Branson, Missourie
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Roy and June Rogers

by Tim McDonald

BRANSON, MO – I'm sitting here in a place I thought no one would ever catch me in: the small, dark "Happy Trails Theater" in Branson, Missouri listening to Roy Rogers Jr. and his band sing songs from the Sons of the Pioneers.

Stranger yet, I'm enjoying the heck out of it.

How can this be? Isn't this where my parents and their old-fogey friends used to go, in their old-folks RVs, listening to corny country jokes and eating giant stacks of pancakes?

This is one of the beautiful mysteries of travel, finding yourself in a strange but familiar place getting pleasure where you least expect it.

As I listen to "Dusty" Rogers and his band croon songs from a nearly forgotten era – some of which seep through fuzzy memories from old, black-and-white TV shows – I clearly remember years ago sneering with hip condescension when my parents announced they were going to Branson with friends.

And now. Here I am.

There's something to be said for just sitting back and letting those old songs wash over you. No social messages, no profound philosophical observations. Just simple lyrics from a simpler time, sung well and with feeling. It brings back your childhood, especially if you're from the South as I am, sitting on the front porch after supper with the older folks singing those old-time tunes. If you were lucky, you had an uncle who was a banjo picker.

Yes, Branson can be corny. That's what they mean when they say "good, clean fun." For example:

"City fella with a duck on his head walks into a country doctor's office.

"What can I do fer ya, young fella?" the doctor says.

"You can remove this wart from my backside," the duck says.

I've heard more than a few jokes like this so far – I've already surpassed my year's quota of cringes – but I smile anyway, partly to be friendly, partly because – admit it – some of them are pretty funny. And the people here are so darn friendly! You would think as wildly popular as Branson has become through the years, a certain amount of cynicism and even downright hostility would have set in. Anybody who's vacationed certain places in the Caribbean recently will know what I mean.

But, cynicism is harder to find in Branson than foie gras.  

The place is so thoroughly down-home American the place could almost be classified as exotic. But, what I like about it is it also has a slightly bizarre aspect to it, I'm thinking as I drive down Highway 76, better known as "The Strip."

I mean, really -- Charo? Chinese acrobats? Japanese theater?

The place has 50 theatres and 100 shows and productions, from the Circle B Chuckwagon Theater to the Dixie Stampede to the New Shanghai Circus Theater

Oh yeah, don't forget Yakov Smirnoff.

Hey, even mountain people in the Ozarks like to be exposed to the wider world.

Still, the congestion of the Strip will make some people want to get out in the fresh air of the Ozarks, at least for a day or two, which is what I do after a few days. The area has three good fishing lakes, and I choose Lake Taneycomo for its rainbow and brown trout.

For good measure, I throw in a round of golf at Branson Creek, one of the best, if not the best, golf courses in Missouri. The course meanders around the high plateau that spreads out over the southern part of the state, with dazzling holes that play along the rocky ridges and then plunge down into scenic, green valleys.

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