Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Boomtown Showdown

[This blog post specially for Nick Murphy.]

Nashville is booming. There are cranes everywhere. Renewal is all around. Research says the hotels are more expensive than NYC. Apartment rents are sky-high. (Allegedly the largest U.S. city without a long-distance passenger railroad connection.) If America is making a comeback it is happening here.

Up early in Toronto on a snowy Christmas morning. Catch the blue night bus right outside our apartment, 06:48 direct to Pearson Airport, $1.95 seniors ticket. In about 30 minutes we are at check-in. Through U.S. Passport check with minimum hassle. Both flight and customs procedures now semi-automated. Long walk to gate A6e.
We board Westjet flight WS360 for Nashville. The Bombardier Q400 Nextgen aircraft is full. Depart 09:45, fifteen minutes late. A jolly Christmas mood prevails. We leave the white Christmas of Toronto behind. Sipping two Canadian Molson beers on the flight.
Arrive Nashville airport, the Gibson guitars are still in their display cases, just as I remembered them. Catch Jarmon shuttle bus to hotel - $55 return for two people. Dave, the driver, is not on his normal run to Kentucky, picking up soldier boys from Fort Campbell. We arrive at the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriot, Nashville Downtown/The Gulch, 901 Division Street, Nashville, TN. High of 73°F.
We walk downtown via the Broadway. Everywhere is closed. We catch the free bus which goes all round the town. The driver is plagued by down-and-outs. We hop off at The Gulch, declining a four-course Christmas lunch at the Marsh House, $72 per head. It begins to look like McDonald's! One last throw of the dice and we head for the Union Station Hotel, where we luck out, lunching at the bar in the fabulous foyer. Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese, Spinach Salad and Grilled Chicken Sandwich, $36.14 plus tip. Back at McDonald's we buy some milk.
After time out, we head for the Station Inn for some old-timey live bluegrass music. No entry charge on Xmas night for the jam session. Drinking $4 Yuengling beers from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, $12 pizza to share. Short walk back to hotel.
26th: Walkabout in The Gulch: checking out Arnold's Country Kitchen, Carter Vintage Guitars, Downtown Antiques. Walk via Rosa L. Parks Boulevard to the Tenncare Building (former Bureau of Medicaid), an old government building now sadly being demolished. Nearby is the Hilton Homestead Suites, where Billy Ray Cyrus rents studio space. We backtrack to Tin Cup Coffee in the Horton Building, 136 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard. A trip to the Tourist Information Visitor Centre is followed by a pleasant lunch at Wild Wasabi, Cummins Station, with the Dunn family.
We check out a used bookstore where I purchase: "The Last Lap - The Life and Times of NASCAR's Legendary Heroes" by Peter Golenbock, 1998 hardback, well sold at $15. A couple of howlers in the book - he can't spell Carroll Shelby (error repeated in the index) or Dick Hutcherson (he becomes Hutchinson in photo captions). Golenbock relies too heavily on interviews without supporting research. He does however detect the rigged nature of NASCAR racing, which tarnishes their back story. The author is not a car guy in any real sense. Overall a potboiler.
Supper at City Fire, 610 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203: shrimp and grits, followed by Apple Crisp, Chocolate Bread Pudding à la mode, Yuengling beer, $71.08 including tip. We ask our server, Meshach Jackson, a test question: what is the difference between a mandolin and a dobro? His detailed reply gives away the fact that he is a musician and songwriter, as we suspected.
27th: Walk to Belmont Mansion, 1900 Belmont Boulevard, Nashville, TN 37212, via Music Row, Vanderbilt University. We take coffee at Provence Breads & Cafe, 1705 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212. We blunder into Bookman-Bookwoman, 1713 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212, next door and already on our to-do list. We discover it is closing after 21 years. Annette scores eight paperback books for $8 (valued at $64).
After Belmont Mansion tour, $12 each, we take #17 bus along 12th Avenue South to Division Street. Subway takeaway lunch.
