I was stuck the morning I left for Nashville. I couldn’t seem to leave the house, kept washing dishes and straightening up. Afraid to go. I think it’s the first time we’ve both been gone at the same time. When I went to England in December my movements were tied to Eric: our friends and family, his gigs. Nashville was my place, but it isn’t anymore. Why am I going to Nashville? All these things went through my head as I wiped the kitchen counter again.
Freedom! When I was in the car and somewhere in Pennsylvania, listening to WNYC or WFMU, I started getting into my road trip. It was a beautiful day, the trees as bare as they could possibly be but the light hinting at spring, it was like the whole world was glowing.
Then it was getting dark and by Virginia I was cursing my poor eyesight. I wish I’d sorted out my eyeglass situation before I left. I have these Warby Parker frames which I don’t like with a new prescription, then my old sunglasses with the old prescription. The WP customer service really want me to be happy, they said I can switch out the frames whenever I want but I haven’t had a chance. Stupid glasses, I hate you!
Best Western at Staunton VA is a spot Eric and I have stayed in before. It’s retiree central, being near the Blue Ridge scenic route, and also home to the Statler Brothers though I may be one of the few people who knows or cares about that anymore. It also sits right next door to Rowe Family Restaurant which used to be one of the mecca spots in Jane and Michael Stern’s Road Food Good Food. Eric and I ate there once, they are famous for chicken and pie. It didn’t seem that special anymore.
The only thing open after I checked in was Texas Roadhouse. I imagined it’d be kind of fun and characterful in an artifiicial way but it was depressing and bland in a real way; grim with awful lighting and a weird mix of rock hits playing loudly throughout the restaurant. It made me miss Eric, he is the master of these situations, the grimmer the better. I ordered a huge glass of wine, mac & cheese and chicken tenders, not being able to face anything else on the menu that would require the use of one of the huge Bowie knives they were distributing to every table.
In the morning I finally got a chance to use the pool which I’d only looked at longingly the last few times we stayed there. I also had the experience of the fabled freight train they always warned about on check-in roaring past the windows of my room.
The rest of the drive, eight more hours, went by in a blur as I was listening to Helen Fielding’s “Mad About The Boy”. It’s Bridget Jones twenty years on, very entertaining. I know I should be improving my mind with Great Literature, I even thought of using this trip to listen to Anna Karenina but it just seemed wrong. Bridget Jones is about right for driving past “Jerky Warehouse with over 200 Varieties” and Frozen Head State Park.
I checked into my Airbnb, it was in a down home part of town untouched by the development that is rampant in Nashville, brick ranch house with a car port, v.g. I drove out to look for something to eat but by the time I got the the Smiling Elephant, a Thai place everyone raves about, they were closing up. The woman went to the kitchen and came back with two boxes of rolls and gave them to me : “here! you enjoy.” No charge. I devoured the rolls in the car in a parking lot, that’s a weird thing about a fifteen hour drive, in the end you don’t want to leave the safety of the car, it feels like a turtle shell.
I woke up super-early, on central time now, and feeling weird in a stranger’s house, got out immediately to go get coffee, thinking I’d beat the rush hour. It was 6:45 AM and there were already lines of cars, I remember how Nashville runs on this early schedule but there are lots more cars now. I went to the Frothy Monkey, I spent a lot of time there when I lived not far away. They were playing “The Grand Tour” by George Jones and “Set Em Up Joe” by Vern Gosdin, old school country and that made me happy. A little boy screamed at his parents “I don’t want to take a nap!” and I thought “wait, isn’t it only 7:30 AM? What time do these people get up?”
Later I took a walk at Radnor Lake, another of the places I just automatically head to out of habit. I’d forgotten how beautiful this nature preserve is, mist rising off the water, pine needles underfoot ontrasting with women impeccably sportily-dressed and coiffed in full makeup on the trails. Then I couldn’t help it, I was drawn to Green Hills Mall where a guy who looked like just like Luke Wheeler in the TV show Nashville was wheeling and dealing on a cellphone. I took in the splendor of the over-the-top family portraits outside a photography studio, so many things here remind me of hanging out with Hazel, it was a little us-against-the-world when we lived here what feels like a lifetime ago.
I went back to try and play guitar a little and take a shower but I couldn’t relax in my lodging and missed the anonymity of a hotel. Does anybody else have a similar problem with Airbnb? I think I’m just too self-conscious to ever stay in a stranger’s house when the stranger is present. I imagine my every action being cause for irritation and comment, maybe because I’d be intolerant myself. At night I kept picturing this couple in their room just next door, sitting up in bed, Kindles propped on their laps.
“Think she runs enough water?” he says. “Sounds like a hand washer.”
She’s the one who suggested they host guests to earn some extra cash, so feels inclinded to defend me. She listens. “No, I don’t think so.” She thinks a minute, and decides marital loyalty requires her to join in a little light guest bashing. “She does seem to wash her hair a lot! I heard her running the hair dryer again this afternoon if you can believe it.”
“And what’s with the space heater? I mean, we have heating. It’s practically spring!” and on and on.
Note to self: in future, check Entire home/apt. option.
The Bluebird was like a dream, everybody (Bill Lloyd, David Mead and Andrea Zonn were my in the round partners) was so good. The ole Nashville magic where you’re so surrounded by talent you just want to do and be your best and it all clicks together. Except for some old friends the room was full of tourists but it wasn’t the nightmare it could’ve been, everybody was super-respectful and into it, even the nearby table of bridal party night out twenty-somethings. I knew as we were playing that already my trip had been worthwhile.
I met up with my friends David & Jolean next morning and we went to the Country Hall of Fame & Museum, just happening to bump into Bill DeMain doing his Walkin Nashville tour on the way. It’s always felt like being in a TV show here, where all these interesting characters keep popping up in cameos from my first day in Nashville many years ago when I saw Billy Joe Shaver slinging a guitar case into the back of a pick up truck on Music Row. We had fun looking at the Sam Phillips exhibit and revisiting Nashville Cats which is so popular they’re keeping it up until summer.
Then I was exploring in East Nashville. It was seventy degrees so I rolled back my sunroof and was trying to listen to the Richard Marx cassette I bought at Fond Object when – I couldn’t turn the wheel of the car! Shit. It was possible to turn with great effort but didn’t feel safe, so I did what one does in these situations: went through Krispy Kreme drive-through. I don’t even eat donuts and stuff like that much anymore but I just couldn’t think straight without sugar and fat coursing through my veins. I bought some power steering fluid at Auto Zone and began to be able to turn the wheel so just thought phew, crisis averted and even felt kind of pleased with myself.
But when I was driving to join David & Jolean and their pal Marc for dinner later, the power steering cut out again to the point where I could only make a really wide turn to park out on the edge of town and had to walk over the interstate to meet them at this really nice restaurant. Yes, every trip to Nashville I have to end up feeling like the Barbara Harris character in Robert Altman’s Nashville at least one time, limping along highway traffic, maybe a few runs in my tights. forlorn and bedraggled but ultimately hopeful.
To be continued…