Traveling to Dollywood (while black)
I absolutely LOVE Dolly Parton. The country singer's history of low key philanthropy, the fan theory that she is secretly covered in tattoos, combined with the fact that she is a badass musician who happens to be in the Song Writers Hall of Fame? Swifty could NEVER.
Recently, we surprised one of my best friends with a trip to Dollywood for his 34th birthday. It had always been a place we joked about going and seemed kitsch as hell. We flew in to Nashville, and spent a couple days playing tourist around town (hot tip: they don't believe in toilet seat covers, so work on those squats ladies) before embarking on a road trip to Pigeon Forge (home of Dollywood). We went to breakfast at the famous Loveless Cafe, where the biscuits are plentiful and vegetables are fried. There was a 1.5 hr wait, we wen't in a rush and there was cornhole and several gift shops to keep ya busy. At the end of our meal, the waiter gave us a box of 25 biscuits for the road. Southern hospitality is real.
The entire drive should've taken us around 4 hours, however we took the scenic route (and here is where I was reminded we were IN THE SOUTH). We stopped off somewhere for a bathroom break and to stretch. It was the divey-est of petroleum stations: with an ice cream bar, all wooden indoor bathroom (that resembled an outhouse) and LOTS of confederate flags (keychains, stickers and kids toys). It was overwhelming. Seated in the back, was a middle-aged white guy who was watching our every move. He had a klan patch on his leather jacket, casual.
We also stopped at Rock City in Chattanooga, which was just a delight. They have a section of the park dedicated to gnomes y'all! Must see if you ever find yourself in Tennessee.
Back to Dollywood. Once you drive in to Pigeon Forge your eyes are delighted with thee most tacky, kitsch, mini-amusement parks I have ever seen. It's like a Jesus-y version of Las Vegas. There are several King Kong statues, a giant replica of the Titanic (mid-sink), 3-story bumper car track and a Biblical Times Dinner Theater, just to name a few. The next morning we drive to a parking lot in PF and catch a trolly for .50 cents each in to the park (pro tip: from our hotel concierge). First things first, we look nothing like the average park goer. I am black, my friends are hispanic (and gay) and we had one token (but fabulous) white girl with us (heeeey lady cath!). We're also all wearing the most obnoxious Dolly tees we could find on Etsy. I got the birthday boy one that was totally inappropriate to wear around such a unofficially-religious theme park. We got lots of stares, we weren't in California any more!
The park was about 85% white (and that's being generous). There were sister wives in the gift shops and lots of cameo and pro-gun tank tops. Dollywood is like Knotts Berry Farm and Magic Mountain on acid. There was an bald eagle sanctuary, footlong corn dogs, sand casting demonstrations and v intense roller coasters.
I saw a single black family of 4 during our 10 hours at the park; they chose to lean in to their blackness and wear shirts that read: "Detroit vs. Everybody". I gave them the head nod as we passed each other. Hot Tip: Dollywood is dry. There is NO booze at all, which was v disappointing but probably for the best given that we were in an open carry state.
Overall, there was a lot less Dolly then I thought there'd be, she was mostly regulated to the fan section on the park (where you can check out her tour bus, costumes and listen to her second cousins sing with a Dolly hologram, seriously). Dollywood is a love song to the Smokey Mountains and family; the park serves as a huge revenue source for the surrounding area and lots of Dolly's extended family work there. I would recommend Dollywood to other brown people, but only those that are true country fans and who are cool with being stared at by adults and children alike (I truly believe, most of those kids hadn't seen a black person IRL).