Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Peachy Keen! (Part I)

You’re next!
Well I can’t say that I was exactly quakin’ in my boots, but I’ll have to admit to being just a little unnerved when Inanna, still excited from her first face-to-face blogger meet announced it to me. I had just commented on one of her post-Kansas City Blogger trip entries.

I wrote, “What a hoot that must have been. I’m jealous! LOL Glad you guys had a great time!” Inanna replied, “AJ – ya know what? I was thinkin’ that you’re only 6 hours away … you know what that means right? YOU’RE NEXT!


Immediately my heart started to race. “Did she mean what I thought she mea…nt?…OMIGAWD — SHE’SCOMINGHERE!!!

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t want to meet Inanna, quite the opposite. She and I had been good friends for a long time. We had long since been huge supporters of each other’s blog and never failed to comment on nearly every post the other would put out. Often we corresponded offline via e-mail, sometimes using those e-mail discussions as basis for future blog entries. Other than Michael, Inanna was clearly among my two or three closest blogging buddies. But the idea of actually meeting her face-to-face was still just a little bit daunting, especially when she just announced that she was coming like that. Now of course I realized the “You’re Next” deal was an innocent expression of excitement. I wasn’t worried that she was a serial killer or anything (more on that topic later…). Besides, we had spoken on the phone a couple of times while making arrangements for her to make a necklace and earrings as a Christmas present for my daughter, so I knew that she sounded pretty normal anyway.

Still, in the back of my mind I was concerned about what my wife would think. Now I have to cut Michelle a little slack here, but she still is a little leery of the idea of “online friendships.” She has understandably never felt all that comfortable with my having strong friendships with other women that she doesn’t know. And if the tables were turned I am absolutely certain that I would feel the same way.

I knew that I had to do some groundwork before things got on any further. I e-mailed Inanna and asked her about her plans. She said that she was already making plans to come to Nashville in May to attend the Renaissance Festival with her cousin and her son Nate, but wanted to get a feel for the trip. She had only passed through Nashville but hadn’t ever stopped here before. She thought it would be a great opportunity to get a lay of the land before coming back with her sister and son in tow. And of course most of all she wanted to meet me — I mean, who wouldn’t, right?

I’ll give you a moment to stop coughing before I continue…



I mentioned it to Michelle and she gave me one of those looks, but then said that she was fine with it and that she trusted me to know that this woman wasn’t coming to kill us all in our sleep. I told her, “Well I don’t think so, but I’ll tell Inanna you’d be against that. I’m sure she’ll understand…”

Seriously though, I was really concerned that Michelle would put the kibosh on the whole deal, or at least feel strongly enough against it to make it difficult on me. But she was wonderful and never once showed any opposition to Inanna’s coming to visit.

Gawd I love my wife!

The weeks passed and I provided Inanna lodging information in the area. She ended up staying at a motel about a mile from my house. Before we knew it the time was at hand. On Saturday morning March 5th she would set out from her house at around 6 AM, and hopefully arrive here in town by Noon.

I had a previously scheduled haircut appointment at 11AM, so if everything went according to schedule, the timing would work out just right. As it turned out, I called Inanna an hour before she was scheduled to arrive and learned that she was experiencing some traffic delays and was running about an hour behind schedule. That actually worked out great for me since as per usual, I had run short on time myself that morning and her delay gave me a chance to get my car cleaned out, you know, so that I could clear off a spot for her to even sit on? No, I’m not nearly that big a slob under normal circumstances. It’s just that Michelle gave me a new car stereo for Christmas and all the boxes, old speakers and tools I used to install it were still strewn all over the car. We really just hadn’t had a weekend day warm enough for me to get out there and get rid of all the mess. Now was my chance.

As it turned out I had just enough time to get my haircut, clean out my car, and get home to get ready to go before my cell phone started buzzing.
“I’m here I’m here come get me!” a female voice said excitedly.
“Do I know you?”
“Haaa! I’ll be there in two minutes.”

