ZEN AND THE ART OF WHISKEY MANAGEMENT

It was cold and drizzling, and as the Uber pulled in to the gravel lot I had managed to glide the car into the night before, I saw the plot had become wetlands with my automotive paperweight mired in the middle. Again, we called AAA. While waiting, we repeated how exceptionally lucky we had been that the malfunction hadn’t caused an accident, that the car died so close to our desired destination, that this didn’t happen in the midday heat of rural Arizona. We decided regardless of its condition (J still believing it might be fixed, me certain it couldn’t be), we would sell the car.

Space phone in hand, I got to work securing the cheapest rental through any permutation of dates and rental locations available. It being the week of Nashville’s Food and Wine Festival, that turned out to be an SUV at a facility adjacent to the cheap repair shop we were towing the car to, instead of a hatchback from the airport. While we sat, the gentleman who owned the used car lot next door sauntered over. I prepared myself for a scolding, worried he might be angry at us for parking on his property. He leaned over the muddy pool surrounding us to ask if we were alright and if we had anyone coming to help. After assuring him we did, he left, only to return minutes later with bottles of water. If you’re going to break down, the South is a good place to do it.

The thick soup of post-Irma weather mixed with the tears of Texas cast Nashville under a solid slab of gloom, which seemed appropriate while we waited for the carcass of our former vehicle to be towed away. The owner of the used car lot adjacent to the abandoned lot we left the car in the night before checked in on us, and brought us waters about twenty minutes later. I am constantly impressed by the ease with which Southerners exhibit kindness. Even our tow driver, who was more than a little racist, had more cold water and blind stabs at humor for us.

A Lexus being hitched to a tow truck.
First day of the rest of Two by Tour’s life, last day for this heap.

After the previous evening, the tow truck’s timely response came as a surprise. The driver acted like the good-natured, wise-cracking, good ol’ boy reductive Northerners tend to expect from the South. It was a warm blanket, given the circumstances. However, minutes later he started divulging anecdotes about his interactions with telemarketers, who were all idiot foreign scammers he thought Trump was supposed to have sent back to their own countries by now. I’m always surprised when white men are so daft as to overlook both my ethnicity and gender, making me privy to these kinds of confidences. Annoyed, I struggled to keep my tone in check for the ten minutes I needed his help, all but omitting myself from the exchange. J is just as angered as I by this sort of nonsense, yet somehow always manages to find some diplomatic thing to say to divert the conversation with grace. This time was no different.

The auto shop gave a pretty quick field diagnosis along with a discount for the rental place next door. Rental vehicles were in generally short supply, and we had already happened to make a reservation next door, being that it was the cheapest game in town. The cheapest game in town, by some cruel twist of fate, also gave us the biggest damn car in town. We switched from a Lexus RX to a Chevy Suburban, which we named Maus. Poor Lexus never even managed to get a nickname.

We dropped off the car at the shop and walked over to pick up our rental. The lot, at what turned out to be a combination Avis/U-haul repository, was sparse. A small black Japanese SUV near the back seemed a likely contender to be our new ride. The agent placed our key, tag facing him, on the desk. I read the word Subaru, upside down, and sighed, relieved. Immediately realizing rental car companies do not carry Subarus, I took another look. As I did, the agent pointed over my shoulder, “The white one, over there.”

I beheld the imperious white Chevy Suburban and was immediately dejected. The closer I got, the more frantic panic overtook my self-pity. This car was massive, the same length as the U-haul parked beside it. Carpool a soccer team, chauffeur a prom, single-handedly cause global warming immense. I took a few breaths, steadied myself, and marched back in to politely demand an exchange. The desk agent apologized, saying all he had was that or a sad looking minivan. Depressed by the idea of six weeks in a minivan, I made my way back over to the car. I sat in the driver’s seat. This thing was excessive. I was sure it would certainly get worse mileage than the much older vehicle we had been driving. It would be impossible to park. I had been prepared for the Lexus to crap out, had contingency plans at the ready, but this was too much.

J, trying not to look at me as though I were being irrationally dramatic, attempted to soothe my worries. It was brand new, had stereo advancements beyond a finicky cd player, fully functional air conditioning. He found it even miraculously got the same mileage as my old junker. I looked inside at the slick new interior and tried to accept this fate. I admitted I probably wouldn’t drive a car this nice for another ten years and collected myself. (Turns out, Chevy knows its market, and any fears I had about parking or maneuvering the titanic vehicle were unfounded. That thing is basically idiot-proof. It has a rear camera, side sensors, automatic lights and wipers. It buzzes your seat when you’re riding someone’s tail, though it doesn’t buy you a drink first. You can’t even lock your keys in the car. So much for survival of the fittest.)

However, this moment of Zen came after a test drive about town and lunch at Pinewood Social, a bowling alley/bar/artisanal coffee shop hybrid that is basically the restaurant version of an Anthropologie. With it’s large, airy floor plan, comfortably outfitted alcoves, tongue-in-cheek design elements, and no standing room policy, it is both aspirational and welcoming. It’s the type of thoroughly curated, yet relaxed hipster scene I’d find intolerably phony, were it not executed so solidly. It was sitting here, enjoying my immaculate french dip sandwich, that I was able to finally get my tits straight, with much patience from J.

