I spent last weekend in Nashville (March 17-19, 2017), paying a wildly-inflated sum for a decent, but not particularly nice nor particularly well-sited, hotel room near Nissan Stadium, in whose parking lot the Music City Half Marathon would start and finish. The daughter (age 20) wanted to do a half-marathon, and wanted me to do it with her, as I had done many, and could maybe help with encouragement and some guidance. Nashville’s Music City Half is not too late in the year that heat should be a debilitating factor, nor too early that training couldn’t recover from its inevitable holiday slump. So, we met in Nashville Friday evening (the daughter traveling from Athens, GA, where she’s a student at UGA, me and the wife from our home in Birmingham) to run the race the next morning.
I’m not quite sure what happened to sleepy little Nashville while I wasn’t looking. The once-charming home of the Grand Ole Opry and little else has seemingly overnight become a Southern megacity. The Nashville skyline now (it’s remarkable to even imagine there is such a thing) is surrounded by mega-highways looping in and around and over and under each other like Atlanta’s famed “spaghetti junction”. It already has towering skyscrapers enough to make a Thomas Wolfe character proud, with countless construction cranes hearkening the soon arrival of more. (What appears to be one of the latest skyscrapers, the AT & T building, looks for all the world like it came out of central casting for a Batman movie, and for no obvious reason other than perhaps architectural vanity). I wonder, in Atlanta, did the skyline follow the interstates, or was it skyline first and interstates later? Regardless, Nashville’s skyline is quickly catching up to Atlanta’s and its freeway system is already better—sparkling and new, almost to the point of exciting to drive on. Atlanta’s massive freeways are nothing but tedious, about as much fun as riding a grimy, forlorn New York subway late in the evening. And Nashville has Music Row—almost as rowdy these days as the French Quarter in New Orleans, except with country music blaring from the faux honkytonks, and white people strolling the along the avenues and jamming every venue along the way. Nashville, Tennessee: The love-child of an illicit, back-alley tryst between Atlanta and New Orleans, if whiteness was carried as a recessive gene.
The hotel bar (the Clarion by the stadium) was our first stop after getting the luggage situated. The wife and I arrived around 4:30 in the afternoon; the daughter wasn’t expected until early evening, about six. A grungy hipster—tattoos, ball cap, overlong beard, heavy-set—was tending bar. He fist-bumped me because my hair and his were a near match and it was St. Patrick’s Day. Our hair color is what I was told as a boy was ‘red’ but is now more often referred to as ‘ginger’, which is closer to its actual color than red—a happy development if I ever have any redheaded grandchildren. There was no end to the confusion inflicted upon my logical mind when people would call me a redhead and later talk about an apple being red and an orange being, well, orange. I guess ‘orangehead’ just doesn’t roll as well off the tongue. The bartender’s beard was pure red (ginger) and full. My beard is now only about half red, the ravages of time having turned the rest to snow, and is closely trimmed. He wanted to fist bump because it was St. Patrick’s Day and don’t all redheads come from Ireland? Not really, but why bother with pesky details? The Vikings probably brought red hair to the Emerald Isle on their many plundering raids of Ireland during the Dark Ages. We could have more legitimately fist-bumped for red hair if it had been Denmark’s day of national celebration in the US, but there isn’t such a thing. And while there are a fair number of Irish redheads–a higher percent than is found in most other places—most of the Irish are dark brunette (I call it black) with light-colored eyes. Think Jackie Kennedy.
Hotel bars can be fun. Waterholes for travelers, there is not usually the same status consciousness that you get at bars serving locals. Why be worried over your status? You’ll likely never again see the people you are drinking with. And as pretty much everyone there has an identical piece of real estate they’re calling home during the visit, the impulse to grandiosity in real property and its furnishings hasn’t much opportunity for expression. We met a couple from Colorado. Only about sixty years old, five or so years older than the wife and I, they had traveled the country in their RV over the last few years. And now lived in Colorado to be close to their daughters. I just shook my head. Why can’t that be me? Colorado, with mountains and winter snow and humid-free summers, as a base from which to just keep moving. I’ve been stuck in Alabama since I returned after a ten-year hiatus in 1995. I am so over Alabama. Twenty-two years is about twenty years too long. The daughter wants me to go out to Colorado with her to backpack in the Rocky Mountain National Park this spring after she gets done with finals, so I got their numbers—they live in Ft. Collins, which is not far from the Park.
