Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kudzu Jesus

I believe in magic.

Even though all indications lead me to believe that certain things are not true or do not exist, I still believe in them.  No one can actually tell me that there are not faeries in the hills behind my house.  I am 100% sure that there are people among us with supernatural powers.  I will fully admit that Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are fictional characters created for the enjoyment of children, and, more likely, the sanity of parents trying to get their kids to sleep at night, but what about faith and miracles?  There are hundreds of unexplained medical healings and miraculous happenings that are well documented across the globe.

I do believe that perhaps there are magical healing qualities in places such as Lourdes, Sedona, Machu Picchu, and Tower Mountain (Leslie County).  I believe that different faiths teach different access to the same God, and some of them tap into a more magical, if you will, realm.

I do not, however, believe in Kudzu Jesus:

Ask anyone from the South and they will tell you that kudzu is the Devil's work.  It is a plant that is indigenous to Japan, so I am assuming that it is their payback to us for dropping two atomic bombs on them during World War II.  Coincidentally, dropping an atomic bomb on kudzu is the only way to kill "the vine that ate the south."  The vine grows on and over everything in its path, and finding kudzu growing on a utility pole is pretty much an everyday occurrence here in Kentucky. 

When first reading this article, my first thought was that the fella in the news story did not actually think this was a sign from God.  He was just trying to get himself some publicity, and maybe sell a few Kudzu Jesus t-shirts or mugs. Then I noticed that he drove 90 minutes a day, an hour and a half, to his job at Ma's Hotdog House.  That fact alone led me to believe that he probably did honestly think the vine was a sign from God.  What message that sign was meant to deliver, well that is another story completely.  Perhaps Kudzu Jesus appeared to tell him to find a job closer to home or to warn him about the dangers of eating too many of Ma's Hotdogs.  I just don't know.

Although he makes a good point by saying, "It doesn't matter what you do, (kudzu) is going to be around, (and) ain't that a lot like Jesus?" I still can not accept this as magical.  If and when this weed covered utility pole performs a miracle, such as lowering utility rates or getting a Ma's Hotdog House to open in Hyden, the I will reconsider and quite possibly make a pilgrimage there.  Especially if the whole Ma's Hotdog House in Hyden part comes true.

Until then, I will cling to the old wooden cross, but mine won't be covered in Kudzu.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New York City: Epilogue

A few weeks have gone by since the Great Middle School Trip of 2011, and I have had time to reflect and possibly reconsider some of my earlier comments, especially Evil Nancy. Yeah, right! Whatever.  I would not change a word.  I do, however, have a few updates regarding the adventure.

Just a few mere weeks after being in the Big Apple, the state of New York legalizes same-sex marriage.  Coincidence? Perhaps.  But, oh how I wish I could have asked Evil Nancy to stand as my witness as I married my partner right there on her tour bus!  Of course, for the reception, the champagne would have had to be served in small bottles with screw-top lids, and I would imagine the dancing would have rivaled anything seen in any Zumba class.

The Awesomeness is overwhelming.
More importantly, this next update is a sad one.  It is with great regret that I tell you that my Chinatown purchase was a complete and total flop.  Sure, I knew that paying $40.00 for a Louis Vuitton signature messenger bag was a big indication that it was not the real thing.  The plastic wrap it was covered in when I purchased it on the steps of a church after having been ushered far away from any foot traffic by a frantic Chinese lady was another indicator that it was perhaps an illegal knock-off.  But, it looked good.  It looked like a LV. I was going to be stylin' with my laptop in that bag.  Imagine how much better my writing would be if I used such an accessory to hold my instrument?  Makes you shiver, doesn't it? 

The bag's debut came last weekend at the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival.  The Festival is a weekend-long event featuring readings and workshops from leading Appalachian writers and artists.  It is a time to make new contacts and friends, expose yourself to new work, and hopefully, expose others to your own work.  I was extremely nervous attending, but at least I had a nice looking bag to hold my items, and that alone gave me some confidence.  This confidence lasted until the second hour of the conference.  That is when the Louis Vuitton strap broke off.  Broke completely off.  It wasn't even stitched, it just looked like it was stitched.  It had just been glued down, apparently with some old Elmer's School Glue.  I was humiliated.  My messenger bag went immediately from an awesome way to carry my laptop to a sad clutch purse.  Not having brought an alternate bag, I had to use the clutch for the remainder of the weekend.  I am sure that made quite an impression among my fellow writers.  Stupid bag/clutch.
Stupid Strap. I hate Chinatown.

