Sunday, 26 August 2012

... been to Nashville

Friends, this is a sad day. I have a serious loss to report – and a serious indictment of Delta Airlines.

The Bad Thing Delta have done is give the misleading impression that Bex and I could check at least one bag each on every flight – including internal ones. But no, this turned out to be a terrible lie! Bad Delta! Checking bags is free on flights into and out of the US – but not within it. Then it costs $30 (£20) per bag. So obviously, we weren't doing that, especially as we hadn't been warned about the extra cost. Luckily, the extra Samsonite rolling case/backpack I bought in Boston apparently counts as a “personal item”, so I could take both that and my backpack on the plane. Me: 1, The Man: 0

Farewell, my useful pal. You will be missed.
Unluckily, I'd left my multi-tool gadget – the blade on which is about two inches long, but still counts as a knife – in my backpack, because I'd assumed I could put it in the hold every time we flew. Not so. BEEP BEEP went the X-ray machine, and the offending item was confiscated. The Man: 1, Me: 0.

So a lucky employee of Delta Security is currently having the pleasure of playing with the pliers, horseshoe-stone-remover, saw and mini file on my Swiss Army knockoff knife and I am extremely annoyed, because it was a good gadget, I'd had it for years, and I haven't a clue where to get another one (it wasn't actual Swiss Army – they're too expensive). All knife donations gratefully received – just don't send by airmail :/

Anyway, that little incident aside, the flight (via Detroit) was fairly hassle-free, and we were lucky enough to bump into some fellow UK travellers at the airport bus stop who were going to the very youth hostel we'd settled on (the Nashville Downtown Hostel, fact fans). The NDH, being another brand-new enterprise, and went further in creating an aura of mystery even than the HI Boston – forget not answering the phone, they didn't even have a listed number – just a website and an address. On the other hand, the rooms and beds were cheap and comfortable (£45/$70 for a double private room, £17/$25 for a bed in a four-person dorm) and the wifi worked a treat, so I was prepared to forgive them almost anything.

Revelling in the low low prices!
The everchanging trio of guys on reception were also delightful, individually and collectively: helpful, polite, great for recommendations etc. You had to make your own bed and hire towels (rather than their being supplied) and there was a kitchen/fridge arrangement rather than a breakfast laid on, but at these prices who was arguing?

The building, on First Avenue opposite the LP football stadium, used to be a law office, and its pedigree showed: all rooms (even the toilets)P were only accessible by keycard, the doors were three-inch slabs of walnut, and our first night was spent in the Aretha Franklin room, whose only window looked on to the corridor: all the dorms are in fact former offices or meeting rooms for the firm. 

Error 404: Room Not Found.
Odd to think that a law office could go out of business – or downsize, I suppose – and yet a hostel charging $25 a night could be a viable venture, but again, that's probably just one of the many symptoms of the recession – which does seem to be deeper and more serious than in the UK.

After a quick shower we met the three fellow Brits – James from Uxbridge, Tom from Guernsey and Millie from York – in the lobby, and commenced a relatively restrained bar-crawl. First we went to Jack's on Broadway (which is reminiscent of a mini Las Vegas strip, with its bars and neon signs, not to mention the 24/7 country blasting from every doorway and even public loudspeakers set into the sidewalk – really! The local nickname for it is Nashvegas). Jack's does a basic, unchanging menu – ribs, black beans, mac 'n' cheese, etc. every day from 10am to 9pm, but they do it well (apparently … we missed eating there because Bex and I had to go back and pick up my phone – but the others said it was good).

For drinks, we went to that exotic novelty, a bar where you could smoke! Inside!! *Faints* This was in stark contrast to Boston where you are meant to be 25 feet from any building entrance, which practically speaking means sparking up in the middle of the road. They also did the most ENORMOUS cocktails. The Kryptonite-'rita below (beers included for scale) cost the princely sum of $9.15 (about £6.50). Admittedly it was mostly sour mix, but I ain't complainin' …

After that we listened to some truly awesome live Western Swing at a bar called Robert's. Bex was convinced there was an Elvis impersonator sitting in front of us, but he never turned round. Still, there's a little Elvis in all of us .... The second night Bex and I went out for a drink, the Tennessee Titans were playing the Arizona Cardinals – the first game of the season, at the LP stadium across the way – and we could hear the cheers from our room. So we found a bar on Second Avenue (just behind the hostel), which was plastered with dollar bills, and crucially, was showing the game. I can't pretend to understand it (the four 15-minute quarters can take up to three hours to play because of all the stopping and starting) but it was entertaining white noise for the eyes while I sipped my JD and Coke.

A big stadium for a lot of very big men
There was also a late-opening cowboy boot shop which had the logic-defying offer of “Buy One Pair, Get Two Free” on all its boots – this was genuine, and loophole-free, but you had to be prepared to spend about $300 on the first pair. Bex agonised, but finally decided to get one amazing pair rather than three OK pairs, and invested her $300/£200 in the beauties below. This was a good choice, as literally not a day has passed since without some appreciative stranger hollering "nice boots"! I am actually pretty jealous, but the logical part of my brain insists that I don't need any more boots. Not even beautiful ones like these. 

Please form an orderly queue to worship
On our last morning in Nashville we wandered up Printer's Alley (which boasted the almost certainly inauthentic – especially since it wasn't open at 11 in the morning - Fleet Street “English” Pub) and got breakfast on our way to catch the Megabus to Memphis (of which more later). Passing the War Memorial, we noticed that the plaza it was on was extremely palatial and done in the classical style – this wasn't the famous 1:1 replica of the Parthenon (built to celebrate, or perhaps consolidate, Nashville's status as "the Athens of the South") but it sure as hell looked like the same guy had commissioned it. It was hard to tell whether the actual buildings were ornamental and empty, or contained windowless offices, but it was an impressive sight. (Sadly my camera ran out of battery around this point, so pix will follow when & if I work out how to upload them from my phone). 

Not an English pub
The Megabus was 40 minutes late (a car wreck on the motorway, apparently) and the driver seemed somewhat competence-challenged – he never came round to check anyone's tickets, and managed to lose a wing mirror halfway there, as well as setting off 20 minutes late from the rest stop – but we arrived in one piece in Memphis, only an hour behind schedule, and had a damn comfy (and wi-fi enabled) ride. Basically the journey was fine (mirror incidents aside) once we got going: but the aircon was off for twenty minutes before we left so we were all slowly broiling in the Tennessee heat, especially on the top deck. Still (said one of the group of African-American teachers who were sitting at the back) “think what Rosa (Parks) went through ...”. Indeed.

Why can't you go both ways?
I wrote some verses of a lamenting country song while we were waiting though, to amuse Facebook, so my time wasn't wasted. Or perhaps it was.

Ohhh the Megabus to Memphis got me steamin'
Steamin' just like cattle in a pen
And now I'm spending all this goddam journey schemin'
How to never ride the Meg-a-bus again ...

Well the Megabus to Memphis showed up tardy
We was waitin' forty minutes in the sun
When we got to Memphis we was gonna party
But now we're tuckered, stick-a-fork-in-me-I'm-done

Oh the driver ain't so good at speakin' English
And he lost a mirror halfway down the road
And the wireless connectivity is rubbish 
All in all, we're lucky we ain't gettin' towed ...

Next stop: Memphis! (obviously) - then on to New Orleans! See y'all there!

PS: Here's a little video I made of the stadium and the river - tell me if it doesn't work.

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