The Great Southern Escapade, Day 10: Saint Dolly can’t save us in Nashville

Would that we could have spent more time in Memphis. We could have visited the museums dedicated to blues and soul, tried more local barbecue, explored the rap scene. (I for one would love to get into Memphis horrorcore, although I know I’m not built for Memphis horrorcore.) But alas, Nashville called our name with a tongue as terrible and dark as most demons.

So Becca and I slept in a bit, and we woke up later in the morning in our cozy studio in Memphis on the tenth day of our escapade. We were greeted with a full stock of coffee pods and wrapped breakfast foods to energize us for the short three-hour drive east. After coffee and Pop-Tarts, we got our things together and said our farewells to Pixie and Richard, thanking them for a wonderful stay.

We didn’t make any big stops on the way to Nashville, so we arrived there at just after noon, pulling right into the heart of Downtown and stashing the car in a parking garage near Broadway. The lights of Nashville’s main stretch were blaring even though the sun was still up; it reminded us of home, of Times Square, albeit at a smaller scale. But despite that size, the population density wasn’t too far from New York’s busiest neighborhoods. Throngs of tourists filled the sidewalks, clogged up the stores, raised glasses at Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock ‘n Roll Steakhouse.

I would like to report that many of these folks wore masks or showed vaccine proof before going into any of Downtown Nashville’s fine institutions. I cannot. Becca and I stood almost alone in our pandemic precautions.

Regardless, we braved the packed aisles of Boot Country so that Becca could get her two free pairs of cowboy boots. Yes, Boot Country’s many locations across Tennessee and the South offer a buy-one-get-two deal on pairs of boots. Becca therefore picked up three pairs for a hair over three hundred dollars, a steal. Being among the masses in such a tight-packed store was a bit concerning, but she took her time surfing the shelves so that she could find the right pairs for herself and for her mom.

After sifting through the fracas of cowboy boot fanaticism, Becca and I drove out of Downtown and headed over to Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish, a hot chicken spot famous in Nashville. It’s notable for appearing on Buzzfeed’s Worth It many moons ago as the “budget” option, and while no one will balk at the price of a breast quarter ($12), they won’t believe the taste they get. We sure didn’t; Becca got the medium spice while I got the hot, and both of us marveled at the juiciness and tenderness of the chicken, the crisp of the skin, the flavor of the spice. Becca said that the medium was too hot for her, although she ate the whole thing. I am a glutton for spice and therefore I did not care that my mouth caught on fire from eating an entire breast of truly hot chicken. There were white bread slices and pickles to wash it all down. I was fine.

You bet we had us some Dr. Peppers with this hot chicken.

After lunch, we drove up to our hotel, the Graduate Nashville, and rolled our stuff up to the eighth floor where our room greeted us. The hotel – like most Graduate-brand hotels – reflected the city culture, and with cowboy boots in the carpet pattern and country music playing in the halls, this hotel was no exception. But nothing beat our room, in which a portrait of Saint Dolly Parton herself hung above the bed. Recipes from Dolly’s own cookbook were on the wall over the desk. She was giving her blessings to us, and we bowed before her image, praying that she would save us from any germ-spreading folks we encountered downtown that evening.

The hotel caters to a more hip crowd, and its rooftop bar White Limozeen calls to all Instagram influencers who visit. Set up for Christmas, you can tell that during the warmer months so many folks who care about their engagement numbers flock to this spot to take pictures of themselves floating in the pool with their cocktails, standing by the wire sculpture of Dolly’s head, getting a panorama view of Nashville while dressed in their designer outfits. Becca and I spent more dough on a dozen oysters and two drinks than we had on most full meals throughout our trip. Needless to say, we didn’t hang around for too long, as we knew there were more affordable options for dinner just down the road.

