by Ruth Jones, senior editor
A dozen phone calls, an in-depth analysis of a dispatcher's IQ and half a roll of Tums later, you admit defeat. You're stuck with a layover. There are a lot of things you can do with this time including catching up on paperwork and housekeeping chores, polishing the truck, or reading a good book. Or you could decide to get away from the truck for a few hours, relax, unwind and have some fun.
Community events and attractions
No matter where you happen to be, chances are there is some type of festival, swap meet, flea market, craft show, trade show exhibition, sporting event or other special event taking place nearby, especially on weekends. Check with the local chamber of commerce or pick up a local paper. If you know ahead of time you'll be laying over in a particular state, stop at the visitors' center on the way in (usually at the first rest area) and check out the pamphlets and brochures for interesting places to visit.
Racecar enthusiasts tell us that most tracks have parking for trucks, but call ahead to be sure. Horse racing fans tell us they can park at most tracks, but again - call ahead. Occasionally tickets to professional sporting events may be available on game day, but be sure to ask about parking availability and costs. While some stadiums may not have sufficient parking to accommodate tractor-trailers, there may be special buses running on game days.
Festivals may commemorate historical events or celebrate local customs. They usually include food, entertainment and the opportunity to observe your fellow man at play, in competition or just doing things he would never do otherwise. Some festivals are simply blatant excuses to have a good time.
"Mike the Headless Chicken Day" falls into the latter category. A relatively new tradition, this May event in Fruita, CO, celebrates the amazingly long life of a headless rooster who gained fame in the mid-1940s. Mike apparently never knew that chickens who have their heads chopped off are only supposed to run around for a few seconds and then drop dead. Mike ran around (and toured the country) for more than four years after his decapitation. His story and picture even appeared in the Oct. 22, 1945, issue of Life Magazine. (For more on Mike's story, visit www.miketheheadlesschicken.org)
Celebratory events include the 5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race, egg tosses, pin the head on the chicken, Chicken Bingo, a community Chicken Dance and a host of exhibits and booths. Food specialties include fried chicken, chicken salad, etc. If you ever find yourself in the Fruita area in May, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 970-858-3894 for more information.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
If a layover finds you in the Knoxville, TN, or Asheville, NC, area, take a mini-vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, the park covers more than 521,000 acres on the TN-NC border. Mountain views, hiking trails, graceful waterfalls, rocky streams, wildlife and trees and plants not found anywhere else in the U.S., the park draws millions of visitors each year.
This ruggedly beautiful park will give your Kodak a workout. Clingman's Dome is the highest point (6,684 ft.) in the park, and the second highest peak east of the Mississippi. On a clear day, the view can extend as far as 100 miles and into seven states. With normal pollution levels, the breathtaking view is still about 22 miles.
Cades Cove is the most popular destination in the park, averaging more than two million visitors per year. Settled in the early 1800s, the Cove features preserved homes, churches and a working mill. But the most popular attraction is the Cove's varied wildlife population. Roll down your windows and proceed slowly (allow about an hour and a half) along the 11-mile route through the Cove. White-tailed deer graze in open meadows, and you may see a black bear and her cubs ambling along a creek. Foxes, squirrels, groundhogs and skunks also inhabit the Cove, as well as other species such as red wolves, bobcats and wild hogs that visitors seldom encounter. If you want to get closer to nature, horseback tours of the Cove are available, or you may rent bicycles.
Newfound Gap road takes visitors across the lowest driveable pass (5,048 ft.) in the Great Smoky Mountains. At the top of the pass stands the Rockefeller Memorial, which commemorates the family that donated $5 million to finance land acquisition for the park. The memorial also offers a sweeping view of the surrounding mountains.
You'll need a rental car to get around the park (no commercial vehicles permitted) and at least a full day to explore. Bring a lunch - there are plenty of places to picnic. Start early in the morning (Cades Cove opens at 8 a.m. daily except Wednesdays and Saturdays when it opens at 10 a.m.). The park is open year-round, but the road to Clingman's Dome is closed Dec. 1 to April 1. Follow the signs to the Sugarlands Visitor Center for more information, or go to the National Park Service web site at www.nps.gov.
