Visit Nashville… or Not!

Nashville Skyline

I decided to visit Nashville. Driving from Virginia Beach to Austin, Texas is about a 23 hour drive. I know I can drive about 16 hours with two (2) pit stops… in general, with little issue. I planned to drive I 95 down the Eastern Coast then head South to avoid bad weather. I’d shoot through ‘Nawlins to see some friends, then head for Texas, driving to Austin via Houston (which is always an iffy bet)

After the sudden freeze and snow along the Southern route made the mid South route seem no more appealing, I found that heading semi diagonal through the US, was a better plan. This new route would bring me through Tennessee, allowing me to stay a night and visit Nashville or Memphis.

The chance to visit Nashville or Memphis, both places that, in all my US and world travels, I had only ever passed through, seemed a more expeditious, as well as a more interesting drive plan. Although the distance was a little longer, research suggested that stopping to visit Nashville, would be the fastest route this time of year. So… I decided to visit Nashville. I should have chosen Memphis!

As soon as I crossed the border to Tennessee, people started driving like assholes. And yes, I found out later that it wasn’t just me. Tennessee is on the top 10 worst places to drive list repeatedly year after year. According to a 2016 SmartAsset  study.

Tennessee is one of the least insured states in the country, with 20% of people not having car insurance. Tennessee also has the 18th highest number of deaths per thousand drivers. One positive is that they are in the better half of the country for DUI per thousand drivers at 5.7.

I was  not sure if it was due to the Holidays or if Tennessee drivers are just dicks. I’ve traversed thousands upon thousands of driving miles, just this year alone, through various states and countries, and I can tell you definitively, there was an obvious change in driving style and courtesy immediately upon entering the state of Tennessee. It was not a pleasant change.

The weather turned. The sky grew dim. The rain came down, and it seemed as if half of the drivers were distracted on their phone or trying to force me off the road. Crammed between construction barriers in a torrential downpour, after 14 hours of driving with a meowing cat. Cement barriers to my left with dual cab semi’s to my right, that swayed perilously close to me either carelessly or due to wind, so I kept my fingers clamped tightly around the steering wheel and my face close to the windshield for quite some time. Man! I was glad to discover that my AirBnB was finally near at hand and I was excited for the chance to get some time out of the car and the chance to visit Nashville the next day.

The AirBnB was a bit on the outskirts of where people tend to most like to visit Nashville. Although technically still Nashville, it was more like an older suburban neighborhood. The area was a mix of older houses, some beautifully maintained some quite ramshackle with cars on cinder blocks and garbage in their yard. Fairly high up on a curvy hill, it overlooked whatever the Hell was behind it. At night it was just some pretty twinkling lights to me. I was so grateful to find a comfortable and warm space for me and my critters to chill after the intense drive.

Not Nashville
Not Nashville

Although quite a nice place, I did note that it was the first AirBnB   (of many stays) with an active alarm system. The note mentioning no parties, since people tend to visit Nashville for bachelorette & bachelor parties, caused a bright red flag to shoot up in my head. I’d seen such warnings before. Fort Lauderdale when it was at its very shittiest, Tijuana, at its very shittiest too, Cabo at its shittiest of already shitty points. Yeah I ‘ve seen it before.

I’ve found  that places that tend to invite such type parties are for those who cannot afford Vegas. Often these locals were heralded as cool party towns for far too long, had turned to shit from all of the parties and were now cheap, dirty, loud, depressing hasbeens. I have been to more than one of these Hell holes, over marketed by those that had jumped onto the ‘make money out of the party’ bandwagon. Yet I hoped for the best this time. The AirBnB was pleasant. I fed the animals and we settled in and slept well. I planned to explore and visit Nashville in the morning.

Bachelorette Party

I debated visiting Loveless Cafe which is often first on the list when you visit Nashville, although actually on the outskirts. Every review indicated a tourist trap, but I decided to give it a shot.