There is no manly way to pull off a clutch.

Finally, I would like to end with a few pictures of some of the great people who shared this adventure to New York with me.  Many of them were lucky enough to have been on the cool bus, Bus #1, and for that, I am still jealous.

Although I was blamed for this picture, I had nothing to do with taking it.  This is my niece, her friend Breanna, and a guy who I am sure is a very nice and smart young man who just happens to be shirtless and working as a model:

They aren't happy at all to take this picture.

Again, I had nothing to do with this picture, but really, you take a group of 13-14 year old boys on a trip, then call me when you look at your pictures:

This is poor Merlene, before she almost lost a toe in one of the "circular door incidents."

The last time any of us saw Traci Gay-Brashear she was trying on that hat the Rockette is wearing in this picture (the Rockette is on the right).  We suspect Mrs. Brashear-Dear will be making her Radio City Music Hall debut this winter in the Rockette's Christmas Spectacular.

It is no wonder, really, that the girl in the middle of this photo ran slap-dab into a pane of glass thinking it was an open door in Little Italy.  She probably was wearing those those sunglasses at the time.

This dude was really raking in some serious cheddar, yo.  I am considering a sign of my own to hold at the Hazard Flea Market on Saturday.

Monday, June 27, 2011

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Times Square
Our days in New York City finally came to an end.  We spent our final day in blistering heat and with blistering feet.  We had covered all the "must-not-miss" sites of the city: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Radio City Music Hall, Times Square, Broadway, Ellis Island, Ground Zero. After our dinner in Little Italy, which was by far the most authentic NYC culinary experience we had the entire trip, we loaded on the tour buses intending to drive for 4 hours into Pennsylvania before stopping for the night.  Nancy, the evil tour director, had us all settle in as she babbled something about us being a great group and that she hoped we enjoyed our trip.

(No Scared Taxi Rides This Trip)
As we crossed into New Jersey and could see the Manhattan skyline, I could not help but feel a bit sad.  This was the first trip I had taken that I had visited only touristy places.  I felt that Stewart and Haley did not really get to experience all New York City had to offer, what it was truly like.  We did not get to ramble through the streets in the Village or visit the funky shops in Soho.  We did not get try new and different foods from restaurants specializing in cuisine from countries that we barely knew existed.  No walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, no picnic in Central Park, no terrifying ride in the subway or taxi cab. 

(A role I was born to play.)
I decided then and there that I knew how my sister could repay me for taking her children on Nancy and Udean's Christian Tour.  I would have her pay for me to bring them back and experience MY New York!  At this point, my Auntie Mame persona came alive, and I began telling my seat mate how "Simply glorious" my next trip to the City will be with the kids.  I told her, "Why, we will stay in a grand hotel and order room service. We will shop the Fifth Avenue stores and go to the art museums, and I shall introduce them to cabaret!" (if you haven't guessed, yet, I do a damn good Auntie Mame).  She just looked blankly at me and said that it sounded like my next trip would be something else and curled away from me to nap and/or ignore me for the ride to Pennsylvania.

I was on the very tip of the edge of feeling giddy.  My days with Evil Nancy were coming to an end.  All this responsibility of being in charge of others was very tiring.  Honestly, I don't know how parents do it.  If I ever buy a child, it will take a village to raise it, because I ain't doing it all by myself, and poor ol' Andy has his hands full handling me.  I eased back into my uncomfortable seat, placed my headphones on, turned on some Lady Gaga, and began making notes on the things I would make sure Haley and Stewart saw on their next trip to Gotham with me.

(Bus-Leaving Formation.)
Two hours into our ride through rural Pennsylvania, Evil Nancy decided that we should have a bathroom break.  Although she would never admit it, I think that she missed the exit that we should have taken in order to have choices for roadside facilities.  Instead, we ended up driving about 3 miles into the heart of some small town which I later discovered was appropriately named Hellertown.  As we pulled into the McDonald's parking lot, we knew what was coming from Evil Nancy.  We lined up in an orderly fashion and prepared ourselves to step lively off the bus and to the restrooms, and restrooms only.  We were not to eat there.  We were not to even look at the front counter.  We were not to make eye contact with a McDonald's employee.  In and out. Fast.

