I had heard the rumors of the horror that is The Opryland Hotel and Resort, but never thought I would grace the halls of the Seventh Level of Hell until Nic Roulette from the Hillbilly Casino told me last November, "You've got to come out here and see us play. You'll make fun of me forever. " Nic had stumbled into a Xmas gig where the band would play a 15 minute set of "Rockabilly Christmas" for the passing dimwitted tourists. They got paid a relatively large amount of money to essentially degrade themselves in front of people that wouldn't know good music if it bit them in their junk through their Wrangler jeans. But, what the Hell, it was only 15 minutes at a time (the same kind of moral bargain a prostitute might make during Fleet Week for example).
Opryland was everything I thought it would be and less. It was a lot like a tacky Vegas casino without the actual gaming pit. If I didn't know any better, I would still be wandering around looking for a table to play $25 a hand blackjack. Imagine if the Excalibur in Vegas went with a low rent "down home" vibe, or if an Embassy Suites Hotel grew out of control. Maybe they got Dolly Parton to decorate it to look "classy". Tacky Xmas decorations are hung everywhere. A fake waterfall attracts Rubes to snap photos in very serious Senior Prom poses. A Jack Daniels sponsored bar overflows with paunchy men eating french fries, drinking 24 oz cans of Lite, and adjusting their NASCAR jackets. Most of all I was struck by the herds of Middle Americans shuffling around with mouths agape. This was their "trip of a lifetime". These are core American Idol viewers. Who's buying all those hats at Speedway gas stations? They are, that's who... These are the same people that go into Cracker Barrel and buy all that shit in the gift shop like the singing mounted bass and Chinese political prisoner made "old timey" road signs.
I hated it. It was awful. It was manufactured two dimensional luxury for people the lived their lives out through their favorite TV shows. If you listened hard enough, you could almost hear them bray like sheep as they funneled into the gift shops. But I will admit, I laughed my ass off watching Nic and the guys put on the fake smiles and provide the folks with something they would enjoy for 11 minutes or so. I couldn't have pulled it off, and they did it with ease. (Talent or a curse?)
Meanwhile, last weekend I was at the true epicenter for Middle American glitz. Yes my friends, I was at the Tri County Dog Track in Nitro, West Virginia. The once humble dog track has been made over by the good people of Bally's after the State of West Virginia was kind enough to pass a bill allowing table games and slots. That has relegated the dog track itself to the back corner of the room, hidden away like a piss stained kid with Tourettes. The track now is just an excuse to host the money making slots and sucker poker games. "Hey, we've got a track! That's why we're allowed to have the supplemental games! Where is the track? Oh... Go downstairs to sub level 3 and walk through the unmarked brown door. Take your second left by the ramp, and take a quick right. It's past the nickel slots through the door marked No Admittance". The dogs have taken a bit of a back seat...
Let me tell you about the Tri County Dog Track though. It's a scene in there Man. I can't get enough. A woman in a bad red wig and t shirt with an American flag and phrase "These Colors Don't Run" proudly told me she lost $1500 playing blackjack last week. You go girl! A woman pushing an oxygen tank cuts off the one legged woman in the rascal for the corner slot machine. So much money is on the sucker bets in the middle of the craps games, it takes 10 minutes between shooters to figure out who gets a couple of winning chips. The food in the buffet is only one color: a deep fried tannish brown. All the cocktail waitress's calves are thicker than a Vegas cocktail waitress's thigh. Everyone has the stink of a loser on them (myself included). But yet, I feel good. I like it here.
This is way more real and interesting than the Opryland experience. Opryland has that creepy Bible Belt vindictiveness that freaks me out. It feels like at Opryland if someone walked in wearing a turban, they would drown them in the fake waterfall "cause that's what Jesus would want us to do". On the other hand, nobody at the Dog Track gives a shit what you're up to because they don't need anyone looking too closely at what they are up to. I feel confident that P-Funk, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and a guy dressed as Uncle Sam on stilts wouldn't even garner a second look in there. People are doing their thing, and you can feel free to do your thing.
So while Opryland tries to hustle tourist Dopes into thinking they have the Real McCoy for country music culture, I ask you this... Where would Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson rather hang out? That's right... Sweating out $20 on "Wrecking Ball" tied into a exacta wheel in the third. Viva la Dog Track!