We spent the afternoon in the Gulch after an epic lunch at Pinewood Social, featuring a beef tongue reuben. We hung out at Party Fowl for beers then got more of the same at the Jackalope Brewery a few doors down. Despite the weather and a total Bro-tel of an AirBnB run by four twenty-somethings (who were as genuinely nice as they were bro-y doofuses) that was inaccessible at the moment because reasons, we were starting to feel some good vibes seep into our cynical bones.

My mood improved, we drove to the Gulch to sample some beers at Party Fowl, where we fell in love with a watermelon gose, then headed to Jackalope, a local brewery, we’d missed our last time in these parts. Their brews deserve every bit of the hype they receive, and they were served by a disinterested young woman who was answering the conversations directed towards her with lack of eye contact and monosyllabic retorts that reminded me of my own magnetic temperament during my (short-lived) stints behind the bar.

A nighttime view of Hattie B's in Nashville Tennessee
Hattie B’s, an instant mood enhancer

The night before we had been too glad to arrive at our AirBnB to care that our hosts were a house of stoner twenty-somethings who had no garbage cans, kept their shoes in crates in the kitchen, and named their Netflix account DJ Freshy Fresh. After returning to our man-child cave lodgings to not find the promised key under the doormat (they hadn’t a spare for us), we decided to make the best of it with some emotional eating at Hattie B’s. The line moved quickly and we were glad for it, as the smell wafting from the kitchen had readied us for some of the best hot chicken (or fried chicken, for that matter) I’ve had. Their spice blend is nuanced and the oil seeped into the white bread below, absolving it of its formerly superfluous status. The collards and mac and cheese were exactly the comforting fare the day required and we left ready to move on to the big guns and headed across the street in search of whiskey.

We grabbed dinner at Hattie B’s and had the best hot chicken yet and some truly excellent sides. For dessert we popped across the street to investigate Wendell Smith’s, one of Nashville’s countless adorably neon-festooned old school spots. The combination bar/restaurant/liquor store was past service for the former two, but we grabbed a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 and two airplane bottles of Apple Pie Moonshine. The clerk put me on my heels by sermonizing a sort of ad-hoc, here’s-your-booze-invocation, then calling me out for thinking he didn’t know “alternative” music (his emphasis, not mine) when he pointed out my Deerhunter shirt. After checking my ID, he proceeded to shit all over PA for its lack of contribution to the musical canon, before we both started in about Ohio, lamenting that no one from there knows shit about shit, despite sizable contributions to music. Southern hospitality. It’s no myth.

I wandered while J got to work sorting out our bourbon needs, and stumbled into a conversation about apple pie moonshine. I took notice as the clerk pulled two, shot-sized mason jars from behind the counter. Like a child peering into a pet store window, I knew I must have this adorable booze. I convinced J to add two to our purchase, and we settled up. The cashier complimented him on his Deerhunter t-shirt. J started to tell him about the show we had recently seen, when he was good-naturedly cutoff with a, “I know a thing or two about alternative music, young man.” He proceeded to rail off a list of bands, both iconic and obscure, who were underappreciated by their hometowns of Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The ribbing was damn entertaining, and as we headed home to enjoy our whiskey, we laughed at the idea that he most definitely had been the DJ of his college radio station.

 

Airplane Bottles of Ole Smoky Moonshine
Cheers!

As we left the store giggling, we got a message from the Bro-tel that we’d be able to get inside, finally. Perched on a rickety mattress on the floor, we drank our dessert, watched Bojack Horseman and sipped 101. We had gotten the all-clear for our Hot Springs, AR plans, and despite some of the next day being taken up with car hassles, things were looking up. After a morning of making arrangements for the recently deceased, we headed to Arnold’s for more of the same amazing food. Arnold’s legendary dessert game delivered with the best pecan pie either of us had ever had. Y’s theory of good food and weather translating to friendly, good-natured people continues to hold up.

The Nashville Parthenon
The (other) Parthenon

After spending the better part of an hour using my manager voice to secure the car’s transfer and pickup the following day, we celebrated with a light meat and three lunch at Arnold’s, where we were schooled by both the fried green tomatoes and pecan pie. I had little interest in seeing the reproduction of the Parthenon in Centennial Park, finding it a bit gauche and out of place, but after behaving like a brat the previous day, I figured I owed J one. The structure was built for the Nashville Centennial, and was so favored by the city, they worked to make it a permanent fixture. The building houses four museums. The first, an anthropological chronicle of the Nashville Centennial through photographs and various mementos, was made more personal by the use of two narratives, one an African American lawyer and father attending the celebration with his family, the second, a white woman artist there with her daughter. These differing accounts peppered throughout did an immaculate job of showing the unsettling ways in which the event would have been experienced by minority groups. The exhibit further showed its dedication to an honest retelling of an ignoble history by addressing the racism promoted at attractions such as the Mexican and Chinese Villages, or by the separation of African Americans in the Negro Building. The hypocrisy of women attending lectures on suffrage and employment in the Women’s Building while being surrounded by displays meant to appeal to their domestic nature, was also discussed.

