Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Down in the Holler: A Bonnaroo Prologue

"Oh fuck."
"I remember sunscreen, aspirin, and an eyeglass repair kit, but you know what I left on my desk?"
"My Bonnaroo ticket."
"FedEx it to me at Spaceman's?"
"Now I have to fly without Xanax AND worry about this."

I'd run out of Xannies the last time I flew, but as I write this, I can't even recall when that was. So I got high with Showcase on the way to LAX instead, ensuring that I would sleep well on my four-hour nonstop flight to Nashville. I hate flying. I hate the way the pressurized air smells, the way my neck feels after being tortured by the seatback, and the well-meaning people that try to talk to you when all you want to do is go to sleep so you can temporarily forget that you are indeed inside a 155,000 ton flying death tube seven miles above the Earth's surface. I'll drive four hours through the desert in my horrible car to Vegas every time rather than take the 45-minute hop on Southwest if only to avoid the stomach-churning, ear-popping, far-too-rapid manual landing at McCarran. It's practically the only thing that'll make me break out in prayer.

After running myself through the self-serve check-in and clearing security, I called Pauly from the gate to get Spaceman's address to give to Showcase. I could hear his eyes roll from two thousand miles west and worry seeped from his voice as I confessed my dilemma. Back when I first broached the idea of joining him for this year's Bonnaroo, he wasn't convinced that this Hollywood blonde could hack it.

"You'll never survive," he scoffed.

Of course, this was when we were thinking of camping, the accomodations of choice for perhaps 90% of the festival-goers. And in that case, he was probably right. I've never camped before in my life, and a four-day music festival/bender in the middle of the sticky Tennessee summer was probably not the place to start. Thank God the Joker stepped in and hooked us up with a motel room. A bed, a shower, and air conditioning go a helluva long way toward preventing burnout at one of these things. That sealed the deal for me. I was on my way to the South.

I scribbled Spaceman's address onto the back of my boarding pass and left it on Showcase's voicemail. It was only then that I decided I should ransack my luggage just to make sure I really forgot it.

I found the damn thing in about two minutes and called Pauly back. Total false alarm.

* * * * *

The first thing I noticed about Tennessee was the green. Wild, velvet canopies over rolling hills. Sparkling rivers cutting through hillisdes and farmland. The most intense, alive shades of green I'd ever seen. I spent four years in the midwest almost a decade ago but the patchwork praries of Illinois that I'd gazed down upon from airplane windows on approach to O'Hare had nothing on the lush postcard Americana that unfolded beneath our 737 as we descended into Nashville.

I was seated next to an couple my parents' age who were on their way back home from a vacation in Hawaii. They'd changed planes in Los Angeles. He wore a cheesy Hawaiian shirt and she was decked out in a Waikiki Beach T-Shirt and pink cotton shorts from Wal-Mart's spring line. The man must have seen the way I was looking out the window.

"Not from here are you?"
"No. I've never been to the South."
"Make sure you go to Cracker Barrel. You can get a fine meal for 'bout ten dollars. Chicken. Mashed potatoes. Vegetables. Dinner roll."
"I'll make sure to try that."

It wasn't Cracker Barrel I was after in Tennessee, however. It was Waffle House. After hearing about several of my friends' tawdry adventures in this establishment, I'd put it at the top of my must-see list.

Spaceman, Mrs. Spaceman, and Pauly picked me up at the airport. We drove into the city and had a lovely Italian dinner. I got angel hair pasta with sausage and smoked duck. The sauce was deliciously spicy. I also had my first glass of authentic sweet tea and these amazing fried cheese balls as an appetizer. Shit like that is practically illegal in L.A.

After dinner we cruised around Nashville, stopping for a walk in Centennial Park. I even saw a guy in a cowboy hat with a guitar slung over his shoulder crossing the street. Tennessee native Mrs. Spaceman was an excellent tour guide. We checked out the Parthenon, Music Row, and took a loop near Vanderbilt University. The city is new and old smashed right up against each other. Next door to a church dating back to the 18th century, one might find an aluminum-sided warehouse-turned-strip club. There's also a huge art museum named after Bill Frist. Back when he was a doctor, I hear he was kind of a shitty one.

The Spacemen live about 40 minutes outside of Nashville in a small town called Ashland City. There aren't really many streets, just twisting state highways that intersect with each other. The hilly terrain is blanketed in lush green vegetation and broken up by small valleys called "hollers." On the way to Spaceman's house we passed a swath of land owned by one of the Mandrell Sisters. I think it was Louise. Her land is marked by a huge glowing white cross easily visible from the highway. Mrs. Spaceman told us that her husband put it up so she could feel Christ's love or something as she came home from her stints on the road. This was only a small preview of the Jesus Freakiness that swarms the state of Tennessee like fireflies. Even in the remotest of areas there always seemed to be plenty of churches.

"We get a whole lot of Jesus mail too," Mrs. Spaceman said.

Their adorable wooden cabin-style house sits right next to a river on a huge patch of land. I totally understand why Spaceman misses it so much when he's on the road. When we weren't playing team Trivial Pursuit (Spaceman and I defeated Mrs. Spaceman and Pauly) or a 4-handed winner-take all-SNG (I won tough heads-up battles with both Spacemen to win twice), we sat out on that porch, mosquitos and all and drank and talked and I just took it all in as their two dogs chased each other and licked my ankles. One of the pups took quite a liking to Pauly, even walking in on him while he was showering.

On the second night, I finally got to experience Waffle House. Spaceman was a little disappointed because the clientele at this particular branch was fairly inoffensive. Mrs. Spaceman's friend Lydia joined us for the meal and indulged in her favorite food (and Daddy's), bacon! I had a pecan waffle and my hasbrowns scattered, smothered and covered. I couldn't believe I could get an entire delicious, satisfying meal for less than $5. A waffle is $2.40 and the hashbrowns, even with all the stuff on them are under 2 bucks.

After another late night with the Spacemen on Wednesday, Pauly and I got up fairly early on Thursday to drive back to Nashville and pick up the rest of our crew at the airport: BTreotch, The Joker, and Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot. As the Joker was boarding his flight in Denver, he phoned up Pauly. He knew we were hitting Wal-Mart for supplies and wanted us to pick him up some 3M spray adhesive.

But for what, I had no earthly idea.

To be continued...


peacecorn said...

Can't wait for the rest!

iamhoff said...

Have you healed up from the Sav-on incident? Reading your description of the Tennessee landscape is spot on. My little sister and her husband live outside of Memphis. A buddy and I were road tripping from San Diego to Providence RI, and swung thru the south to see my sister. Those rolling green hills are amazing, especially to those of us from So Cal, where our hills are jagged and on the brown side of green. Defintely looking forward to the follow up...

SirFWALGMan said...

Waffle House! Woo hoo!

CarmenSinCity said...

Waffle House is pretty kewl!! Were you drunk when you ate there? I think you need to go back again and this time go really late at night after the clubs close - you'll get an eyefull.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I think every self-respecting American who has spent any amount of time in the South has been to Waffle House. Many times. Hammered.

Glad to have you back on-line, Change. Hey, I bet you won't even believe it given the Hammerdonkery I treated you and Pauly to right before you left, but I won a Bracelet Race while you were gone! I'll be playing in WSOP Event #13 on the Friday of the WPBT weekend.

Looking forward as usual to the rest of your stories.

Joe Speaker said...

heh. flying death tube.

Thanks for the dial-a-shots!