20201003 – Smokey
I don’t remember it being particularly cold. But I remember that drive, all 16 or more hours of it. I sure remember that fucking rain. Holy shit. It’s something of a miracle that I did it all in one trip.
It’s five years, to the day since I schlepped my way down here, upstate New York to Nashville, Tennessee. As with all stretches of time it’s been long and short. It feels like another life because it was and it feels like nothing’s changed because it hasn’t.
I remember the months leading up to it, trying to divest myself of almost all of my possessions. If it didn’t fit in the truck, it had to go or perhaps stay.
Nashville wasn’t such an easy choice and I’m not all that sure I made the right one in an objective sense. But what the fuck does ‘objective’ actually mean in this sense anyway? I was going away not going to.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
Alice speaks to Cheshire Cat
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland
So back in…hell I think it was March of that year, 2015, I bought a US map and spread it out on the kitchen table and I sat and looked it a while, not sure what I was looking for.
I’d lived out of Brooklyn for too many years (3) and desperately wanted to get back to a city like environment where I could walk from home to a watering hole so as not to be overly concerned about my path back home. So… cities of a reasonable size.
Someplace that was a bit more open about gun ownership, which meant south and/or west.
No, Texas was just too damned hot.
As an aside I’d been listening to Julia Fowler’s “Shit Southern Women Say” videos on youtube. It twisted my head to look at Nashville. Not so hot as Texas, but 9ish hours from Dallas, 9ish hours from New Orleans, a long but reasonable haul back to New York for holidays and such…
Okay, let’s give it a look.
Not quite prepared to just launch myself in to the void on blind faith I planned a little trip. Well…I planned the time window for a little trip. I didn’t plan squat other than a roughly downtown hotel and five or six days.
I drove down my birthday week, early June. The drive down 81 through Virginia was just gorgeous. I noticed as I stopped for gas farther and farther south, not bothering with the big truck stops, that each stop took a little bit more time. I’d get in to the odd conversation here and there.
“Yeah had ta take the truck down from the mountain and wash it. The pollen up there you wouldn’t believe.” Indeed her truck has a telltale yellow pallor. I’d get in to little “how’s your trip” and “where ya headed?” conversations with the people behind the counters when I’d grab a snack or a redbull to help push me through.
Before I was really in to audiobooks, I was spending a fair amount of energy changing stations as my route grazed moderate sized broadcast radii. At one point I heard a radio contest going on. A caller would start with a $100 prize and they’d decide whether to take a chance at doubling their money or take the cash. If they took the chance they were waiting on I think it was actually Bessie the cow. They’d “milk the cow” and either get a squirt of milk or Bessie would kick the pail (with the appropriate sound effects.) If Bessie kicked the pail, it was over and you lost everything. Otherwise you could keep going.
I don’t think I’d laughed that loud in months.
I stopped at Smokey Mountain Knifeworks which was just..a candy store, and bought a nice little gentlemen’s folder with a titanium handle, dangerously straddling the border between fancy and gauche. It’s still in my sportcoat pocket.
I was determined not to get involved in touristy crap during those four or five days down here.
I’d just drive around to try and get the lay of the land. Eventually I did what I do and took my laptop down to Barnes & Noble in Cool Springs, the only one around that was really big enough to justify visiting (I have since confirmed.)
New York requires front and back license plates, unlike Tennessee, so it was something of a bumper sticker.
I parked my little Taco a bit out in the parking lot and, as I got out I realized someone was coming at me. A late middle aged guy was walking dead at me, away from the store. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The truck was to my right and there was nobody behind me. I watched his gate and leaned forward a bit, my hands at my front pockets. Hell my eyes were probably half closed.
“Afternoon” He said, one hand up.
“Afternoon” I drew out a bit.
“Hey, I noticed you had New York plates.”
“Yeah I…drove down here a couple days ago, figured I’d visit and see if I wanted to move down to the area.”
