(hit play – turn it up, way up)
“Hot, fried, and awesome. You know you’re in the right place when there’s live country music… at the airport!”
I’d been in Nashville all of four hours when I sent this text back west to California. Four hours. Hardly enough time to fall properly in love with a place. I’d glimpsed the muddy Cumberland River, deduced that the tall AT&T building was the Nashville skyline, looked down a hot, still 4th Street and wondered where the hell everybody was on a Thursday afternoon. Downtown Nashville. Not a soul in sight.
But I was. In love.
There’d been that live country band serenading me as I walked my red boots through the Southwest terminal. The best devilled eggs I’d ever tasted at lunch. The only item not fried at the friendly Southern where the hot chicken burns, and the cocktails go down way too easy. There was that southern accent flirting with me in the hot, steamy air, the twang that melts every bone in my body, and enough y’alls to send me to heaven and back again. And there was Johnny Cash. Just there. On the street. In an abandoned parking lot.
We have murals in Oakland. They’re beautiful. They brighten the darkest underpasses, and bring colorful life to bare street corners. They’re of typical Oakland-ish scenes: Lake Merritt and the geese, Fairyland and the famous Grand Lake Theater, and the most iconic are the giraffes on the structural pillars holding up the 580 freeway. I don’t know what they symbolize, but in Oakland we have giraffes. In Nashville they have Johnny Cash. And Willie Nelson.
Tennessee calls itself “the state that made country music famous.” This was my dream trip: Music City.
I’m not usually the trip-planner – I leave that to my husband. I don’t have a list of places I’d like to visit, or sights I must see. We’re a large, beach-lovin’ family so most vacations we pile into the minivan and motor down the California coast. If we have an opportunity to go somewhere adventurous, he and the kids have the strongest opinions. I let them decide. We always have fun.
I’m also not a milestone-marker kinda gal. Birthdays are birthdays – whether you’re 10 or 25 or 37 or 60. Yes, celebrate, feel special: party, balloons and cake, happy birthday, the end. (Except if it’s your bar or bat mitzvah – then it’s a really big deal, spiritually, religiously. Or if you’re 70 plus. That seems like more of a reason to go all out to me, having loved and endured and lived, really, for decades).
But suddenly never-turning-40 me was almost turning 40, and it felt like some kind of milestone. And my country-music-loving heart was starting to long for a visit to just one dream destination: Nashville.
Screw not marking a milestone – I wanted to go to Nashville. For my 40th. With my husband. And my friends. And absolutely no kids.
“It’s going to be like a dream come true,” I emailed a friend a few months ago. And it was.
I had imagined watching country music greats perform live. Dreamed about seeing those large, bearded guys with sunglasses and enormous cowboy hats pulled down so low you could see only their mouths move, tapping their weathered boots and playing the fiddle faster than a train hurtling down a track at midnight. I had wondered about this seemingly mythical southern city, where a guitar was practically the state emblem and whiskey flowed like water. Fantasized walking in my red cowboy boots past a honky-tonk bar, catching a tune and tapping my own heels to the country beat.
But I could never have imagined it would be so perfect.
I never dreamed it would be The Charlie Daniels Band singing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” that I saw live at the Grand Ole Opry. A speeding midnight train had nothing on that fiddle. Could never have imagined that the honky-tonk bar from my fantasy was every few doors on Broadway, with a live band downstairs and a different one upstairs and where guys and gals of all ages turn out in their country finest – classic to hipster – and dance the night away: two-stepping, hip-swaying, clapping, spinning and twirling to more country music I could ever have hoped to hear.
And I could never, ever have imagined how it would feel to be in the City of my Dreams, with people who love country music, Nashville, fried food and classic cocktails like I do, who wanted to buy boots and go to the Johnny Cash Museum. With people who had arranged kids’ schedules, and sitters, and skipped work on Friday, given up Mother’s Day with beloved kids and moms on Sunday, schlepped from New Jersey and Oakland (and damn it’s a schlep), and who wanted nothing more than to celebrate just like I wanted to celebrate, who wanted to celebrate me with me. People who know me, who love me (or maybe know me yet still love me!), and whom I love.
I could never have imagined how that would feel. Like the first lick of caramel ice cream, water-skiing on the lake, tight hugs, love letters, warm pajamas, bonfires and marshmallows on the beach, winning a trophy, sweet juicy peaches, kisses and a breathtaking purple sunset all at once.
Josh and Lisa sang to me in the hotel lobby, a song they created specially for me, to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” – they were nothing short of foot-tapping, finger-snapping a-ma-zing. Deb and Larry crooned the beautiful tune “A Life That’s Good” from my favorite show (Nashville, obviously!). Amy stopped Jared, The Matte Gray Band’s lead singer, on his way to the bathroom so that Bill could take a photo of all of us with him. When a country band can play Garth Brooks, White Snake and everything in between, that’s fantastic to the max. It was perfect. All of it.
I hate when trips, any trips, come to an end. I get moody and sad when it’s time to pack. I sigh heavily. Mooch a little. Ryan usually shoots me a warning look, one that says: “Don’t go down that wishing road.” He knows how much I hate to go back to “real life.” How I “wish I could stay here – wherever here – forever.” He reminds me that even the any “here” of my wishes would eventually become “there” – the place I have to go back to.
But I sat on the plane heading back to California so full of happiness I probably could’ve floated the whole schleppy way back home. I wasn’t sad it was over. I wasn’t wishing I could stay “here forever.” Because it was a dream come true… in ways I could never have dreamed.
From Nashville, with love.
(thanks, Deb, for this line)