Statue of Athena at the Nashville Parthenon
Statue of Athena at the Nashville Parthenon

The second gallery housed a gift of 63 paintings, mostly landscapes, showcasing American painters. The third featured cheeky paintings by a Tennessee native flaunting the state’s many symbols. However the main attraction was the reproduction itself. The statue of Athena residing there is breathtaking, and a docent sensing our interest pointed out that in Greece, the wide, shallow channel before her would have been filled with water and reflected the statue’s gold brilliantly. He then took us around back to show off the engineering that allows a single Y or J to open and shut the largest doors in the world. He confided that in order to place them in their hinges without scratching the marble floor installed beneath them, a sheet of ice had been placed between the two. Fascinating was a series of models detailing how a local husband and wife team of sculptors had reproduced the elaborate scenes on the friezes through a laborious process of first casting the artifacts, then using clay to build up the missing portions of the statues on to the casts, using these composites to create a cohesive mold, and finally casting once more from this mold.

Happy and increasingly hopeful about our joint enterprise, we set off for the Nashville Parthenon. The building itself is breathtaking, but the story behind it and the Centennial Exposition of 1897 that originally brought it to Nashville is what makes it truly stirring. Our luck with guides and/or docents persisted, and we were both shown that we could each single-handedly move the largest bronze door in the world (at a whopping 7.5 tons) when a guide took us under his wing. As we walked around the perimeter of the building there was a man playing an ocarina. A fucking ocarina. Which provided a lovely lilting soundtrack to our stroll of Centennial Park, a remnant of the 1897 event.

An Aboriginal wicker fish at the KMAC
Ancestral Modern Aboriginal Art at the KMAC

The last time we had been in Nashville we had failed to budget our time wisely and ended up only seeing half of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, and ironically, this time around only half of the gallery space was on display. We gladly paid the half-price admission and took in the exhibit of Aboriginal contemporary art, which left us both inspired to create and put our hands on some paint or pencils. The more I learn and witness the common threads in the shamanistic beliefs of the world, the more I am amazed by the simple truths they weave.

The Ancestral Modern exhibit on Aboriginal art at the Frist proved equally unexpected. I had harbored a vague notion of beautifully repetitive patterns like those found in Native American crafts, however here was sophisticated, emotive, modern art with an arresting use of color and movement. I found the paintings on bark particularly affecting, as the history behind it. Traditionally, the painted bark would have been tied together in a cylinder, once more forming a hollow “tree”, then used to house the bones of the deceased so that in time, they may be left out to return to the earth. Featured artist Emily Kan Kngwarray, had not picked up a brush before she was 80, then went on to create over a thousand canvases in the 8 years before she passed. I found her work as compelling as her story.

"Anooralya (Wild Yam Dreaming)", Emily Kam Kngwarray, 1995.
“Anooralya (Wild Yam Dreaming)”, Emily Kam Kngwarray, 1995.

After the exhibit, we headed to Broadway for some traditional BBQ. Finding parking to be, as the kids say, a clusterfuck, due to multiple events, we parked gratis across the river right next to the stadium and enjoyed a walk over the Cumberland River on a converted rail bridge towards the swirl of neon and music. We found our quarry at Martin’s, which was epic and definitely worth the extra few blocks’ walk off the main drag.

The Nashville skyline at sunset with the Cumberland River in the foreground
Nashville, Tennessee

With downtown being a tangle of traffic, we parked across from Titans’ Stadium and used the pedestrian bridge to cross the Cumberland River. The sun setting and the city lights mirrored on the water, it was a vivid scene. We indulged in entirely too much smoked meat at Martin’s, then headed to HQ to drink exceptional beers while trying not to embarrass ourselves in pinball. After a few heated matches, an unforgettable chai porter, and a triumphant team offensive against zombie aliens, we wrestled ourselves away from Nashville’s unquestionable charm and bid the city goodnight.

For a nightcap we went to Headquarters. We discovered on our last trip to Nashville that there was everything to love about an arcade bar and dj spot with a solid beer list. In just an hour or so, we had saved the planet from aliens, killed centipedes, discovered we were terrible at slinging beer (at least in 8-bit) and beaten the tar out of each other. We also shared in the ritual cocktail of rage, jubilation, and violence that is pinball, bowing our heads in woeful defeat before the angry gods of Flippers, Tilts and Drains. Full of good food and another batch of fond memories, we walked back across the footbridge under the faint stars in neon haze and went home.

A man standing over a series of pinball tables at Headquarters in Nashville Tennessee
So much to learn you have, young Padawan.

3 thoughts on “ZEN AND THE ART OF WHISKEY MANAGEMENT

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