It's easy to tell when you're closing in on Branson, Missouri. The billboards trumpeting Branson's attractions become so numerous, they almost form a picket fence.
The first thing we did upon arriving in Branson was to obtain a hotel room. The second thing I did was to ride a zip line.
This is because nothing says "rest and relaxation" like whooshing downhill on a skinny little cable at speeds similar to that of a spacecraft re-entering Earth's atmosphere. A zip line ride definitely gives one a new perspective on things.
The process began by taking an elevator to the top of a skyscraper-like tower. After paying the requisite fee and signing legal documents - which was the scariest part - I was conducted to the zip line launch pad.
Given the level of danger, one might assume that one would receive an exhaustive safety lecture before lurching from a perch that's hundreds of feet above the ground. One would be mistaken.
The entirety of the safety talk was comprised of "Keep your elbows in so you don't hit them on the door frame." A co-zip rider, a girl of about 11, astutely asked about the cable's load limit. We were assured that each cable was rated for 36,000 pounds. I was about to say that I would wait for the 72,000-pound model when the doors swung open, and we plummeted into the void.
I tried to enjoy the scenery while zooming down the half-mile of cable. But all I could think about was the scenic trees below, all of which had sharp, upward-pointing branches that seemed eager to impale luckless zip liners.
Pictures were taken during the ride and made available afterward for a nominal fee. We soon discovered that commemorative photos are endemic in Branson. Order a burger and you will be asked if you also want fries and a commemorative photo.
One morning we decided to take a paddleboat ride on Lake Taneycomo. The Lake Queen is a paddleboat in the same sense that Dolly Parton is a blonde. She is powered by a pair of Detroit Diesel engines and can cruise at very brisk clip. The Lake Queen, that is.
We took the early tour and thus had the Lake Queen all to ourselves, save for a young couple and their two small sons. Habitual early rising - a holdover from my dairy farming days - sometimes has its benefits. And yes, as we boarded the Lake Queen, we were asked to pose for a commemorative photo.
The Lake Queen was piloted by a guy named Captain Gus. Captain Gus was a font of knowledge regarding the lake, especially its ichthyoids. It was no surprise when Captain Gus revealed that he's an avid angler.
As we cruised, I asked Captain Gus if he could identify the flowering bushes that lined the shore. Their aroma was heavenly!
"That there is the, um, white blossom bush," said Captain Gus. "Did you know that they stock Lake Taneycomo with both rainbow and brown trout? I caught me a real nice brown trout last week. Would you like to see a picture of it?"
I declined but was amazed at the apparent persistence of the commemorative photographers.
One cannot visit Branson without taking in a show. My wife and I, being of a certain age, opted to see a show that featured Elvis, who continues to rake in the dough despite being deceased for several decades.
We quickly discerned that show was a "tribute." Indeed, there are several Elvises - Elvi? - who perform in the Branson area. After purchasing our tickets, we were forced to pose for a commemorative photo with "Justin Timberlake" and "Tina Turner."
We caught the early show and scored front-row seats. We were so close to the action, we could count the beads of sweat on the brows of the dancers. It was an excellent show despite the theater being only about a fourth full. It's nice to know that the performers will give their all whether the audience is 10 people or 1,000. The dancers were so energetic, we lost 10 pounds just watching them.
Later, as we returned to our hotel room, my wife exclaimed, "Look! There's Elvis!"
She was right! The Elvis who had performed for us earlier was staying at our hotel! And he was bringing a pair of young ladies into his room!
Seeing Elvis in jeans and a T-shirt instead of his sparkly jumpsuit was like catching a backstage glimpse of a circus clown without his makeup. I knew he wasn't the real Elvis, but found it depressing nonetheless.
My wife sensed this and cheered me right up by pointing at me and uttering three small words.
"You!" she said. "Helicopter ride!"