PrologueWhat we are doing, and why we're doing it!
We had a blow out on the driver side rear outside tire on I-40 between Memphis and Nashville. The whole family turned out to help with changing the tire. Replacing a 100 pound tire on a 12,000 motorhome is no small task, especially on the scorching asphalt of the Interstate's shoulder. We made quick work of it though, and proceeded to an RV park in Nashville adjoining a RV lot.
A blown tire can be a much more dramatic event on a motorhome than it usually is in a car. The tires are 10 plies of woven steel instead of the usual 3 or 4 of polyester. Unlike a car, storages tanks, plumbing, and wiring surround the wheel well in a motorhome. The heavy remains of an exploded tire hammers at whatever is nearby until the coach is brought to a halt - which we did do very quickly. Sometimes the pounding does no damage. Other times it can wreak enough damage to make the vehicle a total loss (this happened to a friend). The bad news in this case was evidenced by a clear view of the underside of kitchen cabinets, plumbing, and wiring from beneath the coach. The front half of the plastic wheel well liner was smashed and thrown forward underneath the dinette seat. Worse still was the long crack in the bottom of the 'black water' tank (which holds sewage). The only saving grace was that the black water tank was empty, so it wasn't leaking on us while we changed the tire.
The news from the parts manager at the RV lot was discouraging. The parts damaged by the blowout would probably take 3 weeks to get. As it was the day before the July 4th long weekend, it would take almost a week to find out if the parts were even still available due to factory holidays, etc.
We settled into an RV park and resigned ourselves to walking to the campground facilities for toilets and showers. It gets old quick - especially those in the middle of the night pit stops. Fortunately, the coach was still drivable as long as it wasn't raining. The evenings that we weren't out, the RV park hosted live entertainment each evening by the pool. Nashville has got to be the only place that musicians perform for tips in a campground!
As we were in Music City USA we had to participate in an American institution - the Grand Ole Opry (yes, that's the correct spelling). A shuttle took a bunch of us over and we had great visit with two different couples. You sure can meet some interesting characters on the road! We had a lot of fun and there were a couple of outstanding performances. The format is 2 1/2 hours split into half hour increments each with a different sponsor. Each half hour had a different old-timer host. We saw, in order, Porter Wagoner, Jim Ed Brown, Little Jimmy Dickens, 'Whispering' Bill Anderson and George Hamilton IV. Each opened and closed their half hour block with 2-3 performers in between the open and close of each half hour. They would set up for each performer while the Announcer would promote 60 second commercials for the sponsor. There was no messing around, you got on and you just started playing and singing.
Country music is gentle to their old compatriots. Three of the hosts must have been between 70 and 80 years old. They all had kept their voices though. George Hamilton the IV had his grown son, V, perform with him and he talked about his little one, VI, listening at home with Mama.
The hall seated 4400 so there really weren't any bad seats - but we had pretty good ones anyway. Speaking of the seats - they're long bench seats, not individual seats, so you get real cozy with your neighbors.
There is so much history wound up in the Opry that is would be easy to dismiss it as a relic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The radio show is still widely listened to and the show is housed in a lovely new theater. The Opry itself is eighty years old and going strong.
On Sunday 7/3 we went out to Andrew Jackson's home, The Hermitage. He was the 7th president. It was beautiful and very informative.
An interesting special event was a special re-creation encampment outside the mansion. They were recreating their return to Nashville after the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. They were all in period costume (most made of wool!!!). They walked around the period tents with period equipment. It was all very official. There were firing contests and demonstrations of muskets, cannon, fife and drum corps. Two of the fife (flute-like) players were auditioning for the President's corps so they were really wonderful players. One event they hosted was an eye-opener: a musket reliability contest. The object was to simply find out who could fire the most shots before having to stop to clean the weapon. Last year's winner was the first to retire having fired only one shot. The winner fired eight shots before a misfire. Everyone who knew flintlocks was surprised that it lasted this long. Warfare in those days must have been a terrifying crapshoot. The demonstrations really added to the experience.
The mansion and grounds were an interesting glimpse into the past. The place still had most of the original furnishings and wall coverings. It felt like a southern plantation. You could see the history in the open fields, the barns, outbuildings, and in the elaborate garden. Jackson actually did pass away at home here in his bed. He was very devoted to his wife Rachel and she had predeceased him.
The story told by the adjoining museum showed a contradictory man by today's standards. He rose from modest roots and protected a young nation from the British and French empires. He also kept slaves and banished native peoples to lands west of the Mississippi. Jackson seemed to defy labels of 'good' and 'bad'. As with most of us, he probably just did the best he could at the time.
On July 4th we went downtown and watched the fireworks show over the Cumberland River. This was our first chance downtown and though some folks in the campground had said it was shrubby, we didn't think it was so bad. Of course, it might be that 100,000 people attending the show distracted you a bit. All in all, it was a really good show. They had music on a large center stage from 2PM playing with some big country names through to 11PM or so. The only name we recognized was the Charlie Daniels Band. We're not up on our country music - other than the obvious big names. They had four fireworks effects that we had never seen before. One had tiny individual stars, thousands, dropping from a single big burst. Another was they had a row of ten cannons that fired into low flowing, curved fan shapes. One time they poured screamers through them. Wow, that was noisy. Another time they piled on fireworks that made a whiteout effect, both in the fans and up high. Then when the sky was all white/gray they fired bursting color ones on that backdrop. Neat. It was supposedly ranked as one of the top 5 fireworks shows in the country. Broadway was blocked off from most traffic, except that they managed to get a ship in there. It was the sinking Titanic (inflatable slide version)! It was complete with a boy on top too scared to slide down! The people watching was so much fun!
Nashville is a lot nicer area than Memphis. We were in Memphis for 3 days and drove around quite a bit. Most areas were pretty shrubby. Not so that you didn't feel safe but everything was run down. Plus it was hot, hot, hot with stupid high humidity. Folks told us that the day we left Memphis it got up to 106. We've driven all over the place in Nashville and the country is so beautiful. It's very green - different than the northwest in that there's almost a tropical, lush feel to the greenery.
Housing just a little bit out of the center of the city is mostly brick with colonial details like columns and porches on large lots - 1/2 to 3/4 acre. It all seems so beautifully expansive. But it's not expensive, or at least not by California standards. We went to a man's home for him to repair our black water tank and wheel well and his home was beautiful. It's a 16 year old 3bd/2bath, 2200 square foot house on 3/4 acre lot. At the time they bought it the cost was only $90K. Now he figures it's up to $170K. That's a pretty slow rate of increase but what a remarkable difference from California in terms of what you get for your money! Anyways, the temperature and humidity seems much less unpleasant in Nashville than Memphis. You look around and you can imagine the gentile plantations, etc.
Nashville has long considered itself to be the "Athens" of the South. There is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon south of downtown that was built in 1872 as part of the city's centennial celebration. It was originally built in a temporary fashion to be torn down after the centennial but public outcry demanded that it be rebuilt as a permanent structure. It's really quite striking. For those of us who haven't been to Athens Greece (yet) it was impressive to walk the perimeter and get a true feel for the scale of it.
All in all we've met many wonderful, helpful, people during our stay in Nashville. Several that we'll continue to keep in contact with via email and our website postings. How fun it is to see the land and people for ourselves and not just via books or television - it makes all the difference. Nashville has been a very hospitable and comfortable place to be "stuck."