You are sooo UGLY!
Arright, if you read Inanna’s version of this story, you’ve heard that phrase before. It was indeed the first thing I said to her as I pulled up beside her in the motel parking lot. What you haven’t heard is why I would greet my dear friend in such a way. It was an inside joke and I was obviously being facetious because as you likely already know and no doubt can see here, she is anything but ugly (get it...but...ugly? butt-ugly? Geeze I kill me sometimes...).

However the genesis of that little expression is from a phone conversation Inanna and I had earlier in the week as we were confirming the whys and wherefores of her visit.

I said, "Well, we’ve talked on the phone, so we know what each other sounds like. And we’ve seen pictures on our blogs, so we know what each other looks like. So…there shouldn’t be any surprises, right?”

“Yeah, except I’m really ugly in person,” she deadpanned.

You be the judge.

Mi Casa Su Casa
First order of business was a brief tour of Casa de AJ, and to meet Michelle as well as my daughter Amy, who fortuitously was home from college for the weekend.

Michelle gave Inanna the grand tour and showed off her collection of Longaberger baskets, which are literally everywhere in our home. As Amy and Michelle excused themselves for an afternoon of shopping and doing the Mom ‘n Daughter thang, I gave Inanna the tour of the “bonus room.” It was my former office in my freelancer days; the place where my computer is and obviously where I blog and spend a good part of my time.

My room is pretty much the direct opposite of the rest of the house. Piles of papers, the skeletal remains of two and a half dead computers, not to mention the two that I have working. My TV and stereo are there as well as the drawing table I’ve mentioned before, which is like a perpetual time capsule of bills, magazines, computer parts and other various and asundried bits of junk and treasure dating back over the past ten years.

We farted around on the computer for a few minutes. Inanna checked her e-mail. Then it was time to hit the road. Next stop, Nashville and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

Talking through the Anthem
One of the things that Inanna had said she would be interested in doing while she was in Nashville was to visit one of the museums, and I immediately knew we would visit the Frist..since there really are no other art museums to speak of.

I’ve often marveled at how lucky I am to have come to live in Nashville when I did. When we moved here on New Year’s Day 1992, we were in perfect position to catch the wave of Nashville’s incredible growth spurt of the 90s. So many things were done to improve the quality of life and increase the already growing number of cosmopolitan amenities that were afoot. Nashville was coming of age as a “big” small town. It was no longer merely the butt of some Country & Western hick-town joke amongst the media and others, observing its goings-on from larger, “more cultured” cities. Some of those wisecracks had been painfully well deserved, however. To wit: since 1969, efforts had been in place to establish an adequate, permanent art-exhibition facility in a central, accessible location. In other words, there hadn’t been one — ev-er, until the Frist opened its doors in May 2001.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a wonderful facility. It is housed in the old Nashville Main Post Office building downtown on Broadway. The building, on of the finer examples of art deco architecture in the city, had been severely underused since 1986, serving merely as a branch post office following the opening of a new, larger main facility. The wonderful art deco appointments were fully restored along with its new state-of-the-art exhibit space. Michelle and I became members of the Frist last spring after seeing an incredible exhibition of Renaissance Masterworks. I am really proud of this facility, so it was a no-brainer to decide to show it off to Inanna.

The current exhibitions featured at the Frist were American Anthem, a celebration of American folk art through the history of our country, including many kinds works that I knew she would enjoy. Having already seen the exhibits I knew that the incredible needlework, quilts and expressive paintings would be right up her alley.

In the upstairs gallery, another exhibit I thought she would find interesting was the work of Nashville’s legendary “Couture Cowboy,” Manuel. He’s the clothing designer whose often sequin-studded creations you’ve seen on country, rock and movie stars at award shows, onstage and in film. A native of Mexico, Manuel created a special tribute to America by designing a unique commemorative bolero-style jacket for each of the 50 states of the union, adorned with his signature sequins, state slogans and imagery.

