I managed to unsettle someone within five minutes of being on the ground in Tennessee. To be precise, I hadn’t even gotten off the plane yet. I opened the overhead bin to get out my suitcase, and the guy a row behind me said,
“Do you want some help?”
“No thanks, I got it,” I said, as I reached up and pulled my luggage down. I could feel the shock running through the people behind me, and whether its because I was a small woman in a sundress who refused help, because I did not have an accent, or because people were afraid that this suitcase which weighed 40 lbs was going to crush me, I don’t know. But feeling the shock around me, I laughed and thought, “Welcome to Tennessee.”
Last year one of my friends moved down to TN, to be a kick ass nurse at one of the best residency programs in the nation. I hadn’t seen her in a year, so I flew down for 4th of July weekend. The last time I had been in Tennessee was during a food-stop on an alternative spring break trip, when 38 sleep-deprived college kids tumbled off a bus in the middle of I-don’t-know-where Tennessee. We walked into the Chik-fil-a and everyone turned and stared at us. It happened to be a Saturday afternoon. And all the other customers, from age 5 to 60, were in dresses and shirts with collars. And there we stood in sweatpants and sweatshirts, slightly gross from being on a bus for 15 hours. It was hilarious.
This time, however, I was visiting Nashville. Nashville is, as my friend Kate puts it, “the biggest small town that ever existed”. Which is true. Although it’s a city of 659,000 people, bigger than Boston by 15,000, it feels much more like a giant sprawling neighborhood, with a few skyscrapers thrown in for the business district.
I appreciate driving with Kate—she turns the volume up when good parts of songs comes on so that our car is shaking and we sing along at the top of our lungs on the highway, rolling slow in the Tennessee heat with other drivers looking at us like we’re crazy.
Cause we are. You can take the girls out of New England, but you can’t take the New England out of the girls.
Our first stop after getting me from the airport was food. The Pharmacy is a restaurant with pretty much the best hamburgers I have ever had. I was too excited about seeing Kate to really look at what I was ordering, and I was surprised to find that my hamburger included a burger, then bacon, and then an egg, sandwiched between the two buns. It turned out I had ordered “The Farm Burger.”
Kate then casually dropped that she’s found a few brown recluse spiders living in her house— which are highly poisonous, a lovely southern surprise. The next 45 minutes of our lives entailed looking at pictures of brown recluse bites, researching the symptoms, treatments, and prognosis, and being equally enthralled and horrified by the pictures of necrotic flesh.
That’s what you get for graduating with a degree in nursing and pathobiology. We love this shit.
We drove out to rural TN the next day to go hiking around Randor lake, and then go tubing on the Red River. Both were beautiful although I got sunburned in five minutes. Additionally, I learned that people in Nashville really love their gates. This is what Kate and I realized as we drove up and down neighborhoods. As an added bonus, most of the gates were pointless.
“It goes out five feet on either side!” I yelled, pointing at the offending brick gate as we drove past yet another useless “gate”. “We could literally just go around it and drive on their lawn to get to the house!”
Kate agreed. It became a game of finding the most pointless gate. (See the video at the end of the post for the winner).
Kate found a Catholic church that she likes, so on Sunday morning we got up early and headed a few miles down the road. I’m extremely thrilled that my friend has found a church (I’ve been church-hunting for 2 YEARS and it sucks), but I was a little reserved as we headed over. I grew up Catholic, but now identify solely as Christian. However, the South is known for being religious, and I was curious to see how a Catholic Mass differed down here than up North.
Spoiler alert: there is no difference.
I should have expected this, really. Catholicism has a LOT of rules. There is no room for a Mass to differ state to state, or even country to country. The Priest wears robes, we sit, we stand, we sing, we kneel, we stand, we receive communion, we profess our faith, we shake hands, we sit, we stand, we walk out.
However, I was very pleasantly surprised when the Priest took a moment to pray for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and managed to do so without any malice or bias toward either candidate. He asked God to give them strength, wisdom, and to guide them to make our Country whole. Thank God someone is praying for our country.
Nashville nightlife is FUN. There are bars with live music and bars that have both live music and DJ’s. We went out with a bunch of Kate’s work friends, and her roommate’s cousins. The first night we went to a few bars on Broadway. One of the bars was 3 stories high, the top floor putting you at mid-height with the skyscrapers surrounding you on the open deck, which was nice in the summer night. They also had a live band that played Sweet Home Alabama, which instantly won them over in my heart. If anyone goes to Nashville I’d recommend going to Crazy Town, the second bar we hit. It was insane, and pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had going out.
