Well, I was, anyway, traveling to Nashville to visit family and friends, and to celebrate my cousin Jack’s 60th birthday. It was my first extended trip that way since before COVID, so I felt as though I had catching up to do.
I had work stuff to attend on Monday, so I got out of Mondoville Tuesday morning. About three hours in, I stopped in Sevierville, TN for lunch at a Krystal. The chain has faced financial difficulties in recent years, and my Nashville family tells me that several locations (including the one I frequented in my childhood and teens) have shutdown altogether. But the one I visited seemed to be doing just fine., and my order of cheeseburgers and chili cheese tots went just fine. However, I also noticed a Buc-ee’s under construction a block or two away, so even this location’s days may be numbered.
[Side Note: I had driven about 75 miles when I realized I had left Jack’s birthday gift in Mondoville. This inspired a bit of excremental vocabulary on my part, but fortunately, Mrs. M was able to order another copy and have it shipped to Nashville, so I can return the original version in the next few days. End Side Note.]
A little further down the road I found another Buc-ee’s, this one in Crossville, TN, about 100 miles from my destination. I fueled up the car and got a drink there, finishing up the drive with no difficulty.
I stayed at my Aunt Glo’s this trip, in the suburb where I spent my childhood and my teen summers, although in a different neighborhood. Aunt Glo is the last of her generation of my family, and is plugging right along. Indeed, she gets around as well as I do — maybe there’s something to that knee replacement stuff after all. She brought me up to speed on the family’s goings-on, and I told her how Mrs. M and the Spawn are doing. We then hit a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, making our way back to the house around nightfall.
The next day, she had a doctor’s appointment downtown, so her son (the cousin Jack I mentioned earlier) came to drive her while I went to visit the family plot in Woodlawn Memorial Park. I brought a collapsible chair so I could sit for a while, but when I got there, I couldn’t get the thing to open up. I spent several minutes wrestling with the thing until I finally noticed the securely fastened strap and clasp that was holding it closed. I finally got it opened up, but as I sat down, I was morally certain that my parents, grandparents, uncle, and cousin were snickering from their locations in the big somewhere.
After that, I aimed the Blue Meanie (which broke the 5,000-mile mark this trip) back to the burbs, where I met Mike Dearing and Carl Groves, with whom I’ve been friends for more than 50 years. We had lunch and shot the breeze for a couple of hours, agreeing to reconvene on Friday night for a jam session including Jack. Unfortunately, Carl had some minor hand surgery the next day, which put the kibosh on that, so instead, the four of us met up for dinner, on which more anon. Honestly, it might be just as well — I’m easily the least talented musician of the four of us. Although Mike is the only one of us who makes a living as a musician — Carl owns a disability consulting business, and Jack just marked his 25th anniversary as a pilot with Delta — all three of them are major-league-level players. I meanwhile, have Cooperstown-level passion for music, but Chattanooga-level ability. That’s okay — I get to play in the majors as a writer, and I still haven’t forgotten to tingle.
I made it back to the house a little bit before Glo and Jack got there, and then the three of us chatted a bit. Jack’s eldest daughter Marina is getting ready to receive her Masters in Data Science from UC-Riverside, while younger sister Meredith is augmenting her undergrad work with a stint as deputy field director for one of the candidates in Nashville’s mayoral race. Then the three of us went to a nearby marina (the boat kind, not the eldest daughter kind) a couple of miles from the house for dinner. The marina, on the shore on Percy Priest Lake, includes a BBQ shack called Papa Turney’s which is where we went for dinner. We got there in time for the beginning of the Wednesday night blues jam, and if you had “Stormy Monday” in the pool, then you would have won by song number two..
[Side Note: Having been here in Mondoville for twenty years, I’ve grown used to the local style of barbecue sauce, which is mustard-based, rather than tomato-based. Good barbecue is pretty universal, though, and there was a nicely diverse crowd, from motorcycle enthusiasts (not one-percenters, but willing to maintain the look) to, well, airline pilots and English profs. End Side Note.]
Another highlight was getting to ride in Jack’s new vehicle, a freshly minted Porsche Cayenne. I had to crane my neck a little bit as I got into the car, but some of that is probably my own awkwardness — Jack’s less than an inch shorter than I am, and does just fine, thanks. He certainly seems to enjoy it, and I can see why. We also got a drive around my old neighborhood, which seems to be in transition. Neat homes with neatly trimmed lawns sit next to houses with scads of tacky sculptures, birdbaths, and the like. When I was a kid, it was a mix of blue- and white-collar families (and families like mine, with elements of both), but these days, it seems to be a bit more aged and somewhat scruffier. It’s not scruffy enough to get gentrified yet, but apartments and condos are going up all around it, so who’s to say.
Thursday was Jack’s birthday, so I drove the Blue Meanie to Jack’s place in Franklin (a town a bit to the south of Nashville), chauffeuring Aunt Glo along the way. We all hung out at the house for a while, before heading to dinner at a Mexican place in Brentwood, another Nashville burb. Afterwards, it was back to the house, where gifts that had made it there included a new turntable for his man-cave/media center/recording studio from the girls, and a supercar speedway driving experience from his mom. (I’m betting he chooses the Porsche 911 GT3 RS.) Jack’s wife Cheryl brought a chocolate cake that was richer than Jeff Bezos from a local bakery , and a good time was had by all, even with enough time for the occasional snapshot
The Prof (L) and the Pilot, 18 May 23
Friday, Aunt Glo had lunch with a group of her friends from church, so I made a Starbucks run, only to discover that, near the frappuccino reserve, there was a Whataburger. Aunt Glo had mentioned it earlier, adding that when it opened not too long ago, the line had extended for blocks. Apparently the rush has died down, because when I got my burger (which was fine, btw) the wait wasn’t too bad.
After she got home, I took her to Hobby Lobby, where we got flowers for her to arrange for the family plot. Then it was time for me to meet Jack, Carl, and Mike at an Indian place near my old junior high school and the funeral home that has tended to my family for generations. The four of were there for a good three hours, but I could eat my lamb vindaloo without guilt, as there were numerous open tables, allowing us the time and space that becomes even more dear to people who share so much of a history. We talked about our old friends and schoolmates, and what our kids were up to; about music, trivia, and baseball injuries. We traded stories and bawdy jokes, drinking water and eating naan. It was a perfect capper to a good visit. But like all good things, we had to wrap it up eventually. But I’m already looking forward to next time.
Saturday morning, I took the arrangement Aunt Glo had put together to the cemetery, and set it up in the vase at my folks’ graves. From there, I made my way out of town, giving myself time for a breakfast buffet at a Shoney’s not far from where Carl lives now. The rain wasn’t too bad, but it slowed me just enough to get me home at about 6 p.m. last night.
Now the clothes are washed and I’m back in the office, and the guys and I are back to communicating via text message. But with luck, it won’t be long before I can get back that way, once more ready to demonstrate that I’m the worst musician of the four of us.
I’m going to close this installment with a bit of Jethro Tull. Stormwatch (1979) isn’t typically counted as classic Tull, but I’ve had it since I was a teenager, and have always been fond of it. This track seems fitting for my week of travel, in which I found people I love at both ends of the trip.
See you soon!