I’m back in Mondoville, having returned yesterday from a few days in the city of my birth. Things that happened…
I drove to Nashville on Wednesday, with a stopover in Knoxville to have lunch with the Mad Dog at one of my principal vices. But the road was calling our names — I had a couple of hours to drive yet, and the Mads were preparing for their own Spring Break trip… to Hawaii. Still, it was good to see the Mad Dog, and it gave me a chance to attempt to develop my parking lot selfie skills.
I made it to my hotel, near my old neighborhood. Nashville’s population has grown dramatically in the last few decades, and my particular burb, Hermitage, has turned in many ways into a warning about sprawl. Fast-food joints and strip malls jostle one another along a strip of Interstate 40, and the place I stayed was just off the exit ramp, tucked behind a Mexican restaurant.
After I got settled in, I reached out to my friends Michael Dearing and Carl Groves, and told them they could find me by looking for the plumes of smoke from the exploding meth labs. But the room was clean, if in need of some maintenance — missing wall plates where the cable for the TV came out, a night light in need of replacement, and a bathroom vent fan that had given up the ghost, that sort of thing — and the wifi connection was good. As I told my aunt later, it was the sort of place where one might feel okay about taking a truck stop hooker, possibly even if she was still alive. I didn’t feel unsafe or anything — it was just a little skeevy, to borrow a term from the Spawn. And at fifty bucks a night while the city was hosting the SEC Basketball tournament, it was the best deal in the area.
My next stop was my aunt’s house. They knew I was coming to town, but they hadn’t expected me until Thursday, so my appearance was a bit of a surprise. We went out for dinner at the Mexican restaurant I mentioned earlier. It was crowded, and after having the nachos, I understood why. And it made getting back to my room easy enough. In fact, the restaurant’s parking lot was pretty full, so I had just parked in front of my room and walked the 200 or so feet to the restaurant. So after telling my aunt and uncle goodnight, I walked back to my room, read a little bit of a Michael Connelly paperback, and called it a night.
I woke up around seven on Thursday morning, and headed for the shower. Apparently no one had used my room for a while, because when I turned the water on, there was a brief gout of rusty water before it ran clear and I could perform my morning ablutions. I had planned on using the motel’s shampoo, but instead of the usual tiny bottles, I found a tiny packet of what appeared to be Kevlar, and my wet hands weren’t going to get it pulled open, so I wound up washing my hair with the bar of hotel soap.
After getting civilized, I went out to the cemetery where my parents, maternal grandparents, and the cousin who was my closest childhood friend (he died when we were thirteen) are interred. It was a gorgeous day, unseasonably warm and sunny. I got a collapsible chair out of my car, and sat there for a couple of hours, until it was time to drive back to the old neighborhood for lunch at a barbecue place (It’s too nice to be called a “joint.”) Our server looked like Alex Rodriguez, but as I told him, he’s young and could still be a decent human being. As we enjoyed the rib tips special, Carl, Mike, and I talked about music (of course), family, and other general catching up — the sort of thing that guys who have been friends for 46 years do. As it turns out, Carl’s eldest (who is in the Air Force) will be assigned soon to a location about sixty miles from Mondoville. As Carl just got his pilot’s license, and since we have a small public airport and some vacant bedrooms, we agreed that visits were likely in the offing.
Afterwards, we got a shot of the three of us:
And here’s what we looked like 39 years earlier, at our first gig — the Donelson Jr. High talent show:
After that, Mike and I rode over to his mother’s place, where I hadn’t been in years. His mom remains very active, and we watched a bit of basketball on TV while we hung around for a bit. From there, I went back to my aunt’s, and picked her up for a trip to Hobby Lobby, where I bought flowers for my return to the cemetery on Friday. I also took her for a drive through our old subdivision.
When I lived there, the neighborhood was primarily blue-collar, with occasional white-collar sections. My grandparents (a fire fighter and a drugstore cashier) were pretty typical residents. These days, at least on my block, it seems to be more of a tank-top neighborhood. The house across the street from my old one sports what appears to be a life-sized concrete statue of Elvis in the Army. I suppose it makes sense — I’m from a region and from a social class that supplies a disproportionately large segment of our military personnel. Not sure why the statue looks so much like Big E, though.
Meanwhile, the house next door to my old one appears to have had a concrete lawn ornament store explode in the front yard. Bedraggled fawns, geese, birdbaths, and saints’ statues form a Maginot Line of weather-damaged tchotchkes between their house and my old one.
As for my old place, I’m not entirely sure it’s occupied — the mailbox lay in the front yard’s ditch, having fallen or been knocked loose from the 4 x 4 that held it up. A couple of years ago, previous occupants had planted a small jungle of foliage in the front yard, but that has been cleared away, and it actually looks better than it had:
After I got Aunt Glo home, she arranged the flowers before heading to a meeting of her homeowners’ association with my uncle. I picked up a cheap Little Caesar’s pizza and a couple of sodas and retired to my room for the evening.