Once the daughter finally arrived an hour later than anticipated (Atlanta traffic, ugh!), we took the bartender’s advice and headed to a local pizza joint for dinner. Red thought I was a good guy until I asked for the check by saying “la cuenta”, and making a motion like I was writing a check. It’s what you do in Latin America, but Nashville’s a long way from Latin America. I don’t know why I did it—probably because I was having such a good time talking to our new Colorado buddies that I felt like I was back in Honduras with my Army mates. He said I couldn’t really be a redneck if I was gonna talk like that. I told him as I was leaving that I’d given him a little extra in his tip so I could get my redneck card back. And I did, leaving about a 40% tip, but I bet he made out like I’d shafted him. But it didn’t matter. All part of the fun.
We didn’t have to wait for a seat at Soulshine Pizza Factory on Division Street. The place was nearly full, but not quite. A band/folksinger (it was hard to tell) was playing in the upper level of the two-floor dining area, too loudly, which made, by dint of people shouting to be heard, the whole joint loud to the point it felt like a seventies disco. But the service was excellent and the pie was passable—not delicious, but passably good. We were all famished by then anyway (it was around 8:30 pm, where we usually eat around 6:30).
Nashville has a big parking problem. Or, maybe it should be better characterized as Nashville has a big parking opportunity. I paid $24 to park for two hours. Like a lot of fast-growing cities avariciously blinded by growth, nobody in Nashville seems to have thought out what things might be like if everyone drove downtown to party on Music Row and Printer’s Alley at the same time. Or maybe they did, and $12/hour parking was their solution to the opportunity.
Nashville’s downtown was rocking by the time we left, around 9:00 pm. It was St. Patrick’s Day, which is like that other ethnic holiday created in America, Cinco de Mayo, in that it is an excuse for white people to get drunk and loud. As if the folks down there needed one. When we went back downtown the afternoon of the next day, even after the previous night’s Bacchanalian reverie, Music Row was every bit as rowdy and raunchy as Bourbon Street, no St. Patty’s day excuse required. It just didn’t smell as bad, probably having something to do with the city not sitting below sea level behind a levee. It is behind a levee, but not below sea level. Except in a Cumberland River flood, downtown’s streets are washed clean with every rain. But not in New Orleans. It’s hard to get the smell out when it’s not just washed away. And when you’re sitting behind a levee below sea level, things don’t wash out, they wash in.
Local entrepreneurs have devised a clever strategy that killed two problem birds–the lack of parking and lack of space in the clubs—with one stone. They invented the rolling bar. The contraption looks a bit like a trolley car, except it has no walls, just a center space for the bar and bartender surrounded by stools the patrons sit on. They hold about a dozen people plus a two-man crew–one to steer it through traffic, the other to tend bar. The devices are called pedal bars or barcycles or pedal taverns, and even have pedals for the patrons to turn, but the pedals don’t seem to do anything because the barcycle moves whether the patrons are pedaling—power must come from a motor of some sort, probably electric. Perhaps they are an innovation owing to some quirk in Nashville law that allows pedaled vehicles to traverse the streets like these were doing, but wouldn’t allow other, similar vehicles (e.g., a party bus) to do the same. In any event, unlike Nashville hot chicken, which wasn’t much of an innovation at all, the barcycles were a first for me, and like Johnny Cash sez, I’ been everywhere, man.
The race the next day, The Music City Half Marathon, was low key. There were not more than five hundred people running, and a great many of the runners weren’t much for running at all. Most were barely jogging. Some walked most, or all, of the way. There were even a couple of guys about my age who looked to be average Southern white suburban males (big, pasty-faced, heavy set, graying) who were walking the course, like a couple of Southern white suburban women. Maybe in a bit of a gender swap, their wives were running the race ahead of them. The daughter and I ran most of the way. We were slow, but not last. We beat the white guys and a few others. We averaged about eleven-minute miles over the whole course, with a ten-minute-mile pace at the split. We obviously slowed way down towards the end. I’ve never run slower than a nine-minute pace for a half-marathon, and I’ve done over a dozen of ‘em, but I was there for the daughter’s moral support, so let her set the pace.
