Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #33 – “Going to Branson, the Hard Way”

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

Branson, Missouri is my bane.

I’ve been trying for four years to get to the town that calls itself “Nashville North,” and for four years I’ve failed every time.

Until last weekend, the trip always went the same way. Gwen the Beautiful and I would get into our truck and head up Highway 65 for a couple of days of what the ads call “good old-fashioned entertainment the whole family can enjoy.”

We’d see the billboards with Andy Williams and Petula Clark and Glen Campbell and Yakov Smirnoff and Ray Stevens and get all het up about seeing these old faves—

Only suddenly, after the Arkansas-Missouri border, the billboards would vanish. In their place would be the usual highway signs about how many more miles it was to Springfield, Mo. and its amenities.

But there wouldn’t be another word about Branson.

For four years somehow we’d drive right past Branson, realize our mistake, and double back. Drive slowly and deliberately from the Missouri side. Keep our eyes on the billboards…

And still find nothing.

We took every exit and followed where it led. There’d be gas stations, inexpensive motels, large, looming buildings like unmarked high school auditoriums.

Once we ended up in “Historic Branson,” and I was so excited I drove right off the road. Eventually we ended up in a quaint little Western town like Old Tucson, Arizona or Deadwood, South Dakota. Cute street. Good atmosphere, sure. But not the “Las Vegas of the Midwest But Without the Stuff You Don’t Like About Las Vegas” that we were looking for.

Hope, however, is my middle name, and last weekend we tried again. This time Gwen proved what a genius she is by making a reservation at a high-ticket Bed and Breakfast. She figured that a place that expensive would provide the best service in town. Including—please, oh, please—detailed directions telling how to get from our driveway to its door.

And she was right!

Armed with a map and two pages of “Turn here and go straight there,” we drove up the 65 to Highway V, where we turned left and went past The University of the Ozarks, hung a quick right, and found ourselves driving through a suburb that looked just like a place where they could’ve shot any teen comedy starring Lindsay Lohan.

Except for one little difference.

The houses were built atop a cliff directly overlooking Lake Taneycomo.

And eagles rode the air currents over the front yards.

At Cameron’s Crag, our anniversary retreat, our Charming Hostess took us to our suite, complete with private entrance and solarium and hot tub and an even better view of the eagles than we’d gotten from the street.

“We’re having dinner at the Top of the Rock,” Gwen said to her. “Can you tell us how to get there?”

“Ah,” said Our Hostess, “that’s a lovely place. And there are a couple of excellent restaurants for a celebration like this in Branson too.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Isn’t the Top of the Rock in Branson?”

“Not really,” Our Hostess said. “You passed it on your way here.” She smiled. “Actually, we’re not in Branson either.”

“We’re not?”

“Heavens no. This is Hollister!”

“Uh…then…where’s Branson?” I said.

She pointed out the window, past the lake and the sheep farm beyond the lake. “See those buildings? That’s Branson.”

“But we can get there from here, right?” Gwen said.

Our Hostess nodded and took out a map. She drew a line to Highway 65, and another to Highway 76.

“Most of the Branson shows and shopping and restaurants are right along this road,” she said.

Highway 76! It sounded so familiar…but why?

“When we get there, how will we find the shows?” Gwen said.

“Oh, you can’t miss them,” said our Hostess. “They’re in the big buildings that look like high school auditoriums.”

And there we had it. Of course Highway 76 was familiar. It was where we’d always turned around, giving up in disgust because we were sure we’d missed…Branson

That night we had dinner at the Top of the Rock. The next day we slept in, used the hot tub, and had the kind of day you always dream your anniversary will be.

But next time we’ll make it into Branson. We’ll turn onto Highway 76 and go from faceless auditorium to faceless auditorium. Sooner or later we’re bound to find Andy. Or Petula. Or Yakov.

And then, I swear, we’re gonna rock out on “good old-fashioned entertainment the whole family can enjoy!”

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #32 – “Ladybugs!”

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THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

The temperature here at Cloud Creek Ranch was 85 yesterday, and at this time of year that kind of heat means only one thing:

Ladybugs.

Outside. Inside. All around.

The temperature at Cloud Creek today hasn’t gotten above 55, and at this time of year that also means only one thing:

Dead ladybugs.

By the thousands. Littering the window sills. The floors. The drapes. The blinds. The dog bowls. The cat bowls. Even the litterbox!

Dead ladybugs everywhere you walk. Spotted orange beetles with flimsy round wings. An acrid smell when you crush their frail bodies, by accident or design.

And that’s just inside. As for the rest of the ranch—don’t ask.

I remember the first time the ladybugs made their appearance on our Mountain. It was a Suddenly It’s Indian Summer day in the first November we lived here. Gwen the Beautiful and I woke up one morning and looked out the window, and there it was, an orange cloud billowing all around the main house.

“How beautiful!” Gwen said. We ran downstairs and opened the front door to get up close to the beauty, and try to figure out what it was. Not that it took much figuring. The ladybugs swarmed inside, flew around, and then made themselves at home on the windows. It was as though they were saying, “C’mon! Take a good look!”

The little ladies continued to charm me when I went outside to feed the horses, the magic of being within this living orange cloud overcoming the annoyance of their flights into my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. The newness of it all made my heart pound. “Ladybugs!” I shouted to the horses. “A November miracle!”

Huck the Spotless Appaloosa whinnied. Good conversation means a lot to him. Elaine the Not-So-Wild Mustang ignored me. She was brushing her nose against a fencepost, trying to rub the critters off.

Later that day when I drove into town I saw the true extent of the miracle. The cloud enveloped our place alone, stopping at the border we share with Buck the Ex-Navy Seal and Delly the Interstate Trucker. The ladybugs were ours and only ours. An omen. But of what?

Why, of ladybugs, of course.

Of a house where every step went “crunch.” Where you didn’t dare leave a jar open or a glass unattended unless you were looking for ladybug garnish or thought milk and ladybugs was even better than milk and Hershey’s syrup. Where discovering how bad the little sweethearts taste wasn’t something you did by choice. You just did it…every time you opened your mouth.

Three days after the ladybugs first arrived we traded in our truck because it was so infested.

The next day I gave up using the handy-vac in the house and turned to the bug bombs.

The day after that I said a little prayer apologizing for causing millions of Harmonia Axyridis deaths and spent all morning sweeping up the carnage. And celebrated the freedom to inhale air instead of flying beetles that afternoon, tossing back Gwen’s Sensational Home Brew (the dark Euro ale she used to make before discovering Irish Red).

In the years since, my wife and I have learned that no one truly escapes the ladybugs.

As soon as the temperature gets over 70 they’re back. Not in beautiful clouds billowing through the woods and the clearing, oh no. They’re back in the house, dropping down from the cedar ceilings and filling even the tiniest gaps between the pine floorboards.

They’re a fact of life at our place. Family…as in the obnoxious little children Gwen and I thought it was too late for us to have.

If not for air-conditioning we could never survive the summers. Not just because of the heat and humidity but because keeping our place at meat-freezing temperatures is the only way to keep the latest ladybug generation asleep. (Actually, I exaggerate. Come summer even the spotted ladies would rather hibernate than face the moisture in our air.)

And what, you ask, is the moral of the story? Well, I’m afraid it may well be this discouraging fact of human life:

Live with even the most wondrous beauty long enough and eventually you reach the terrible point that goes beyond taking it for granted and straight to the heart of, “Sorry, baby, but you’ve gotta be destroyed.”

Then again, it could just mean:

“Bugs! Phauggh!