If you are going to be spending a full day or more in the surrounding area, Washington offers unlimited possibilities for sightseeing. Most attractions are open year-round including weekends and some holidays. Many are free. Make a list of the places that interest you the most and plan your time accordingly. With a few exceptions, and depending on how much time you spend at each place, you should be able to take in a half dozen attractions in a single day.
If the weather is inclement (or even when it isn't), consider spending the day at the Smithsonian. Although it takes several days to see all of the Smithsonian's museums, you can divide them into groups according to your interests and take in one group each time you visit. For more information, visit their web site at www.si.edu.
Getting around in the nation's capitol isn't as difficult as you might think. A commuter rail system can get you just about anywhere you want to go, though you may have to take a cab to the nearest station. Information and schedules are available in most area hotels/motels and some truckstops. Along the I-95 corridor, check on Amtrak schedules and fares by calling 800-USA-RAIL. Renting a car is not a good idea as parking is almost non-existent in the city. Bus tours of the most popular attractions are available, or get a map and strike out on your own. No matter how you see the sights, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. And, if you happen to be in town during the week, take the time to stop by your congressional representative and/or senator's office and discuss the issues of the day.
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, CA
Winchester Arms heiress Sarah L. Winchester began a home-remodeling project in 1884 and didn't stop adding on until her death 38 years later. Legend has it she was convinced by a medium that continuous building would appease the spirits of those killed by Winchester repeating rifles. Carpenters labored 24 hours a day building stairways to nowhere, cabinets that open into adjacent rooms, a window in a floor, doors that open into blank walls and countless other oddities, all at Sarah's personal direction.
The opulent 160-room mansion, gardens, Winchester Antique Products Museum, Winchester Firearms Museum and gift shop are open daily except Christmas. Parking for tractor-trailers is available in the parking lot across the street from the mansion. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (until 7:00 p.m. June 16 - Sept. 4). A complete estate tour of all areas is $21.95 for adults. For more information and directions call 408-247-2000 or visit the web site at www.winchestermysteryhouse.com.
Alabama Grill, Pigeon Forge, TN
Open Sunday - Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.,
Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.
Alabama fans in particular and country music fans in general will find a Nashville atmosphere at the Alabama Grill. Outside, the band's original tour bus and limousine are on display. Inside, the walls are lined with pictures, gold and platinum records and other memorabilia of country music stars from the early days of the Grand Ole Opry to the present. Of course, the boys from Ft. Payne are well represented, and video clips and concerts play on screens throughout the dining area. There is also a gift shop featuring caps, jackets, T-shirts and other souvenirs.
The food is "Down Home." Your server will start you off with fresh hot rolls and a cinnamon honey spread. Portions are generous, and there are daily specials. On the day Land Line visited, the dinner special was blackened trout for $10.99. If you like potato soup, be sure to try the Alabama Potato Soup, a thick creamy concoction generously sprinkled with crumbled bacon and cheese.
Exit 407 on I-40 and head south to Pigeon Forge (about 15 miles). The Alabama Grill is on the west side of the highway just past Louise Mandrell's theater. There is ample parking in back, or you may park your rig in front. (No sleeping on the lot please.) Evening parking may be especially crowded because of adjacent country music theaters. For more information, call 865-908-8777.
Layover information on the Internet
Rodeos The 2000 celebration of Cheyenne Frontier Days is July 21 - 30. Concerts will star the Judds, Styx, Don McLean, Randy Travis, Ty Herndon, Tanya Tucker, Sammy Kershaw, Neal McCoy, Ricochet, Charlie Daniels Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Reba McEntire, John Michael Montgomery, Montgomery Gentry, Terri Clark and Clint Black. For information and tickets to rodeo competitions and concerts call 800-227-6336 or visit the web site at www.cfdrodeo.com. For information about other rodeos across the country, visit the web site of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association at www.prorodeo.com/index.html.
Golfing If you're going to lay over, where can you play golf? Visit www.mygolf.com for a searchable database (by state) of public and private courses, including fees, hours of operation, and phone numbers.
Fishing www.thefishernet.com is a database of fishing license and contact information for the U.S. and Canada.
Check out www.thingstodo.com, a searchable database (by state) of attractions and events. Or try www.whatsgoingon.com, and search U.S. event.