Can two mismatched people spend a mutually enjoyable day or so in Nashville? Piece of cake. Make that a piece of pecan pie.Even if you don't know that a git-fiddle is a twangy word for guitar or that "bless your heart" is Polite Southern for "bite me," Nashville is a fun town. There's plenty to see and do, the weather's nice even in the dead of winter (compared with what we Yankees endure), and non-stop flights from Chicago are cheap. (Several round-trip non-stops for January from Chicago are available for less than $200.)
More important, Nashville is a real city, with cool museums, sophisticated restaurants, colleges (Vanderbilt University, and let's not forget Belmont University, which hosted one of the presidential debates), an NHL franchise (seriously; they play hockey down here) and a pro football team that, um, beat up our pro football team a few weeks ago.
Less important, Nashville has some of the coolest team names: The Titans (football). The Predators (hockey). The Sounds (AAA baseball). Even Vanderbilt's athletic teams are known as the Commodores; I don't think they were named specifically for Lionel Richie's old group, but the town is nicknamed Music City, so who knows?
(Nashville also is known as the "Athens of the South," a goofy nickname hung on the town after it built a lifesized replica of the Parthenon in the late 1800s as part of Nashville's centennial exposition. The Parthenon, rebuilt and gleaming, still stands proudly in Centennial Park.)
Spike O'Dell, longtime morning man for WGN-AM, just retired. Guess where he moved? (Spike gives us his Nashville dining recommendations below.)
Anyway, here we were, Country Boy and City Dad, hanging around in Nashville, with only two problems: Our mutually exclusive musical tastes and the small matter of the boy's under-21 status, which barred him from the honky-tonks and most of the other musical clubs.
We still had fun. And we didn't go near the Grand Ole Opry.
We set up camp in the Union Station Hotel, a property I'd admired on an earlier trip, when I'd killed a couple of hours in Nashville on my way someplace else. It actually was the city's main railroad station once upon a time, and it looks very much the part of a grand old hotel, with its exterior ironwork and magnificent marble lobby. Behind the front desk is an enormous, old-timey display of train arrivals and departures, as though the station were still operating.
And among the myriad sofas and chairs in the lobby, some women in beautiful dresses were being photographed.
"Magazine shoot," the porter said matter-of-factly. "We get a lot of that."
The upstairs room levels are a bit confusing--the hallways are practically labyrinths--but it all circles back, so if you pick a direction and stick to it, eventually you'll find your room. There was a little pardon- our-dust action going on in the property (not that it affected me), and the hotel was dealing, so I managed a sweet price for a huge room with extra chairs, a flat-screen TV and enough room to play catch. We put room service through its paces the first night, and they did just fine.
The first thing we did in the morning, apart from sleeping very late (rousing a college sophomore is not the easiest thing in the world), is head out to the Farmers Market, a year-round market on the north end of town. We found it without too much difficulty, once we figured out that 8th Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard are the same street. The market buildings themselves are nothing special (though one is undergoing renovation), but the abundant displays of fresh vegetables and fruits are impressive.
I looked askance at the tall stack of bananas, but most everything else appeared to be local. As far as Chris (my son) was concerned, this stop combined the lethargy of a non-interactive museum with the horrors of fresh vegetables.
We didn't linger.
Already it was time for lunch, so we sped south to Arnold's, one of Nashville's legendary meat-and-threes, restaurants that serve a protein and choice of three sides for a set (and ridiculously low) price. Chris and I made our way through the cafeteria-style line, loading up on country-fried steak, green beans, tomatoes and mashed potatoes (him) and fried shrimp with collards, fried green tomatoes and mac & cheese (me), washed down with water and sweet tea. You sit at beat-up tables with mismatched chairs, surrounded by cinderblock walls painted beige.
You don't come here for the ambience.
But the food is good, the portions huge, and the whole thing set me back $20, including the $2.50 I left behind for the busser.