A few years ago, I was buying the Guardian newspaper every Saturday and collecting up all the Travel supplements that had sections on places I wanted to go. There were many mini-papers in that pile of mine, much to the chagrin of my once-upon-a-time travel buddy, the Ne’er-do-well Kid. But he was pretty much spot-on in his scathing put down that I’d never do what I purposed, which was to copy all the good bits into my travel journal so that one day, when I arrived at said destinations, I’d know what was hot and what was not. One thing he wasn’t right about though was that I wouldn’t copy ANY of the info into my expedition encyclopedia. For one of the few possy of notes I scribed was on the city of Nashville, Tennessee. And what notes they were! Notes on the best bars, clubs, sights and sounds of America’s ‘Country City’. And these notes, once made, were the subjects of many distant daydreams about what it would be like to go to this musically historical city. I wondered when I would get the chance to check out …’one of the coolest cities in America’ as I remember the quote spouting.
And so it was that as I drove towards this pretty mundane skyline
(though this building would later stand out…)
I couldn’t help thinking that I had maybe built Nashville up a little too much in my minds eye.
Again, as the sun took a bow and took a running jump from this particular day, it was that we entered another major U.S. city in the heat of the night, with no idea where to go or where we were staying. As is the norm, we found a parking space behind a shop that we thought would have Internet, flipped open the laptop and looked for somewhere to sleep where we wouldn’t get murdered. And as luck would have it, just as we were closing our eyes and pointing our fingers dangerously close to exactly where we were, a local knocked on our window and offered his assistance, in return for nothing but a few pennies! Yes, that’s right, we attracted the attention of the only drunken transvestite homeless person on the streets of Downtown Nashville. A friendly chap was he, didn’t want to take my ‘no, we don’t need your assistance, thank you very much’ for an answer (probably more to do with the fact that he was 3 sheets to the wind than my foreign way of saying ‘piss off you weirdo’, which I’m sure sounds pretty much like ‘piss off you weirdo’, wherever on this fine planet you may inhabit). So off we went again, driving around looking for a quite street to pull out our camper bed within and partake of some zed’s withon but it was with a strange sound coming from our beloved Trixiebelle that we pulled into some car park of other. And as soon as the hood was up and the necessary oil had been administered, a security car arrived, a window wound down and a voice went up asking, in a VERY strange and strong accent, ‘Y’all got a problem?’. It was one of those annoying security patrollers that pop up at the slight potential of anyone new being seen in their security patrolled private apartment complex. ‘No, piss off and bother someone else, ya git’ I wanted to say, stressed at a sudden bout of mechanical melancholy as i was. ‘Just a bit of engine trouble’ I blandly retorted. Nice as pie, he drove off, leaving me to curse my 1976 engine for making me stop and myself for assuming that he was going to be a right bugger when he turned out to be doing his job.
We headed to the east of Nashville, which was the hipster capital, not because we felt a kinship with these peeps but because we thought ‘the last people who are gonna mug us in our van are hipsters’. Funny though, if ever there was a social group who could get away with petty crimes, it would surely be hipsters. Imagine the description of the suspect; ‘Er, yeah, guy was about average height, early 20’s, well spoken, kinda geeky looking, ya know, sort of a cross between Su Pollard
and Richard Clayderman’.
I mean, these days, that pretty much sums up half of the population, right? However, I will go against public perception and say that I rather like hipsters,especially those in England, cos lets face it, most people over the age of 30 in good ol’ blighty seem to have decided it doesn’t matter what they look like anymore and so go down the route Gyles Brandreth clearly chose when he donned this magnificent number (although, if everyone went around with the same sultry look as Mr. B, England would certainly be a sexier place).
So, we spent the night on the side of a pleasant-looking street which looked safe enough, although when you wake up in a camper van in the morning and all the cars around you that you thought would act as protection from the pikey’s in the night have disappeared, you realize you must have stuck out like a pants tent at a 4 year olds swimming party birthday…… party……
The next day, after again sleeping in sub-zero temperatures, we found this neat place http://www.bongojava.com/, had our fill and decided that as it was about 10.30, we should head to lunch! And as we were in Nashville, as we are two intrepid explorers and as we like to meet as many peeps as possible on our journeys, there was only one place we could possible head for and that was Monell’s (http://www.monellstn.com/n-rest.html). This place is a Nashville institution and it’s not hard to understand why. OH MY LORDY McLORDICUS, was this exactly what the Harold Shipman ordered!! The premise is, you get to sit at a big table, next to a bunch of ‘REAL’ Americans, eat fried chicken, biscuits and basically every other type of food you could ever expect in this part of the country, i.e., The South, and not only talk to said Americans, but actually watch them be ‘PROPER REAL AMERICANS’!! Talk about genuine experiences! There were people from Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, you name it (don’t name Alaska or about 41 other states!), they were from there and they all spoke with these MAGNIFICENT drawls. And just to show that the stereotype of racism doesn’t stretch to ALL Southerners, there was even a black dude/white gal combo-couple sat opposite, complete with racially aware parents, all dining together!! I felt a tad uncomfortable when the gals pops kept hollering to her partner, ‘Boy, you’ll get me some more a’dat fried chicken if ya know what’s good for ya’ but one cultural-accepting step at a time, right? Boy, did we eat some proper southern food that lunchtime. I coulda sat there all day listening to people telling us their life stories, where we should go on our trip, where they have been, where they would still love to go, what there mums did, how great America is… Did I mention we ate fried chicken? HELL, DID WE EAT FRIED CHICKEN!!!!
