Date: 4 June
Location: on the Megabus bus from Nashville to Atlanta.
Notable sightings: duelling pianos, Smashville (the home of the Nashville Predators and my new favourite word), the wrong side of town.
We awoke, refreshed, at our truly lovely hotel in the West End of sunny Nashville. From that pristine moment onwards, the day was what the internet might describe as an ‘epic fail’.
We went somewhere awesome for breakfast at nine. It opened at eleven.
We tried to walk downtown. My shoes broke (again — really, H&M?) and we had to double back.
Then, la piece de resistance, the trump card: we planned our entire day around moving hotels to this cool place, the ‘Hospitality House’ (we thought), a twenty minute walk west from our current hotel. We’d spend the day downtown, walk westwards to our previous hotel, collect our bags and keep trudging (more slowly now) west to the new spot. Small problem: when we three tired, sweaty girls arrived there, bags the size of ourselves in tow, Hospitality House turned out to be a Walmart-funded hostel, a place for out of town family to stay while they visited their dying loved ones in the local hospital. So, not party central.
We decided to head back to a Pinkberry for which we’d seen a sign a while back, to cool heating tempers and bodies, use their wifi and regroup. Pinkberry store now a vacant shell, all fro-yo long gone.
We found a local cafe. Sorted out misunderstanding. Called a cab to loop all the way back downtown to precisely where we’d been all day. Cab arrives and is immediately taken by someone else.
We hustled to make it to a country dance class at the famous Wildhorse Saloon. It’s closed for a gig.
Weirdly enough, despite the Travel Gods trying to knock us around, we had a pretty great day in sweaty, sunny, song-filled Nashville and followed it up with an interesting night out. Broadway, alive with music and revellers at any time of any day, was bursting with country music fans on this particular summer night. We meandered through dive bars and honkytonks in search of a line dance — but to no avail. To be fair, we were fairly easily-distracted adventurers.
We found ourselves at The Big Bang, a mostly-empty saloon with two pianos that faced one another and a drum kit. On stage three boys were taking requests and seemlessly switching between instruments and songs, from Queen’s Fat Bottom Girls to Garth Brooks ballads to banter to N*Sync to Blurred Lines (fudging the rap bridge). We were utterly transfixed and, as the bar and the boys’ tip jars filled, we simply sat and marvelled. (Ok, maybe there was a bit of seat-dancing going on too). At some point the guy who’d checked our ID at the door took the mic and sung like a god as we gaped. The bartender then showed him up. Australians are notoriously bad tippers (we think it’s a really weird practice) but we opened our wallets and showed some love here.
Later, we ran around the madness that is Broadway collecting free accoutrements from the stands setting up to take as advantage of the CMA Fest crowds: Fireball whiskey beads, fake tattoos, foam Wrangler hats. We two-stepped a little, drank a little and requested those few country songs that we know over and over.
The city shuts down at 3am and some friendly local policemen took pity on three ‘lost’ (read: lazy) and ditzy Australian girls and drove us the three blocks home on their snazzy golf cart. We took selfies with them. Ditzy, lost Australian girls get away with a great deal.
The next day we milled around downtown before our evening bus trip. Hauling our bags and weaving through the CMA crowds — musicians with guitars on their backs, Nashville white trash, ticket scalpers, out of town hillbilly parents with odd-looking children — from our hostel to the bus station was always going to be a test of our puzzle solving skills, agility and strength of will. And our bravery, it seemed. Once we’d made it below Lea St the neighbourhood soured quickly. There were vacant lots, abandoned mechanics, a street called Deal Alley, Smokers’ Heaven tobacco store and a whole cast of shady looking characters. This was without a doubt the wrong side of town.
We saw a Greyhound Station – a well lit oasis of calm and safety – and figured that must be us. The helpful Greyhound Station security guard quickly set us straight and sent us back into the wasteland to wait ‘in the parking lot across the road’, and also noted that Megabus was, and I quote, ‘a bit dodgy’. Wonderful. A gaggle of interesting people assembled in the vacant lot with us. We were the only white girls save one couch surfer from New York and, in our canvas tennis sneakers and floppy summer dresses, with our fully charged iPads and prebought salad bar dinners, as a Tassels put it, “we could not look more whitebread”.
Miraculously, a two story bus did eventally pull up and out of it poured a pack of wan looking smokers, cigarettes already half lit. And on we got, after being given the seat numbers 48 – 50. On the bus we were quickly disabused of the notion that seat numbers meant a thing (“don’t nobody go by no seat numbers here”) and crammed ourselves in where we could.
To Georgia! The home of Coca Cola, the ’96 Olympic Games, peaches and – apparently – one of the highest murder rates in the country.