music city, usa

Everyone has heard about Nashville in the last few years.  It’s been referred to as the next Austin, which, at this point, is probably the kiss of death.  I went last year with my dad on a much smaller road trip when I wanted to check out a few cities I thought I might jive with.  I loved it.  Seriously, like, I was looking at real estate after I got back and I’ve never looked at real estate online before in my life (maybe that’s a bigger issue at 35…or just a side effect of living in New York).  It seemed like the right size, with lots of great stuff - bars, restaurants, coffee shops, friendly people, a GORGEOUS landscape, plenty of outdoor stuff to do close by, and music.  The music, man.  Sure there is country - obviously.  But, what’s great about Nashville now is that their music scene has become much more varied and there are all kinds of great bands from there.  And if they’re not from there, well there’s a good chance they’ll stop through on their tour.  

When I left Nashville last Fall, I pretty much was ready to just go ahead and commit to moving there.  But then a million different people started letting everyone in on the secret.  Actually, I’m pretty sure that happened before I visited for the first time, but I guess that’s when I started noticing it.  In roughly the year between my visits to Nashville, my thoughts changed.  Mostly because I see Nashville going the way of Austin and the way Austin is now truly kind of breaks my heart.  There have been an insane influx of folks and it’s changed the bones of that city.  I have real trepidations about being one of those people to Nashville.  

That being said, Nashville is a hell of a fun city and I was excited to introduce my mom to it since my dad had pretty much already fallen in love last year.  The other best part about going to Nashville was that my friend, Scott, was going to be there at the same time.  He’d planned this trip for his birthday months ago, but I thought I’d be in town a week earlier and would miss him.  Since I had to push my trip back with my mom, though, the planets aligned and I got to hang out a bunch with Scott.  

I reached out to Dianne, the woman whose Airbnb my dad and I stayed at last year, to see if it was available again and we were in luck.  It was great to be in East Nashville again.  This absolutely is the hipster enclave of Nashville now, but it’s a gorgeous neighborhood and really well located to lots of stuff.    

Basically, my mom and I (and for the most part, Scott, too) ate and drank our way around Nashville.  I am not going to make this into a play by play of all that we consumed and where because nobody really probably cares too much about that.  I will point out four things, though.  

We look sweaty as hell here - this was post Rolf and Daughters, so the itis might have started to settle in

Arnold's - chicken and dumplings, mac and cheese, collards, fried green tomatoes, squash and watermelon salad, and a slice of lemon chess pie for good measure.

  1. Rolf and Daughters was hands down my favorite dining experience so far.  If y’all are ever in Nashville, bite the bullet, make a reservation, and spend the cash.   
  2. Union Common is a damn fine place to drink.  Well, and eat, too.  They have an incredible happy hour with delicious cocktails, delicious food, and all that shit is half off.  
  3. Eat at Arnold’s.  If you go to Nashville and miss this place, you ought to be shot.  Arnold’s is a meat and three spot, which means just that - you get a choice of meats they provide that day and three sides.  Or really as many as you want, you just have to pay a little extra.  And I did that because I couldn’t narrow it down to just three.  Yes, you will wait in line.  It will be hot if you’re there in the summer.  But, just trust me, it’s beyond worth it.  It’s the best Southern food you’ll eat.  They won a James Beard award for Christ’s sake.  
  4. So, Scott and I went to Prince’s.  This is THE original hot chicken place in Nashville.  I skipped it last time in favor of Hattie B’s.  On this trip, though, I had time to do both.  I wanted to like this authentic hot chicken situation, but I just didn’t.  I was hungry and hungover and this did anything but hit the spot.  So, if you roll through Nashville and you want hot chicken, just go to Hattie B’s.  Everything is perfect and they make a banana pudding that will throw you on the floor.

We took a selfie.  My mom likes selfies.  Scott looks skeptical.

Nighttime at Robert's

The nightlife scene in Nashville is pretty much the tits if you want it to be.  That is one of the things that I really like about that city - there are a lot of choices.  As far as honky tonks go, the only one that seems to matter much is Robert’s Western World.  I’m sure there are more hole in the wall spots you could find if you lived there and met the right folks to tell you their secrets, but Robert’s has done me right every time.  This trip I ended up going three times and that probably wasn’t enough.  Scott patroned that joint every single night he was in town.  Robert’s has been around forever and, from what I can tell, it’s the only honky tonk on the main strip that still caters to the good ‘ole country set.  They have some of the best players in town come get on stage to entertain folks with classic country covers and their new original songs that sound old.  The other great thing about Robert’s is that you’d be hard-pressed to find an age group that isn’t represented and, to me, that says something.  The three nights I was there, I drank cheap beers, listened to some great country music, and watched couples dance - some really knew what they were doing and others gave it their best go.  You can’t ask for much more than that.  

We cute.

The other great part about going to Nashville was being able to see Eva and Luke.  Eva is an old friend from New York - we both overlapped in the city for a few years until she decided to enter the Teach for America program and go do some good elsewhere in the country.  She and Luke met in Nashville about four years ago when they both worked for the summer on the "Transition Team" at the Tennessee Department of Education.  She went back to San Antonio, they continued dating long distance, and then she moved to Nashville a year later.  They got married last year (awwwww).   

We three had a really great night out with Scott that included a lot of drinks and culminated in Eva singing Wynona Judd’s "No One Else on Earth" at a lesbian karaoke bar.  Eva and Luke also put me up for a few nights after my mom left.  It was chill and amazing.  We ordered in, watched tv, and got just about the opposite of wild, which I really needed.  

This is maybe my favorite picture of Eva ever

That’s about what I have to say on Nashville.  Don’t get me wrong, I had an incredible time there, but I’d also been there before, so it felt familiar in a sense.  I did get two massages while I was there, which absolutely put me back in the black as far as my body was concerned.  Elizabeth at Donnelson Massage, you pretty much got me right again and ready for the road.  

Nashville was also where I said goodbye to my mom.  That was bittersweet.  On one hand, I was really looking forward to being back on my own - the last month and a half I’d been traveling with people and, while that was really fun and I wouldn’t change it for the world, I was ready to drive solo again and quietly be with my thoughts (or WTF podcasts, whatever).  On the other hand, I had a really fun time with my mom.  We had one of those times together that we’ll always be able to look back on and remember with a unique fondness.  I can’t tell you how lucky I was to have her along for a bit of this journey.  I know a lot of people say this, but my mom is cool as hell.  Not many mothers would be up for something like this and she couldn’t wait to join me.  My mom is partially responsible for this trip - she instilled an adventurous spirit in me and gave me the confidence to not be afraid of doing things alone.  When we were kids and my dad was working and couldn’t join us, the woman used to pile my brother and me in the car and drive us wherever by herself.  And, she still does that - she often takes solo road trips to Austin and back.  Anyway, I love her a whole lot and I’m real glad we were able to do this together.

Oh, btw, this is Peanut, Eva and Luke's dog.  I've never been one for smaller dogs, but I am absolutely in love with him.  We had several moments.