“Well we’re real proud of our community I just thought I’d stop by and say welcome. I hope you decide to come down. Have a great day.”
“Hey thanks man, you too.”
He turned to walk in to the store and I was left standing there, crouched, my hands an inch away from a pair of knives I keep in my front pockets.
I had a flash and I started chuckling to myself, stifling a good solid belly laugh.
I was the psycho. I was the crazy person in this equation. Not him. Me. And in that moment I realized… “I HAVE to move down here. I’m wound WAY too tight.”
I can’t even resist laughing about it here in the cigar lounge, drawing a couple looks. But at this point the regulars are used to me bobbing my head to my writing soundtrack and muttering/chuckling to myself at odd intervals about nothing in particular.
I walked downtown a few times and found, to my delight an upstairs bar, somewhat obscured called The Wheel. Apparently…you could smoke a cigar in there.
Well that was that. I headed in and up the stairs and was met with a plain dirt bar with a little glass “humidor” at one end.
I plopped down, waited for the bartender and smoked a cigar or three. I came back a few nights and somehow had forgotten to get the bartender’s name.
I made small talk with guys who’d wander in and out. Groups of woo girls would come up and, disgusted by the smoke, leave immediately, which would elicit a fist pump or three from the bar. The rest of Broadway was their domain. We needed someplace to go while they bitched at bartenders about their cosmos and whine about it being their birthdays, failing to get free drinks.
I talked with one gentleman and told him what I was up to.
“So, do you have a job down here? What brings you to Nashville specifically?”
“Nothing. I’m just here checking it out, figure I’ll move down in a few months.”
“What do you do?”
“What kind?” Oh here we go.
“Okay…most people when they ask that don’t…really know what they’re asking.”
“Well what’s your primary implementation language?” Huh. Guy didn’t look like a tech.
“C++. I’m a server side guy, just did a couple decades on wall street and enough is enough.”
“No shit? I’m actually looking to hire a couple senior C++ guys.” You’re shitting me. Wouldn’t that just be amazing.
“You’re shitting me. Wouldn’t that just be amazing.”
He shifted in his seat a bit. “Yeah…there’s only one problem.”
“Uh oh, what’s that?”
“I’m just in town for a conference. The job’s in Cheyenne.”
“Cheyenne? Wyoming?” oof.
“Yep. I run a mining concern.” A phrase I’d never heard a human utter.
“Oh man. That’s… a long way away from Tennessee or New York.”
“Yeah. Gorgeous town though.”
“Not a lot of girls I’ll bet.”
“No. Not a lot of C++ programmers either.”
“Yeah I’ll bet not.”
We shared a couple more drinks before wishing each other well and he left.
I still wonder what would have happened if I’d taken that bait. Impossible to say of course. Sounds great now. But there’s no way to actually do that math. But looking back I know that event had some wu to it. It’s important to recognize those.
I spent a lot of time walking around downtown, great barber shop, and I noticed a banner “Coming this fall: Blend cigar and whiskey bar” and I nodded.
The last night in town I was at The Wheel again and I told the bartender, a long haired guy who really knew his cigars and whiskey (oddly so for a place like that) “Hey so I’m gonna move down here and I’ll tell you what, the day I drive down here, probably the first week in October, I’ll dump my stuff off at wherever I’m staying and come straight here.”
Four months later I pulled in to a motel out by the airport that turned out to be a truly disgusting establishment, owned by a company whose name I can’t bring up that specialized in long term stays for business people. It wasn’t one of their primary facilities and only cost me $900 a month. I didn’t realize what I was getting for that.
I unstrapped the art from the top of my truck and brought it in to the room along with whatever was cluttering up the cab and a single suitcase and brought it inside.
I was WHIPPED from the drive, having started at 3 or 4 in the morning. But a promise is a promise so I freshened up a bit and headed downtown in the pouring rain. That storm was one for the ages.
