Gatlinburg Tournament 2013 Buttons

Gatlinburg Tournament 2013

Day 1 Wednesday April 17, 2013
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The subject that dominated both the news and the conversations during the third week of April of 2013 was, of course, the detonation of the bombs at the Boston Marathon and the week-long manhunt for the people responsible for it. Months earlier Michael Dworetsky and I had made plans to spend part of that week at the nation’s largest regional bridge tournament, which, believe it or not, is held in Gatlinburg, TN, at the foot of the Smoky Mountains. If you are not familiar with Gatlinburg, all that you really need to know is that it is the next town over from Pigeon Forge, which is home to Dollywood.

Originally Sue planned to come with us to Gatlinburg and to attempt to find a partner to play with in at least a few sessions. Ultimately she decided to stay home to supervise the demolition of half of our house and, we hope, the eventual replacement with new structures. She was therefore available to take me to the Bradley airport. We actually managed to leave the house on time and there was no difficulty in obtaining the boarding passes.

The security line at Bradley. Sorry about the unsteady hand.

The line for security was unbelievably long, and it moved at a turtle’s pace. There were no evident problems, and there did not seem to be an enhanced level of security due to the situation in Boston; it just took that long for them to clear everyone at that time of day. The ridiculous American airport security system has always annoyed me ever since it was implemented; as I have gotten older my attitude toward it has become even more bitter. My only consolation was that I only had ten years and four months to wait until I would no longer be required to remove my shoes in order to get into the secure area where I could get my breakfast.

I bought my usual sausage biscuit with egg and a coffee from McDonald’s. I took my food down to gate #12. Michael was already there.

We did not sit together on the plane. I had used my Frequent Flier miles to buy my ticket. Michael, needless to say, sat in First Class. He offered to bring me back a cracker during the flight, but I assured him that the crew took good care of the passengers back in steerage. They brought around a galvanized bucket of water and a small ladle. We were allowed to cup our hands, and the flight attendant tenderly scooped a little bit of water and deposited it therein. We dried our hands on our shirts.

Our flight from Atlanta to Knoxville departed from the international terminal, which is much nicer than the other terminals.

I copied the “hard” Sudoku from the Delta in-flight magazine. I must have been really tired. Three times I got to a place in which it was clear that I had made a mistake. Each time I had to erase and start over. When we arrived in Atlanta I still had not solved it.

Michael took advantage of the layover in Atlanta to purchase a grande at Starbucks and to smooth the ruffled feathers of a client or two on his iPhone.

Our flight to McGhee-Tyson airport, the closest major airport to Gatlinburg, departed the gate right on time. It was such a short flight (thirty minutes in the air) that they did not even serve beverages. Nevertheless, I was able to solve the Sudoku without any problem.

The plan was to find the organization called “A Touch of Paradise,” which was identified in the materials for the tournament as a shuttle service. Evidently the tournament had negotiated fixed rates for the trip from Knoxville[1] to Gatlinburg in exchange for mentioning the company in all of the promotional materials for the tournament. After we retrieved our luggage Michael called the company. The dispatcher told him that someone would be at the information counter. We found the counter and, eventually, the company’s representative. Another person seeking the service was also there. The four of us walked over to the Paradise guy’s vehicle, which was a minivan. We all got in, and he told us that he would be driving us to “her,” and “she” or “he” would be taking us to Gatlinburg. Our driver would be returning to the airport.

So, we all got out of the van at a location that was very familiar to me, the parking lot of the Burger King down the road from the airport. It was located adjacent to the Hampton Inn in which I had stayed many times on my trips to Proffitt’s. Our luggage was transported to a different van, and we were introduced to our driver, James Shepard, who kissed “her” goodbye before taking his seat behind the wheel.

The distinct scent of tobacco smoke tamed but not defeated by air-freshener permeated both vehicles.

The drive was one to remember. If nothing else, it gave us a taste of what life in the hills of Tennessee must be like. The third passenger in our vehicle, who was a photographer, complained about the poor light. James defended the beauty of the Smoky Mountains by claiming that they always looked different because the weather was so changeable because of “the Jet Stream.”

I would be more impressed if he had bagged a telepo.

Somehow the subject of wildlife came up. James said that the only two dangerous creatures were the Black Bear and the Telepo (sp?). He said that he had not heard anything about the latter since that famous incident two years ago. When we all confessed that we had not heard of it, he told a shaggy-dog story about a guy who found “some meat” that “smelled sweet,” and he asked his wife to cook it for him. After a few twists and turns, the tale ended with an angry monster in the bedroom and James shouting “JUST TAKE IT!” as he suddenly reached into the back seat.