She did well until the end when it got really hot–about 60 degrees and bright sunshine (hot for running, and especially for my fair-skinned temperate-climate genes, which the daughter shares). From that point of misery on, I mainly served as the daughter’s insult sink. She gets ill-tempered and mean in the face of physical discomfort. But, don’t’ we all? She’s just better at mean than most people are, a bit like me. First she got aggravated for my looking at my watch. “Quit looking at your watch! You’re just thinking we’re going too slow!” Then, “Get behind me! It makes me sick to even see you.” I told her that it wasn’t gonna make things any easier to act like a bitch about it, that miles nine through twelve were always the miserablest and you just had to power through them somehow. No surprise, that didn’t help a bit. But all was fine afterwards. I was impressed with the kid even trying to do it. I would never have dreamed of running a half-marathon when I was just twenty. The furthest I’d run by then was two miles for the Army physical training test. I didn’t try my first half-marathon until I had turned forty.
There is only one acceptable post-race food: Hamburgers. After showers at the hotel, we stumbled upon a dive, B.A.D (for Back Alley Diner), that specialized in burgers. A friendly Nashvillan happened by when we were poking around an alley where some restaurants and gift shops serving the tourist trade were located. We didn’t find the restaurant we were looking for, but the old guy, in a dark suit and tie on a Saturday, who’d just emerged from a late-model American-made sedan like a capo, saw our bewilderment and asked if he could be of some help. We told him the restaurant we were looking for, but he didn’t recognize the name. So we got to the point, and asked if he knew of any good hamburger joints. He pointed up the alley at B.A.D. and said, “That’s the best one.” What a bit of good fortune to be so close to what we were looking for, and to happen upon such a friendly old fella. Who knows, maybe he was a mob boss. Doesn’t matter. He was friendly to us. There’s no such thing as pure evil. It’s always a subjective inquiry.
The burgers were delicious, of course, because they’re burgers, with lots of iron and B12 that your body craves, especially after rigorous physical exertion. But they still would have been good, even had we not been craving them. The patties were only loosely formed and cooked to medium-well perfection. Melted like butter when you took a bite.
All that, but the daughter might have found the waiter, a tall, dark handsome sort with a winning smile and just enough face stubble to drive the ladies wild, more appealing even than the burger. Food and sex. It’s what makes the world go ‘round. I told her that I was disappointed she didn’t leave her number for him. She responded, “How do you know I didn’t?”
The two-dollar PBR washed it all down perfectly. After lunch, we ignored the bustling downtown scene and headed back to the hotel for a nap. Nothing better the afternoon of a long morning run than taking a nap.
When we finally got back out to explore Music Row and other downtown hotspots, the shadows of the afternoon sun were swallowing up the city on what had become a blustery, cool day. But downtown was just heating up. Crowds of people had been day-drinking, as goes the country song. More than a few were flapping a few sheets into the breeze by the time we arrived.
Nashville is the second most popular destination for brides to be having who are having that most American of decadences, the bachelorette party. I doubt there’s even a word in most other languages that would equate to bachelorette, a feminized version of a word used to denote a nonmarried man. Just as the feminist movement has been about providing women the freedom to misbehave as outrageously as men (it used to be boys will be boys; now it’s girls will be boys, too), an impending marriage is now seen as a last-chance opportunity for a woman to sow some wild oats, just like the boys used to do.