Having the best American friends anyone in the World has ever had in Marjorie Daws and Chris Blisstopherson meant that nights two and three in Nashville were to be spent with this person…
Miss Erica Spangler did the good dead and put us up for two nights in her sweet li’l apartment. And after realizing how super ace she was, we decided that the next day we would all take a ganders at the quirky side of Nashville before gettin’ our ‘coun’ry boots on’ and checking out some rootin’ tootin Garth Brook-a-likes.
The first place we headed on ‘the next day’ was this wholesome eating establishment http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/IE-5GIHlAINr0zO4lrJ_Lg?select=UsUf1jrJ__kNl_XdKi6SNA, not only Nashville’s premier hot dog culinary experience but ran by a guy who was the best New Orleans Tour Guide in Nashville we could ever have hoped to meet. Here was another example of the Southern States’ reputation for friendliness. This guy spent 5 minutes writing us a list of the best darn places to hit in N’Orleans, as the locals call it, and served up the best mystery meat in a finger roll I ever wolfed down, though I left this vendor with the same disappointment that I leave every hot dog vendor I visit, due to the fact that I never get the opportunity to have this exchange http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_vssdys8lk
Next, we checked out some very cool vintage clothing boutiques, notably The Hip Zipper (http://www.hipzipper.com/), The Goodbuy Girls (http://goodbuygirlsnashville.com/) and this, my favourite store in Nashville, Fanny’s House of Music (http://fannyshouseofmusic.com/StoreFront.bok). In Fanny’s (phnaar phnaar!), you can pick up and play any instrument you like as well as check out some VERY nice vintage garms and if you’re lucky, you may have arms short enough to fit into a very dapper Royal Blue vintage Lacoste shower mac for only 20 buckaroo’s! And right there you have one of the great things about the consumer United States for me. Vintage, retro, call it what you like but don’t call it a bunch of ponces trying to rip you off. Vintage isn’t expensive like it is in England; no one is jumping on the bandwagon and trying to sell ‘Vintage Denim Levi Jackets’ for $100 or any other examples of daylight robbery. Stuff is old and if you’re daring enough to wear it or lucky enough to find it, no matter whom it’s made by, it’s yours for a steal of the price it’ll cost you at home (somewhere in the future, i would buy an Alfred Dunhill suit, brand spanking new, for a mere $15. I’ll tell you more about that one in about 6 blogs’ time!)
But it wasn’t shopping we were in Nashville for; it was this…
And so that night, with a recommendation of some cool Knoxvillians we trusted, we headed to this place http://robertswesternworld.com/ and saw the only Brazilian Country Music singer I’ve ever seen and probably the only one that exists in the known Universe. His name? BrazilBilly. Who else…?!!
Unfortunately, walking around this strip in Nashville was the first experience of disappointment I was to have on these shores regarding expectation of somewhere with a certain reputation. I guess I expected more traditional country music fans and less beer swilling jocks, more dames dosey-do’ing and less hoochy’s hosiery ho’ing! It seemed like the quality of the music and it’s related establishments had somehow been forgotten, nay lost, amidst the rush to turn this once legendary city (musically at least) into a huge disgusting money-making tourist trap. I mean, there were a few cool bars and I’m sure if you hunt for long enough you can find some good music too but everything seemed to cater towards those people who just wanted to get wasted and listen to the new wave of country crap than the decent traditionally sounding stuff. I mean I’m no country fan and my knowledge of it stops at Johnny Cash but I know my Johnny Cash from my Jonny Gash and I know quality when I hear it and there was very little on display from America’s Country City.
Am I to be constantly disappointed due to my expectations? I guess therein lies the lesson. As Benjamin Franklin once piped up, ‘Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed’. He was probably on his way back from Nashville…