we do something useful with our "allotted" days on earth? Did we really care about the world around us, and try to improve it? Did we touch a life, or make someone smile? Or were we self-centered ass hats, who cared for nothing more than getting ahead, at any cost?

The only "plan" is our own, and what we do is entirely for our feelings of success, happiness, and sometimes survival.

The cosmos is betting against us, let's show them what we can do!

Go team go!