Monday, November 26, 2007

Nashville Cats

Well, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
On a Tennessee anthill
Yeah, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar cases in Nashville
And any one that unpacks his guitar could play
Twice as better than I will

--John Sebastian

One of the 1,352 guitar pickers in Nashville
Taken 11/9/07 in downtown Nashville TN

The weekend I intended to leave Parkersburg, Derwin and Cousin Ron decided to take a short vacation to Music City, AKA Nashville Tennessee. Derwin invited me to go along, and as I had never been to Nashville, I readily accepted the invitation. Ron was able to get Thursday, Friday and the following Monday off work, so we had us a nice long weekend for a road trip.

Leaving Parkersburg around noon, Thursday, we drove down Interstate 77 to Charleston, then headed west on Interstate 64. We crossed into Kentucky and continued on toward Lexington. I had driven this stretch of road the last time I visited West Virginia back in 2000. Gary and I had rented a car while attending a New Image conference in Lexington and had driven to Parkersburg to visit with Cousin Sharon. The landscape wasn’t new, but it was nice to be able to sit back and let someone else do the driving.

Mapquest routed us through Lexington on the New Circle Road, which was a different route than Derwin and Ron were used to taking. We had planned on having lunch in Lexington, and I was hoping for some great seafood at Joe’s Crab Shack, but our route took us past a series of low-end chains, and eventually back onto a divided limited access highway, so we didn’t see anything that struck our fancy. By the time we reached Versailles (pronounced Ver-Sales, not Vair-sigh), we were about to turn onto the Blue Grass Parkway which is a long stretch of beautiful scenery but no towns, rest areas, or places to eat. Accordingly, we filled the Chrysler’s gas tank and our bellies in Versailles.

By the time we crossed the Tennessee State Line, it was well after dark. Nashville is only about forty miles south of the line, and soon we were driving past downtown and its illuminated skyscrapers. One really stuck out. I asked what it was and was told, “It’s the batman building.” Indeed that’s what it looked like. Wikipedia informs us that it is indeed called the Batman Building, but the official name is the BellSouth Building. It is currently the tallest building in the state of Tennessee. Soon enough, we checked into our motel out by the airport, emptied the car, and called it a night.

The Batman, er uh, BellSouth Building
Taken 11/9/07 in Nashville TN

On Friday, after having brunch at TGIFriday’s (how appropriate, don’t you think?), we headed downtown to check out the sights and see what fun we might find. I was struck by the juxtaposition of older architecture and stunningly modern buildings that make up the core of the city. While Derwin took the elevator down, Ron and I went up to the roof of the parking structure and started shooting. Lots of reflective glass made for some interesting possibilities, including self-portraits as we saw ourselves reflected in the bank building across the street.

Back on street level, we stopped in a gift store offering all kinds of kitsch. I have to say that wandering around downtown, all I saw for sale was kitsch. Derwin wanted to find a spot where he could sit and people watch, so Ron and I headed first down to the river then over to the state capitol. Along the way we passed the corner where Church Street becomes Gay Street. Can’t say that I saw much that was gay on Gay Street, but there sure are many churches on Church Street.

Nashville is a town with a lot of public art. We saw statues in the darndest places, including one of Chet Atkins sitting and picking his guitar at the entrance to a bank. The requisite equestrian statue was found on the grounds of the state capitol, with Andrew Jackson riding his steed. Also on the capitol grounds were statues for two men I’d never heard of. Tennessee Senator Edward Ward Carmack stands directly in front of the capitol, and the WCTU dedicated his statue with his “Pledge to the South”* inscribed on the base of the plinth. Over toward one corner was the statue of Sam Davis, the “boy hero of the Confederacy,” who, during the Civil War, was executed as a spy by Federal forces, and curiously enough, just beyond his statue is an area dedicated to the African-American population of Tennessee. But there are a lot of strange juxtapositions in Nashville.

The Tennessee State Capitol
Taken 11/9/07 in Nashville TN

Leaving the capitol compound, we headed back toward the parking structure where we had said good-bye to Derwin, and passed by the Ryman Theatre. The former Union Gospel Tabernacle became home to the Grand Ole Opry in 1943 and continued as “The Mother Church of Country Music” until the Opry moved to its new home in 1974. Today the Ryman continues as the premier downtown performance venue. The thing about the Ryman is this—if anyone famous in the arts or politics (or even religion) traveled to Nashville, they probably spoke, sang, danced on the stage of the Ryman. This includes the Rev. Dwight Moody, William Jennings Bryan, the New York Metropolitan Opera, Nellie Melba, Sarah Bernhardt, Teddy Roosevelt, General William Booth, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and on.

