Friday, March 18, 2005

Peachy Keen! (Part II)

***Length warning***
Sorry folks, but I've got to warn you, this sucker's a long one! I could have easily made this a 3-part series and this post is about a third longer than I normally allow any single part to be, but I wanted to get it out without any further delay. So here is the final chapter on the whirlwind fourteen and-a-half hour visit paid to me March 5-6th by our wonderful friend Inanna...

Inside the Peach

What can I say about the Nanner-Peach? Appearance-wise, you can clearly see that she’s lovely, and if you’ve ever spent any time reading her blog you know that she’s smart, funny and incredibly articulate. And of course, every bit of that comes across in person. But I guess the thing that I was most impressed with about Inanna is the genuine warmth of spirit she exudes; the life that is in her eyes. These are things one can only appreciate in person.

Inanna is a real person in every way. There is no distant aire; no feeling that she’s withholding anything in stay in control of the conversation. She’s the poster child for full-frontal sincerity. From the broadness of her smile to the lilt of her gentle West Virginia brogue, what you see is what you get.

Speaking of that voice, I had of course spoken to her on the phone before, but there is a difference between a person’s phone voice and the resonance of the actual sound of life that proceeds from their lips in one-on-one conversation. Now I not only can read Inanna, I will forever be able to also hear her voice as I read, and that to me is a very special thing.

And now, back to the story...

Wha’ju just call me?
When we last saw our heroes they were power-walking back to my car, having finished hobnobbing around Lower Broad, when something rather amusing happened. Inanna was elaborating on a certain subject in a rather animated fashion, punctuating her statement with an expression that each of us has used ad-infinitum over the course of a conversation.
She said, “Y’know what I mean, AJ?”

I must have physically flinched, wrinkled my nose, done a double-take or something else strange, because she suddenly paused and added apologetically, Oh…you don’t mind if I call you ‘AJ,’ do you?

I just stopped and looked at her. “You know, it’s really weird, but I’m just not used to actually hearing someone referring to me like that, especially in conversation. I’m only used to seeing it on the computer screen. Of course I don’t mind — I guess I just have to get used to actually hearing someone say it.”

“Good,” she replied. “I feel weird calling you by your real name. That’s not you — you’re AJ!”

I just smiled and thought to myself, “Yeah…sometimes I kinda wonder.”

Welcome to the jungle
I had originally planned to take Inanna to my favorite place to hear music in Nashville, 3rd and Lindley Bar & Grill, for dinner and to hear two pretty good bands. But on second thought, particularly after the experience of trying to talk over the band at Rippy’s I decided that it was more important for us to be able to have meaningful conversation time than to hear music. That was after all why she’d come, to talk, not necessarily to hear music.

So I decided to take her somewhere that was conducive to conversation as well as being a place that would be interesting for her to see. Actually it is the one place that I make sure all of my visiting guests get a chance to experience, the Opryland Hotel. Now you may be wondering what’s so great about a hotel? Well this is no ordinary hotel — it’s a work of art. It’s huge, so huge in fact, it’s the largest hotel and convention facility under one roof in the world. And it’s not just big, it’s breathtakingly beautiful as well.

The majority of the hotel area is comprised of three separate but interconnected sprawling, glass-covered atriums filled with waterfalls, lush plantlife and a winding river wide enough to support a full-scale delta river flatboat on which guests can ride on. The atriums total over 9 acres in area and contain more than 55,000 different varieties of plants, the care for which the hotel employs 50 full-time horticulturists.

The first time I stepped into the Opryland Hotel my jaw dropped. It’s just such a great place to walk around in, to take in all the nature; to just drink in the opulence of the hotel’s atmosphere.

We strolled throughout the wonderfully manicured atrium gardens, of the Cascades, the Conservatory, and the Delta, continuing our continuous conversation on the subject of real-world friends and families, as well as their Blogland counterparts. Inanna snapped several pictures of the impressive views to be seen, even at nighttime.

By the time we reached the Delta, our throats were dry so we stopped to get an ice cream from the Ben & Jerry’s store there amongst a grouping of overpriced gift and clothing shops. The ice cream was no different — $4 bucks for a single-scoop cone — but it was Ben & Jerry’s, and it was mighty good.