Nowhere near downtown. Historic and at times infamous by its reviews, even two (2) days before Xmas the parking lot was packed. I lucked out and it was a short wait. (One of the many bonuses of solo travel). The wait staff was pleasant enough. The food was just ok. There was really nothing special about any of it for me. Beyond some cool pics of the iconic sign, it was pretty much an out of the way drive, for an adequate over priced breakfast. But maybe it was me. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Loveless Cafe

Nashville Downtown 

I’d read that it’s a bitch to try and park near Lower Broadway when you visit Nashville. But found that you can park for free on or around Titans Way by the Nissan stadium, on non event or non game days. (If unsure you can often find a parking control person driving around the area to ask)

Today, often mistaken for the Cumberland Pedestrian Bridge, the former Sparkman Street bridge, built in 1907-09, is now the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge and it is an easy walk across from the stadium to downtown where most wish to visit Nashville, culminating only blocks from “Lower Broad”

There are a fair amount of steps up to the bridge, but it is handicap ramped and it has elevators at both sides (that are not always working). It is worthy to note that there are plenty of places along the bridge to sit and rest if stamina is a concern.

John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge
John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge

The bridge offers really nice views and photo opportunities lending to great pics when you visit Nashville. I strolled along stopping to get some skyline shots and took note that I had passed 3 or 4 cops in the short time I had been in the area. I thought it a bit unusual to notice so many police, midday on a weekday, but at the moment I didn’t think about it much.

Nashville’s skyline is pretty nice. Especially the building that looks sorta like Batman. (Turns out that building is indeed known affectionately as the Batman building).

I spent some time shooting the city and the bridge then began to journey down the latter half of a bridge. I could see a cop standing on the sidewalk next to a garbage can and a big bottle of bleach as I approached the end. As I neared “Please move to the other side of the walkway” plump cop barked at me. I had no reason not to oblige. I wondered if it was the bleach bottle that had him concerned and kept on trucking.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center RootlessRoutes Nashville 201

Upon crossing the bridge the first building you may notice is the Schermerhorn Symphony building. It’s New Classical style, not to be mistaken for the Parthenon in Centennial Park, which is more Greek Revival and equally odd for a downtown in deep South America, and the country music center of the US.

I turned right at the bottom of the bridge and in a couple of blocks found myself on the neon lit street of Honky Tonks on Broadway (Lower Broad). Reminiscent of Austin’s 6th street, but far more vibrant and… well… Western. The phosphorescent like glow of the renowned “Lower Broad” street humming with Nashville’s notable country western signage calls to you, as you near the street most often lauded as the heart of “Music city” and likely the most important stop for those that come to visit Nashville.

Being so close to Christmas and a colder, grey day, I was surprised to find the sidewalk was still moderately busy with tourists. I imagine it was likely quieter than usual. As I passed the construction barriers and eyed the cranes above I couldn’t help but feel a sense of resentment towards what felt to me to be a sort of pseudo countrified gentrification or sterilization of the place, similar to what happened to Austin, Texas.

I did not enter the Johnny Cash Museum (although I am quite the fan) and slipped by the Patsy Cline Museum as well. It just all felt so very contrived to me. Maybe it was me, but it all sort of felt like the “Disney” version of what this infamous street once was known to be. Maybe not quite “white washed” but as if a bunch of people from LA and Brooklyn had taken over these grand old institutions and had reinvented them into more effective and likely more money making, shells of what they used to be. Maybe I just have a bad taste in my mouth from what happened to Austin. Or maybe after weeks of travel, I was just having an off day for myself. But I just wasn’t feeling Nashville at all.

Lower Broad
Lower Broad (Broadway) Nashville 2017

I walked the entire strip, once more taking note of the surprising amount of police. (which is quite unlike Austin), took a few pics and decided I just wasn’t feeling it and headed back for the bridge.

I took a different street back landing me one street shy of the bridge entrance and was surprised to find a rather large homeless encampment right under the bridge. Passing a posse of bicycle cops as I navigated my way to the bridge entrance, I noted one more time, the seemingly enormous amount of police presence. There seemed to be cop lurking at every corner.

