When you live in a tourist town, you’re likely will hear some very strange things and be asked some odd questions. And these people are serious. It’s not a joke. And I’m almost certain that if some people really listened to themselves, they would realize how ridiculous they sound or how very peculiar their questions and comments sound to us.
On July third I was returning home from a grocery run to Walmart. It was a nice day and not too hot, so I had my window down. I was sitting at a traffic light just inside the Gatlinburg city limits when I overheard the following conversation in the car next to me:
Woman: Well, we made it…we’re finally here. Isn’t that exciting?!
The unintelligible voice of a child from the backseat.
Woman: Michael! What do you mean, where are we? Where have we been talking about coming for vacation for the last six months? I swear to the living God He gave me an idiot when you were born.
Crying sounds from the backseat.
I was sitting on a bench one evening in front of my friend Ronnie’s business called The Nut House. A woman walked up to me and said:
Woman: I understand you live in Gatlinburg?
Me: Yes, ma’am.
Woman: May I ask you a question?
Me: Yes, certainly.
Woman: What time do they let the bears out?
Me: Excuse me?
Woman: What time do they let the bears out?
Me: What time is it now?
Woman: 7:50 P.M.
Me: Oh, you just missed it. They’re let out about 7:30 every night, so come back downtown tomorrow night at about that time and you’ll catch it.
Woman: Oh darn! We’re leaving tomorrow!
When I first moved to Gatlinburg I volunteered to help at the Department of Tourism’s Visitor’s Center. I expected to be doing things like putting out brochures, stuffing envelopes and little chores like that. But much to my surprise they put me right out on the front lines to deal directly with the people who came in to ask questions. Here are a few of the best I heard:
What time do they turn the river on?
What time do they turn the river off?
Where are we? (Answer usually given: where do you want to be?)
How do I get to Gatlinburg from here? (Usual answer: Take a look out any window in this building and you will see Gatlinburg.)
Who built the river and how much did it cost? (The answer given was God built it and he hasn’t sent us a bill yet.)
I thought all rivers above the Equator flow South. How come the one here runs North? (North is downhill. Believe-it-or-not, the man who asked told us he was a meteorologist.)
How many bears live right in town?
I have a reservation for tonight, but I left it at home, and I don’t know where we’re staying. Can you help us find out? (With two of us working on it, we were able to get an answer to that in about 40 minutes.)
Where can I find machines or dispensers to buy bear feed so if I see one on the street I’ll have something to give it? (DON’T FEED THE BEARS…and we all mean this in Gatlinburg.)
How do I get from here to there? (There are a lot of things you want to say to that, but the usual was where is there?)
What time does the eight o’clock show start at the Sweet Fanny Adams theater? (Sweet Fanny Adams theater has been doing shows in Gatlinburg for over 30 years, and not only do the Visitor’s Centers get this question, but the owners at SFA say they get it about once a week.)
Ripley’s Aquarium in the Smokies is the most visited aquarium in the World, with nearly 14 million visitors per year, and is the leading attraction in town. One the Gatlinburg Visitor’s Centers is located on what is called Ripley’s Plaza, situated directly across from the ticket sales and main entrance to the Aquarium. A lot of people think the Visitor’s Center is associated with Ripley’s when in fact it is not. But in the confusion a lot of people go into the Visitor’s Center to ask questions about the Aquarium such as:
Do we need bathing suits to visit the Aquarium?
Can we swim with the sharks? (Not even the professional divers at the Aquarium like to do that. There is always an extra diver to watch the sharks when other divers are in the tank for any reason. And the extra diver is equipped with a pole to chase them away.)
Here is my favorite one of all, and it not only has me very confused but everyone I’ve told this story to as well.
During evening hours, after dinner, people like to stroll the main street in Gatlinburg called the Parkway. It is full of shops, attractions, restaurants, snack bars, ice cream shops and lodging establishments. There are a lot of benches on both sides of the street.
Many nights I go downtown on the trolley, go to a bench in front of some friend’s business, people watch and on occasion, meet people who sit down next to me, and make some new friends. From time to time one of the business owners with whom I am friendly gets a little break in the crowds and they’ll come out and sit with me for a couple of minutes, keeping a close eye on their business in case customers approach. It’s all very friendly and nice.
One night two ladies came over and sat down on the bench next to me while their husbands were doing some shopping in one of the stores. They were both eating ice cream cones and having a rather loud, friendly conversation. The first woman spoke:
Woman 1: I’m really having a good time this year.
Woman 2: Yes, the weather has been cooler than in the past, and I like the place we’re staying because it has a dining room where you can have breakfast every morning without having to go out and find some place to eat.
Woman 1: Yes, I agree, except they do one thing wrong every day.
Woman 2: What’s that?
Woman 1: They butter the toast on the wrong side.
Woman 2: Yes, I know what you mean.
There was a long pause while they licked at some of the melting ice cream and took a bite out of their cones. In the mean time my brain was trying to process what I had just heard.
I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said:
Me: I don’t mean to be rude, but I couldn’t help but overhearing your conversation just now.
She turned to face me and smiled as I continued:
Me: Did I just hear you say you have a problem with the dining room at the hotel where you are staying because they butter the wrong side of the toast?
Woman 1: Yes, isn’t awful?
Just at that moment their husbands came up and they all left.
Now I was more confused than ever, and didn’t have the chance to ask any questions. The WRONG side of the toast? What the hell is the wrong side of the toast? I mean, isn’t toast just toast? I have never been aware there was a WRONG side.
I have told this story hundreds of times, even in front of an audience in order to get a laugh, but to this day, NO ONE has ever been able to tell me what side of a piece of toast is the wrong side.
This one didn’t actually take place in Gatlinburg, but at the Walmart in nearby Sevierville, but I thought it was too good to pass up.
When I shop at Walmart I use one of their electric scooters that puts me more at eye level with kids. Recently I was going down the aisle looking for ketchup when a boy of about seven or eight, who was shopping with his mother, walked up to me and said, “What do you serve with the roadkill you are fixing for dinner?”
I was a bit puzzled by this at first, then I thought I’d play along, so I said, “I don’t know.”
Then he yelled, “SQUASH!!!!!”
He laughed hysterically, and I laughed, too. I thought that was pretty good.
So, as you can see, we hear a LOT of unusual things. But what can you expect when you live in a town that gets between 11 and 14 million tourists visiting each year.