We sat on a bench along one of the Delta pathways that wind their way throughout the vegetation and waterfalls to enjoy our ice cream. This is where Inanna and I did our most serious talking. We exchanged ideas about spirituality, personal tragedy and loss and how those things affected our perception of Blogland and relationships in general.

As she had spoken about numerous times in her own blog, Inanna shared with me about the role that her own acute sense of spiritual intuition plays in her real life; that mental “tap on the left shoulder” she’s spoken of before. On the bench where we sat, I was on the right side and Inanna was on the left. Being the wiseass that I am, during one particularly serious moment while she was speaking on that subject, I non-chalantly reached my left arm behind the bench and tapped her on the left shoulder. She jumped about a foot in her seat.

I now have a bruise on my left shoulder.

We finished our ice cream cones and I looked at my watch. We certainly weren’t “talked-out” but I could feel us starting to wind down a bit. We still had time to make it back across town to 3rd & Lindsley, to see the headlining band I had originally thought Inanna would enjoy; one that I had actually wanted to see myself for years but just hadn’t gotten around to it.

She was game, so we headed back to the car and back toward downtown Nashville. Inanna had mentioned to me at some point in the past that her Mom and Dad had been big Beatles fans, and through their influence, so she also became one. Well of course you know that the Beatles are the most important musical influence of all my life, so off we went to catch the performance of the local Beatles tribute band, known simply as, Fab.

When they were Fab
I should have known. After all it was Saturday night. But when Inanna and I pulled up to 3rd & Linsdley and saw how full the parking lot across the street was, I was surprised. Granted, I’d never seen this band, but I had no idea they would draw a crowd like this. I suppose we were pretty lucky just to get in, because it looked to me like the place was near capacity. However I quickly noticed something that gave that capacity crowd an even more amusing quality.

Normally 3rd & Lindsley isn’t what one would consider a “kid’s bar.” A lot of the acts that play there do cater to a younger crowd, but by and large it is a more mature, late-twentydomething-to-thirtysomething demographic that usually frequents my favorite haunt. I’m typically a good bit older than the average patron, but I rarely feel out of place. Well this time, I felt like the punk kid. I’ve never seen so much gray hair and leather stacked shoulder-to-shoulder in my life. Record Company types, doctor and lawyer-looking types, along with average Joes and a lot of younger-looking folks as well filled the bustling club. I motioned for Inanna to follow me and we limboed our way through the crowd to my usual spot at the corner of the bar, about 12 feet from the stage.

I guess it would serve the story to explain the layout of the place. If you'll picture it with me, 3rd & Lindley is an “L” shaped room with the bar located along the “bottom” left-to-right portion of the “L.” The stage is in the lower left corner of the “L” at its apex. So obviously the area at the left end of the bar, directly adjacent from the stage is always the best vantagepoint for the show. However as logic would dictate, it’s also the first area to fill up, and the place had been full of people since early in the evening. So the long and short of it is, it was standing room only. There were no seats available anywhere to be seen. I was anticipating this since I’d been in that same circumstance many times before. Normally people just stand around in that area, trying not to block the vision of anyone behind them. It’s just sort of a catch-as-catch-can situation.

I turned to Inanna and said, “I hope you don’t mind standing.” She immediately replied, “No, it doesn’t bother me.” “Good,” I answered. Although I really wasn’t looking forward to the uncomfortable reality of being on my feet for the next couple of hours.

Suddenly Inanna pointed up and over my right shoulder and said, “What about up there?” She was pointing to the shallow upstairs loft, the one part of 3rd & Lindsley that I had never sat to see a show in all the years I’d been coming there. I turned to survey the area and it did look like there were some seats available, so I said immediately, “Okay, Let’s give it a shot,” and we made our way back near the front door, where the stairway leading up to the loft was located. As I got to the top of the steps I immediately saw what I had suspected was the case. The two unoccupied tables we had seen from down below had signs indicating they had been reserved, which you can do if you have a party of five or more. Oh well, there was no harm in going all the way around to see if there were any more possibilities of an empty barstool or two for us to snag. On the opposite side of the loft we found that we were in luck. There was a single barstool, coincidentally enough, just above the area we would have been standing if we’d remained downstairs. At least Inanna would have a seat. Now if I could just scrounge up another. I left her to double back and look in the area we had just passed through. Sure enough there was a single unoccupied stool in the far corner. I grabbed it and we were in bidness!

