The Biker Babes Do Branson – A Harley Vacation
Just for your reference, while reading the following tale, my sister Terry is three years older than I am, I was 43 at the time, and our Mom was 76. Terry is the proud owner of a gleaming black Harley Ultra Glide Classic with a sidecar, and for our first vacation on the bike, Terry, Mom, and I did a week-long trip on the Harley from
5 May 2000, Friday
Our first major funny came in
We caught breakfast at an Iron Skillet around 6:30, and had the first of many similar encounters: we got a lot of looks, trooping into a truck stop in our leathers, and started fielding questions from drivers and other diners about our biking adventure. Favorite line from a passing trucker: "I don't know about the legs, but I sure like them jackets!" Pulling up and dismounting from the bike, or kitting up and hopping aboard to hit the road, were always certain to attract an audience!
We got to
We caught a late lunch/early dinner at a local Schlotzky's deli, and then went back to the motel for a swim. Terry promptly decided that she had to add one more requirement to the lodging list she gives to her travel agent, who made all our arrangements: to put the word "heated" in front of "indoor pool." The water temperature was a bit on the cool side! But it felt great once you got in, so all was well. It was a little cool and breezy for sitting outside, so we just sat by the pool for a while to dry off, watching the latest guests arriving. The last arrival we noted was a bus evidently loaded with all the participants of an obvious senior class trip: a stream of boys and girls, with harried-looking chaperones. We'd gotten out of the pool just in time; minutes after we left (to grab some fresh popcorn and hot tea or coffee from the lobby to take back to our room), the horde invaded, and the pool belonged to the high schoolers for the rest of the day!
6 May, Saturday
We ate breakfast at the Corner Pantry in
We crossed the
When we got onto 94, Terry found that the tradeoff for scenic views was two-lane, twisty roads, with lots of left and right and up and down. She proclaimed that we wouldn't be going back that way: her knees were aching and her knuckles were a bit white before the end of the day. (You have to understand that riding a motorcycle with a sidecar is totally different than riding a two-wheeler: the driver actually has to shift her whole body off the bike to the right or the left on sharp turns in order to keep the bike going in the desired direction!) But the views were spectacular, especially as we got into the Ozarks. We also learned that
There's also a bicycle path that seems to run virtually the whole length of scenic 94; we kept glimpsing it and sometimes crossing it. With the sun high, it was being well used, and it was a pretty day for anyone on any kind of bike for most of the day.
In mid-afternoon, though, we put on rain gear again, and this time, we needed it, although not for long. The real rain lasted only about thirty minutes, although we kept running into little patches of light drizzle for the better part of an hour. (When we watched the weather reports at night, we learned that we’d managed to just miss storm fronts that dropped six to eight inches of rain on some of the places we had just barely left – God was clearly on our side!)
We reached Branson between 4:30 and 5:00, and found our motel with the help of a phone call. Our motel – the Best Western Rustic Oak (and yes, it matters, because there are three Best Westerns in Branson!) – was right on the outskirts of historic old downtown Branson. The old town is a quaint slice of old-fashioned middle America, served up for tourists with cobblestoned sidewalks, gift shops, restaurants, a catch-all five-and-dime store, a scenic railway station, and one major intersection. Except for one thing, it is very different from the strip along highway 76 (known as
We found a fudge shop for an evening treat (they boasted, "A Foot of Chocolate for $0.99" and they meant it – that special was a six-inch long, quarter-inch-thick slab of chocolate in the shape of a human footprint!), and then returned to the motel and popped into the hot tub. We didn't want to push things by trying for a show, since we'd put in a full day on the road. Once again, the swimming pool, although indoors, wasn't heated; gotta change those instructions! The hot tub was nice, but getting to and from it was a literal pain: their patio flooring was made of little tiny crushed stones, instead of something reasonable like concrete or wood. Ouch!
The Harley was a major hit with a busload of college-age Czechoslovakians. They were offloading at the hotel as we were heading back to our room after our fudge treat, and a few of the most enterprising among them surrounded the bike from a safely admiring distance, cameras in hand. They were clearly captivated: "vroom-vroom" and rotating wrists mean the same thing the world over! Terry clicked off the alarm system, and encouraged the Czechs to hop on board and take their pictures. They spoke no English and we spoke no Czech, so the first reaction was puzzlement, but it was quickly replaced by delight when Terry switched to body English to clearly illustrate "plunk your butt on the bike!" They were quick to catch on and take her up on the offer, and several of them in succession had their pictures taken sitting in the driver's seat. One of them who could speak English laughed that we should charge them a dollar each, but we said that we were having more than enough fun just watching. Not to mention doing our part to cement good international relations!
