Monday, November 12, 2012

Asheville and Great Smoky Mountains Trip, Days 3 and 4: In which there are Scandals and Elk, but not elk scandals.

Great Smoky Mountain
Park Sign
Crossing the Threshhold

Saturday, September 29
Saturday was the day of the wedding, and the hotel was a-flutter with activity. Kate and I jumped out early for breakfast at a greasy-spoon type diner where I went for the Southern breakfast trifecta: Biscuits, grits and gravy (also, eggs, cheese and sausage, etc.). We had some down time at the hotel, but later met Kate’s family for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant[i] nearby.

LoveSouthern Breakfast

Ominous clouds swallowed the valleys as we drove out to the arboretum for the ceremony, and eventually cut loose with a torrent of rain[ii]. Glum faces pressed against the windows in the arboretum building as water cascaded from the heavens. The photographer and I watched it and I saw a look of grim determination cross her face. She finally turned to me and said something like, “I think we can do it. I’m going to go tell them they’re getting married outside.”. Miraculously, as if she was Moses parting the waters, the rain came to a halt and the sun beamed through the clouds. She and I rushed out with the wedding party to get pictures before the ceremony. The location was fantasic, it was hard to get a bad picture there among the fall colors. I videoed frantically[iii] while trying to stay out of her way, and corralled wedding party members for an endless progression of pictures in every potential combination[iv]

The ceremony went off without a hitch[v]. It was short and sweet, officiated by a friend of the bride and groom who did a fantastic job. When one of the processional/recessional/etc songs played during the ceremony is by Sufjan Stevens, you know you’re at the cool kids’ wedding. After it was all said and done, the wedding party rushed to get a couple more shots as the clouds closed in again. Everyone else move to the patio for drinks and appetizers while I subjected everyone to the age old videographer torture of “hey, say something on camera for the bride and groom”. Boy, that sure looked to be annoying from the other side of the camera. At the reception, we sat with some of Kate’s relatives. Never one to shy away from dancing at weddings[vi], I dragged Kate and various relatives out on the floor until we shut the place down.

Later in the evening, most of the younger crowd[vii] headed to the bar attached to the hotel for an impromptu after-party that eventually culminated in a march across Asheville to an afterhours gay bar called Scandals. What was a thriving dance floor when we arrived, emptied by the time we shut the place down at 3 AM[viii]. One of my favorite memories of the day was of three diminutive latino fellows holding hands and dancing around the bride like a maypole.

Wedding Afterparty Stop
My sole wedding picture from the day, our first afterparty stop. Probably about 1 AM. No pictures from Scandals. What happens at Scandals stays at Scandals. Ironically enough.

Sunday, 9/30
The next morning was a lazy one, as we all packed up and headed out to the bride’s parent’s house[ix] for a brunch. As the day grew shorter, Kate and I said our goodbyes to family and friends and started out for the Smokeys and the second phase of the trip.

The beautiful Geenan home. Want.

We ended up getting a later start than I had planned[x], but grabbed some quick groceries from the local store where I marveled at how the view in the area seems to be taken for granted. The view from the vast parking lot was sweeping, of a village nestled in overlapping ridges. This sort of view would generate wall to wall high-priced homes anywhere else, but here…just a parking lot. For their sake, I hope it remains so.

Parking Lot
Come enjoy mind-blowing views from our…discount supermarket parking lot.

We made our way west to Cherokee, the southern gateway to the park. Cherokee, aptly named as it was on an actual Cherokee reservation, was an unfortunate, unbroken, and seemingly unending onslaught of every 50’s motor lodge/Native American/Appalachian stereotype combined into one dense conglomeration of vintage motels, gift shops, and attractions. If the “Indian” in the old commercial[xi] shed a tear over some trash, he must have practically bawled over the insanity of Cherokee.

NCPink Motel,
Cherokee Reservation, Cherokee Streetscape, Tourist Motels – Cherokee.

The transition to the Park was almost jarring, as we abruptly left wall to wall souvenir stands and entered cool, dark forest. We stopped for a few obligatory pictures with the Park sign before resuming our race against the dying light. As we approached the visitor’s center, we came across a large herd of Elk moving across an open field. I stopped and chatted with a park volunteer for a while, before we reluctantly left the herd and headed for the campground. We got in after dark and in a light rain, making setting up camp less than thrilling[xii]. However, with a dry tent awaiting us, a gurgling brook across the street, and a belly full of chili from the camp stove later, it ended up being a good start to the Smokeys experience.

Great Smoky Mountain
Park SignElk
Park Sign, Elk, Elk Herd


[i] While the food was pretty great, it was one of those places that was pretty militantly vegetarian/vegan. I was scared to think fondly of the steak from the night before, lest I trip what I can only assume are the multiple anti-meat warding spells cast on the place.
[ii] Somewhere, Alanis’s irony sense was tingling.
[iii] I was pretty nervous about videoing the wedding; I was using gear I’d never worked with, and had not had the chance to really scout the location, or talk with the photographer about placement, etc.  not to mention, the last time I videoed anything more seriously than with my cell phone, I was in High school and the camera ran on VHS and weighed 30 pounds. I was slightly unprepared.  It ended up being a lot of fun, but I’m guessing the final product left a bit to be desired.
[iv] I think somewhere, there is a picture of me, the caterer, and someone’s grandmother. We were kind of making it up as we went by the end of 47 shot combinations of wedding part family and friends.
[v] Other than the ushering. I and the officiant’s partner had been asked to usher. A lack of chairs, initially, some general confusion about where to enter an outdoor area with multiple entrances, and some general invitations to just sit where you could find a seat negated any impact of our ushering. I hid behind the video camera and tried to look busy so no one would notice my usher fail. Sorry Cliff, you made a valiant effort, but the odds were stacked against usJ
[vi] Some of you may have memories of me dancing from your own weddings. Try not to shudder in horror at them too noticeably.
[vii] Including the bride and groom who put in an IMPRESSIVE showing. I do not remember having that much energy my wedding day. They hung with us to the bitter end.
[viii] I’ll let folks other than myself speculate whether the attrition of regulars over the course of the evening was due to the late hour, or the fact that their dance floor was invaded by a raucous wedding party complete with be-gowned bride.
[ix] Which was fantastic, set in the foothills of the surrounding mountains, with a wide sweeping porch and a terraced hillside behind.
[x] Never easy to leave a relaxing event with family and friends. Even less so when headed into a couple days of camping in what was promising to be rainy conditions.
[xi] the fellow who played the “Indian” in that commercial was Italian, not Native American (he did claim Cherokee/Cree ancestry, but it was made up). However, he was later recognized  for his contributions by various Native American groups.
[xii] Though it did have its highlights. We were the only ones not in an RV, and I got to meet our next door neighbor as he walked his dog. Nice guy from Jersey who was having trouble understanding why we would want to tent in this weather. There were also a fairly large number of insects in the bathrooms. While this may have unnerved some, I was pretty happy spending some time looking for new species.  

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