The band came on a few minutes later and truly lived up to their name I thought. They did a fabulous job, not necessarily of impersonating the Beatles, but rather of celebrating them. The five band members all sang —although no one person did “all McCartney” or “all Lennon” vocals — they all seemed to do a little of each. I thought they did a good job of capturing the flavor of the vocal style of whoever’s lead they were following, if not necessarily “duplicating” them.

But where the band really shined was in the area of instrumentation. They were all extremely adept musicians and they knew every chord to every song, playing it exactly note for note to the Beatles’ recordings. There was something surreal about hearing those wonderful songs of my youth — and I knew every single one they played — with the sound clarity being so crisp and true as that only a live performance could provide.

I sang along, as did most everyone else in the room. Inanna, a permanent smile on her face as well, sang with me. I don’t know if it was the music, the beer or both, but I felt such a release after the hours of sometimes-intense conversation with Inanna. We just cut loose and had a great time.

My mind flashed on my childhood when my friends and I would do essentially the same thing in front of the big TV/Radio/Turntable console in our living room. The only thing missing was the running around the house pretending we were the Beatles in the Hard Day’s Night movie, as we often did in our little Beatles fantasies.

I also thought of my eldest brother Jack, who I’m quite sure, at age nineteen had no idea what an incredible gift he was giving to his eight year-old little brother in letting me tag along with him on September 3, 1964, to see the Beatles in concert in Indianapolis. I’m sure he had no idea he was providing me with the seminal event of my childhood. Now nearly 41 years later I wondered how many of the hundreds of Beatles fans there at 3rd & Lindsley had actually been so fortunate as had I. The events of the entire evening all just folded into one very fun and satisfying experience.

After the show we headed back to Inanna’s hotel. Fortunately they still had a room reserved for her! When she has arrived at 1:00 PM, it was still two hours before check-in, so at one point in the evening she wondered aloud if the fact that she hadn’t checked in would be a problem. A quick call to the hotel reassured her that she would indeed have a bed to sleep in that night.

I saw her up to her room and we made plans to meet for breakfast at 8:30 Sunday morning. After all, we still had a few hours of talking left to do before she hit the road to take her home to West Virginia (hmmm…kinda reminds ya of a song doesn’t it?).

When fourteen hours feels like three…
At 8:30 AM on the nose Sunday morning, I was knocking on Inanna’s door. She was just pulling on her shoes, all packed and ready to checked out. After loading up her car we walked over to the Cracker Barrel restaurant, about 75 yards away, just adjacent to the hotel. We walked in and were seated right away, which is a rare occurrence in my experience at that always-bustling little country-style eatery.

We sat down and ordered. Soon (like less than ten minutes later) we were enjoying a wonderful breakfast. Also, this time I remembered to bring my camera, which had stayed, forgotten in my glove box the whole time we were together Saturday. It was sitting near me on the table and our waitress, who was wonderfully attentive, the entire 90-plus minutes we sat there eating and jabbering, offered to snap a few pictures.

To be honest, I don’t quite remember what it was that we talked about for all that time. As a matter of fact, much of the whole fourteen-and-a-half hour period of cumulative time Inanna and I spent together has now been compressed in my memory to what now seems to be about three hours. They say time flies when you’re having fun. I guess that speaks volumes about the time we had.

In closing this second of what I hope will be many other chapters in the story of face-to-face meetings with my Blogland friends, I really want to say thanks to this incredible lady. Thanks to her for being such a wonderfully supportive and understanding friend. Thanks to her for making the effort — and it was a substantial one — giving up thirteen hours of her weekend and driving a total of 866 miles just to come see me. We had a great time, covered a lot of ground, and most importantly, strengthened a bond and a trust that I have experienced with very few other people in the real world.

This is a special person I’m talking about here folks. A person worth knowing.

She’s a real peach, I tellya…

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