Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
74Trip End Sep 01, 2010
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I'm told by my busmates that one loses readers when one repeats him or
herself, so I will try to avoid doing so in moving forward. With that said, it is so damn hot
outside. It is so, so hot, to
where it feels as if some Latin person – Ricky Martin, let’s say, or Antonio
Banderas, after they’ve run the mile and finished three cups of steaming coffee
– is exhaling on every inch of your skin at every moment of the day. Skin is not dry or scaly, though covered in mosquito scabs, but ever moist and rubbery like within an orifice. I understand the image of the lone cowboy sitting with his horse under an angular Joshua tree, drinking from a split cactus, staring out at the wavy horizon, eyes crossed with
Like the heat, the ivy does not relent as we move around Tennessee, but we do find
respite on that hill in the Smokey Mountains. After saying goodbye to all of you last night, I receive a phone call from Hum-Yai Tictac, yet another friend from Italy with whom we’ve
forged a particularly special friendship. He wakes everyone up but for me, and I go outside to pace in the cool
blue light while discussing his plans to meet us in New Orleans; in talking
with him, the black cat who’d earlier shied away, mewing in the thicket all
day, now attacks me with purring ecstasy as if it’s a secret affair about which
no one else can or will ever know.
We play around for quite a while, and the jealous striped cat, ever
gregarious, joins in as well, and we’re all having quite the time, but it’s
late and I’m a human who needs his sleep, and once finished on the phone
catching up on plans and lives with happy Hum-Yai, I unzip and aim a stream of
urine into the bushes
missed the memo, however, and, thinking we’re still playing, darts past me,
narrowly missing the worst bath of his life, and we all say goodnight on
awkward terms. I crawl into the
bus, afraid to wake anyone, and in feeling for my sleeping bag I find Shmark
sleeping in my path. I hop on The
Box from where Cornbread snores, and lean on my tiptoes into the net where my sleeping
utensils reside. Just as I grab my
stuff, something demonic compels Cornbread to grab my leg as he’s sleeping,
and, shocked, I lose my balance off The Box, catching myself but breaking one
of the LED lights in the process.
Goddamnit, I/we worked hard on those.
morning we get the familiar knock on the window, and it’s the second cop in
of beer outside the bus and notes how our current spot does not allow for
camping (though we obviously manage quite fine). As I got to bed hours after everyone, I’m half-dead in
sleep, so Cornbread takes it upon himself to handle the smiling and serious
officer. It seems as if he’s ready
to ticket us, but CB handles him quite well, staying consistent in his
mistruths through gelatinous clouds of sleep in his eyes, and after he tells
us, annoyed, of how every day he must deal with another story at this turnoff –
the weekend previous an armed man had come to this very spot, threatening to
leave his dark matter on the mountainside – but all we care about is he’s only
giving us a warning, and dose off to sleep again once he’s gone.
decided that we’ll visit a waterfall before our departure from the Smokies, and
Cornbread drives us down the mountain, out of the lush greenery and down into
the crusty and cracked dirt below
We curve along a road that opens to an enormous valley, which looks like
Hazy Montana (Miley Cyrus’ fictional sister) in its vast green set against
daunting brown, which rise below the wispy purple sky. Suddenly we hit a ton of traffic,
though to be accurate, probably multiple tons, including a parked RV covered in
God paraphernalia – "God’s On OUR Side",
that sort of thing – and we’re blocked off by a its hysterical owner, a bald
and giddy senior who drawls sarcastically, “naw, werr only stopped b’cause of
the giant BEAR in that there tree!”
We are forced to pull over, too, and remark with interest the giant
black bear on a pliant branch thirty feet above ground. He’s backing down cautiously, as a
human would, looking at his back paws as they feel for strong elements to help
him safely descend and, with the crowd of hyperventilating visitors snapping
pictures in a crowd below, we anticipate funny gore once the animal hits the
ground. Nevertheless, we drive off
and reach our destination
Beard has had a great hunger since returning from his brother’s wedding, and
cooks everyone a delicious breakfast of eggs, tomato, cheese, bell peppers, and
ham (which quite nearly cooks itself in the sun). Everyone in the parking lot, which their powerful trucks and
masculine bumper stickers, looks at Pearl sit on the grass conspicuously, but
we nevertheless lock her up and undertake the 2.5 mile hike through the
forest. At the mouth of our
journey, a slightly effeminate fellow in a striped shirt like mine who, from
behind his gelled hair and mirrored sunglasses (which look like the second pair
I’d broken on this young afternoon), warns us of the strenuousness of our
impending trek, but we’re all in flip-flops and The Beard’s carrying his toy
guitar and we mostly thank him for nothing.
hike is, if at all tough, only because of the knobby tree roots we keep
tripping over, but it’s mostly shady and pleasant, and when we pass various
fellow hikers, they invariably seem to smile and compliment our guitar
playing. One family goes so far as
to stop me, the patriarch saying with a wink, “where y’all from, then?”
Angeles, why do you ask?”
