Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last weekend my wife Anne and I drove down to Knoxville, TN, for an entertainment convention, but made a few stops on our way back for ordinary sightseeing. I nearly described it as “conventional” for the sake of wordplay, but we saw nothing conventional about this giant scaly monster looming over the interstate.
Behold the Big Green Dragon –- a longtime fixture off I-75 Exit 134 in Caryville, TN. Once a mascot for a now-destroyed fireworks store, the 36-foot dragon was built in 1986 by local man Jim Cole from rebar and fiberglass. At one point it was for sale, but we saw no price tags in his grassy pen. For now the Dragon waits behind a Dollar General store, watching traffic and waiting for someone to truck him away to his true forever home.
It’s possible this towering lizard might scare the smallest of children if they’re fragile and if you make lots of mean, growling noises behind them while they stare onward in panic. To us it was creatively adorable and surrounded by far, far more dangerous things complicating our brief visit, including but not limited to:
* The creepy abandoned business next door with part of its roof collapsed
* The pulled-over driver and two police cars that were blocking the entrance to the Dollar General parking lot
* The seedy motel down the street where we had to park and walk over to the Dragon
* The cars hurtling up northbound I-75 at the foot of the hill behind us
* The thatches of poison oak around the dragon (which we only learned about days after the fact), one of many plants I wouldn’t recognize on sight unless someone slapped a 4-H label on it
* The small cluster of wasps or hornets or other elongated yet menacing insects wrestling each other at the dragon’s feet
While Anne took the photo, I offered to stand in front of the Dragon to provide a sense of scale. Not until I was mid-pose did I notice the buzzy brawling behind me and yell to her, “PLEASE HURRY. THERE ARE STING-Y THINGS.” I’m not paraphrasing by much. Look, I’m no entomologist. I’ve never had any malicious bug stings in my life. We had miles to go before we slept, which I imagined would be 100 times harder to navigate if this became my time to learn that I’m allergic and prone to swelling up worse than the Dragon.
Thankfully the tiny predators left us alone and we escaped without new wounds or rashes, and without having to scale up the Dragon like frightened cats trying to escape an angry dog. I wouldn’t want to damage art, but forced to choose, our safety would weigh heavier on my mental scales than the potential loss of Dragon market value.