I overheard, during a boutique at the Roseville Oval, a young woman excitedly telling her friend she was leaving for Branson the next day "and we're getting there in eight hours -- no stops!"
Only if their car is jet-propelled and cops don't spot them, I thought. Even the most direct route -- I-35 to Des Moines, then US 65 due south to that southern Missouri entertainment mecca -- is about 650 miles and nearly 12 hours at the wheel or on a motorcoach if a package tour is the vehicle, which Minnesotans often choose, according to the welcome messages we heard at various shows.
Dan Lennon, vice-president of marketing and PR for the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau, told me that an estimated 215,000 Minnesotans visited last year, down somewhat in this tough economy, but still significant.
If you think Branson is a "been there, done that" place, Lennon said overall numbers were up 3 percent last year, so the destination remains viable.
Whatever the means -- even flying, which is becoming popular since Branson improved its airport to attract overseas visitors -- this Christmas season is the premier time for shows. If you pack right now and get in the car, you could be there in time for some Ozark entertainment.
I own an every-other-year timeshare at Stormy Point on Table Rock Lake in an entire village of New England-style cottages, compelling me to take the trip bi-annually, but never before during while holiday shows were playing.
There was no snow during Thanksgiving week, thank goodness, and a hint of color remained on the hillside trees while temps hovered in the 50s and 60s.
But Christmas spirit exhudes from every theater. The only missing component was Andy Williams who announced his cancer diagnosis from his stage and, before leaving for treatment, turned that venue over to the Lennon Sisters.
If you've never wended along Highway 76 through Branson -- often slowly -- let me describe the place. One showhouse after another line the road, interspersed with shopping malls, outlets, restaurants, attractions such as a mock-up of the Titanic, rides, museums featuring Ripley and Hollywood lore, ticket outlets (beware the ones hawking time shares), fudge shops, antique stores and other tourist enticements. If you can't find something to do in Branson, you're comatose.
For a taste of old Branson, Main Street is rather charming with a classic Five and Dime store, quilt shops and tea rooms. It culminates at the newest attraction, Branson Landing, featuring a shopping street that reminds me of the Mall of America, outdoors version.
My friends and I managed to squeeze in nine shows in seven days, despite driving to Eureka Springs, Ark. for scenery and shopping in its historic downtown, and Thanksgiving dinner at nearly Big Cedar Lodge, the premier Ozark resort.
Our best meal was in the Keeter Center dining room at The College of the Ozarks where students study tuition-free in exchange for working in the gardens, hotel, restaurant and other on-campus jobs.
Branson is often described as the last stop before the rest home for America's entertainers, but none we saw are ready for the wheelchair yet. My teenage throb, Johnny Mathis, still has his pipes and put on a dazzling Christmas show, unfortunately just for two nights.
Though he didn't do any holiday tunes, our absolute favorite for sheer fun was Chubby Checker, still twisting and singing with his old verve. He's there until Dec. 10.
At "A Christmas Snow," featuring Muse Watson of NCIS TV-fame, I was startled to hear that the play's opening scenes were set in St. Paul, followed by other Minnesota references. Turns out that the author-director-producer is Tracy Trost who grew up in Forest Lake.
The Sound and Light Theater is doing a Christmas pageant gone spectacular with dramatic staging, camels, flying angels and resounding music -- not to be missed, twice daily, through the end of December.
Here's another Minnesota connection: As I entered The Titanic museum, well-worth visiting, I was handed a boarding pass for an actual passenger, 21-year-old Anna Salkjelsvik from Alesund, Norway.
At the end of the tour through memorabilia from the ship which went down nearly a century ago, I was able to learn Anna's fate. She was a survivor, and until her death in 1977, lived in Duluth, where was a homemaker and mother of three. Brings the Titanic -- and Branson -- closer to home.