Evening walk to Bridgestone Arena where the Nashville Predators are playing the Minnesota Wild in the NHL. The Preds lose 2-3 in sudden death overtime. Also present: Peter Frampton; Vince Gill (singing backup with the Gypsy Rose covers band). $10 Stella beers, ouch! They insist on checking my ID - the second time I say: "I'm still 65!" Politically correct lawyers gone mad.
28th: Tour of the Downtown Antique market, next to the railroad tracks. Early lunch at Arnold's Country Kitchen, 605 8th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203. They say you can't have have fast, cheap and good. Wrong. Arnold's has southern food to die for! Fried catfish, baked squash, stewed okra and black eyed peas. Get there early to beat the crowds.
We catch the free green bus to Walgreen's, where we score half-price Walker's shortbread biscuits among the Xmas remainders. I send a solitary postcard from the Post Office in the old arcade. We avoid the George Jones and Johnny Cash museums. Supper at Otaku Ramen in the Gulch: Veggie Miso, Donburi Hot Chicken fusion.
29th: Breakfast at Slow Hand Coffee, 300A 10th Ave South, Nashville: coffee and "Basic Biscuit," a zesty cheddar scone. Two buses to the Piggly Wiggly at Dickerson and Cleveland, 85 cents for seniors. This is Food Stamp country. A sign on the door says: "Free ride in a police car for shoplifters." "Take on Me" by A-ha is playing. Carroll Shelby turns up again with his own-brand Chili. I note the food carts are all from Home Depot.
We take the bus back to town and walk some distance to Marathon Village, an old factory that is home-from-home to the American Pickers TV show, spotted from a distance by the old water tower. Lunch at The Frist Museum, BBQ pork sandwich, good value for two at $21.08 plus tip. Taxi back to hotel - we have walked far enough.
30th: We have been wondering where folks in The Gulch get their groceries, when we spot Turnip Truck, hawking "Urban Fare." We take the #5 bus to the Piggly Wiggly at 2900 West End Ave. Annette is thrilled with a Piggly Wiggly souvenir shopping bag at $1.99. You can't beat a good groceteria. We walk on to The Parthenon, a giant replica of the real thing, in a park. Why bother to go all the way to Athens when you have a facsimile right there in Nashville, which is in much better shape and devoid of panhandlers? Tee shirt: "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard."
Rite-Aid is beckoning with the never-ending quest for Goldenberg's Peanut Chews. "Chewing it old school." We are relieved to find Philly's finest at $1 a pack of eleven. Across the street to Barnes and Noble bookstore. Half price diary at $5, made by Gallery Leather, 27 Industrial Way, Trenton, Maine 04605. I feel I have made a small contribution to keeping Americans in employment. I also buy the book "Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed" by John F. Ross, remaindered at $6.98.
We walk back to the Gulch via Vanderbilt University, where the Robin has set up home for the winter on the lawns. I've never seen so many. We lunch at Sambuca, a cavernous bar: soup followed by fish and chips, grilled polenta, $30.24 plus tip.
In the evening we walk to the Lower Broadway for the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl "Downtown Showdown." The Nashville Volunteers, (the Vols, UofT football), have defeated the Nebraska Huskers, 38-24, at the Nissan Stadium. The crowds are streaming across the bridge over the Cumberland River to celebrate on the Broadway, Nashville's honky-tonk heaven. $6 cans of beer are on sale from stalls, no ID check, no problem drinking outdoors.
To get the party started we have the band Locash, low-rent rockers, who feature songs about trucks and getting drunk. After some redneck buffoonery - "Hey bubba, why are you wearing sunglasses in the dark?" - we head for the warmth of the bar at the Westin Hotel for supper and a Yazoo beer, $48.18 plus tip.
31st: Next morning it it all going too well as the Jarmon bus picks us up at the hotel at 08:30. At the airport I realise I have lost my notebook for the trip. A frantic search for the bus and I can see my book through the window. We locate the lady driver who unlocks the bus and my sanity is restored. A lucky save. Turns out our flight is delayed so we are treated to another rendition of "Frosty the Snowman." Don't rock the jukebox.

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