Road Trip Nashville

More international soccer provided the catalyst for a weekend getaway. The Women’s World Cup in Canada last June had wet our appetite for more. The She Believes Cup (an international friendly featuring U.S., France, Germany and England) was scheduled in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on March 6. The prospect of warmer temperatures and dramatic goal scoring prompted ticket buying and lodging procurement. Soccer is a daily dose for Josh and I and an easy sell to Steve and Kim, who are sports fans and love to travel. With nine hours of driving, we planned to break up the journey with a stop in Louisville.

With most trips, something unexpected typically happens. My Hotwired room at the Days Inn University Campus near Louisville provided the first scene. Off the exit ramp, searching for the entrance, a police cruiser’s lights flashed and blocked the access road at the hotel’s main entrance. We scanned for another way in, touring the hotel’s backside until we gained entrance through a side, gas station lot. We glimpsed a telephone pole leaning precariously across the road and a tow truck was securing a scraped-up Ford Super Duty. Inside the dated mid-80’s lobby, a crusty attendant informed us a drunk had careened off the freeway ramp directly into the pole. Thankfully our not-so-gently used room had clean bedding; we accessed our room through a door directly from the parking lot. A sign on the inside door indicated the check-out time and that the maximum day rate at $450. Hmmm, we agree that $90 was plenty considering the state of the flooring, wallpaper and the breakfast offerings. Thankfully, it was a short stay, the site of an 8-hour nap.

Post nap and after our sub-par breakfast, we navi-nagged our way to our Airbnb house on historic 20th Street in Old Town Nashville. A brief bout with dyslexia provided the next unexpected twist. Our host Richard’s house was 2107 20th, but we instead marched confidently up the steps to 2017 with all our bags in tow and rang the doorbell. A cheery, middle-aged blonde answered the door alongside her two dogs, who greeted and sniffed us on the porch. Steve politely asked, “Is Richard here?” She grinned, ended her phone call and informed us that Richard’s house was three-doors down and that she did not have accommodations for four! We blushed but she gracefully transitioned, “Welcome to Nashville. I’m Megan, the mayor,” as she shook our hands. Embarrassed laughs escaped from all of us as we realized our mistake. Megan continued, “You’ll love Richard’s house too, it’s quite nice…..what brings you all to my town?” We explained our soccer plans and she chimed in, “I’m going to the game too.” We apologized and took our leave, calling back that we would look for her at the stadium.

Three doors down was indeed 2107 and a lock box as Richard had described. We let ourselves in and moved in to the upstairs apartment. After a brief 30-minute reprieve we agreed on a short drive to Radnor Lake for a hike and to soak in the 60- degree sun. The ridge loop hike was perfect medicine for sun-deprived Michiganders that had been cooped in a car all morning. Other than the packed parking lot, we enjoyed the hike around the ridge and on the shores of Radnor. As we passed, tame deer grazed in the woods and ducks landed gracefully on the water. We didn’t mind the leafless trees and the muddy brown that had not yet transitioned to green. We focused instead on the blue water and the reflecting sunlight on our faces as we completed a circumvention of the lake. The sun continued to shine on us at a Mexican cantina patio for a late lunch of tacos with a salsa trio. We ate over-stuffed tacos using tortillas to scoop up the fixins’ that never stay in the shells. We happily chatted in between mouthfuls about heading into downtown for live music and a tour of Nash-Vegas.

That evening, the next twist appeared as our Uber driver, Anna who picked us and delivered us to Printer’s Alley. We were Anna’s very first customers on her very first ride in Nashville. And, none of us had ever used Uber so it was rookie season all around. It was a nice ride and even better chat. Turned out, Anna was also Ava Stewart, author of two novels: Everything in Between and Memoirs of Oblivion. I scribbled her name down on my Nashville map so I could look her books up later.

It was early, about 5 when she dropped us so we landed a four-top on the main floor of the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar. Gil Gan, a gregarious Texan picked his guitar and crooned some classic blues alongside his partner on a stand-up bass. Gil was a memorable guy and an enthusiastic vocalist. He sported a two-tier Texas tickler, the combo of a classic soul patch with a tickler in the shape of a slender V drifting down from his chin. He hiked his pants up to his knees while he sat revealing braided white dancer socks with black lace-up ballerina shoes. In between songs he let us know while pointing to the tip jar, “Michael and I are the hardest working duo in Nashville, working for you for two and half hours, no joke and no breaks folks. Can I get an alright then,” he would implore the crowd. We responded in unison, “ALRIGHT THEN!” He also let us know if we had requests, “they would play the sh*t out of it.”

We sipped Louisiana craft beers and clapped along to Gil for several hours until hunger pains started poking us. To support Gil’s request, we collected some cash for their tip jar. I walked it around dropped it in catching his eye. I leaned in, “How about a little Proud Mary?” With a subtle nod he grabbed his guitar and nodded to Michael on the bass. Before I even made it back to my seat, Gil had launched into a sultry Tina Turner version of one our favorite songs! Steve was all smiles – we all high-fived at the fastest request ever of Proud Mary at a bar. The crowd sang along, rollin’ along to Gil. After that song we rolled along down the Cumberland River toward Broadway in search of dinner.