James told us that when he had told this story to some girls who had been drinking, one of them peed in her pants out of fear (or some other emotion).

The photographer then made the mistake of asking James if the price of the ride also included a song. To our chagrin the driver answered in the affirmative. He then proceeded to sing several verses from a gospel hymn. He did not have a bad voice, but I was not in the mood for a serenade, and certainly not in the mood for an amateur rendition of hillbilly gospel music.

A full-service cab company includes a shake and a hamburger.

At that point James’s cell phone rang. He answered it and gave directions to someone who was endeavoring to find the location of the residence of a particular fare. James not only supplied the directions, he also made it clear that the woman in question was Shirl (it might have been Cheryl – this was Tennessee, remember), who needed to go for her chemo treatment. Evidently James was her regular driver. He told whoever was on the phone (we later learned that it was his daughter) to take her to the Burger King after the chemo and buy her a milkshake and a hamburger in the name of Jesus. James promised to reimburse her.

About fifteen minutes later the phone rang again, and we got to listen to the same conversation – almost word for word – again. The only major difference that I could detect was that James closed the second call with “I love you.”

Later we learned that James had led a wild and reckless youth in which he had broken or smashed nearly every bone in his body. James had been a truck driver, and he had seen much of the country from his big rig. There was a complicated story about how he, with his courage enhanced by liquor and/or weed, had coped with New York City’s subway system and night life. He later complained about how some of the bridge players from Boston and New York preferred to talk about their “signals” rather than to act in a “friendly” manner. We also learned that he and his wife formerly owned the taxi company, but for some reason they gave it to her brother. Now they were both back and, I think, in charge.

Well before we had reached the halfway mark of the trip I was ready to ask him to pull over and let me out so that I could hitchhike to Gatlinburg. And that was before James told us how Jesus had saved him from perdition.

The main street of Gatlinburg is called Parkway. The Glenstone Lodge is just north of the parking lot that is north of the Convention Center (the big black blob).

Our driver had high praise for the moonshine that was available for sale in Gatlinburg. He said that once his wife, who was a teetotaler, had been suffering from a cold. James had previously bought a jug that he claimed was for medicinal purposes, and it was still nearly full. James prescribed a small glass of apple ‘shine for his wife, and she reluctantly accepted. A day or two later he looked in the cabinet, and the jug was empty. His wife was either cured or too drunk to recognize her ailment.

As we entered town James was busy expounding on one subject or another, and the cab blew right past the photographer’s hotel, the Clarion, even though James had asked us for the names of our hotels before we departed from the BK by the airport. He also was ready to take Michael and me to the Greystone Lodge rather than the Glenstone Lodge, which was where we had our reservations, until I corrected him.

Our first impression of Gatlinburg was mixed. It seemed lively and somewhat rustic. On the other hand, about half of the buildings on the main street, which is known as Parkway, were unapologetic tourist traps. My very first thought was that my father would have absolutely hated this place.

James informed us that the charge was $85 for the three of us. The literature for the tournament specified a charge of $80 for three people. I did not think much of it since the photographer was not, after all, attending the tournament. At any rate I gave Michael $30 and hurriedly got out of earshot as soon as James[2] stopped the cab.

We checked into the hotel, which seemed (and, in fact, was) very nice for only $79 per night. The best aspect of Gatlinburg IMHO was the abundance of inexpensive rooms that were more than tolerable. Our rooms were 415 and 417, which were right across from the elevator, which afforded a rather elegant view of the lobby from its glass walls.

I immediately checked out the Internet connection. It was easy to navigate, and after only a few seconds a passel of e-mails (almost all junk) downloaded to Windows Live Mail. I sent out a short reply to Pat Nye, with whom I had been negotiating a convention card for the tournament in Hyannis on the following weekend. I was happy to see that the message departed my Outbox after I changed it to use my account.

Don’t bother to look for one of these in Gatlinburg.

I realized that I might not have brought enough cash. The cab rides would be $30 each way; the entry fees were $11 per person per session; some of the restaurants might not take credit cards. So, I pulled out the yellow pages to locate the nearest Bank of America branch. I was astounded to learn that BofA had not gotten around to purchasing a bank in this area.

