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Published: June 26th 2017
Geo: 36.1682, -86.7772
From Birmingham I had two potential routes back to Denver, in which I aimed to be by Saturday night to surprise a good friend for her birthday. Option 1: Travel northwest through Mississippi and spend Wednesday night in Memphis, then North to St Louis for a night, a night somewhere in the barren Kansas flats, and to Denver. Option 2: Head directly north and spend a quick 2 nights in Nashville, then just beeline all the way home to Denver over the two following days. Based on what I'd heard of Memphis, it's not exactly the safest of cities, probably especially to those sleeping in a truck, and St Louis... well... if it weren't for that cool arch nobody would ever hear a damn thing about it! The problem with Nashville was that, if I went, I would probably want to spend a lot more than 2 nights there, and didn't want to leave myself hanging on and wanting more.
After a good deal of debate and mental anguish, I opted for Option 2: two nights in Nashville followed by two days to go 1200 miles back to Denver. It would be a shame not to see Nashville at all,
and this route would also serve me better in trying to visit as many states as possible. About 40 miles north of Birmingham I was chugging along quite happily in the humid air when I got stuck behind a slow-moving slug bug. There wasn't enough room to get over and pass and I was forced to wait until two semis and numerous other cars all slowly made their way by while I was left waiting and cursing behind the bug. Frustrated and anxious, when a spot finally opened up for me to move to the left and get around the beetle, despite my better judgement and underlying knowledge that my clutch was on the edge, I dropped the transmission into a revving 3rd gear, snapped back the clutch and put my right foot to the floor. However, rather than my truck lurching forward in an excited display of power and machismo, I had nothing. Absolutely nothing, except for a screaming VVVRROOOOOOMMMMMM!!!! coming from below. The truck acted as if the clutch pedal was still fully depressed and the tachometer quickly shot up to an impressive 5000 RPM. Fuck. Let's try going back to 4th. VROOOOOOMMMMM!!!! Same thing. Fuck! Maybe 3rd
again, a little more gently. VVVVVROOOMMMMMM!!! Nothing again. Fuck fuck fuuuck!!!! I put my flashers on and drifted to the right, the smell of burning somethingorother filling the cab. FUUUUCCKKK!!!
Sweet. Middle of nowhere Alabama. Drizzy weather. 3 days to get back to Denver. And no clutch. Awesome. (Right about this point my steering wheel took a couple swift punches, as well.) I sat motionless in the cab for a few moments, thoughtless, speechless, listening to the rush of traffic flying by and the click click click of the emergency flashers, fearing what the hell the burning smell was emanating off of. Not that I knew what I was looking for, nor what to do with whatever that may be if I even found it, but I got out and took a look under the hood, then slid myself halfway under the truck to look at the undercarriage. No flames. No smoke. No dragging or obviously tattered pieces of metal. No Gremlins. No hipsters. Back in the cab I sent a few panicked text messages. A rest area was 3/4 mile ahead, so I decided to go ahead and see if I could at least make it there as to not
be on the side of a busy freeway. My faithful friend started right up with no funny sounds or smells - step 1. Clutch down, 1st gear, gently release... and we have forward movement - step 2! Dare we try 2nd gear? Yes, let's. Success - step 3! Not daring to try over 35 mph I cruised along the shoulder, made it to the rest stop and pulled in to a pleasant looking spot. I got out and just walked around for a few minutes to relax and gather myself. I poured in the 1/2 quart of oil from the plastic jug that was wedged against the edge of the engine compartment. Why not, right? "Well, I made it 3/4 of a mile at 35 mph. I don't want to get a tow or new clutch at this point unless I absolutely need to. Never say die! 1300 miles left to Denver. Even if I had to go the whole way at 35 miles an hour with my flashers on, I could make it in 37 hours and still be there in time for the party Saturday night. Let's do it!"
I have never been so proud of my delightful beast of a truck! Not until I actually got in to the city of Nashville and had to accelerate and maneuver quickly did the clutch slip. Not once in 150 beautifully wooded country miles! I was sure she was a goner. However, I could only accelerate about as quickly as a loaded semi truck, especially if I was on any kind of incline. I described the feeling as trying to pull a stack of lead with a tissue. Is it possible? Sure. But if you try to go just a little too fast, pull just a tiny bit too much, your tool of movement is torn to shreds and you are just left with a pretty much useless pile of forged earth. It is also times like these that lead me to believe that though lacking respiratory, nervous, or circulatory systems, our vehicles are very much alive and very much sentient and respond to our treatment (or mistreatment), just as any other sentient being.
As with many destinations on my journey, I had a friend in Nashville. Actually, we only ever spent time together once about 8 years ago, as it was really our mothers who were the good friends. Mothers. Aspiring matchmakers. You know how it goes. Grace moved to Nashville to pursue her singing, and I was looking forward to getting a little more of an insider's scoop to Music City. She had to work into the early evening, so she recommended that I start where any Nashville tourist would start - Broadway.
I landed one of the best parking spaces in all of Nashville, which, by the way, has one of the most unique and intriguing skylines I have seen, much thanks to the Batman Building (I doubt anybody actually knows what the building really is - kind of like the Cash Register Building in Denver). Living up to its name, live music was seeping out of every open door, and attempting to bust down the closed doors from the inside to shout to the people on the streets. "Come on in!" they say. "Have a beer and sing along to your favorite top hits!" Within seconds of entering my first Nashville bar I was approached by a lovely little blonde damsel who asked if I wanted a beer. "Um... yes!" Good parking, good skyline, good music, good women, good service... I could get used to this! Over the next few hours I worked my way up and down Broadway, taking down each beer slowly as to not get myself sloshed before... well... before whatever the hell I was going to do next.