Back with Derwin, we were enjoying coffee and ice cream in a café’s window booth when an elderly black man approached us on the other side of the glass. None of us had a clue what he was going on about, but his gestures made it clear that he really liked Derwin, and really wanted to kill me. Well, how would you interpret it when someone points at you and then slashes his hand down across his neck? We didn’t leave the café until he was long gone.

That evening we were joined for dinner by one of Derwin and Ron’s friends and we ate at Red, a restaurant attached to one of Nashville’s premier gay bars, Tribe (also on Church Street, but several blocks down from where Church becomes Gay). Actually much of Nashville’s gay life is on or near this part of Church Street. Next door to Tribe you’ll find Play Dance Bar, and a couple of blocks further you can enter either Blu or Blue Genes. Outland Books is also on Church and opening soon there will be a GLBT Community Center next door to the bookstore. All in all, this part of Church Street was quite Gay.

I have to say, though, that having a drink in Blue Gene’s proved to me that just because you live in Nashville doesn’t mean that you have any musical ability or talent. It was karaoke night and what a pity. He had no pitch, he had no rhythm, his delivery was pretty much a monotone, and he wasn’t even cute. Is this why I paid $10.00 for one beer and a tonic water? Neither Derwin nor I felt any need to return to Blue Gene’s for a second evening.

There are lots of geocaching opportunities in the Nashville area, and I was able to find several caches within a few miles of our motel. This got me out and exploring the area on foot, and I was able to visit a flea market (you want 3 pairs of white socks for a dollar?), the back of McDonald’s, and an Armory tank. I also made it to one of the oldest log buildings in Tennessee, the Buchanan home built in 1809.

Nashville is also home to the Lane Motor Museum, and Ron and I spent quite the afternoon drooling, wondering, and photographing some of the more bizarre attempts to turn 3, 4 or 12 wheels into transportation. The Museum has the largest collection of Tatras I have seen anywhere. OK. I admit that I’ve never seen even one of these Czech autos anywhere, but the Lane Museum has seven. They also had the original Topolino (the Fiat 500) and several of its descendents. There was a three wheeled Davis convertible that had only one seat—but that bench could hold four adults behind the single front tire. A beautiful Lancia roadster with two windshields (one for the rear seat passengers) stole my heart. The Museum even had my ultimate dream car, a Citroen SM. What can I say, we spent several hours alternating between lust and astonishment. One modern unicycle had the seat inside the tire's rim. The placard warned that the machine was very unstable at speeds below 15 mph, and that it took a lot of practice and patience to be able to ride the thing safely. If you’re headed to Nashville and have any interest in odd automobiles, I heartily recommend a visit to Lane’s. And hey, I even got the senior citizen discount being that I’m over 55.

Who wouldn't love to ride in this 1930s Lancia Roadster?
That's Cousin Ron photographing something bizarre in the background
Taken 11/11/07 at the Lane Motor Museum, Nashville TN

We visited the Opryland Mall. What gay man doesn’t enjoy an afternoon of shopping? While Derwin and Ron perused belts at a kiosk, I headed into the Gibson store and drooled over $6,000 + guitars, mandolins and banjos. No, I didn’t buy one, and I won’t in the near future. But what an emporium of beautiful instruments.

Monday was our day to head home, so we retraced the route we had taken on Thursday. A couple of stops for me to catch some geocaches in Kentucky, and we were soon enough back home in Parkersburg. Not being a country music fanatic, I can’t say that I was overly impressed by Nashville, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit it with folks who know and appreciate the city. I’ll close by quoting John Sebastian once more:

And I sure am glad I got a chance to say a word about
The music and the mothers from Nashville.

Sunset over the Nashville (TN) Airport
Taken 11/11/07

*Carmack's Pledge to the South:

"The SOUTH is a land that has known sorrows; it is a land that has broken the ashen crust and moistened it with tears; a land scarred and riven by the plowshare of war and billowed with the graves of her dead; but a land of legend, a land of song, a land of hallowed and heroic memories.

"To that land every drop of my blood, every fiber of my being, every pulsation of my heart, is consecrated forever. I was born of her womb; I was nurtured at her breast; and when my last hour shall come, I pray GOD that I may be pillowed upon her bosom and rocked to sleep within her tender and encircling arms."

--Edward Ward Carmack, in an address to the U.S. House of Representatives

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