Flat Tire.
The line for the men's room was much shorter and faster as usual, so I waited outside in the parking lot for the rest of the group to finish up.  One of the ladies who sat in the back of the bus told me that something was terribly wrong with the wheel or axle or something that was directly under her seat.  She said that it made a horrible noise at every bump.  She asked if I would relay this message to the bus driver.  Always helpful, I found our driver and told him.  We walked to the back of the bus, and there it was...a flat tire.  I just stared at it in disbelief. Then, before getting myself worked up, I said to the driver, "Hell, we have like 20 tires or something on this bus, surely we can just drive with one of them flat.  It shouldn't hold us back, should it?"  He looked at me as if I had said that in my Auntie Mame voice (I had not) and walked away. 

Eventually, we all were herded back on to the bus and told the news. Over her microphone, Evil Nancy said that we had a flat tire and that it looked like we would be here for a bit.  It seems that while Nancy and Udean's Christian Tours made sure to carry a spare tire, they did not make sure to carry the appropriate tools to change it.  Furthermore, Evil Nancy thought it best that we all just sat on the bus until the roadside assistance company came to help us.  There was no need to stretch our legs or go inside McDonald's and relax.

(WWJD? Have a McFlurry.)
It was then that my repressed anger and rage at Nancy and Udean's Christian Tours which had been bottled up most of the week began to heat from simmering to hot.  Then I heard one of the Responsible Adults, it was Nancy, say how blessed we were and that Jesus was surely looking out for us.  That did it for me.  I snapped. The bottled anger and rage went from hot to boiling over. "What do you mean?" I asked Nancy.  She said that Jesus had blessed us by giving us this flat tire at a McDonald's.  "You must be kidding me?" I stammered.  At that, most of the Responsible Adults sitting around me gasped.  I then told her that, for one, I did not think that Jesus blessed us with this flat tire.  In fact, I did not think this flat tire was given to us by Jesus at all.  Finally, I was fairly certain that we did not get the flat tire in this McDonald's parking lot.  I was pretty sure it happened either out on the highway or on the streets of New York City.  I did, however, think that Jesus would not mind us all getting off this stupid bus and going in for McFlurry while we waited for the repairman.  At that, I gathered my things, wishing that I had a scarf to indignantly throw across my shoulder, and marched my tail off the bus in a huff. 

The cool adults and kids from Bus #1 were already inside McDonald's enjoying themselves and thanking God that they were not on our horrid bus.  After about 20 minutes of waiting around, it was decided that Bus #1, and its occupants, should go ahead and leave us.  They would travel on to our hotel and wait for us there, in air conditioned rooms with beds and television.  I wanted to act like a baby and throw myself onto the dirty floor of McDonald's and cry, kick, and scream until I was allowed to go with them.  It was obvious to me that if Jesus was doing any blessing on this trip, he was doing it for the nincompoops on Bus #1. 

I understand there was some conversation among my friends on Bus #1 as they pulled away from the Hellertown McDonald's on whether or not they should wave goodbye to us.  Some felt it was a nice gesture, but others thought it may be taken the wrong way.  I do not know if they did it or not.  I could not dare look at them.  I hated them all at this point, and would have felt terrible had I flipped someone the bird on the last night of Nancy and Udean's Christian Tour of New York City.

After the Blessed Bus pulled away, we were left to sit outside in the humid Pennsylvania night for another couple of hours until our tire was repaired.  While my friend and I sat and watched the kids play frisbee in the drive-thru, a mutual friend posted a song on Facebook and dedicated it to us.  It was "On The Road Again."  We chuckled when we saw it, but then my friend perfectly summed up my feelings when she said, "The song dedicated to us should have been "Highway To Hell."  The tire was eventually fixed, and we arrived in our hotel room around 2:00 am, and thankfully, were allowed a few extra hours to sleep in the next morning. 

As we ate our breakfast and prepared for the last stretch of drive that would bring us home, the kids were getting excited.  It is always nice to go away, but it is great to go home.  I couldn't help but smile as I listened to their conversations that morning.  They had been in what many consider the most exciting place on Earth, the center of our civilization, the city of cities, but what I heard coming from these teenagers: 

"Boy, I can't wait to get back to Jack's Creek." 

