When we last left off, I was at a bar making fun of people in their 20s (again, something I could really do in any city) before going home to fall asleep with a cat on my face (something I’m trying to avoid as much as possible until I turn 35.)
By Saturday morning, I was already starting to feel like a resident, so it felt perfectly natural to head off with my friend D in the morning when she left for work at the Corsair “brewstillery.” (That’s a combo between a brewery and a distillery, for all you sober people out there.) Corsair is located in a place called Marathon Village, a formidable brick building located next to the train tracks. Once, it was home to Marathon Motors, an automobile factory. Now, it’s home to lots of cool, hipster shit and some tech companies. While D was getting the bar ready, V and I did the hard work of foraging for breakfast in the building.
Our first stop was Garage Coffee, which is immaculately decorated to look like an authentic, grungy garage. (That said, the industrial size red coffee bean grinder actually did seem authentic.)
D and V got iced “Slingshot Lattes,” which consisted of espresso, vanilla cream, caramel and bourbon salt. Somehow, despite having the option of drinking a bourbon-flavored milkshake for breakfast, I chose to get a regular drip.
That turned out to be ok, because from there we headed to Grinder’s Switch Winery. Perhaps you’re thinking, “what were you doing at a winery at 11am?” The answer, obviously, is that we were getting wine slushies (a fruit slushy topped off with wine.) There were two flavor options, neither of which I remember because I was too busy accepting a plate of leftover Gouda from a random girl at the bar and protesting that it was too early in the morning for me to drink a wine slushy.
Of course, I was wrong. And the flavors change on a daily basis anyway, so no harm, no foul.
After finishing all the random girl’s cheese, I brought my coffee and my slushy back to the Corsair taproom. As you may remember, I started my Nashville adventure on a business trip, so I still had to follow up emails to send. Empowered by frozen wine and grungy coffee, I sent about 20 strangers invitations to connect on LinkedIn before D sent me off to meet her friend L.
L works at Antique Archaeology, a store/museum for the History Channel show American Pickers. This is a huge tourist spot, and with good reason. It was a like a museum of every day life. Old amusement park rides, old motorcycles, old car parts, old locks, old jukeboxes, old jackets…I was in old heaven.
They also have some less everyday items, like a dress Loretta Lynn wore in concert. A lot of it you can touch, and some of it is for sale. (Not Loretta’s dress.)
After I wandered around, I had some time to chat with L. Within about 7 seconds, we were through with small talk and discussed how important it is to allow experiences to transform you, the importance of storytelling and how to leverage multimedia to portray multiple stories as a unified experience. Unlike me, L actually makes art instead of just talking about it, so when we said goodbye, she invited D and me to come see her sing that night at a cafe in Watertown. She also suggested I head up to the second floor and learn more about the car factory that was the building’s original tenant.
In fact, there are abandoned pieces of car-making machinery everywhere in the building. They’re well-maintained, but there’s almost no curation whatsoever, and it was a complete joy to watch people of all ages and genders to interact with them. The second floor was more like a landmark than a museum, but exploring it was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Marathon Motors was a unique car company in that they manufactured every single car part on site, and each car purchased was made to order. I poured over descriptions of car parts, marketing materials, sketches and more.
I also poked my head into the museum store when I was done and naively asked the older lady at the cash register, “Why did it shut down in 1914?”
She smiled at me with mild surprise and said, “The Model T.”
After my spiritual journey through turn of the century American car parts, I had to reorient myself by going into all the building’s high end souvenir stores like Brown Dog Market. I immersed myself in fancy soaps, quirky dishes, magic stones, t-shirts describing the difference between whiskey and bourbon, etc. etc.
I managed to escape without buying anything, including the magnet below.
Then I needed air. I decided to walk downtown to a place called the Arcade, which I read had been converted to a space for art galleries. On my way, I stopped at Transplant Outdoor Living, a large, outdoor garden across the street from the Marathon building.
Apparently it’s a store, but it felt like a cross between a fairy tale and junkyard. I wandered around until I got scared by my own image in an arbitrarily placed mirror and left.
By that point, I’d missed the action at the Arcade, but based on what I could see through the windows, I would recommend going back when they’re open. Instead I decided to “investigate” a grocery store for local idiosyncrasies. I wasn’t disappointed. What the fuck kind of place only sells one kind of hummus but offers packaged deviled eggs?!
I got to have my Yankee moment when, after going through the Vietnam War and the Korean War, I got to the “war between the states” and thought, “Weird. I’ve never heard of that.”