I parked and hot-stepped it a block or two over to the wheel…aaannnd it was a different bartender. I told him the story and he said “Oh hey, that was probably my brother. You said he was interested in programming?” He was, we’d talked about tutorial resources.
I’m there for 15 minutes, a guy stands behind my left side, leaning forward to look in to the little cigar case behind the bar. He’s 6’4” or so, hair slicked back, relatively lean.
“Yo, can I get a cigah?” I hear. Perfect Brooklyn accent.
I turned and looked at him and just dialed it way the fuck up.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“I just…I mean today…drove 16 hours to get the fuck away from New York. I sit down here for ten minutes and what the fuck? Some guy from the fucking neighborhood just appears at my side. What the fuck?”
“The neighborhood? What fucking neighborhood?” He challenged.
“Avenue U and Ocean Parkway.”
“NO SHIT! HEY YO TONY!” He shouted down the bar.
“GET OVER HERE!”
The bartender’s looking at me funny. I switched to Brooklynese on a dime, hands flying with every F-bomb.
Over walks Tony. Tony is 5’4” high and round. Bald and waddling, right out of central casting.
“This guy’s from the fuckin’ neighborhood?”
“Bullshit. What neighborhood?”
“I lived across the street from Carlo Gambino when I was a kid.”
“Oh no SHIT? Dafuq you doin’ down here?”
“Got the fuck out man. Drove down from New York today.”
“Holy shit. You’re fuckin’ kiddin’.”
“Nope. Been on the road since about 3-4 this morning. I’m whipped but I promised I’d come in here for one the day I arrived.”
“Dude that’s fucking awesome.”
We shared a couple drinks. I don’t remember if I bought them or not. But I like to think I did.
I went back to the hotel and passed the fuck OUT.
It was almost exactly two months before I got a job. I took the offer letter downtown to shop for an apartment. I remembered the “Coming soon” sign and used the force to find my way back there.
Sure as shit the sign was still there, but there were signs of active construction. Across the street was an apartment building.
Well, wouldn’t that just be the shit?
I rang the bell and was buzzed in. I talked to a lovely rental agent named Jordan, who showed me an apartment on the 18th floor, a balcony with an unobstructed view of west Nashville. It was no Manhattan. But it was right in the thick of things while having the virtue of being a couple blocks off Broadway.
“Yep. I’ll take it.”
“Uhm…we need to do a credit check.”
“Sure sure. There won’t be any surprises. I’ll write you a check right now if it’ll help move things along.” It’s amazing how a bird in the hand will expedite otherwise intractable bureaucracy.
“When were you thinking of moving in?”
I pretended to look at my watch.
“Okay we’ll get in touch when everything’s squared away. But this weekend should be doable.” It was Tuesday. I could deal with a few more days in the roach motel.
So I moved in on Friday, December 11, 2015.
Blend had the audacity to not open until February.
I went in on their opening weekend. There was a bartender, Hunter, who was exceptional at his craft and even better at pairing cigars and whiskey. It got to the point where I didn’t know what I smoked or drank. I’d just go in and he’d grab a cigar or two and pour me something. It was always perfect.
I told him the whole Wheel story that weekend and he started laughing. Like…really laughing. Gut bust hilarity. It was funny. But…it wasn’t THAT funny.
He noticed my confusion at one point and, after a moment’s thought, put it together.
“You don’t remember me at all do you?”
“Huh? Jesus man I’m sorry. I like to think I’m pretty good with that sort of thing.”
“I was the bartender that night. I watched that whole thing. It was hilarious.”
“Shit man. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”
“Well, the light is dim in both places and I cut my hair.” AND he was wearing full sleeves. I’d identified him by his full sleeve tattoos.
So that was the beginning. There’ve been buckets of adventures and misadventures since then. There are details I’ve skipped and things I’ve missed. But I’ll get to those.
Stories belong in their context, if not in their timeline.
There’ll be more soonish. I just wanted to get all that out on the 5th anniversary of the move.