The hotel was about a quarter of a mile uphill from the Convention Center in which all of the bridge games took place. Michael and I had not had a chance to eat lunch. Our plan was to stop at Subway for a bite before meeting up with our teammates, Bob Lavin and Pat Wright. I ordered a ham and cheese sub with lettuce and tomato (no sauce). Michael went for the chicken breast sub. Mine had almost no taste, but his looked a lot better. I took advantage of the availability of the soda dispenser to get refills on my Diet Coke.

We walked across the street, which was called Historic Nature Trail, to the Convention Center. The area in the lowest floor of the facility that was devoted to bridge was absolutely gigantic. The room was one hundred yards long, and it was jammed with card tables. When we first walked in, it seemed that nearly every one of them had four players seated at it. It was a breathtaking sight. In the hallway outside of the large room a good number of vendors sold all kinds of things, including $18 convention card holders.

Michael got in touch with Bob via cell phone.[3] I spent the next fifteen minutes sitting on a chair while Michael and Bob tried to find each other. The problem was that the Convention Center has several doors and the one that Bob referred to was not the one that we were near.

The Peddler Steakhouse was one block away from Parkway.

The four of us decided to sup at the Peddler Steakhouse, which James had highly recommended, for supper. Actually, Bob decided, and the rest of us went along. The restaurant was famous for its salad bar and for the waiters, who are called peddlers. The former, which lived up to its reputation,[4] was available before one even placed one’s order.

The peddler came to the table with a small cart on which he transported two large pieces of meat. He said that we could choose the strip steak or the rib-eye, or we could order from the menu. All that I could think of was: “JUST TAKE IT!” Nevertheless, I ordered the rib-eye, as did the other two males. The peddler sliced off a cut from the rib-eye slab for each of us. Pat ordered salmon, I think. The peddler did not produce a dramatic flourish for her order; he just wrote it down on his pad.

During supper we learned that Pat, a Rhode Island native, lived in Charlotte, NC. She had met Bob some years previously when she was looking for someone to teach her how to play bridge. I was surprised to hear that Bob, who lived in Longmeadow, MA, the town just north of Enfield, had flown to Charlotte and had driven up with Pat to Gatlinburg for the tournament. They had already been in town for two days when Michael and I arrived.

The best part of supper was the first.

The salad bar was excellent, but the main course was nothing exceptional. I should have ordered the steak medium-rare. Medium was a little more thoroughly cooked than I like. This was probably my fault. I hardly ever ordered steak when dining out because the steaks that I cook on the charcoal grill almost always taste much better than restaurant steaks.

Michael, who was really restless during the entire trip, wanted to take a walk. So, took a passeggiata down the main drag. We stopped at an ATM, and I withdrew $200. I knew that there would be hefty fees,[5] but sometimes you just need cash.

At 7:30 we played in the single-session A/X Swiss, which cost Michael and me $22. I was surprised to see Jay Stiefel, a national level player who lived in Wethersfield, CT, at the very next table in the first round. We were definitely way out of our class in this event, but we did manage to score a victory in our last round. So, it was not a complete disaster.

The big news was that the police had identified two suspects in the bombings. Boston was under a lockdown order while every law enforcement official in the area searched for Suspect 1 and Suspect 2. That must have been very strange. Boston is always an extremely lively town, night or day.

When I got back to the room, I was disturbed to discover that my e-mail program no longer seemed to be working. It kept going off-line. I knew that the computer was connected to the Internet via the hotel’s wi-fi because my browser worked fine. I found this behavior very strange, and I could not think of anything to do about it. I took a shower and went to sleep.

[1]  Actually, the airport is south of Knoxville. It is closer to the town of Maryville than to Knoxville.

[2]  I regret that I did not get a photo of James. I am sure that he would have agreed to pose next to his cab, but I honestly wanted to get as far away from him as soon as I could.

[3]  I have little use for cell phones. I have a hand-me-down, and I bring it on trips, but I only use it to call out. Even at that, I only resort to it in emergencies, and half of the time I discover that the battery is dead.

[4]  It even had smoked oysters and anchovies. I have never tried the former, which would not be considered a form of food in my native Kansas, but I prize the latter very highly despite their lack of availability in the land of the sunflower.

[5]  It cost $5.50. The only reason that I even keep an account at Bank of America is that it has a lot of very convenient branches located almost everywhere in the United States. It even has foreign affiliates that I have used. However, if you cannot find one of the free ATMs, you pay through the nose.