Elizabeth and I played tour guide to my sister Jeannie, her daughter Tiffany, her husband David, and their kids Shayden, 9, and Skyla, 1½. We started with a late breakfast at Cracker Barrel one exit east of the airport. My brother Don wanted to go to Shoney's — like when our other sister, Lucy, visited last year (on May 1st, day 1 of the May floods) — but he was voted down. He lobbied hard via email, but good sense and common decency prevailed. They don't have Cracker Barrel in California, but they had seen billboards while driving to Nashville from Johnson City — where they attended Jeannie's grandson Finnegan's first birthday — and they wanted to give them a try.
My wife Tara, brother Don and his wife Diane joined us for breakfast, but not the tour. The food and service were both great. I was a little worried because someone had given this particular one a bad review online. Just goes to show you never know how things might work out for you on any given day versus how it went for someone else. Maybe the person doing the review was the jerk, insulted the staff, and then received the bad service he deserved? Who knows? Everyone sitting at and serving our table was very nice.
I offered my individual-sized syrup bottle as a souvenir for David and Tiffany, but then we agreed that, no, airport security would just confiscate it on the flight back. Shayden and Elizabeth spent a lot of time making up games with those peg-board games the restaurant puts on each table for the kids. I don't think the kids were playing it the way they were supposed to. Neither one of them is the type to follow someone else's rules when it's so much more fun to make up their own.
Once finished eating and after the requisite souvenir shopping in the gift shop portion of the restaurant — about one third of every Cracker Barrel is a gift shop — Elizabeth, almost 6, wanted to start the tour and show everyone her favorite park/playground near our house, which was nowhere near our current location. I had to explain the concept of being a tourist, which doesn't usually include visits to neighborhood playgrounds.
We said goodbye to those not joining the tour and loaded into the rented minivan. Our first stop was at the Harley-Davidson dealership on Fesslers Lane. Jeannie's husband Matt collects Harley t-shirts, so now he'll have one from Nashville with Warner Brothers cartoon characters on it. I asked if he liked those cartoons. Jeannie said, "I'm buying this shirt because I can stand looking at it. It's blue. I'm tired of all the black shirts."
Next stop, downtown Nashville. We were trying to get in and get out before Clinton, Gore and whatever other dignitaries would be attending our former governor's funeral for which they would be barricading streets. Our timing was perfect. Just as we drove past the War Memorial building, the site of the funeral, the police were setting up the barricades. Immediately prior, we had gotten a pretty good look at the Broadway and 2nd Avenue area, the tourist spot in Nashville since Opryland was dismantled a dozen years ago. We also slowly drove past the original Grand Ol' Opry location, Ryman Auditorium, just off Broadway.
David asked which bars I would recommend. He and Tiffany wanted to check out the nightlife later that night. I suggested the entire Broadway/2nd Avenue area because you can hop from bar to bar. I didn't think any of them had a cover charge.
Across the street from the War Memorial is Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) where Elizabeth had her dance recital last year. Catty-corner (sp?) from there is the State Capitol building up on the hill. Elizabeth feigned exasperation, saying, "Ugghh, my school just went there!" It's true, she and her classmates were there a couple weeks ago. Poor, abused child.
From there, we meandered over to the downtown Farmer's Market, near which I used to work at Franklin Industries. We drove through Bicentennial Mall, which is a park, not a shopping mall. We gave a passing nod to the Germantown neighborhood, which is really nothing special, surrounded by bad neighborhoods. I don't know why some people find it noteworthy, but I'm probably simply uninformed.
Heading south, we drove through "The Gulch," starting where it's not yet called "the Gulch." It's down by the railroad tracks, below most street levels, between The Tennessean (local newspaper) and the beautiful old Union Station Hotel. I think The Gulch officially starts after passing under Broadway, going south, if there is an official starting point. Again, there's nothing terribly special about that part of town, but I like it for what it is.
We turned right on Division Street and came upon the "controversial" Music City Roundabout. It's controversial because it features an over-sized, anatomically-correct, bronze or iron sculpture of people dancing naked around a fountain! Naked! I heard Tiffany telling the kids that "everyone's naked under their clothes." And that's the sort of sentiment that prevailed when they put that sculpture there.
We circled through the roundabout a couple of times because Jeannie, our driver, "accidentally" kept turning left. Half a minute later, we were on 17th Avenue, the "lesser" half of the two main streets that make up "Music Row." I guess it should be called "Music Rows," but that's not nearly as catchy. It's an old residential neighborhood from the 20's or 30's that has been turned into offices for record labels, recording studios, artistic management (agents), etc. It's much more attractive than typical office buildings. We circled around to check out the 16th Avenue half, and another few minutes later we were circling Vanderbilt University.
"Vandy" takes up several square blocks, consisting of three separate hospitals (Vanderbilt, Children's, and the V.A.), the school itself, its athletics fields, stadium, dormitories, etc. On the north side of the campus along West End Avenue, we pulled into Centennial Park to get out and let the kids play at the playground there. Well, looky there: I guess playgrounds are part a city tour, after all. The kids got snowcones and played for a while until the adults grew restless and we all walked over to the Parthenon, a life-sized replica of the real Parthenon in Greece. On the other side of the Parthenon was the much more interesting — to the kids, anyway — duck pond to feed the ducks and geese. Interestingly, there was a wedding underway about a hundred yards to my left. I had heard the music, but it wasn't until the bride's veil billowed up in a gust of wind that it caught my attention.
From Centennial Park, I showed them the HCA Data Center where I used to work years ago. I can't believe it's been 15 years. Where did the time go? "Down the drain," Diane informed me later when we stopped by her house. She should be a motivational speaker. :) Anyway, we visited Don and Diane in a very nice part of Nashville called Green Hills. I'm still not sure how they can afford to live there, but they do. I stayed with them a few months when I first transplanted myself to Nashville from California.
The miles between Green Hills and my house in the Cane Ridge part of Antioch were filled in with a trip down Hillsboro Boulevard to gaze upon the beautiful estates on the hills above the road. There are some very nice homes there, a couple of which I think are occupied by one or another of the many famous people in and around this town.
Turning east onto Old Hickory Boulevard, there are several more beautiful properties before getting to the business end of Brentwood, a popular part of town for various corporations to setup headquarters. Tara and I have both done our time therein. They keep it from looking like a "downtown" by enforcing a four-storey limit on all buildings. Several years ago, there was a constant stream of new buildings under construction, but now almost every building has "space available" signs out front. It's still a vibrant, attractive business district, there's just plenty of space available now.
About eight miles later, they were dropping us off back home, and we said our good-byes. Family visits are always nice, and almost always too short, except of course in those instances when it's relatives you can't stand, but that was definitely not the case here.