There must have been two dozen times we saw groups of drunken, rowdy women, one wearing a tiara and possibly a bridal veil, roaming the streets of Nashville, basking in expectant glow for the upcoming nuptials (yes, that was sarcasm). Along with the bride-to-be wearing the veil and tiara, at least one of the women would be carrying a twelve-pack of Budweiser or Miller Lite, i.e., beer that real working men drink, not that crafty stuff that lesbian look-alike hipster guys with fedoras, combat boots and key chains drink. When we stopped for a bite of pizza (okay, when we stopped for me to get a bite of pizza from a sleepy little pizza joint that probably did most of its business during the weekday when the revelers were long gone, back at their Monday morning desks choking down Tylenols to make another day of staring at a computer screen tolerable), I chanced to see the most remarkably attired woman I’ve ever seen on any street in any city anywhere walking up and down the sidewalk outside of the pizza joint’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
The petite, dangerous-looking blonde wore black leather pants that were at least as form-fitting as yoga pants (think Olivia Newton-John in “Grease”, except sluttier), with a black leather spaghetti-strapped crop top and shoes that might have inspired an Eagle’s tune (Oooh, pretty mama, watcha gonna do with those shoes?). Looking at her felt like knowing her, intimately. I was a bit ashamed to gawk. But I couldn’t help myself. Even with the wife and daughter there. It was like a porn video playing right out the pizza shop window. She walked back and forth several times, the reason for which I can only guess. Her last time by, she was proudly toting a twelve-pack of Budweiser that even with her petite frame somehow didn’t look out of place. Not, anyway, after 24 hours in Nashville. The bright red cardboard of the twelve-pack box resting on the sleek-leathered curve of her supple hip presented quite the contrast as she sauntered by. In more than just color.
The wife and daughter quickly tired of the downtown scene. The daughter had been repulsed by Bourbon Street in New Orleans a few years earlier, so it wasn’t surprising she found it moderately disgusting. The twenty-year-old wife liked that sort of stuff, but doesn’t now, not in her post-menopausal age. They needed to get back to their world. So we found a DSW shoe store. The daughter bought a new pair of running shoes to replace the ones she’d about used up with the half marathon training. The wife got to shop, but that’s curiously all she did. She didn’t buy. No matter. Hearing the cashier call the next “shoe lover” in line was sweeter to her ears than any wannabe cowboy in some faux honkytonk on Music Row doing his best imitation of Blake Shelton for a bunch of drunk white chicks enamored of the notion that whatever happens in Nash Vegas stays in Nash Vegas.
We left there and found a Mexican restaurant on the East side of town, the Rosepepper Cantina, expecting that it would be away from all the crazies downtown. It was, but the line was out the door with locals, not least another two or three bachelorette parties. Thus it was another late evening before finally getting fed, which made the porn show out the pizza shop window worthwhile. The pizza, I mean. The porn show was only a side dish.
The tacos I had, the flautas the daughter had, and the taco salad were all good, along with the complimentary chips with three varieties of salsa (verde, spicy and mild). The service was excellent. Three for three so far as service and food goes, which is not so remarkable for food—you expect it to be good—but to get good service everywhere we turned was a bit remarkable. The wait staff wasn’t Mexican, unheard of for Mexican restaurants back home in Birmingham, but then, there weren’t many Latinos anywhere we went. Even so, Rosepepper Cantina had something of an authentic Tex-Mex feel, especially with the crowds of white people lined up outside to get in.
We were done for the night after dinner. Back to the hotel and bed. We slept the sleep of the completely fagged out, but not drunk, travelers. Up in the morning and to the quite-serviceable continental breakfast. Everywhere these days serves a decent continental breakfast. The hotel chains are all B & B’s now. The attendant for this one—and they all have one person who oversees the operation—was a friendly black woman who did her best to make sure everyone was happy, and appeared to have mostly succeeded.
Then we went our separate ways, the daughter back to finish up her semester in Athens. The wife and I back to the townhouse in Birmingham. I told the wife the two of them had wore me out. She asked what I meant. I said that I had just run a half marathon at a mind-numbingly slow pace and spent the weekend in a motel room with two women but no sex. I had to transition to living as a woman, but only for a weekend. I think a guy loses a bit of his manhood every time the circumstances demand that he behave like a woman, or is just forced to suppress his maleness for any significant length of time. Enough of that, and you turn in to Kaitlyn Jenner. I watched the NCAA basketball tournament every chance I got, just to keep a glimmer of my manhood flickering.
So, Nashville’s an okay town. It’s a bit like LA, but without the tan, or the pretentious attitude. If there’s a drawback, it’s the bachelorettes. Being around a bunch of drunk women is about like staying in a hotel room for a weekend with a couple of sober ones. It saps the virility right out of you.