Now, please forgive me, for even though the energy was intense, the music was polished, and the drinks were cheap - this main strip of Nashville sorely reminded me of 6th Street in Austin, or of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, or maybe even a past relationship or two - great fun for the first two or three hours, but then you've kind of seen it all and it gets old. A bar is a bar. A live cover band is a live cover band. A drink special is a drink special. And it's tough to not look like a tourist when it is guaranteed that every person on the street is a tourist. As I have done in Austin and New Orleans (and found the most incredible places!), I wanted to get a few blocks of the grid. Thanks to my "smart" phone, I found an alley called Printers Alley with a music venue called Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar. How could you go wrong with that?! Making my way to the sketchy entrance of the alley, I turned in, and was soon face to face with advertisements for topless dancers and topless comedians, cabaret and cleavage. My my. Not that I am opposed to any of those things, but I had the instant thought that it wasn't quite what I was looking for. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto (that's next entry). Saved by the bell... er, ring. It was Grace. "Hello? ... Hey! ... Yeah, it's great down here! I just stumbled across Printer's Alley - ever heard of it? ... Yeah, I just found that out!"
I met her at her house and we were off to have, in her opinion, the best tacos in Nashville. The last time I had seen Grace, she, as myself at the time, was very religious. I wasn't sure what to expect, nor how much to hold my tongue, but was relieved when, finding out that it was 2 for 1 margarita night, she ordered a double. Bueno! Don't get me wrong, she was not as 'backslidden' as her long lost company, but had definitely gotten over and left behind the legalism and confinements of the typical organized Christianity. We spoke much of our faith, our paths, the 'Christian life', of God, of growth and change, and what we wanted out of and aspired to in life.
Many times on my travels this has happened: spending time with someone for the first time in many years but, in spite of the time and change (and really, perhaps because of the time and change), being able to meet them on a pure, genuine, meaningful level. I've come to notice and believe that we attract people to us who are on similar journeys, and I think that traveling amplifies this phenomenon (anyone who has done a significant amount of traveling will vouch for this). When we are seeking something, whether we know what we seek or not, or even if we don't know that we even are seeking, we draw to us people and interactions that act as mirrors that give us answers, experiences that we can learn from. We see in others the changes we want to make in ourselves. We see the joy in others that we are on the brink of finding or creating for ourselves, perhaps receiving from them that final bit of inspiration. We see the faults in others that we dare not but know we must face in ourselves. Likewise, if we do not love ourselves, nor will the people that we surround ourselves with. Though if we realize that we are worthy of love and treat ourselves accordingly, we will attract others who will treat us the same.
Most of the next day was spent near Belmont University. Bongo Java - a coffee shop in an old ranch home, where you must get a discount if you are a hipster (see my The Woman New York and They Love The Govna entries for more info on hipsters). A couple hours reading and playing guitar in the warm fall Tennessee sunshine. And then sushi with Grace and her lovely friend Emily. After dinner and a drink or two we were waiting for the check to come out. Emily, who had somewhat illegally parked behind the restaurant, commented "I hope I didn't get towed." Anyone who knows me well may know how I enjoy puns, dadisms, and bad word plays (I can already feel a few readers rolling their eyes and laughing). So, having this trait, and wanting to be funny, my mind went in to immediate action: "towed, well, that's like toe... what else is like a toe... ah! a finger!" And then, without thinking, and only realizing as the words came out of my mouth what I was actually saying, I responded to Emily's concern with, "I dunno, but you might get finger-ed!" Yep. It's true. I actually said that. Toe, finger ==> towed, fingered... you can see where I went wrong. Really wrong. And to make matters worse, the very moment I said this, our waitress was just getting to the table with our checks. Three women - shocked, aghast, in disbelief - as I frantically tried to back peddle and explain my haphazardly oblivious process of thought. We had a good little laugh about it, and I believe I was able to convince them all that I am not a pervert, just an idiot. 😊
Emily went home to go to bed (or she was just afraid of what the hell else I might say), but Grace and I took a short jaunt down to one of Nashville's finest dive bars - the Villager Tavern. My two dinner companions had warned me how bad (but at the same time awesome) this place was. The streetside entrance hardly noticeable, interior walls wallpapered with hundreds or random photographs and posters and signs, the top two feet of the room laden in thick cigarette smoke, dart boards in back, inconsistent lighting that made you either squint from trying to see what was in front of you or squint from trying to block out the glaring light, and a bartender who looked like she didn't give a shit. Yes. This is my kind of place! Grace told me a Legend of an old Villager regular of many years back. An aspiring (but mostly failing, as with most) musician, he relied on paying for his alcoholic tendencies with a bar tab instead of with cash. Perhaps to allow himself to move to another town and try his musical luck elsewhere, he paid up his bar tab one day - not with cash - but with a song that he had written about that very bar. His payment was accepted, thus relinquishing his rights to the song, and he was gone. How the song went from the bar owner's hands to where it is now, the Legend tells not, but it went on to make millions, becoming one of the most famous, most respected, most loved, and most identified with songs of our generation. The song? Heh. None other than Friends in Low Places, of course. Forsaken for a measly bar tab.
The Legend of the Villager Tavern misfortune still haunting my weary mind, I graced Grace's couch with my weary body. Only two nights and one full day bleeding over to either end spent in Nashville, but enough to titillate my palette and leave me, as with most stopping points over the past few months, wanting more. I made new friends, discovered new places... low places... all of which I long to see again.
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