Johnny Cash Museum
3rd Ave S Nashville TN 2017

Turning onto the bridge I came face to face with 6 or 7 more cops and the area I had been detoured around earlier was now festooned with yellow caution tape. Going around whatever the Hell was going on over there, I found myself drawn back to the rather pretty city skyline and paused to take more pictures at the midpoint on the bridge that offered rather pleasing views of the stadium to the right and the city to the left.

Two young women were peering over the bridge down towards the water. Their intent gazes drew my eye to whatever it was that had them so entranced. Below to the right, by the greened area between the stadium and the river I saw to tiny spots of activity on the cement canal way at the water’s edge. Leaning against the railway I peered down at the orange and black dots to discover what appeared to be two (2) dogs eating something they’d pulled from the river. Due to the height and distance, even with my phones camera lens zoomed, I could not fully make out what was going on down there. So I decided to investigate.

Crime Scenes & Packs of Feral Dogs

I noticed a couple before me walking their dog, appeared to be headed to the waters edge like me and figured that they were checking out the situation as well. We spoke momentarily and they asked me if I had passed the crime scene? “Crime scene?” I questioned, having earlier surmised it was simply a suspicious container issue.

“Yes,” said the woman quite matter of factly, “there was blood everywhere.”

“No shit” I thought as I mentioned the dogs to the couple. They hadn’t noticed them, but proceeded to walk with me in the dogs direction.

Once in view I could tell it was an older golden retriever and a young black dog, eating what appeared to be the very dry and ragged remains of a duck.

The retriever looked ancient but pure bred. My guess was someone had recently dumped the poor dogs. Contemplating my next move, I heard the women state from behind me. “Someone should call someone” indicating to me that this someone was not going to be her. I searched out Nashville animal control and called them, they answered quickly.

“Yes!” said the woman answering the phone. There are a few packs of feral dogs in the area that we’ve not been able to catch.”

“Packs of wild dogs?” I repeated stupidly

“Packs of feral dogs!” She repeated definitively.

“Packs of feral dogs.” I replied resignedly.

Murder scenes and packs of feral dogs. I decided to head back to the AirBnB. I had lost my desire to visit Nashville any further. But first I needed to grocery shop.

Nashville is made up of a serious of antiquitous highways, interstates and freeways. Creating this weird mishmash of driving up and down circular on and off ramps in order to get to a place that would be easy to get to, if not for all of the all of the damned highway ramps. After circling around 3 or 4 times I found myself in what was obviously some nasty, projects.

Downtrodden even for inner city projects, I must have passed 3 or 4 more cops on the way and at this point wanted nothing more to do with this visit Nashville idea.

As I passed the small decrepit houses I recalled similar parts of Norfolk Virginia and how my sister had stated (about Norfolk) that it was one of the ugliest most depressing city she’d ever seen. Pulling into Kroger on Gallatin, I called my sister to share in the obtuse hilarity of my experience in Nashville. The homogenized Lower Broad, the pervasive police presence, murder scenes, packs of feral dogs, swathes of garbage, disintegrating projects and now a cop sitting in his car in the Kroger parking lot, apparently monitoring the area. YAY!

“What?” she squealed into the phone “Packs of feral dogs?” “Really?” I think she almost didn’t believe me.

The Kroger was small but decent enough. I dropped my huge travel purse in the cart and started scrounging for the needed items. I noticed there seemed to be staff that looked a bit like security milling around, but I just needed a few groceries for dinner then I planned to hole up in my AirBnB with the critters and head out first thing in the morning. A pleasant voice crackles through the speaker system, that went something like this. Attention Kroger shoppers! Local law enforcement would like us to remind you to be aware of your surroundings. Please remain alert to those around you and be sure NOT to leave your bag or wallet in your cart unattended! Thank you for shopping at Kroger!”

Are you fucking kidding me? I mean I’m not in East Detroit? I just couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of there. I called my sister immediately back once I was back in my car.

“What? she cackled incredulously. I heard Nashville was like the next Austin.”

“Maybe Austin in Hell!” I replied. “We’ll get the Hell out of there she commanded!”

We left at daybreak!