Prancing on Gay Street

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Thursday, August 12, 2010

           DAY FIFTY-THREE:  It's once again a day spent mostly in transit, especially considering that we’re all three quite slow to wake after our intense recording session, and that we do have a bit of a destination and a deadline, as The Beard has already arrived in Nashville and is meant to be en route to Knoxville by tonight.

            One of the worst realizations we’ve had is upon discovering that our sunflower seeds, of which we have some four bags remaining, have MSG in them; this is rather disappointing and quite disconcerting.  Have I yet mentioned this before?  I can’t quite get over it, apparently.

            On this day, then, we drive across the rest of Virginia and into Tennessee; we stop in Bristol on one side, noting the potency of the accents by now, and I run into a supermarket with some empty jugs of water, and subordinate myself to the shapeless, humorless, but ultimately smiling and compliant deli clerk, who fills them from the tap without need of explanation; everyone here seems to be remarkably old; we sip from the jugs, then do forty pushups apiece to test our youthful vigor (I wanted to use here a word that Tom Robbins taught me recently, but I can’t be sure of its meaning so I will refrain from it for now.  For future reference, the word is "neotany").  Meanwhile, Virginia is lovely and green, but Tennessee seems to be that much more.  We drive along farms and barns and dilapidated housing, and everything is painted red with rust, corrugated and crumbling, porch swung and looking straight out of a film.  Cornbread squeals when he sees a field full of rolled hay bales, and sprints through some overgrowth so that he might climb upon one of them, pounding his chest, feeling rather grand.  Twice today do we pull over onto the side of the road for a nap; the heat is so great – a thermometer reads 103 Fahrenheit, and this humidity is like nothing else you’ve experienced – that it’s a struggle to keep your head up.

            Once in Tennessee, we see a sign for Crockett Tavern and, salivating at the image of drinking beer from a coonskin cap, we take a mild detour along those signs.  We streak through a small town, though not in the way you’re thinking (or hoping?  Pervert), and find on the outskirts, past the Ruby Tuesday, behind a Shell, over the train tracks, across from a diner, and old ramshackle wooden residence all cobwebby and dead, boarded up and dark for the day, dank and imposing all the time, and anyway it’s nothing but a replica of his childhood home from that stands as a museum, and we’re glad that we can just peer into the windows and wander around back to the covered wagon from 1790, rather than pay the $5 entry fee.

            We cross the street feeling alright, and stop into the diner, whose Coca-Cola sign is bigger than the name of the place itself, and we’re greeted by three brothers, all enormous, all sweaty and friendly, who drawl, “y’cuhn sit anywhair y’like.”  We tell them we’re just looking for a chocolate malt.

            Cornbread asks, “do you have anything besides soda?”

            They reply, shaking their heads surprisingly mournfully and after a considerable gap of misunderstanding, “oh no, no no no no no.  No ice cream, sorruh.”  I thank them profusely and for no reason, as I’m wont to do in my unintentionally patronizing and insincere way, and we open all of Pearl’s windows wide, and then move on.

            The new goal of each day is to find a body of water in which to bathe, and it doesn’t take a huge detour in this case to find the Cherokee Dam and reservoir.  Here the water is blue as an eye and it horseshoes out like a hernia onto a small yellow sand beach where fat old men with plumes of white diamond-shaped chest hair splash around alongside young children with floaties.  We choose to go out deeper where we can be alone, and dive into a water temperature that wraps you like a jacket of honey, head to toe and oh so sweet.  Again we bust out the Campsuds to make it two baths in two days, and we’re – okay, I’m – doing flips and handstands underwater as if we’re – okay, I’m – back in (my) elementary school years.  We all race to a buoy, which is a word that is both fun to say and fun to read, but awkward to type (buoy buoy buoy buoy), and we do our best to climb on top of it, failing and feeling like rapscallions in the process.  Oh man, though, the water couldn’t be more perfect!  Still, a huge fly, bigger than a quarter, comes buzzing around, landing on Cornbread’s hair, wanting to mate, and at this sight Shmark has had enough, running back to Pearl for safety.  It’s good to have her as a home, no matter how far away we are.

