It’s a sunny morning in Nashville, noticeably warmer than the slightly more northern mornings we’ve had. After breaking my Grits duck at a café in Germantown we walked through the Bicentennial Mall State Park before catching the free bus service to where the Cumberland River dissects Downtown. It’s our meeting point with Joe and Kate and also a great place to catch the great General Jackson Showboat paddle and puff down the river.
From here, headed to the Goulch area to sit outside and plan our day. Then back up to Broadway to Printer’s Alley, the former burlesque district. Colorfully decorated and cleverly named rubbish bins, such as Dolly Carton and Johnny Trash, line the small narrow street while music plays out of every door. Wheelie bins and puns, this was definitely a town built for us.
Ryman Auditorium, a 3,200-seat live performance venue. Originally built by Thomas Ryman, a riverboat captain and local businessman, in 1892 it was intended to serve as a venue for the charismatic revivalist Samuel James Porter.
From 1943 to 1974 it housed all the greatest musical acts as home of the Grand Ole Oprey and aired The Johnny Cash show from 1969 to 1971. After falling into disrepair following the Oprey moving out, it was renovated in 1994 and continues to house the world’s biggest acts. Lana Del Ray was due to play here the following week.
Our highlight however was jumping up on the same stage as Johnny Cash for our photo, complete with microphone and guitar. While he played hour-long sets, I’ll be content with the repetitive riff from The Exorcist that I managed to pull off on the perpetually out of tune acoustic provided.
Then on to Tootsie’s rooftop bar for some live music followed by a lazy walk to Whiskey Kitchen for dinner, where ribs, fried chicken and chili dogs made sure we’d struggle replicating last nights fun on Broadway. The oldies called it a night, while me Joe and Kate continued the façade that we could stomach yet more beer and country music.
But not full enough to hit up Savannah Candy Kitchen on Broadway to load up on nostalgia through the medium of sweets. All the big names, and the old ones too. As if me and Joe hadn’t been quoting films enough (neither of us are films buffs, we just had a small pool of easily applicable films to rely on), himself and Kate found a kindred spirit.
“The snozberries taste like snozberriers” said Joe, overcome with emotion whilst quoting the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Just when he was settling for appreciation amongst our group, a woman turned round.
“Snozzberries? Who ever heard of a Snozzberry?” she replied, playing the role of Veruca Salt to perfection before disappearing into the crowd forever.
Cabs were a nightmare to get hold of. Not necessarily to flag down, but just difficult to deal with once inside.
We parted ways and I decided to walk back as it didn’t seem that far. Plus I had a load of taffy and Nerds to munch on for the walk.
I went on a detour and ended up by Public Square Park. A bit of navigation took me back to the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum building, instantly recognisable by its domed shape roof. Cutting through a empty pedestrian path that ran alongside it, just thinking how it should be littered with kids on skateboards smoking their dads cigarettes, when I saw some guy lurking in the shadows on his phone.
I knew that I was back on track when I saw the Tennessee State Capitol building. Nevertheless I was intrigued, so asked the guy if he knew the best route.
He took his phone out and asked for my address, fumbling his way on his mobile internet.
“Sorry, just give me a sec” his Google Maps giving him grief.
“Oh don’t worry, it’s really not a problem mate, don’t put yourself out” I said, already regretting my attempt at making friends.
“No, it’s all good” he replies, “It’s good to be able to talk to somebody, is all”.
He tells me only last night he’d been kicked out of his flat by the one person he considered his friend. He’d moved down from Michigan where he lived with his Mum, having spent the last 30 of his 55 years washing dishes in whatever restaurant would take him on. He was taking yarn lessons with the dream of one day owning his own shop here in Nashville. There’s apparently a market for bespoke crochet and weave down here. He showed me some photos of his work; Christmas tree dresses and pillowcases.
He’d almost given up on his dream altogether only a few hours ago. Not far from here, where Victory Memorial Bridge crosses the Cumberland River, Jim stood ready to jump over into the murky water below. I told him it was crazy. Not least because suicide is never the way out, but if he really was suicidal, jumping from a bridge only 30yards above water would surely be ineffective solution. If he thought he was depressed before, he’d be even more so walking around town all night in damp clothes.
Though I later learn that last year a 19-year old boy jumped in from the very same spot and never resurfaced, until being found dead some days later.
Jim was more than happy to escort me all the way home. Once we walked over the grassy banks and back down through Victory Park, we were presented with a great view of the twinkling street lamps of North Nashville and Germantown. From here my next point of reference was the Farmer’s Market, from which I knew my house was not too far.
However this meant crossing through Bicentennial Mall State Park as this was the way I’d come earlier. Jim was nice, but I guess so is every successful murderer who manages to lure their victims into a dimly lit park at night.
“Okay Jim, I think I got it from here mate” I said.
“No, it’s okay. You might get lost” He replied, “besides I enjoy talking to ‘ya, it’s not often I get to do it with someone”.
We made it through safe enough and once I spotted the back of my house from the street I stopped and thanked Jim for the company. We talked a bit more over the cinnamon taffy I’d bought in Savannah’s.
Minutes later, a police car slowly pulled up on the corner where me and Jim were winding down our midnight walk ‘n’ talk. The sole police officer pulled up across the street and came over.
“Where you guys from?” The young ginger copper asked.
He was definitely more concerned about Jim than an English tourist with a bag full of sweets. He probed Jim further. What was he doing having a conversation under a street lamp in a residential area?
“There’s been a series of robberies around here recently” the cop confided in us “a gang going around in cars, jumping out beating up people walking home alone”.
“Well that’s why I was walking him home, Officer” Jim said, pointing at me.
“You want a lift home, Sir” the officer asked me.
“No, he lives right over there” Jim said pointing over the house where I told him I lived (I actually lived two down from it). Though the copper never took his eyes off me.
It was getting late, and realistically this was my only chance of avoiding having to wake up my Dad, Auntie and Uncle with an explanation as to why I’d brought back some homeless man.
I invested the $20 I’d saved from walking (and risking a good buggering for) into Jim’s latest yarn projects. We swapped emails to keep in contact. Then I jumped in the cop car.