Goin’ back home

By Mathew Sotlar

Welcome back, Penguins! I sound like an overly enthusiastic, underpaid camp counselor, don’t I? Well, don’t let the exclamation point fool you — I’m not over the moon about spring break being over. Did you all have lots of fun? I sure hope so. I know I did.

For my second spring break at Youngstown State University, I went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee — not as popular as Nashville but a whole lot cheaper.

I’m a huge fan of country music, especially classic country Dolly Parton, Lynn Anderson, and Linda Ronstadt.

Gatlinburg is fairly close to where Parton was born. I wouldn’t have been shocked if there were Dolly Parton fire hydrants lining Dolly Parton sidewalks.

I traversed the Smoky Mountains early in the morning. In fact, I was woken up at 5 a.m. to go hiking. Was I elated? What do you think? Well, as bitter as I sound, I enjoyed it. There isn’t anywhere I love more than being outdoors. You won’t find air any clearer than up in the Smokys.

The highlight of the trip, however, was when I found a Margaritaville restaurant. As a Parrothead, I felt that it was appropriate for me to pay my respects to the late, great Jimmy Buffett by buying some conservatively priced fried seafood. If I could’ve stayed forever, I would have.

The only drag is the drive from Ohio to Tennessee and vice versa. You never realize how big Ohio is until you look at your location after three hours only to see you’re halfway through the state. Kentucky was cool, but I regret to say we didn’t stop for some of the state’s renowned fried chicken.

To add to the good vibes of the vacation, I learned that one of my short stories is being published. Who would’ve thought the columnist loves to write?

The drive home was a long and cold one, and it started raining halfway through it. Thankfully, my driver had the navigational skills of Magellan, since we sat through maybe 30 minutes worth of traffic in total. That includes Friday’s five o’clock Columbus traffic.

What was the first thing I did when I got back home? I had a proper meal at Chili’s with my friends, including two other Matts who were home for Spring Break. It felt great to be among my people — not my friends, the other Matts.

Will I go back to Gatlinburg? Most likely. Unless they decide to close down Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, you can count on me returning. The Smoky Mountains alone were worth the trip.

A lot of people wondered why I went to Gatlinburg of all places. Why not Florida? Why not Cancun? First of all, I’m broke. Second, it’s not about taking grandiose vacations and tossing money around like it grows on trees — even though it does in a way. It’s about making memories with your friends and embarking on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

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