North America | United States of America (USA) | Southern States | Tennessee | Nashville – Waffle House Culture

North America | United States of America (USA) | Southern States | Tennessee | Nashville – Waffle House Culture

Three days for Nashville.

I went to Nashville because I have a friend there, her name is Alissa. She used to live in New York, but like most everyone in New York, she’s from somewhere else, and like plenty of people in New York, she had to go back home eventually. Or if not home, somewhere reminiscent of it.

Alissa’s from Alabama, and is maybe the most Southern person I know, in all the best ways. She drinks whiskey and knows barbecue and can quote Faulkner and Flannery O’Conner from memory. She’s got a dark undercurrent that reminds me of why there’s a “Southern Gothic” but no Western or Northern equivalent. She can re-tell stories from relatives and friends that include lines like “We didn’t know he’d had a heart attack….it weren’t no peculiar thing to find Daddy passed out on the living room floor…” She’s a good person to visit.

Nashville’s still a ways from Birmingham, where Alissa grew up (“The South is bigger than you think, Carl,” she warned me when I first called her up with my driving plans). It does have Vanderbilt University though, one of the better liberal arts schools in the country, the one that gave her a full ride scholarship to study literature. In the end, that’s what gave her excuse enough to finally get the hell out of NYC. I’m still looking for mine.

Nashville’s also got music, and I’m sure you’ve heard all about that. I don’t have much interest in big-label country, and fortunately neither does Alissa, so we didn’t make it to the Grand Ole Opry. There’s plenty besides though, in the form of blues, jazz and the biggest alt-country scene in the US. We spent our first night in town driving all the way to the other side of the city searching out what might have been the best barbecue in the county, with Alissa pointing out little live music joints housed in residential neighborhoods, in the backs of bars, in strip malls. None of the them could’ve held more than 200 people by the looks of them, and plenty had been around for 20 years or more. The barbecue joint was closed that night, by the way; we ended up getting gumbo and jazz at a place she knew on the way back. It’s a funny contrast to New York, where it’d be tough to come up with a small venue (other than CBGB) that’s managed to stay profitable for more than 5 years without big corporate backing. We don’t take our tunes quite as seriously I suppose, or else we’re more fickle.

I do love Uncle Tupelo though, and have a healthy respect for plenty of singer/songwriters that made it big in the little rooms of Nashville: Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams, Allison Krauss, plenty of others. Among Alissa’s good stories are a couple about running into some of them over bacon and eggs at a Waffle House at 3 in the morning. This is significant of a truth across the South: there are plenty of late-night people, but not a lot of late night places. Except for Waffle House, which in lots of small towns, and parts of big towns, is the only thing that’s open after midnight, so people who are still awake at 3am tend to concentrate there.

Besides Waffle House at 3am, here are some other unexpected things for a visitor to do in Nashville:

-Go to the Parthenon. Some wealthy people in Nashville a while back thought it’d be good to have a Parthenon, so they built one. There are signs on the highway pointing toward it – they say “To the Parthenon” and have a little arrow and a picture of the Parthenon.

-Go to the Hindu Temple. It’s huge, it’s west of town a little ways, on the way to Alissa’s apartment complex, and it looks precisely the same as ones in southern India.

-Get barbecue to go. Nashville has gorgeous barbecue for cheap, and you can pick up big Styrofoam cups of it to take home, along with another Styrofoam cup of beans, one of collard greens, and a complementary plastic bag of hamburger buns. Hamburger buns appear to be the staple bread product of the South. Shiner Bock is the official beer of barbecue, by the way — cheap and better than Bud.

-Go shopping for used clothes and used CDs. A big student population, lots of professional performers, and a slightly hip sensibility have combined to make Nashville an especially good spot for this. I bought three shirts and a pair of bellbottoms which I still wear constantly, and a huge stack of $6 CDs. I had to wait in line behind a bunch of English tourists in cowboy hats to get the CDs, but the owners of the shop (Great Escape, if you’re interested) gave everyone a 20% discount to celebrate the fact that this huge tour bus full of country music obsessed Brits decided to stop off there.

-Go eat some more. This time, find a Meat and Three joint (there’s actually a classification by that name in Nashville restaurant guides). It means a place where you sit down, pick your Meat (ham steak, fried chicken, etc.) and then choose three sides from a list on the laminated menu (mac & cheese, fried okra, coleslaw, etc.). The place we went was something like 60 years old, had really good food, and a meal that lasted the rest of the day for seven bucks.

-Go see some live music of course.

Category : North America | United States of America (USA) | Southern States | Tennessee | Nashville , Uncategorized