We just got back from Mel’s yearly family get-together; this year it was in Branson. Missouri, that is – for those of you who are limited in your experience. This year’s hoop-de-doo was a sort-of’ campout; call it a “camp – in”. We had some cabins at the KOA Kampground down on Lake Taneycomo. Again, for those of you in the know, Lake Taneycomo is in fact, a river and not a lake at all. When the generators at Table Rock Dam come online, it becomes somewhat more lake-like but is still a river. Somebody’s idea of a joke I guess.

Boy, those hills around there really do a number on your transmission. Trust me on this one – MY TRANSMISSION WENT OUT!!!! There’s nothing like a dead transmission to put a bit of a damper on your vacation plans. Thank goodness we were there with family and so had a ride home and rides to and from the fixit-shop. It goes without saying that due to the holiday, nobody was fixing transmissions so we’ll just have to go back and get it some other time. It’s still there and will stay there until who knows when. On the plus side, I got to ride in a tow truck. I’ve ridden in them before and the drivers all share much the same job skill set. I imagine the job ad in the paper reads like the following:

WANTED: Tow Truck Drivers. Must have at least two teeth missing in the front. Drivers test will be required to determine if the candidate is aggressive enough. Must be able to drive like a bat out of hell at all times. Alcoholism and/or drug addiction a plus.

I hope the next time my transmission goes out, I’m nearer to home than that. There’s something about financial disaster that just makes you want to sleep in your own bed.

Branson is a tough town if you’re trying to do the low-carb diet thing. Even appetizers there come with gravy. I pretty much had to give the diet up early on. We succumbed to the fudge-on-every-corner syndrome and came away with about a pound of it. That’s equal to seven waist-pounds’ of course.

Silver Dollar City is its old self with the addition of some water rides. The latest (Buzzsaw Falls) is a combo floating log ride and roller coaster. Pretty cool. You get to go fast and get wet too. The kids seem to like getting drenched and came away really angry if they didn’t. But they always want to sit in front in the mistaken impression that you get wetter there.  Well, you get wettest in back which is where they always put the biggest people like the Dads so that you don’t slide back and squish the people in back as they haul you up the hill.  It was my day to get the big drenchings and I came away dripping on rides that typically only give a sprinkle. I was the envy of every kid in the place but kids aren’t typically as concerned with wet undies as adults are. It took its toll. My shoes haven’t dried out yet.

We finally, at long last, after a lifetime of waiting, took a ride on the Duck boats. That was definitely worth the wait. I suppose I should explain (for the benefit of you who have never been to Hot Springs or Branson) that a Duckboat is a WWII surplus amphibious landing craft that has been modified to hold passengers. They make a living driving through the city streets and straight out onto the lake and back again.

Our captain’s name was (and I’m not making this one up – I checked his driver’s license) – Bubba. No, they weren’t all named Bubba; just this one. The rest had normal names. Bubba was pretty entertaining and let the kids drive a little while we out on the lake. These days, when you climb aboard, you get a little plastic duck call in the shape of a duckbill (called a ‘wacky quacker’). You have quack fests whenever you pass another duckboat. Erin’s only desire on this trip was to get her hands on a wacky quacker. Pretty fun. Not fun when you’re barreling down the freeway next to a big semi though. Erin can tell you what happens to little kids when they let off a quack at the wrong time. Mel had made up her mind *not* to have a good time and she had a good time anyway. Those duckboats have pretty good transmissions it turns out. Not that I had that on my mind or anything.

Evan and I went trout fishing. I guess that’s what you would call it – we didn’t see any fish of any kind so you could say that we were bass-fishing I suppose. Or just standing on the bank with a stick. But since it was a stream, let’s just call it trout fishing. I don’t recall seeing anybody pull a fish out of the stream during the weekend but I have been assured they are there. I guess they’re just smart trout. Smart enough at least not to need a transmission to get through the day.

We also played some miniature golf. Two rounds of the worst whining, foot-stomping, club-swinging, rule-bending, crying, miniature golf you ever saw. (The kids that is). They then claimed to have had a wonderful time. I don’t believe it but that’s their story and they’re sticking to it. Ole’ dad managed some pretty clever mathematics to make it come out as a tie. What a miracle.

Mel’s brother Russ (the professional musician) was in an interesting state of mind. Being a guitarist in an alternative rock band, he was not in his element you might say. He and I were standing in a mall watching a woman in denim and cowboy boots play a dulcimer and sing when he mumbled “You know, they say every man has his own personal hell. I’m pretty close to mine.”

We could probably all take a lesson in how to have fun from one family I saw in a restaurant. One of them had bought a whoopee cushion. This was an upscale model with foam inside that re-inflated it automatically. A cut above, so to speak. The Cadillac of whoopee cushions. Each person in the family took a turn letting her rip (pardon the pun) and laughing uproariously. I’ve never seen any group of people have such a good time. Even the little two-year old got in on the fun, and with farting, all ages can participate when you think about it. All-inclusive fun (and cheap too). The Dad would squeeze the thing – BBRRRAAAAPPPP – then say to the little girl “Oh oh, Megan, what did Daddy just do?” and the child would scream with laughter. I’m glad I didn’t have to ride home with them. I’ll bet they and the tow-truck guy would have hit it off pretty good.

Well, got to go. I’ve got to call about my transmission. Anybody out there care to loan Melissa a car to use this week?