's I figgered, what with the yukulalay ‘n all.” Even the park rangers, who are leading their horse up the
hill for path clearing, stop us and cheerfully ask for me to play them a song,
though I hand The Beard his guitar and make him do it instead.
waterfall itself is, as have been all swims, delightful, and you know by now to
what depth, so I’ll skip over it.
All the rocks are slimy and algaeful, and a man offers his hand to help
me out of the water, which was a kind gesture worth noting. Also, The Beard poops in the woods,
merely feet from where all the little children are splashing, so he gets points
for bravery and audacity.
Cornbread, The Beard and I conclude our swim with a synchronized dive
from on the moss-covered waterfall, letting the cascade’s current take us back
to the shore, and after the hike back, we conclude this day with a Campsud
session in the creek next to the bus.
about 200 miles from Nashville and I take the helm, driving through the sunset,
past a tattoo parlor built in a gas station, watching the extreme electrical
storm light up everything, blinding my eyes while eliciting awe from the
backseat drivers. I calmly wait
for the storm to hit us and it does in full force, the absurd sheets of rain
blasting my vision, completely obscuring the lane dividers from view, and I’m
quietly freaking out, begging for sight of an exit but not getting one, until
ultimately the rain just stops.
don’t really have a sense of direction for Nashville apart from The Beard’s one
night memories from when he flew in here some nights previous, and the city,
swirled with concrete, looking mostly like any other metropolitan area,
gradually opens itself up a path to us that leads The Beard’s nose directly to
the hostel at which he stayed. We
park in front and while I’m wandering on the street corner, playing harmonica
to myself in what feels like an abandoned city, The Beard’s inside talking to
the hostel owner’s permission to park there for the night. He comes outside soon enough, seeing
potential here and, explaining that someone is, “interested in making a reality
show about the hostel,” he asks if they can film us in our habitat as if his
hostel were somehow responsible for it.
As someone, a girl from Georgia doing work exchange at the hostel,
climbs aboard to do so, I get a phone call from Mongolia and spend a wonderful
half hour speaking to a friend who’s there doing the Peace Corps. We ultimately learn that we won’t be
able to park there for the night – “I don’t want anyone pissing on my trees in
the middle of the night,” says the owner, and I respond by saying that we’d
most certainly do so – but he tips us off to a nearby abandoned building, very
ghostly, overgrown, and ominous.
We park there, and envision potential robbery.
locking up, we all decide on our hunger and head to a Sonic Burger around the
corner; we get such sandwiches and chocolate milkshakes from an insanely perky
blonde who offers perhaps the best service imaginable in a context where she’s
not afforded the opportunity for a tip; a grand shame, indeed.
head back to the hostel, hoping that by midnight there’d still be some
residents yet to head into the city, but they’re all gone, and we’re stuck
getting a taxicab and heading blindly into downtown. It’s Broadway, where the cabbie brings us, likely the place
everyone talks about when they boast that, “Nashville has music in every bar up
and down the street,” but it’s all neon and silliness and the first place to
which we head, where The Beard had been the other night for cheap beer, is
indeed quite cheap. Packed to the
gills with drunkenness, there are more good-looking girls there than any place
in recent recollection, and pitchers of PBR are quite cheap, but the band is
obnoxiously playing all the drunken hits – Journey and all of that deplorable
bullshit – and when some kids start jumping manically on a wrecked car that
sits in the middle of all, begging patrons to take their aggressions out, we
decide to leave.
Beard stops some locals to ask for a recommendation, and they lead us to
Layla’s Bluegrass in. The place is
empty upon our arrival but the band is great – a short, smarmy guy on
rockabilly guitar, a tall, Bob Odenkirk-ish goofball on standup bass, and a
fact-gives-off-a-very-cute-and-charming-appearance drummer – and we know it’s
our place. The leader speaks of
each song’s origin, spitting with disdain over modern and derivative versions
of the same while the bartender makes references to Sinead O’Connor’s vagina,
and they go through Hank Williams and drunken work songs and swinging originals
and the drummer looks locked in like a zombie and we’re so completely attracted
to her. When we drop a tip in the
tip jar, she comes up to us with hugs, and the singer curses out the people
that leave in the middle of one of his solos, and the bartender accidentally
drops a bottle of beer and gifts it to me for free, and, all told, I really
like the place (even the beautiful blond girl who dances braless with a goofy
drunkard who trips over his own feet and knocks off his own baseball hat trying
to spin her and grabs her midriff gracelessly). Nashville is good clean fun, even at 2am!
night concludes with us blindly marching back to our home site, sober when
we’re used to the alternative, and in accordance with that instinct, we get
lost and piss on public justice building lawns and do all the other sorts of
typical vagrant things we’ve gotten used to (and by that, I mean getting lost
and pissing in public, really).
Our return to Pearl leaves us so happy to see her intact and unrobed,
and the night turns to sweat. I don't mean that to sound sexual.
**********QUIZ TIME************QUIZ TIME************QUIZ TIME************
"At which famed Nashville venue did Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys originate that eponymous and iconic American genre?"