But before we grabbed dinner, we took an Uber just outside of downtown to Rebel Yell Tattoo and Social Club so that Becca could get some new ink by which to remember our trip. This is where we learned – although we should have already known – that Nashville is not a walking city. While Becca was getting her new tattoo, I went out to a convenience store to get her a bottle of water and something to snack on while in the chair. It was only a ten minute walk, which I didn’t mind being a New Yorker who walks almost everywhere. But that length of a walk in Nashville differs greatly from that same walk in New York. When I returned to the tattoo shop much later, all of the artists looked at me like I had three heads. It was as if I had ventured into Mordor.

With Becca’s appointment done, we caught a ride over to Music Row, where we grabbed dinner at Hopsmith’s, a hip joint which was offering trivia and showing the Liberty Bowl. We ordered Nashville hot chicken tacos, which were stuffed with by no means authentic hot chicken, although they tasted just fine. We also grabbed a drink here, not expecting to order any alcohol downtown, due to prices and hesitance to take our masks down in the crowd.

Again forgetting that Nashville does not treat walkers well, we hoofed it a mile back downtown, at least working off dinner. We didn’t expect to do much downtown; our plan was to wander up and down the strip and hear some music, maybe grab another snack, and then head back to the hotel.

But folks, I cannot express to you our disappointment regarding our experience downtown that night. And keep in mind: This shouldn’t dissuade you from visiting Nashville. The city doesn’t owe us anything, and we will certainly go back there someday when we have more time. But in our one night of adventure in Nashville, the following events plagued us:

Folks, every band that plays in Nashville’s downtown bars and clubs is a cover band with a handful of songs under their belt. We sat just outside the Lucky Bastard Saloon and listened to the band perform a song, and then we heard the band in the club across the street start performing that same song. It’s cool that bars have their windows open so that you can hear the music from outside, but hearing different bands play the same song one after another is tiring. (No offense to the band, Holy Lightning. They gave it their all on the stage. Don’t hate the player, hate the game!)

Not a single person outdoors or indoors wore a mask. Nowhere checked for vaccine proof. I get it; Tennessee’s politicians have a vendetta against mandates and such, and folks visiting Nashville tend to come from areas of the country that don’t care for the pandemic too much. But by God, I know where Nashville’s perplexing COVID numbers in early January came from. I’m surprised but thankful Becca and I didn’t wake up the next morning filled with illness. It was thick in the air, I’m sure.

Speaking of masks, some dickhead with a terrible mustache and a sweaty demeanor saw Becca and I weaving through the crowded sidewalks and yelled at us as we walked past, “Wearing a mask? Why?” He asked it as if we had just chopped off his hand. I wanted to respond: “Out of spite.” But before I could, he had disappeared into the crowd behind me, and therefore he had disappeared from my mind.

After only about a full hour of wandering around downtown, we decided to throw in the towel and head back to the hotel. We saw some scooters on the sidewalk, and thought that it would be more fun and less work to ride those back to the hotel instead of walk. But the scooters needed to be activated through an app, and when we downloaded the app, it said that the scooters were “sleeping” and wouldn’t be available to unlock until the next morning. Frustrated and unwilling to shell out more money for another Uber, we sucked it up and walked the mile back to the hotel, cursing downtown behind us all the while.

I’ll tell you, folks: We had the most fun in Nashville sitting in our bed underneath our portrait of Dolly and eating snacks. Again, we don’t feel like we gave Nashville a fair shot. We went in the middle of a pandemic, gave it just one night when it needs at least two, and explored probably the worst part of Nashville according to many locals. So we’ll go back one day and really give Nashville the trip it deserves. It deserves a lot more of our love.

But sitting in bed that night, we were cursing Nashville and looking forward to our final stop in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Many had asked us our reasons for visiting a small city along the Ohio River. We had mainly one. While Dolly Parton was our saint, she could not protect us from the dark cloud hovering over Nashville. Therefore, we needed to pay a visit to our true savior, our guide in our times of greatest need, the spirit who hides in the shadows and waits for his moment to show us the light.

For Point Pleasant is the home of the Mothman. You’ll meet him soon. You’ll meet a whole lot of fine folks from Point Pleasant real soon.

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