After spending the day on the Appalachian Trail near Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we head into Cherokee, NC to find a hotel. Soaking wet from a downpour that doesn’t look like it will let up for days, I pull out my iPhone and start up the Tom Tom app to see what hotels I can find. Our GPS can’t find us between the trees and the heavy cloud cover. I have no signal and can’t do an internet search. Pat keeps driving, pointing out wild turkeys along the way and I continue to struggle to find some sort of direction before he gets us lost. Fortunately, GPS picks us up and I’m able to find a hotel before Pat hits unfamiliar territory. We find a Comfort Inn not too far away and head in that direction.
As we drive into Cherokee, we see countless motels like the Princess Motel and the Drama Inn. We’re wet and dirty from camping and hiking, but the motels look too seedy to be tempting. The motels in this area resemble trailers placed on foundations and we’re just not up for that kind of adventure. In contrast, a beautiful park sits on the opposite of the river that parallels the road. The river is more of a creek with shallow water (even in the rain) bouncing over rocks that cover the bottom. People stand in the water, wading with the ducks and geese who seem nonplussed by the close proximity of humans. We saw this on the way in, but I’m now surprised at the number of people still in the creek in the pouring rain. Next to the entrance to the park, a life-sized black bear statue guards the drive. It’s painted in native american art. These artful bears appear all over Cherokee, each one uniquely decorated in the artist’s own style. I am reminded of the Stratocaster guitar statues in Cleveland and the cows (is it cows?) in Cincinnati. Apparently this form of art has become a trend.
We drive on until about a mile before we get to the hotel I’ve located, Pat spots and Comfort Inn and Suites. He assumes it’s what we’re looking for and pulls in. I sit in the car while he runs in. He returns in just a couple of minutes and declares that the rates were too high and that we should drive on. I explain that the one I found is a regular Comfort Inn and this one is a Suites version and, relieved, he follows the GPS to the Comfort Inn I originally chose. This time, he comes back out of the office with a room key. I’m not sure if he’s proud of himself for saving us money or disgruntled that the rate difference was only $10, but whichever it was, the difference seems to have put the room rate under his threshold for “too expensive.”
The room is surprisingly nice. It has a living room area with a large balcony that looks over a river. The balcony has a roof over it and we’re able to sit out there watching the rain. The river appears swollen and flows by rapidly with the heavy rain, but it’s far enough below that there’s no reason to worry about flooding. We take turns taking hot showers. While I always enjoy a shower more after camping, we haven’t been in the woods enough for it to feel quite the way a hot shower feels after at least 3 days in the backwoods. I think a person reaches maximum stinkiness after about 3 days–after that, you pretty much stop smelling much of anything. I love showering in any case and am grateful that the hotel has good water pressure.
After getting cleaned up, we decide it’s time to go to dinner. We cruise back up the road the way we came into town and spot a crowded family-owned place called Paul’s Diner. Figuring a crowd was a good indicator, we pull into the lot, but there are two women in an SUV looking like they want to pull into a spot. We wait for them to decide what they are going to do. When they do nothing for what seems like minutes, Pat pulls into an open space and we hop out of the car. The woman driving the SUV apparently has troubles backing because she ends up pulling forward and doing a complete loop to finally pull into another open spot.
I am reminded of a woman in the Worthington, OH Graeter’s parking lot. Several weeks ago, before we moved, we’d gone there to meet friends for dinner. There were 3 cars trying to leave, but all of them were blocked by one woman in a mini-van who mis-judged the length of her vehicle by about 6 feet. She kept pulling up and back, up and back, turning her wheels the wrong way and never backing up far enough to angle her vehicle in any direction. One of the men waiting for her to get out of the way finally got out of his car and attempted to direct her. Even with him standing there, showing her with his arms how much room she had, she would keep stopping every couple of inches convinced she was going to hit something that was still 4 feet away. I admit that I laughed pretty hard at her incompetence. Maybe they should add backing out of parking spaces to the drivers test?
When we enter the restaurant, we are greeted by a sign that informs us the restaurant is not a fast-food establishment and that we should “be expected to wait” when they are busy. Pat comments on the popularity of signs telling us how to behave, referencing the various signs in the restaurant we had breakfast in that morning. We are apparently expected to wait for a table as well, even though the restaurant is only half full. We stand awkwardly while the cashier chats idly with a departing couple. When she is finally done with them, she disappears into the kitchen and we stand there some more. Eventually, a waitress stops and asks us if we want to sit inside or out. We choose out just because it is slightly warmer than the air conditioned interior. But, when we go outside, none of the empty tables are clean. We return inside and the waitress points us to a choice of two tables against the far wall. We pick the cleaner of the two and take a seat. The women from the SUV are already seated in the waitress’s section on the other side of the restaurant and have drinks sitting in front of them. A group of four comes in and takes the table that was occupied by the couple who was leaving when we came in. We watch them get drinks and place their orders, but still no one has come by to wait on us. When the waitress brings salads out to the women who were behind us, we get aggressive and turn our bodies in our chairs and start staring at the waitress. As it turns out, we’re not in her section. But, she apparently got the hint because shortly after she goes back into the kitchen, our waiter appears and apologizes for the wait.
Deciding to try something I’ve never eaten before as a tactic against disappointment, I order Fry Bread with Chili and Cheese. I have no idea what fry bread is, but I’m hungry enough that I’m confident I’ll be able to eat it. Dinner and drinks come out a few minutes later and I discover that fry bread is a large circular piece of dough deep-fried. The chili and cheese are dumped directly on top of it. It’s not bad, but I’m pretty sure it’s not on the list of super foods. Once again, the salt content is a bit more than I’m used to. Sipping pink lemonade between bites mingles the the over-the-top salt with over-the-top sweet and doesn’t really help. I enjoy the hot food none-the-less–one of the advantages of being cold and hungry.
After filling our bellies once more, we return to our hotel. It’s still early and I suppose we could have checked out the sites in the town, but there is something about this town that reminds me of the state fair. Maybe it’s the “Genuine Indian Dancers” standing on a stage in a parking lot dressed in neon colored “native” attire or the signs for “Real Indian Artifacts” for sale in trinket shops that give me this feeling. All of it just seems like a big show put on for foolish non-native americans who don’t know any better. There’s nothing that makes us want to participate, so we drive on.
Returning to our hotel, the bed feels pretty darn good. And the fact that we can’t hear our neighbors seems even better. Maybe I’m getting soft, but I feel no remorse that we’re not out in a tent tonight.