Archive for September, 2010

Southwest Airlines must’ve known Tina and I were flying with them today: they threw a party! We arrived at the gate to find cookies, punch and loads of colorful decorations. Afraid it wasn’t just because we were there (although I’m sure that was part of it); they are celebrating Spirit Week. I love Southwest. Any excuse for a party – and bags still fly free with them, unlike so many others. One of the pilots was making the most of it: ‘I think I’ll take some of these cookies for the crew and tell them I bought them for them.’ You go, guy.

Afraid the flights (we switched in Baltimore) weren’t as good as the terminal, as we experienced an insane amount of turbulence. Weren’t quite sure we were going to make it through the second leg, but somehow we did. Tina is just getting her color back.

So we didn’t spend much time in Arkansas, and I’m now back in Massachusetts for a few days. It’s Nick’s college family weekend so I’m going to spend as much time with him as possible, see family and catch up on a few things around the house before flying back to Arkansas and getting back on the road Monday. I probably won’t blog much, if at all, over the next few days ’cause my life just isn’t that exciting, but if  I stumble on anything interesting in Salem, I’ll be sure to let you know. It is, after all, October and I will be in Salem, Massachusetts, the witch capital of the world! (And yes, I do feel quite at home there. 🙂 )

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I’m sad to say that Day 21 was my final day in Nashville – in all of Tennessee – for at least the near future. I’ve spent so much time here over the past month, I’ve grown so fond of it and will miss this state. I had to give it a proper goodbye. So Tina, Kristen and I went on a Nashville trolley tour to get to know Nashville a bit more before we bid it adieu. (We actually set out to find a Big Green Tractor Tour led by handsome men in black cowboy hats – why don’t they have those? That would bring money to music city!)

Well, I say we went on a trolley tour, but that’s not exactly true – the trolley was being painted, so we had to go on a bus instead. Oh well, at least we had a good driver – Steve – and got to learn more about our home-away-from-home, even though we didn’t quite have the photo opportunities we would have had in an open trolley.  (Apologies for many of the photos – remember most were taken through glass on a moving bus!) What did we learn? I guess the question is actually what do I remember?

  • It started as Nashborough in the late 1700s – and there’s a replica Fort Nashborough on the banks of the Cumberland River, right across from the Titans’ football stadium. Something fun to tour on our next visit.
  • There’s a really cool concrete timeline and facts built as a walking trail throughout a park by the state house. It tells the history of Tennessee through its milestones, including how it was divided in the Civil War and how it became known as The Volunteer State.
  • There are a zillion (well, maybe not quite that many) recording studios in Nashville, most concentrated on 16th and 17th Streets. We drove by many of them, including the famous RCA Studio B, which was Elvis’ favourite. And we think he said the most top 10 songs have been recorded here than any other studio. (I hope no children are using this site as a research paper resource – may want to verify any facts I’m recalling in the middle of the night…)
  • Every city has its claim to fame, and Nashville has many. One that I didn’t know before the tour is that at the Parthenon (a replica of the original in Athens minus the marble and used as an art museum) there’s a statue of Athena that is 42 feet tall making it the tallest statue indoors in the western hemisphere. And her garb is really cool, made out of 24 karat gold.
  • There’s a lot more to Nashville’s music obsession than just country. There are clubs and studios featuring all kinds of music: Blues, Southern Rock, Bluegrass, hip hop, pop, metal…
  • Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville will be opening downtown this fall – isn’t that a good enough reason to visit again soon?

Our final moments in Nashville were spent in Legends, listening to live music and having a bite to eat. We then dropped Kristen at the airport and Tina and I set off for Arkansas. Simply to go to the airport. You see, I’m enroute to see my friend Jason, his family, and my aunt, uncle and cousins in Oklahoma, but need to take a quick detour north to see my son (who I miss sooooooo much) beforehand. Since Little Rock is halfway between Tennessee and Oklahoma, that’s where Tina and I are flying from.

We had a blast on the drive – it was so good having Tina’s company, wish I could keep her but know I have to share her with Bill and my three beautiful goddaughters who wouldn’t love me nearly so much if I stole their mother full-time. Can’t say we saw much of Arkansas as we mainly drove in the dark, and just oohed and aahed when we saw Aidan’s map turn blue, assuming it meant we were by water. The only other thing to note was that they lock their vending machines behind bars in this state. Can anyone tell me why?

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Talk about a city with a heart and soul. Nashville is like nowhere I have ever been. Admittedly, I haven’t been everywhere which is why I’m on this road trip, but this place has something special – an actual beating heart that shines through its people. They don’t call this the Volunteer State for nothing.

Now I know that the best comes out in people during a crisis (I’ve been through my share of them with work, and I, too, thrive in them), and that was certainly evidenced following the flooding from the Cumberland River which devastated downtown and surrounding areas, taking lives and livelihoods – and destroyed much of the Grand Ole Opry building. Of course people in most places pull together and pitch in to help recovery efforts following tragic events. But I can tell that the kindness and support offered then was no different than the people of Tennessee display every day. They care for each other, are interested in others and want to make everyone welcome. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

This spirit couldn’t have been better demonstrated than at the reopening of the Grand Ole Opry, five months after the floods, on Day 20 of my road trip. Tina, Kristen and I flew in from three different cities to spend the one night here and were so honored to witness this incredible event. It wasn’t just the stars, although they couldn’t have shown much brighter as the show featured: Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Josh Turner, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels Band, Diamond Rio, Montgomery Gentry, Lorrie Morgan and Blake Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Mel Tillis, Steve Wariner – and the list goes on! It was the feeling that emanated through the building. The shared love of the music, the history and the community came through every note, whether sung or spoken. We got chills. 

In addition to the artists glowing with pride to be singing on the restored Opry circle, we witnessed other memorable Opry moments such as a video tribute to Nashville from President Obama (didn’t really go down too well with the people of Tennessee); a welcome home and thank you from the Mayor of Nashville (which went down much better); a hair-raising, electric performance of The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band and Montgomery Gentry; Trace Adkins giving Blake Shelton a tweet that invited him to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry; and a rousing concluding set by Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Wariner and Marty Stewart.

It’s the next morning and we’re still in awe of the fact that we were there and experienced such a historic event.  I was lucky enough to have my seat changed (not sure by whom) so I was in the front section and able to go to the stage as every artist appeared. Never have I been in a more welcoming venue for photographers – and with more polite people who actually took turns moving so everyone got a chance to be at the stage for the best view! I glowed when a man said to me at the end, “You’re going to have some great pictures. You put your heart and soul into taking them.” I told him I love it all so much, and he said it clearly showed. I couldn’t have gotten a better compliment.

The rest of Day 20 is a blur but combined Tina, Kristen and I remember: getting up way too early, traveling to Nashville, exploring the shops downtown in our quest for cowboy boots (yes, we found them – three for the price of one!), meeting the friendliest people on earth around every corner (including these two great ladies from Indiana who we ran into multiple times during the day and the night) and concluding the night after the big show at the bars of Broadway where live music filtered through every open door and poured onto the street.

We love it here. Nashville, we’ll be back!

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