My Last $100 In The Vegas Of The South

My Last $100, or, What I Spent At Writer Camp In The Vegas Of The South


New Year’s Eve we had friends over. At 6:30 AM on January 1, we kicked aside the debris and rolled our suitcases, and a sleepy Babygirl, out to the curb to catch a flight down south. Our trip took us from LaGuardia → Atlanta, Georgia → Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina → Asheville, North Carolina, via Ben’s mom. Then the day next a friend picked me up and drove me across Pigeon Forge into the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, where sits Arrowmont, School of Arts and Crafts, as out of place in fluorescent, sugary downtown Gatlinburg as a birdhouse would be on a birthday cake.

Arrowmont’s serene campus predates the Coney Island craziness that has developed around it, which is the only reason it has survived, and which makes for some entertaining culture clashes. Visiting writers and artists wander down the winding driveway and smack into Cooter’s Dukes of Hazzard Museum featuring Go-Karts and MiniGolf.


That is not where I spent my last $100. Here is a rough accounting of where I did:

$28: Two hand-made vases for my aunts, because they took my wide-eyed Babygirl (and us, her parents) to see a for-kids production “the Nutcracker” in December and afterwards bought her a little Clara doll and a tutu. It was Babygirl’s first performance, her very first time in a theater, and she even got to go backstage afterwards to be shy in front of some very kind cast members. Babygirl has been in full-on dance-obsessed mode ever since and though I could do without some what follows (“I be the princess, you be the prince — now lift me up!”) it more or less made her winter.

$27: One hand-made ceramic pitcher for my mother-in-law, who looked after Babygirl in Asheville all week while Ben worked remotely and I got to start my new year writing in the woods, somewhere on the spectrum of self-indulgence and self-care.

$25: A bottle of the best Tennessee moonshine (or “shine,” as they call it) from the Sugarlands distillery for my mother, who appreciates such things. They didn’t bat an eye at the fact that I was seven months pregnant, but they did require ID. While I fumbled for my driver’s license, the guy behind the counter, trying to be helpful, added, “A gun permit would work, too.”

when in Rome

$7: Handmade child-size wooden stirrer for Babygirl, because she’s been so excited lately about helping us cook. Now she can have a special implement all her own. Plus: wood! Hard to break.

$14: Group dinner out with the writers in a restaurant filled to the rafters with taxidermy.

this is a restaurant

More money I didn’t spend:

$0: The Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster. They wouldn’t let me ride because I am seven months pregnant. Life is so unfair.

$0: Any Paula Deen paraphernalia. Although I admired its consistent, on-brand messaging.

butter y’all

$0: Anything from the dozens of novelty t-shirt retailers, where the inscriptions ranged from “Free Hugs” and “Southern By The Grace of God” to defenses of the Confederate flag. The most upsetting version of that last was a shirt with the stars-and-bars mounted proudly atop the Capitol with the legend, “I Have A Dream.” (You can see it in the image below if you look carefully.)

$0: Insight on my future or my past from Rose Renee, the South’s #1 psychic.

forget your future; this lady can fill you in on your *past*

$0: Any of the “5D” or “7D” (?) interactive shoot-’em-up games.

guns are fun!

I’d love to get back our “Last Hundred Bucks” game, so if you’ve got a fun submission for how you burned through your last Benjamin, let me know! Email

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