Back at the taproom, I drank a few sour beers while making friends with a couple in their 60s. I had never heard anyone use the term “baby daddy” non-ironically, and I eagerly asked them questions about their lives until the husband almost cried. But that’s a story for another time.
Once D had closed the bar, we got in her car and started the hour-long trip to Lulu’s Cafe in Watertown. The only thing we knew about our destination was that it was in a dry county, so we prepared by filling an empty seltzer bottle with whiskey. We didn’t have an address for the venue, but Watertown is only a few blocks long. It consisted of a few houses, seven churches, a hardware store and Lulu’s, which was so small that L waved to us from on stage as we drove by.
We parked and walked into a 50s-esque diner that met my expectations for a small, dry, southern town. However, much of the clientele consisted of men in drag, which did not meet my expectations. D and I decided to get a light dinner and a couple of cokes.We poured our whiskey into paper cups, and while I was afraid of being caught every time I took a sip, nobody gave a shit.
While L sang, we ate sweet potato fries, fried okra and roasted beets. We dipped everything we had in ranch dressing. We applauded for L, whose beautiful voice and intense stage presence managed to hold our attention, despite being preoccupied with trying to figure out what the Hell okra is.
Then we realized that fried side dishes don’t fill you up, and ordered a veggie burger with tater tots. Finally, we got a recommendation for the the most authentic honky tonk joint around, and when L finished performing, we all got in the car and headed for Smitty’s in Lebanon, TN.
As someone who has lived in NYC & SF (and technically Philly but doesn’t count it as a real city), Smitty’s was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Sprawlingly large, it was the combination of a Vegas casino and a high school cafeteria. In fact, near the bar there were computerized slot machines, with instructions saying the game was just for fun and not for money. The idea of playing seemed even more hopeless and desperate than actual gambling.
All the beer was in 6 packs in a open refrigerator, as you’d find at a grocery store or deli. D and L each got a beer, I got a styrofoam cup. After we took seats near the stage, D grabbed the whiskey and the cup and headed for the ladies’ room.
L turned to me. “D is such a good friend. I mean, a really, really good person. Look at that, I mean, she’s taking whiskey to the bathroom so she can pour for it you. That is so sweet.” Point being – with the right planning, confidence and friends, you can drink booze even in places where it’s not legally sold.
But there wasn’t much energy for the band, and Smitty’s was almost seeming anti-climactic until an older drunk guy came over and started talking to us. Very quickly, he offered us $10 to go say hello to his friend. We couldn’t understand 75% of what he was saying, and we couldn’t get him to go away, but he stood his ground, pulling out a wad of hundreds of dollars in cash.
Thinking that I was making an empowered move, I said, “Listen, we’re not taking money. Put your money away. If you leave us alone, in a few minutes, one of us will come talk to your friend.” He left and I turned to L and D. “Ok, so who’s going to take one for the team and go say hello to that man?”
They looked at me like I was crazy (which actually makes a lot of sense, in retrospect.) “You’re the only one who doesn’t actually live here.” And so I went.
Some elements were similar to a conversation I’d have at a bar in SF: horrible awkwardness, arguing about how tall I actually am, winking at my friends across the room so they can see that I’m talking to a guy.
But some of it was different, like trying to figure out what kind of ditch he’d spent the day digging, what exactly his role was in putting up fences, and the fact that he and Jack Daniels shared a hometown. Finally, I fled back to our table.
Unsurprisingly, they followed us. L worriedly told me under her breath that there was something called “the private room” at Smitty’s and it occurred to us far too late that we might have been mistaken for…professionals.
I tried to clear up the situation by explaining I was a product marketer, but none of them knew what that was, so it might as well have been a fancy word for “whore.” They told us we were the prettiest girls they’d ever seen, which if you looked around the bar, was probably a) true and b) not much of a compliment. A few of them insisted on dancing with us to the all the cheesy classics (We’ve got a killer video of D looking horrified while getting spun around the room to “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”)
When it came time to leave, we literally fled. Someone chased us into the parking lot shouting, “You don’t to have run!!” And maybe we didn’t, but it sure makes for a better story, doesn’t it?
Giddy in a way that you can only be after you’ve escaped the plot of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion meets Deliverance, we wanted to keep the 80s party going. It’s probably the only time in my life when I’ll feel proud to have a playlist with “Jack and Diane” on it, but we rolled down the windows and belted all the way home.
And thus ends my trip to Nashville (unless you count a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to the airport.) If you’ve been overwhelmed by the 4,000+ words I used…. tl;dr – I highly recommend it.