Think back to your cartoon watching days. For some of you, that may be now, but just to be clear, we are talking Looney Tunes. Remember how Bugs Bunny would occasionally hold up signs that said “See Rock City”? These were an homage to such signs that proliferated in more than half a dozen states, most notably painted on barn roofs. Rock City is located just above Chattanooga, and we really didn’t know what it was. Something to do with rocks. Vaguely city-like. But what did it matter? We had to see it.
Turns out Rock City was organized by Frieda and Garnet Carter--he invented Tom Thumb miniature golf so there is a theme going with this particular Plucky Survivors trip—on the grounds of their very rocky estate atop Lookout Mountain. Opened in 1932, it’s a series of paths that wind up and down and across boulders of various sizes, with forest dotting the whole. You sometimes have to really have to go cautiously to get through mossy passages called things like Needle’s Eye or Fat Man Squeeze. Occasionally, the path skirts the edge of estate, offering views that go on for miles, and from where you can, they say and we take their word for it, see as many as seven states at once. (All states look alike from a tall view.) There’s a cavern that has been liberally decorated with small rocks plus black light dioramas featuring gnomes and nursery rhyme or fairy tale tableaus that date back to the forties, and are quite cute even in the dark.
Maybe it was the time of day—we got there just when it opened and so had the place almost entirely to ourselves—but we were quite smitten with Rock City. Apart from some pointless if innocuous New Age music playing from hidden speakers, it was a peaceful and truly beautiful place and did not come off at all like the tourist trap those ubiquitous signs would indicate. Our experience would clearly be vastly different on a crowded hot day—can’t imagine negotiating Needle’s Eye with a long line of people in front of and behind us—so we say, see Rock City, but do it early.
A short drive took us to the small town of Dayton, TN, where we impulsively stopped at the happily named Donut Palace, and secured a double chocolate with glaze for Rick, and a chocolate log stuffed with crème for Mary—the former was merely okay, but the latter was quite good. We were just happy to have donuts, because in two-Southern based Plucky Survivor trips we’ve noted a deficiency of same. The South doesn’t seem to like donuts, Krispy Kreme notwithstanding. Pancakes, however, they like. In Myrtle Beach alone there were a dozen, near-copyright infringing establishments along one stretch of road: the National Pancake House, Pancake Pantry, International Houses of Pancake, Pan-American Pancake House, Garden O’Pancakes, Pancake-o-Rama… okay we’re making some of those up but not many. We saw this repeated in Gatlinburg and in a few other locations. Can anyone explain it to us?
We were in Dayton because it was the site of the real trial of the century, the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial. In 1925 high school teacher John Scopes was arrested for breaking the law by teaching evolution in his biology class, prompting an epic clash between science and religion. The most famous and arguably best defense lawyer of the time, Clarence Darrow, took on Scopes’ case, while the prosecution team included politician-preacher William Jennings Bryan, one of the most famous men of his era. The situation inspired the award winning play “Inherit the Wind,” one of Mary’s all time favorite pieces of literature. But given that the debate about evolution in the classroom is still going on, this was a timely spot even without that connection.
There is a small exhibit about the trial in the basement of the Rhea County courthouse that nicely balances the viewpoints which was disconcerting for those of us who fall sharply on the evolution side of the debate. The trial room, looking much as it always did, is also available for viewing provided there isn’t a trial in session since it is still a working courtroom. The case is so monumental and it turned into such a circus with such important names involved we do wish there was still more on it in the town, but we did note that the main employee there is a huge buff who knows court transcripts and other hard core facts as intimately as if he were there.
Outside was a little farmer’s market featuring apples, peaches and other produce. Mary wanted just one peach, as opposed to a basket full, and the woman she sought it from not only gave it to her but added a second. It was full of peachy juiciness and certainly better for her than donuts.
Our next stop would be our last official road side attraction and dining in one: Poole’s BBQ and the Pig Hill of Fame. Yes, we know we kept calling it the Pig Hall of Fame, which was pretty funny, but it turned out to be a colorful barbeque shed next to a tall hill covered in cut-out pig shapes of different sizes and colors, each with a name inscribed on it. We asked inside; how do you get one? “Well,” said the counter girl, “You need a pure heart, an honest look in your eye, and five dollars.” We had the latter at least, and any day now, there should be a pig that says “Plucky Survivors 3” somewhere among the hundreds of others.
Along with pork, owner Col. Poole serves up a healthy batch of politics, beginning with freedom fries on the menu, signs promoting Pat Buchanan for President, photos of him and his wife as delegates at the RNC, a plaque honoring President Bush’s inauguration, and lots more, all proudly proclaiming that this is a conservative establishment. Apparently, there is another BBQ spot some miles away that has liberal politicians and slogans in it, and there is a bit—we say with likely understatement—of rivalry between the two. But this one has a Pig Hill of Fame, so it’s where we cast our ballot.
Now, we know what we said about Georgia barbeque and we largely stand by it, but if this were the only place we had eaten same, we would have a very different opinion. The sandwiches were large, the pulled pork smoky, the sauce sweet and yet tangy—yeah, that’s what we’re talking about. That’s the kind of pork barrel politics we support.
And so we wind up the official road trip part of Plucky Survivors 3 back in Atlanta at the Indigo Hotel. It has a marine theme, various shades of sea-blue, with beach resort style furnishings, and an in-house dog, a Jack Russell named Innie.
We finished our night at the “Fabulous” Fox Theatre, a Downtown landmark built in the late 1920s as the Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque, the headquarters for the Shriners organization. It’s almost Las Vegas (only better) in its faithful adaptation of a Moroccan castle inside and out, complete with onion domes, minarets, and a glittery night sky with moving clouds on the ceiling above the main auditorium. It was converted to a movie palace before it ever opened as the mosque and after some down years in the 70s it was restored to its past and current glory. You should go see whatever show is playing if for no other reason than to see the building.
The show that we caught was stand-up comic and reality TV star Kathy Griffin, doing her raunchy, incredibly politically incorrect riffs on celebrity and its attendant B.S. An unrepentant pop-culture junkie, Griffin says all the things we think but are afraid to say about everyone from Britney Spears to Brooke Hogan to Oprah Winfrey to Governor and VP candidate Sarah Palin. She’s wildly inappropriate yet does it in an incisive way that cuts to the core of why most famous people should strive to stay out of the limelight.
Thus ended our penultimate day of Plucky Survivors, the last where would be doing any serious driving and therefore the end of the Cow! match. The final tally gave the nod to Mary with four wins to Rick’s two and three scoreless days.
Tomorrow we explore Atlanta before flying home. Expect the final update sometime on Sunday, September 7.