"I bet the grass is knee-high up Bullskin. I will have to mow for a week." 

"I hope Dale Holler Lake is warm enough to swim in when we get back."

"I would say mine and papaw's tomato plants are sprouting by now."

I was happy that this group of kids got to visit Manhattan, but I was even happier to bring them back home.  Hopefully, this trip will help them understand there is a big world out there waiting for them, and they can choose to live and conquer any part of it, whether it be the bustling streets of New York City or the grassy bank of Jack's Creek.  School trips that expose these mountain kids to such diversity is a true blessing, and I am thankful to have shared this experience with them.  And, to Evil Nancy I still say, "Suck it."
Some of the good kids that made the trip great!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Big Night Out In New York City

(Another inappropriate picture I posted to bother my Sister.)
 After another full day of sightseeing in the Big Apple, our entire group was ready for a nice relaxing dinner before heading to the Theater District to see a Broadway musical.  I had already come to terms with the fact that a group of middle schoolers were probably not the ideal demographic to see the new hit musical "The Book of Mormon":

Or Chris Rock's new hit play, "Motherfu@ker With The Hat":

Nancy and Udean had chosen Spider-man as the show for our group to see, and I was fine with that.  I was just happy that I would not have to sit through Mary Poppins or The Lion King.  Although Spider-man had been dogged with some bad publicity during its previews, the music WAS written by Bono so it had to have some saving qualities. 

For dinner, I thought to myself that a nice slice of authentic New York pizza or even a hot dog from a stand would be a nice change for dinner for the group.  At the very least, perhaps a Hard Rock Cafe.  I knew that a tour company would not be taking us to Sardis, but I did expect something out of the ordinary.  That is when I heard the buzz spreading through Bus #2.  Dinner would, in fact, be at Applebee's.  "I'm sorry," I said to my seat mate,  "for a second there I thought you said that we were eating at Applebee's."   "I did say Applebee's, but at least it is the one in Times Square" she replied. Why was she always so positive and bubbly?!
(What would have been a good NYC dinner.)

Let me explain something to those of you who are not familiar with the town of Hyden, home of the Leslie County Middle School.  The only restaurants within a 25-mile area are fast food chains or locally owned  restaurants, save one.  There is an Applebee's in Hazard.  So there is no mistake, let me clarify, there is ONE FREAKING NATIONAL CHAIN RESTAURANT THAT THESE KIDS HAVE AT HOME TO EAT IN AND WE WERE GOING TO EAT AT THE SAME CHAIN ON OUR TRIP TO NEW YORK CITY.

(Not a happy hour for me.)
Livid really does not begin to explain my reaction to hearing this news.  Most of the chaperones on Bus #2 were not happy with the choice of restaurant but were either too exhausted to care or too afraid of Evil Nancy to voice a complaint.  As a sole dissenter, I had no real power.  I talked to the teacher in charge who told me that he was not informed of the restaurant choice until the trip had begun, and that since we were a group of one hundred, a reservation could not just be easily changed.  Evil Nancy had told him to suck it up, have a cheese stick, and enjoy, or else.   I fell back into seat on the bus, and hoped at least they offered the 2-for-1 happy hour from 4-7 (they did not).

(WTH are Riblets?)
After our crappy dinner of riblets (what the heck are riblets, really?) and french fries, we headed to our show.  Keep in mind that we had been on the go since 7:00 am and it had been 98 degrees that day.  Our bellies were full of Crapplebees and we were finally in an air-conditioned room.  At that point, I would have gladly watched CATS, my least favorite musical ever, as long as I could sit still and be cool for a couple of hours.  A few of the other chaperones felt the same way as I did, and when the house lights went out, so did they.  You could almost see the heads of grandma after mother after grandma nodding off before the actors had even sung their first song.