7 May, Sunday
We took the Harley to the only Catholic church in Branson – Our Lady of the
From church, we hit the road to Uncle Reuben's place down in
Three hours after leaving Branson, we pulled into their yard, out in the middle of nowhere right on highway 9. Shorts and Jackie weren't expecting us until the next weekend – some misunderstanding from Mom's communication with Reuben – but they were home and we had a fine visit with them (and with Niko the cat and Belle and Lily, the black and white poodles). They took us up to lunch on Petit Jean (pronounced locally as "petty gene") Mountain. The park up there has spectacular views and a story legend about a young Frenchwoman who disguised herself and sailed as cabin boy on her lover's ship to
We left Solgohachia around 4:00, after pictures, and took the same route home and just went to bed early.
8 May, Monday
Our hotel offered a complimentary continental breakfast, so that's how we began each day – cereal, orange juice, coffee, and (since we were on vacation and being naughty!) a donut. Monday morning started out a little rushy, as we set out to try to get tickets to the various shows we decided to see. But at 11:15, we were ready to board the Branson Scenic Railroad for a twenty-mile trip up into the mountains and then back. It was a nice ride with some very pretty views and a funny narrator who also gave historical information on the region. Did you know, for example, that
Monday afternoon was the Shoji Tabuchi show, which was splendid! Shoji is a violinist, and his show – a gala mix of music, dance, lighting, and special effects – runs the gamut from classical to country. The theatre was a technological marvel, with every sound, lighting, and physical feature imaginable. It was also one of the most opulent places I have ever seen: the bathrooms must be seen to be believed, because they defy verbal description. (Although we didn't see it, we were told later that just past the door into the men's room is a billiard table with a spectator's gallery, and that people really do play pool there!)
From the show itself, my favorite bits included a most unusual chamber quintet of violin, trumpets, and trombones doing Copeland's Appalachian Spring; and a pounding segment of taiko drumming. Shoji has the biggest taiko drum on the planet – over six feet in diameter, hollowed out from a six hundred year old tree. He said that it takes twenty years to build such a drum – and then jokingly said that you spend the first nineteen years looking for the tree! But joking aside, the building is a twenty year process, taking into account the time it takes first to cure the wood, then to hollow it, and finally to tune it. Incredible!
We went out to dinner on Monday night with one of Terry's co-workers, Greg, and his wife Jenny and step-daughter
9 May, Tuesday
This was our one rainy day. In the morning, we were making the rounds picking up the rest of our show tickets, and it sometimes poured on us. Looking for indoor things to do, we thought we'd go take the tour of Table Rock Dam, but when we went by, we found that a tour bus had miscalculated the very sharp turn and was blocking the entire entranceway. Instead, we went on across the dam, and found an Army Corps of Engineers visitor center on the far side with information on the building of the dam and with an indoor "nature trail" showing the passage of the four seasons in the area. A nice place found by accident! We enjoyed our visit, and even got a hot tip for a good lunch: a place called Pzazz, right across the highway from the Welk Resort, where we were going for the afternoon show. The food at Pzazz was really good, so we ate a leisurely lunch and headed over tot he theatre for the 2:00 show. By the time we left the restaurant the rain had stopped, and the rest of the day proved to be fine.
The Welk Show was great, re-creating a lot of memories. Some of the original Welk stars were appearing, including the Lennon Sisters (who still look good, and sound good, too!); Arthur Duncan (who can still tapdance a storm and doesn't look as if he'll ever grow old!); and JoAnn Castle (who still has the best and the wildest stride piano boogie anywhere!). The second half of the show started out by literally re-creating an episode of the show from its black-and-white television days: everything on stage was in black and white, although the stage personae occasionally made reference to what color they were "seeing" ("Love the red dress!" to a woman clad in what, to us, was black ...), and the songs were separated into segments by commercials. What a lark!
After the show, we had another Harley moment. The weather had cleared beautifully while we were in the theatre, so the sun was shining brightly, and as we started suiting up at the Harley, another couple came over asking if they could take pictures. Turns out the gentleman was from
On our way home, we decided to make one last try at getting tickets to a morning show that had proven terribly elusive: Red, Hot & Blue. We had called them on Sunday night, only to learn that the box office had closed before we called. The ticket agent had called on Monday morning and been unable to get through the answering machine. We had stopped on Tuesday morning, only to find the door locked, although music was filling the building. It was on our way back to the motel from the Welk Resort, so we made one last shot – and this time the door was open and there were real people inside! We learned that they had just installed a new computer ticketing system that most of the folk hadn't learned to run yet, and it was being balky, so they had some problems. They also hadn't taken off the message on their answering machine from when the show had been on tour (in
We weren't too terribly hungry by this time, but we did feel peckish, so we stopped at Burger King for a small burger supper, and then went back to the hotel. We walked a bit in old historic downtown Branson to get our exercise, which amounts to more than you might think, because Branson is all up-and-down; it's like walking in