Well the exhibits were great, and I think she really enjoyed them, but I couldn’t help feeling like everyone in the building was staring at us as we made our way through the museum. You see, out of courtesy to fellow patrons, most people remain silent as they make their way through an art museum — not AJ and Nanner, boys and girls. I doubt that we went more than 15 seconds the entire hour and a half that we were in the place without maintaining our continuous conversation.

Michael had predicted that we’d be like “a pair of super-balls in a handball court” when Inanna and I got together. He wasn’t too far from the truth. Even a six-plus-hour drive from West Virginia hadn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the Nanner Peach. We talked about ev-ry-thing. We reveled in the fact that after learning so much about the other through words on a computer screen, that we were finally applying that knowledge to a real flesh-and-blood person. It was surreal.

Once we’d finished up at the museum, we both suddenly realized that we were starving, so we left the car in the Frist parking lot and set off on foot the four blocks or so down to what we like to call, “Lower Broad.” This is a four-block swath at the end of Broadway that comprises the largest concentration of tourist spots in Music City. Restaurants, the famous Ryman Auditorum — Nashville’s preeminent concert venue and former home of the Grand Ole Opry — honkytonks, and gift shops all stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this area, which on any given Saturday is heavy with foot traffic.

Rippin’ it up
On the corner of 4th and Broadway, across from the Gaylord Entertainment Center (where I should have been spending 2-3 nights a week this winter watching the NHL’s Nashville Predators play hockey), is Rippy’s Smokin’ Bar & Grill, or “that place with the band,” as Inanna described it in her blog post. I had eaten there a few times and knew the food was good. What I’d forgotten apparently was that the restaurant features live entertainment every night, and it’s a fairly small place. Add it all together and you get a good place to grab a bite, but definitely not for being able to hear yourself think.

But we made the most of it. I had the BBQ Sandwich on Texas Toast and Nanner went with the Fried Catfish Sandwich, which she claimed was “to die for.” Our conversation thrived despite the adversarial auditory environment. We spent the next hour basically shouting into each other’s ear, but we had a great time nonetheless. Hell, she picked up the tab — gotta love that! I informed her however, that would be the last thing she’d pay for that evening. The rest of the night was on AJ.

After we’d had a couple beers and satisfied our hunger pangs, we went off in search of the Holy Grail of Country Music souvenirs, The Velvet Elvis Painting. Nanner had mentioned that she’d like to try and find one as a gag gift for her Texas blogger-buddy Trashman, who she would be visiting a few weeks later, along with her sister and others among Blogland’s Texas contingent. I had told her that it may not be quite so easy to find a “VevetEvis” here in Music City, as this town’s merchants have for years been trying to play down that sort of image of Music City as Hicksville, USA.

We never did find the Holy grail, but there was plenty of other merchandise that qualified in the same area code of tackiness. However some of it was just so funny you couldn’t help but laugh out loud!

From the redneck t-shirts to the shotglasses with emblazoned with captions like “Pour me're still ugly!” Inanna and I were cracking up out loud as we searched around for that elusive prize. The closest thing we could come to an Elvis painting was a little Elvis “Dress-Up” novelty board which came with magnetic Elvis outfits spanning his music and movie career, which you could position over the basic Elvis body. It was designed to look just like similar paper doll-type novelties that were popular in the 60s. Inanna loved that thing and came thisclose to buying it, but thought better.
Another couple gift stores turned up nothing and Inanna turned to me abruptly and said, “Okay, we’re done.” “Thank God,” I thought to myself. Tourist traps are not my thing normally. This was the first time I’d ever been inside any of those gift shops along Lower Broad, and while it was sort of fun, I won’t be going out of my way for any return visits anytime soon.

As we began the trek back to my car the conversation continued (what a shocking revelation that is, eh).

And the night wasn’t half-over yet...

Next: Inside the Peach
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