An hour and a half wait at Puckett’s meant we walked down to the Arcade for the Nashville Art Walk to peruse some local inspiration. Galleries lined the two-story building full of photography, paintings and more. The meandering only made us hungrier so we returned to Puckett’s in high-hopes that 45 minutes was plenty to wait. No luck. The smiling hostess could not find our name which provided the catalyst to walk until we found Jack’s BBQ on Broadway. The line snaked out the front door and the streets were packed with revelers, birthday and bachelorette parties. Blake Shelton was playing at the Bridgestone Arena so that added to the volume of people and traffic. We patiently endured almost an hour in line for famous ribs and brisket. We experimented dunking meaty delights in a variety of four sauces ranging from mustard to spicy bbq. And, a homemade piece of cornbread paired well with the mac-n-cheese and potato salad. With full bellies and sticky fingers, we moved just two doors down to Layla’s Bluegrass Inn. A southern blues/rock band belted out covers while we found seats on the upper level. We sipped beers and bounced our boots on the barstools. We waited out a band changeover that switched to honky-tonk country classics. Steve convinced us to find another establishment with less country flare. We Ubered to mid-town and had a night-cap at a much mellower Midtown Brewhouse.

The next morning (game day), we discovered our host was also an author. Richard was aka Carson Morton, the author of Stealing the Mona Lisa. I purchased a copy and had him sign it all the while wondering why I didn’t have a pen name! Perhaps Lauren Holbrook, Bri Wintergreen or Brownie White… (this would be a discussion on the long drive home). After our discovery of Richard’s writing career, we walked to breakfast around the corner at JC Christopher’s in the warming sun. Then, clad in USA scarves and short sleeves, we drove across the river to the stadium to walk around before the US/France fixture. We tried to get free parking because Steve drives a Nissan Rogue, but a cheerful attendant shook her head and extended her hand for a $20. Fans were gathering, kids kicked balls around and a few tailgaters grilled and spread food out on folding tables. We stretched legs and walked around the stadium and over the pedestrian bridge with views of downtown Nashville. The sun felt glorious on our walking tour and we eventually entered the stadium only to discover that we’d be watching the game from the shady side.
The announcer introduced the teams then informed the state of Tennessee officially broke a record for women’s soccer attendance at 25,363. The patriotic crowd and the U.S. Outlaws section started off chanting, full of energy. Energetic clapping turned to nervous sighs as France dominated the first half. The French strikers hit two posts and narrowly missed a perfect cross, as a busy Hope Solo kept the U.S. in the game. Several defensive mistakes and sloppy offense had our resident coach Josh wondering what the second half would bring.

Feeling lucky to be 0-0 at half we sought snacks and sunny spots at the break. The second half continued with a sputtering offense and only a few rare chances on goal. But, like the sun on the other side, luck shone on the girls for a single chance. The drama quotient was high, the 89th minute had ticked away, as the 17-year old Pugh controlled a random bounce off a French defender. She raced forward and sent a laser pass forward to Alex Morgan who had outpaced her opponent by a step. Morgan sprinted forward and the entire crowd rose simultaneously to see her left-footed strike land deftly in the corner of the net. Score! Elation! Disbelief! Time expired and we win on one exquisite pass in the midst of a game full of sub-par play. The best team (France) did not win that day. A lucky U.S. squad won and France walked off knowing the score should have read, 3-0.

Shaking our heads at the unlikely outcome, laughing at our luck, we walked around to the sunny side to wait for game two (Germany/England). We played a game of musical seats searching for sun and warmth. Figuring most of the American fans would not stay for game two, we settled in hoping not to get kicked out by the actual seat holders. It was late afternoon so we eventually lost the sun again. We returned to our original seats with snacks and moved down just 10 rows up from the pitch. The stadium had cleared out leaving a few fans to watch the better-played second fixture. Germany outpaced England 2-1 in a much more organized effort.

We capped off the trip with more music and food, which proved to be more consistently exciting than watching international soccer. Landing in the Gulch area, south of town at Sambuca, a suggestion from our host, we enjoyed a jazzy dinner to the sounds of an on-stage trio. Filling up on seafood delights like lobster bisque, sea bass and scallops, the smooth jazz sounds floated around the restaurant perfect for a Sunday evening. As a bonus, the trio spontaneously called up Kandace Springs (dining with friends near stage) to join for vocals at the keyboard. Kandace was fresh off a CD release and graced us with velvety and sultry vocals. We stayed put for another set.

The next day, Steve informed he had downloaded her album and done some research on the singer. We began our Monday ride home with Kandace tunes spilling out the speakers with the windows down. Steve explained that Prince (or the artist that was formerly known as Prince) had discovered Kandace on a Youtube video that initiated a correspondence. He invited her to fly to Minneapolis and perform at his legendary Paisley Park Studio.

Surprises abound when traveling.

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