I can see why so many actors were injured during the rehearsals for Spider-man.  Spidy flies from one end of the theater to the other.  He springs from one balcony to the next.  We were lucky enough to be seated in one of the "Flying Sections" which means that our Hero often landed in our section when performing a jump.  Occasionally, he would enter from the back of our section and walk down the aisle before hoisting himself off the ledge and webbing a villain or kissing a girl.  On one of these entrances from the back, Spider-Man noticed that one of the grandmothers in our group had fallen asleep.  She had not just dosed off, but had curled herself up into a nice ball and was snoozing.  Unfortunately for her, she was sitting in an aisle seat.  Spidy could not resist waking her up as he made his way down the aisle before jumping to fight the Green Goblin.   As he crept, he briefly stopped beside grandma and lightly tapped her. The look on her face was pure terror as she opened her eyes.  She was in such a deep sleep, she had forgotten where she was and what she was doing.  I am sure she was probably expecting to see her husband or her nightstand or something vaguely familiar, but instead, she saw a bright light and this looking at her:

That alone made my trip worthwhile!  I did feel sorry for her, bless her heart, but I so needed a pick-me-up at that moment, and her sacrifice was much appreciated.  The only thing that possibly could have made it any better would for it to have happened to our tour guide, Evil Nancy.  But, on this particular night, I would take what I could get, and be satisfied with it.

We finally arrived back in our hotel room, and my niece and nephew hit the halls as I hit the shower, then my pill box.  Tonight, however, I was not looking for a Xanax.  Instead, I was hoping I had been as smart as some of the Responsible Adults and packed some Gas-X.  Whether in New York or Hazard, it does not matter, Crapplebees is just plain horrid.
(Do not eat Riblets without this handy.)

My New BFF

(Me with the Golden Ticket.)

I had THE most amazing thing happen to me this past weekend in Lexington.  I met my good friend Erin and her sister Jen Rose for a coffee and catch-up session.  Well, lo and behold, Erin pulls out a piece of paper that is a print out of one my blogs.  She then tells me that she has a friend who is A FAN OF MY BLOG! And, it gets better, this fan wanted my autograph! Seriously?! Seriously.

(Jules, if you know how to Photoshop, can you erase that double chin for me?)

So, my new BFF is named Julie, and I sometimes call her Jules.  Julie is the first person other than my mother to actually want my autograph!  If I knew your phone number, Julie, I would now text you every five minutes so we could giggle and have lots and lots of inside jokes.  I will dedicate my first book to you under the pseudonym "People of Kentucky."

To those of you who have read my stories before and failed to ask for an autograph, Suck It.  You had your chance.  Julie is now my favorite.

This is just for you, Jules:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Differences in City Mice and Country Mice

When we last left our group of middle schoolers and their chaperones, they had taken New York City by storm.  They had wreaked havoc on the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, left Chinatown in even bigger shambles than it was in to begin with, and had moved on Times Square for dinner.  This ended a very eventful, full day of sightseeing and most of the adults were looking like it. To use another mountain phrase, the chaperones had been rode hard and put up wet.  We had suffered through heat in the upper 90's all day, and I was feeling the effects of forgetting my sunscreen at home. Although the children claimed to be exhausted as well, they suddenly perked up at the thought of the hotel and the fun that could be had running the halls, having "room parties," and generally doing whatever groups of teenagers do in hotels.

(example of pic to bother my Sister)
When we arrived in our room, I immediately threw my head against the air conditioner vents and prayed a silent prayer for my eyes to see a stocked mini-bar ready for consumption.  Unfortunately, there was no mini-bar, so I cursed Andy for not having packed my boot flask.  Stewart and Haley were chopping at the bit to go visit friends in their rooms and/or the lobby.  This is a time when having had some sort of parental training would have come in nicely for me.  If I had been raising these children for the first 14 years of their lives, I probably would have had better responses to questions, but I hadn't been raising them.  Truth was they were just on loan to me for the week.  What did I care if they went to someone else's room?  I was hot, exhausted, and in need of a shower.  I then remembered that I already had made a few questionable moves this week: spilling the drink, encouraging the kids to lie about people at Ellis Island, posting some pictures to FB for the sole purpose of bothering my sister (see pic), my smear campaign against Evil Nancy, the tour director.  So I sat my nephew and niece down and told them this,"OK, here is the deal.  I don't have children and all these parents on this trip are going to judge me by the way you two act.  I don't care for you going out, but DO NOT do anything that will embarrass ME or make one of the real adults on this trip say that I am not a good chaperone."  It seemed like a reasonable request to all three of us, so off they went to join their friends, and I headed for the shower and a Xanax.