            By 7:30 we make it into Knoxville, as discussed with The Beard, and while the others are parking I run over to Gay Street, where the Tennessee Theater is located, to see if our friend hasn’t yet arrived.  He hasn’t yet arrived.  Instead, we go up the street to a place called the Downtown Brewery and plop onto a couch, turn on our computers – free wireless Internet?  Thanks, we will – and delight in two-dollar pints of their in-house brew.  Starving, we order chicken, chicken pasta, and cheese pizza respective of our own tastes at the moment, and watch the Yankees beat the Rangers in a close and wild one.  There’s trivia going on up here, and free pool, but we stick to our guns, waiting to hear from The Beard, who had hitchhiked forty-five minutes from Nashville to Lebanon, and was still waiting by the side of the road, wearing his destination sign as a cardboard hat, strumming his toy guitar loopily, hoping someone might take to his whimsy and parlay that into a ride.  A pair of old women stop for him, noting how cute he is with his little hat, and, though they aren’t driving to Knoxville, offer him a cup of cold water for the hot sun.  Stories such as these abound – perhaps I should have him tell you – but he eventually arrives, just as the place is closing, and when he does, he literally sets off the fire alarm, which rings and squawks and strobes incessantly seemingly forever until our ears are falling off.  We stay until well past closing, and then take to the street, a ragtag bunch once again.           

            Knoxville is lovely, and Gay Street is, appropriately with its name, full of color and energy architecturally, but mostly dead on this night.  A slightly effeminate man in a red collared shirt helps point us toward his favorite pub in town, Prohibition Pub, which is a few blocks over and smack in the middle of a place called Market Square.  Everything is old here, brick and iron and framed in round white light bulbs like the marquees of a Broadway of old, while this pub sticks considerably with a rainbow of lanterns strewn out over its patio.  At the entry is a stunningly cute girl with a freckled button nose and a striped dress and, calling herself Suzanne, she points us toward a little puppy dog that sleeps by the window, and we pet him together.  She spots The Beard’s guitar and claps giddily, “ooh, are y’all gonna play for me?  I’d love to hear yuh!”  I nervously joke, yes, any time, haha we’re not really that serious about it, uh, oh God, look over there!, and run to the bar to meet the others and grab a beer.  Even the bartender is the cutest of southerners, nursing innocently on a blue lollypop, smiling widely with squinty eyes, her hair falling over her face, and I can’t help but love this place.  All over the walls and tables are quotes about love and life and how alcohol applies to each, and as we sip on the very sweet and flavorful Dos Perros, a beer from the Nashville-based Yazoo Brewery, a bunch of fat old men in flannel and huge beards take to the stage with double bass, electric mandolin, washboard, and good old southern yip-ya spirit.  Two people are dancing, one a plastered and prowling middle-aged man on the prowl, smoking a cigarette, doing silly pirouettes, the other a lonely-looking and overweight lady who seems rather perturbed by our man.  Still, there’s a overall feeling of fun and good cheer in here, everyone smiling and chatting over their beer, all friends or soon-to-be-friends, and I have to say again how I dig Tennessee and the south.  By closing time, we’re out petting the puppy, who has now awoken from its slumber and hops up onto its barrier, wagging its tail, whimpering, gnawing on our fingers, wanting to give us kisses, and I wave Suzanne goodnight but she doesn’t notice.  I’m back, baby!

            The night ends with us marching through the empty streets, strumming the baby guitar, screaming the lyrics to our usual songs, likely waking up all apartments above us, before sealing Pearl off with curtains and playing to The Beard the jewels of last night’s recording session.  He’s impressed, alright: boy, is he impressed.

****************QUIZ TIME**************QUIZ TIME*************QUIZ TIME**************************
            I am happy to see that CROCKETT OR BOONE? has gone over nicely, and thank you for your interaction; keep the quizzes coming!  It’s fun to discuss on the bus, and is all completely ridiculous.  The next round will be STONEWALL OR SHERMAN?  “Despite being shot four times, including having my a finger blown off and losing my left arm to amputation, my downfall was of respiratory cause.”
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Jenn Witz on


"...his friends and family always called him "Cump"."

QUESTION: Who's nickname was "Cump?"
SONEWALL OR SHERMAN? (this is a hard one..cheating may be necessary) :)

nearhelsinki on

Stonewall is quite correct! I did in fact cheat on your question to learn Tecumseh Sherman was known by the name Cump, but I want to know WHY??? These historical figures are fascinating enigmas and I love knowing completely useless things about them. Woo!

D on

Your writing has grown incredibly on this trip. To me your word descriptions of each step on your trip are so beautifly done, it's like an artist painting a masterpiece. i can only hope that each of the 4,000 or so people that have read your word pictures gives you praise and encouragment to use your gift to follow your dreams.

You inspire me!

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