Also, people actually dance in Nashville; I saw swing dancing, country dancing, and everything in between. I have also discovered that Whisky and coke is disgusting. You’re great, TN, but for the love of God, I do not like whiskey mixed with coke.
At some point at the second bar I got invited to shoot guns at some guy’s house. He was fairly drunk at this point and upon hearing that I wanted to go to a shooting range and learn more about gunmanship (but they were all closed for the 4th weekend), invited me to his friend’s house. His friend overheard this and got in his face.
“DUDE! You are NOT inviting more people over to my house!”
“Why not?” hat-boy replied, sounding kind of like a whining 5 year old. “They’re from here!”
Nightlife in Nashville starts at 10pm and ends at 3am. I am not used to this. All other cities have agreed that you go out around 9:30 and get back at 1am; I expressed the sentiment to Kate. Her solution was to buy me a Vodka Redbull at the first bar we went to. This worked extremely well, in addition to tasting great. I have never had Redbull or any energy drink before, but I figured it worked like coffee—get energy for a few hours, then it’s done.
We got home at 3:30am and I climbed into bed, ready to sleep for hours. Instead, I woke up at 7:00am with my brain shouting, “HELLO WORLD! WHAT AN AMAZING DAY, LET’S ALL GET OUT THERE AND DO OUR BEST!” while my body was saying “why. 3 hours of sleep. How.”
Redbull, my friends. Like I said, new to energy drinks.
On my last day we visited a plantation, which was known for raising thoroughbreds that win the Kentucky Derby. You know what else this Southern Plantation was known for, that they seemed to have skipped over in the guidebook? Owning 84 slaves.
I love history, especially anything to do with European or the Revolutionary War history. But Southern history leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I recognize this is called cognitive dissonance. I am all too happy to walk the Revolutionary Trail, walk over the Old North Bridge, and tour the Mayflower. I consider that my history, my county’s inspiring and wicked awesome history, fighting to throw off British rule.
But when it comes to the civil war, I don’t see it as “our history”. I see it as North versus South, Right versus Wrong. And since I was born in the North, I look at the civil was as one huge embarrassing splotch of time. Even though MA had slaves until at least 1781 (civil war started in 1861), I feel more disgust at the South than shame at the North when I think of the Civil War.
We also walked around Stone’s River Battlefield, which was the bloodiest battle for the Confederate army. It was a wide, stretching field. Standing there in the 99 degree heat, cars passing only once every half hour on the road, I didn’t feel anything but sadness, unusual for me when at historical landmarks. Of the 35,000 southern troops, 23,000 died trying to keep the right to own other human beings. And yet in the 151 years after the civil war, we still seem to be having issues as a nation over what “equality for all” means.
We went to Percy Priest on my second to last day there, hoping to hike. Unfortunately the trails were blocked with police barriers, so we walked down to the lake and people watched instead.
I knew before I flew to Tennessee that there was ignorance down South (there’s ignorance everywhere), but I was still speechless at what I saw.
“Oh my God,” Kate said, stopping walking. “Megan. Look over there.”
I turned to where she was nodding, and saw a girl wading into the water with her dog. She was wearing a bikini that looked like the British flag; red, white and blue with stars…. Except it wasn’t the British or American flag.
We continued to stare at this girl and her boyfriend. She was either the most ignorant person I’d ever seen, or the most racist.
The girl, her boyfriend, Kate, and I were the only Caucasian people on the lake. Everyone else was black. I had seen Confederate bumper stickers on trucks that read “Heritage, not Hate.” Yeah, okay. That would be like Germany flying Nazi flags and being like “Oh, no, this has nothing to do with the Holocaust; this is history, not hate against a particular group of people.”
You can’t separate them. Most of history is one group of people persecuting another group of people out of hate, because of the latter group’s heritage.
I don’t think any of us can fathom someone trying to defend flying the Nazi flag. You wouldn’t do that, because that is BEYOND racist. At that point, you are saying that you’d like to hold onto the symbol of genocide and enslavement of other human beings, because that part of history gives you the warm and fuzzies. That particular part of your heritage is something you’re proud of.
This notion is sickening, but more horrifying is that black people down south actually have to live with neighbors and co-workers and random strangers who are not only racist, but who are not rebuked for their racism by their society. Not that the North is blameless or perfect. Heritage without hate is a hard thing to define, but it definitely does not include racist flags on a bikini. There’s a lot more to be said about this topic, but it’s not something I want to brush over quickly in a blog post, so I’ll leave it here.
You can check out some of the other things Kate and I did in the videos here. I kept my video’s pretty light, full of pancakes, tractors, and food.