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, shes 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.
Alissas 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 OConner from memory. Shes got a dark undercurrent that reminds me of why theres a Southern Gothic but no Western or Northern equivalent. She can re-tell stories from relatives and friends that include lines like We didnt know hed had a heart attack .it werent no peculiar thing to find Daddy passed out on the living room floor Shes a good person to visit.
Nashvilles 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, thats what gave her excuse enough to finally get the hell out of NYC. Im still looking for mine.
Nashvilles also got music, and Im sure youve heard all about that. I dont have much interest in big-label country, and fortunately neither does Alissa, so we didnt make it to the Grand Ole Opry. Theres 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 couldve 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. Its a funny contrast to New York, where itd be tough to come up with a small venue (other than CBGB) thats managed to stay profitable for more than 5 years without big corporate backing. We dont take our tunes quite as seriously I suppose, or else were 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 Alissas 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 thats 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 itd 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. Its huge, its west of town a little ways, on the way to Alissas 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 youre 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 (theres 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.