Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rollin' Down Music Highway

Dateline: BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (just outside of Nashville)

I'm at Angela's tonight, where I'll be based for a whole week - the longest time I'll have a "home" all month.

This means two things in terms of my vacation:

1) I have to start thinking with my work-brain again for a little while.
2) My vacation is officially half-over.

I wonder if it'll feel weird to not be on the road for long stretches at a time, I've almost gotten used to it.

As I was telling Angela and Jacob, this trip felt mostly like a smooth gradient of American culture as I moved from west coast to midwest. Sure, I took into account the utter wackiness of California - and especially San Francisco - living, and adjusted my expectations accordingly. The people I met were more or less the same: basically nice, somewhat selfish when not thinking about it, a little more religious as I moved east and south, a little bigger, a little more fond of fried food and less inclined to dedicate large portions of the menu to vegetables.

When I crossed the Mississippi into Tennessee, however, I suddenly felt just how different the shift was. This wasn't America anymore: this was another country, another planet. This was The South.

People are genuinely nice here. They say please and thank you, and not ironically or sarcastically or even out of rote because their parents always made them say it. They hold doors open for each other. Today I was waiting for a teenager to finish crossing a driveway so I could turn into it, and he actually noticed and sped up his pace for me.  Who are these people, with their rolling accents and open smiles and neighborly attitudes? I'm not saying that people aren't friendly everywhere else -- New Yorkers are friendly, once you've opened them up, but they're closed to strangers, whereas San Franciscans are friendly to your face but aloof once you're out of sight.  I get the impression that in the South you're a friend unless proven a stranger. Maybe that's a tourist's generalization. Maybe that's just my misimpression.

(As an aside: everyone told me that I would get a "big shock" when I hit the Midwest and saw how fat the people would be here. I must say: I don't see that. Sure, there's more plumpness, less anorexia, but I haven't been completely blown over as I'd been led to believe. Either this means that the accounts have been exaggerated, or that I've somehow sheltered myself from all these grossly obese people, or Californians have just also gotten fatter and are in denial of it.)

At any rate:

Graceland was unexpectedly interesting. Worth actually going, but probably not worth the price of admission ($32 a person, just to go into the house - other parts of the estate are available for the $70 VIP pass) unless you're a die-hard Elvis fan. But now I've gone and can say I've participated in yet another piece of Americana, and I learned something about the man's life -- like how much of his money he actually gave away, and put back into the community that he was fun. I mean, the guy actually created tornado relief funds, and paid the medical bills of random patients in the hospital. How many of today's overrich entertainers can say as much? The estate itself is not just a lot of show and flash and bling (well, there is a lot of that, but hey, it was the 70s), but really did reflect Elvis's own tastes and needs and personality, and showed evidence of actual active use on a regular basis. Graceland was an estate he called home, and used as a home, not just as a trophy.

For dinner Jacob took me out to Texas de Brazil, a Texas-style churrascaria right off Beale Street. I think I realized there, just as another one of the servers sliced a piece for me off a slab of roasted lamb and I was dipping it into mint jelly, that this is probably the best vacation I have ever taken. I think in that moment I was as happy, relaxed, and anxiety-free as I've ever been in my life.

I like Memphis, and wish I'd gotten a chance to see more of it. Another place I'll just have to get myself back to.

I have tomorrow off, and then I work a four-day week out of my company's Nashville office. I expect to have a million, billion emails to comb through, and hope that I haven't forgotten my seven years' worth of experience. Maybe I should pull out my work pants and make sure they still fit -- after the last week or so of eatin' and drivin', I think I've gained about 10 pounds. Ugh.

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