(A group of New Yorkers walking to work.)
The next day brought even higher temperatures and more sun to the City, and the concrete soaked it in and baked us all for 12 hours straight.  It was during this day I noticed we mountaineers have some very different characteristics than those New Yorkers.  For one, we move a lot slower.  New Yorkers move at lightening speed.  I have lived in cities, and traveled many places, but I would be willing to bet that a New Yorker can walk faster than any other city dweller out there.  I am not sure the reason why, but they waste no time getting from point A to point B.  Our group, on the other hand, sort of meandered around the streets, stopping to look at something, slowing down to wait for a straggler,  generally moving at a snail's pace.  The heat was not helping matters at all.  Most of the chaperones were not in the best of shape, and we all mightily struggled to get to our destinations, let alone keep an eye on our children  At one point, I was so hot that I had a flashback to my ill-fated visit to a Bikram Yoga studio and had to take a break and drink some water before the urge to do a standing dog pose was too strong to resist.

My Bikram Yoga Experience    My Bikram Yoga Experience Part Two

(Our group crossing the streets of New York.)
Coupled with our slowness, not being used to such massive amounts of traffic proved to be another challenge for our group.  It would have been hard enough for most of us to make it solo across the 8 lanes of traffic when crossing the street given time that the "street-walking-man sign" gives you in New York.  Honestly, I think you have about 15 seconds.  But, not being used to such time restrictions, our entire group would start to cross the street and would not stop crossing until everyone had come over, regardless of what "Mr.-Street-Walking-Man" flashed.  Under normal circumstances, all 100 of us would not have been able to cross the street in 3 full minutes, but we were hot, out of shape, tired, disoriented, and sightseeing so it took much longer.  We lumbered into the middle of the street and usually about 20 people in, you could see the light changing.  30 people in, you could hear horns blowing.  The rest of the group just kept coming on across, some of them stopping to snap photos of the taxis and their drivers.  We just made our way across, no matter who was waiting.  In this heat, we really didn't care, and I am pretty sure at least one of the Appalachians had a pistol tucked away on his/her person.  If it came down to it, we always just fire a shot right up in the air.  Then, they would give us plenty of time to cross the street.
(Dangnabit, we are crossing this blasted street!)

(Evil Incarnate.)
Perhaps the most troublesome device that our group encountered was surprising to me.  It looked innocent enough, and while we don't have a lot of them in Hyden, I was sure that most of the people on the trip surely had seen and/or used one before.  The device?  A rotating, circular door.  Most of the buildings in NYC have large circular doors to help manage the large flow of people entering and exiting them.  I am not lying when I tell you that I personally know of three revolving door incidents that happened within our group.  My dear friend, Merlene, almost lost a toe.  My buddy Sheila, and her mother, were squished together in one of the sections of a door when it clogged up and stopped rotating.  Two of the younger boys got on and couldn't make themselves take the plunge to step off until they had fully rotated three times.  I am sure there were other horror stories from these monsters of city life, but as is true with abuse cases, most go unreported.  I wondered, however, if Nancy and Udean would need to document these cases for OSHA, and if so, should I be taking better notes?

As the afternoon turned into evening, I began to believe that I would survive the day.  No one had been run down by an inpatient taxi or by a fast walking New Yorker.  No one had gotten lost and we had all managed to stay together.  It was time for a relaxing dinner and then off to the Great White Way for a show.  Little did I know that my excitement had only just begun!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Country Comes To Town

After what seemed to be an endless journey for me, and an even longer one, I am sure, for my seat mate,  Nancy & Udean's Christian Tours finally rolled into the greater New York Metropolitan Area.  Everyone was giddy for different reasons.  Many were excited to finally get to see New York City, a lot were thrilled to finally just get off the bus, my seat mate was happy to have some breathing room, and I was thrilled to be out of the enclosed space with Evil Nancy, the Christian Tour Director.  Although she would remain with us and in charge while we were in the city, at least we were not trapped with her and could spend time with our friends from Bus #1, which I had now dubbed the "cool bus."

(Stewart & Haley. Oh, & Lady Liberty)
I am not sure which group was the more difficult group for a tour company to take to New York City, the 40 or so children aged 12, 13, and 14, or the 60 Appalachian chaperones who were with them.  As I watched our group load on to the ferry in New Jersey to make our way first to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, then on to the island of Manhattan, I thought to myself that instead of us being ready for the Big City, I hope the Big City is ready for us.

