10 Things I’ve Learned – May 2012
1. Gatlinburg, TN is a lot like Las Vegas.
The city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee is one of the easternmost cities in the state, and either serves as the gateway or receiving ground for those traveling through the Smoky Mountains, depending on which way you’re going. Over the years, the growing number of visitors has transformed this area into quite the tourist destination. Now, when I say it’s a lot like Vegas, I’m not talking about the glitz, glamour, and club scene that Vegas has become known for. Gatlinburg is a lot like the old kitschy Vegas, some of which is still viewable in Downtown Las Vegas. In Gatlinburg, they have every manner of attraction aimed either attracted your kids, or piquing your weird interests. All of which has the same goal: to separate you from your money. Dollywood is close by, but the main drag in Gatlinburg is the real draw. A picture can be worth a thousand words, so I’ll leave you with one picture that basically sums in the scene in this east Tennessee town. It’s a house. And it’s upside down.
2. Cincinnati chili is not really chili.
There’s Texas chili, which we all know and love. There’s coney dog chili, which is a Greek variety with no beans that works so well with onions and mustard. There’s also your generic canned chili (think Hormel) that works on everything from dogs to burgers to dips. There’s even the fancy white bean chili, for those of you with a more refined palate. And then there’s Cincinnati chili, the wildly crazy aunt of the chili family. Cincinnati chili has no beans, but does have cinnamon and chocolate in it, is serve over noodles and topped with heaping piles of shredded cheddar cheese. This concoction is only found in the Cincinnati area at a few establishments, most notable Skyline Chili. It’s definitely not really chili, although it is also definitely delicious.
3. The Kentucky Derby infield is not a place to actually witness the race.
We detailed the infield scene a little bit when we told you about our experience at the Kentucky Derby, but it’s definitely worth a revisit. I was taken aback by how LITTLE racing you can actually see from the infield. Don’t get me wrong, the partying and rabble-rousing that happens in large groups on the infield of the track looked like great fun, but unless you’re one of the first 100 or so people through the gates, you have zero chance of actually seeing any part of the racetrack. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to end up just watching the race on a giant TV, I’d rather save some money and have friends over to do pretty much the same thing that you can do at the Derby infield, but with better bathrooms.
4. Our friends don’t read our blog.
We assume, mostly because we are living and breathing our project 24/7, that everyone we know is following our every step. Then we get slammed off of our high horses and struck back down to reality whenever we end up hanging out with a large group of our friends. Inevitably, everyone knows what we’re doing, but not quite exactly where we’ve been or what we’ve done recently. When we got back into Michigan in May, one of the first questions a friend asked us was, “Have you thought about doing any NASCAR events?” Of course, we had already covered the Daytona 500 a couple of months back. I bring this humbling point up only because it’s always good to remember that no matter what you’re involved in, most people will go about their daily lives doing what THEY do. No one is realistically going to be concerned with your every move, so it’s good to take that with a grain of salt, and keep on doing what YOU do.
5. Each state needs its own Jungle Jim’s.
Jungle Jim’s International Market is a ridiculously large grocery store on the outskirts of Cincinnati. With 1.5 acres of produce, 75,000 international grocery products, cigars from 70 countries, gift shops, restaurants, exotic spices food demonstrations and made-to-order delicacies. They have all of the American groceries that you know and love, but also just about everything you fell in love with when you went on vacation outside of the US. This included my favorite soft drink from Scotland, IRN BRU, which is a true rarity in the US. The store has incredible displays, which often take your mind off of the shopping task at hand. They even had an entire aisle of hot sauce, which kept me occupied for nearly an hour. You could literally spend an entire day at Jungle Jim’s…and we did.
6. Indianapolis really likes America.
The city of Indianapolis was founded with political intentions in mind. It was chosen to be the state capitol city in 1820 because of its central location, and was given the name “Indianapolis” to literally mean “Indiana city”. The new capitol city actually had a designer, who laid out the city much like Washington DC, with a large statehouse and multiple monuments and memorials. In fact, the city is second only to DC in total number of monuments with 6, including a War Memorial Plaza that stretches for 5 blocks and contains beautiful fountains, the headquarters of the American Legion, and the Indiana Central Library.
7. Indy, Cleveland, and Detroit really could be the same city.
I know this statement won’t go over too well with people in those respective locales, but as an outside observer, these cities are eerily similar. All 3 places have much of the same look and feel as each other, and being industrial cities, they all have similar old-timey manufacturing districts. Being in the Midwest, they also have very similar people living in those cities, which makes them all feel the same when you’re walking around and interacting with people. They were also formed around the same time, so a lot of the architecture and styles of the buildings and facades are similar. After experiencing each city individually, I was left feeling that Indianapolis, Cleveland, And Detroit are more alike than people are inclined to believe.
8. Insurance agents can actually be nice.
After our run-in with a tree in New Orleans, we contacted our insurance company and they sent someone out to take a look at our air conditioning unit. Fearing the worst, we assumed that all insurance agents are there to basically save their company money, and getting anything out of them was going to be a challenge. This couldn’t have been further from the case in this instance. Not only did he write us a check for the air conditioning unit, he even told us that there were other things that we could use the money to fix on the RV that were more important than the air conditioning. He even gave us the contact info to a few places that could do repairs for a cheaper cost. All we had to do was say that we were going to fix the air conditioning unit ourselves, and he could close the book on it and we could use the money as we saw fit. Not only was this the exact OPPOSITE of how I thought that dealing with an insurance company would work, but it even ended up helping us out in the long run.
9. There is such thing as a “Pinterest Party”.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but yes, I have in fact participated in a “Pinterest Party”. What is a Pinterest Party you ask? Well, it involves inviting your friends over, finding a recipe on the super-girly yet uber-popular website Pinterest.com, and then making all of that delicious food. I butched up the party by making some delectable pizza balls, which of course were the highlight of the evening. All in all everyone made some great food, but I’m still a little dubious about continuing a Pinterest Party tradition. Can’t people just bring over some inventive eats and call it a regular party?
10. Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park.
I know! I’m just as surprised as you are. Not Grand Canyon National Park, and not Yellowstone either. It’s the Smoky Mountains, separating Tennessee and North Carolina, that have the most yearly visitors. Maybe I’m more surprised because I didn’t really know that it was an actual National Park before this trip? Or maybe it’s the fact that after visiting, it felt like just one long scenic drive with a few hiking trails in between? Not to diminish the park at all, because we had a great time driving though and even hiked to a few waterfalls, but it just didn’t have that overall majesty we would have expected for the #1 spot.