At first, I thought I might watch some basketball on TV, but in order for that to happen, I had to get the TV turned on. After a bit of furniture moving, I discovered that the TV had been unplugged up. I fixed that, and got the TV turned on, but I couldn’t find the appropriate input channel, and after a while I gave up, got online, and read a little more Connelly before I called it a night.
After a fitful sleep, the next morning I finished the leftover pizza for breakfast. I opened the door of the minifridge to get out my Sundrop — and discovered that the TV was not the only thing that had been left unplugged. So I drove to Aunt Glo’s, picked up the flowers, and drove back to the cemetery.
A cold front had blown through the area overnight, and it was much cooler, although still sunny, and the wind was pretty sharp. I still stayed for a couple of hours — I don’t get there as often as I’d like, and I’m never really ready to leave when I go. I’m not entirely on the level of the child in Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven“, but I get her point.
As I’ve mentioned before, the cemetery is also the final resting place for a number of music business luminaries. One of my colleagues, the Nerd Girl, happens to be a fan of the late Marty Robbins, and Mr. Robbins was (and as far as I know, still is) buried in another section of the graveyard, so I drove to the back of the cemetery, near the Interstate, and sent her a souvenir of the necropolis:
But Mr. Robbins’s grave was not as obvious as I thought it might be, and when I walked to the first large marker I saw, I discovered that I had found another notable musician — Larrie Londin, the legendary session drummer who played for everyone from Marvin Gaye to Adrian Belew and Journey. His marker is about the same size as Robbins’s.
As I mentioned these graves are in a little-used section of the cemetery, and I noticed that the floral urn at Mr. Londin’s grave was empty. I had already placed my flowers with my family, but I thought Londin should be remembered as well. And that’s why, unless someone has been there in the last couple of days, Mr. Londin’s urn is now the home of a used pair of Zildjian drumsticks, size 7A. Thanks for the music, sir.
I got back to Aunt Glo’s house in time for lunch and the second half of my beloved Kentucky Wildcats’ win over Georgia in the SEC quarterfinals. Kentucky’s fans are legendary for their devotion to the team and their willingness to travel and display that devotion, and there were plenty of blue shirts in the stands. I knew there were even more outside, and that the Big Blue Nation would be out in force in Nashville this weekend.
Carl picked me up around nine that evening, and we went downtown to catch Mike Dearing’s blues band in Printers’ Alley. Well, actually, it’s Stacy Mitchhart‘s band, but Mike has played with Stacy for years, and serves as the band’s musical director as well. Sure enough, the bar was wall-to-wall with Kentucky fans. “My people,” I said when we walked in. Carl looked at me oddly. “UK fans.”
“Oh, OK,” he said. “I thought you meant barflies.”
Mike had put us on the guest list, and the servers found us a corner overlooking Mike’s end of the stage. I drank a couple of cokes as the band made its way through the first of two 105-minute(!) sets. He came up and joined us during the break, and while we were sitting there, Carl asked what the deal was with all the UK fans.
“When you live in Kentucky,” I said, “you’re used to having people make fun of you. Shoeless hilljacks, inbreds — that sort of thing. But you have UK basketball. These folks,” I said, “live and die with the Cats, and most of them will never get the chance to get a good seat in Rupp Arena — it’s always sold out. So a lot of these people plan their vacations around the tournament. They literally have been looking forward to this all year.” And they were having a good time, and so did I. Mike even got a couple of vocal turns on covers of “Peg” by Steely Dan and the Police’s “Roxanne.” Neither of these are what you would call blues standards, but I can assure you that musically speaking, neither tune is a walk in the park. The fact that the band pulled this off with the same effortlessness and panache they displayed in the simpler tunes is a reminder that you can walk into any bar in Nashville and find amazing players.
But it was well past midnight when the second set got rolling, so Carl and I headed home, and as I walked to the car, I was reminded of something I already knew — how much the city has changed over the decades since I lived there. When I was a kid, the headquarters of the Life and Casualty Insurance Co. was the titan of the city’s skyline.
It’s still there.
I’m older and grayer too, I guess, but I’m glad to have made the trip.
There was light snow falling when I woke up yesterday morning, and while I remember how to drive in that, I wasn’t sure that everyone else on the Interstate would, so I went ahead and got rolling.
Apart from a few flurries as I went through the Smokies, though, the drive wasn’t bad — the worst part of the whole business was the briny grunge slung into my windshield by the cars in front of me. So I made it home yesterday evening, and wrote this as I watched Kentucky claim the conference tournament championship. And now all those fans I mentioned earlier are heading back to their homes, a day after I headed back to mine.
With luck, I’ll be back soon.