(This ain't Ellis Island)
The Statue of Liberty was amazing, and everyone enjoyed seeing this icon up close and personal.  I was impressed at the middle school kids knowledge of Lady Liberty's history and significance.  Ellis Island, however, was a bit of a flop.  One common trait among many Leslie Countians, and most on this trip, is that our kin folk have lived in the hills of Appalachia for generation upon generation.  Most of the students would have to trace back their lineage for at least 6 or 7 generations in order to find the relative who may have passed through Ellis Island.  Of course, I am sure there are exceptions, but I didn't see anyone in my group find a family member's name listed on the rolls.  We were reduced to finding random "Morgans," "Napiers," "Sizemores," and "Johnsons" mentioned on the memorials and just taking pictures beside those names in hopes it was some distant cousin or grandfather.  I suggested that the kids just tell everyone that that was their great-great-great-great-great-great grandpa.  Who would know it wasn't the truth?  No one could prove that it wasn't their family member.  I am sure the teachers and parents were grateful for my using Ellis Island as a learning tool, and I was glad to be of service.

(A nicer picture of Chinatown.)

Once we actually hit Manhattan, the real fun began.  We made a stop for a shopping excursion in Chinatown.  For anyone who doesn't know, Chinatown is basically a large group of city blocks that for all practical purposes would be called a flea market in any other town in America.  It isn't the cleanest place, and all of the items purchased there are either illegal designer knock-offs or just plain illegal.  It did cross my mind that while shopping in Chinatown is a common tourist activity when visiting New York, it was an odd choice for Nancy & Udean's Christian Tours.
(Vendor thinking he was going make a big sale)

As we stepped off the bus, I am sure that the vendors and booth workers began licking their chops.  Here were one hundred country bumpkins with their eyes bugged out and their mouths gaped open stepping onto their sidewalks.  The vendors knew the bumpkins would have cash and would want designer souvenirs from New York City.  You could almost see the excitement in their eyes as they sized us all up and decided that today sales be good and money would flowing. That was their fatal mistake.

(Innocent or Savvy?)
Although the majority of the women on our tour wore nice blouses, respectable skirts, and wore their hair in tidy, practical hairdos, the vendors did not see the sharpened claws pop out of these women.  They failed to see the Eye of the Tiger in each of them.  It was as if these Leslie County women had been in training for this very trip to Chinatown.  If indeed they had been, I would have hated to be a vendor at any local flea market for the past few months.  The women from the LC were prepared and ready.  It appeared they had decided on a divide and conquer method of battle.  Some went for the Tifiany (notice only one "I") jewelry, some went for the "Folex" watches, and others took on the "Coaach" purse vendors.  Even more took the task of I Heart NY t-shirt buying.  They hit the vendors and they hit them hard.  Cut-throat negotiating and extreme haggling commenced.  The vendors would offer a starting price, and

they were stymied with an onslaught of bargaining that was unrelenting until the Appalachian was satisfied.  There were lots of problems communicating due to the competing strong accents, but I think everyone concerned knew exactly what was meant by comments such as "Brother, don't pee on my leg and tell me it is raining," and, "Uh Buddy, I said I not for that price. You keep flappin' your jaws like that and you'll get your tongue sunburned."  However, when asked if a particular brand of purse or sunglasses was "any count," most of the vendors did not quite know how to reply to their customers.

As we headed back to our bus for our next stop on the tour, I swear I saw two Chinese ladies actually crying and following behind a group of the LC women.  They had apparently not come off their price fast enough orlow enough or had done something to lose favor.  The Appalachian women would have nothing to do with them or their shoddy jewelry at this point.  It was a sight to behold.

(needs a few mountain women)
We boarded the bus and headed for dinner in Times Square.  Had I not been so scared of Evil Nancy, I would have suggested that we waste no more time and drive this group of women directly to Trump Towers.  This group of Leslie Countians would eat those MBA's vying for a position on The Apprentice for breakfast.  If Donald Trump were truly smart, he would recruit himself a few of these mountain women to run his empire.  Heck, if Obama were smart, he would get them run this country.  

They were that good, and I was glad to have gotten to see them in action.