Boot Scootin' Our Way Through Nashville On Our Way To Tampa
There's rarely a dull moment when my guardian angel and I get together and we'll soon be celebrating our more-than-special relationship's 20th anniversary. I hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as I do recalling them.
After returning from our ill-fated, cross-country trip to Arizona, Karen and I continued to spend time together, although she now lived nearly an hour away. She owned her own home. I was living in my parent's basement. I was 40 years old. Do the math. It doesn't add up to a good time.
Thankfully, Karen wanted to look for things we could enjoy together. So, at her request, I begrudgingly agreed to a free dance lesson at the local Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Those are the sort of things friends, often reluctantly, do for each other.
Did I mention that friendships can be tested?
The instructor knew right away that he was dealing with four left feet. It just wasn't working, partially because I couldn't stop laughing.
I blamed it on our height difference, when, in reality, I just felt silly doing it. Fortunately, Karen agreed that it wasn't quite what she expected, and declined any further instruction.
I took her out to dinner and celebrated in silence. I felt bad about it, but the feeling soon passed. As a result, she emphatically stated that it was now my turn to introduce an idea. I was uncharacteristically prepared for just such a request.
Earlier in the week, I'd been scanning the local community college's continuing-education course catalog. It's amazing the range of activities that these fine institutions offer. One stuck out from all the rest. And, if you know me, you won't be surprised at what caught my attention.
It offered a course entitled, "Mixology." In laymen's terms, it's learning how to mix drinks and, upon completion of the course, you've earned a bartender's license. I considered it a win-win situation. So did Karen. The framed license once graced my office wall. It makes a great conversation piece.
We absolutely loved it. The instructor, who managed the bar at the local Olive Garden Restaurant, had a great barside manner. We looked forward to attending class every Wednesday night. However, no alcohol was allowed on campus. So, we had to substitute the various types of liquor with colored water. Bummer.
After "graduation," I took a part-time job as a bartender at a snooty country club. Is there any other kind?
A former co-worker of mine was the bar manager. It was fun, but it didn't pay squat. From my experience, members of country clubs are the cheapest bastards on Earth. They don't use cash, so the tips are less than minimal. Excuse my French, but many are just plain assholes. Watch "Caddy Shack" with Rodney Dangerfield.
They charge everything on their club card because they're required to spend a certain amount of money at the club per month. It's in their membership agreement. On top of that, the tips are not only shared among the bartenders, but the wait staff, as well. Another bummer.
I did make a new friend, though. I was working during Cinco de Mayo night. I was in charge of making margaritas at a stand-alone station set up in the middle of the dining room. One more-than-slightly inebriated member kept weaving his way back to my station every half-hour or so for three hours straight, looking a bit more pleased each time.
Finally, he spoke to me.
"My wife absolutely loves your margaritas," he whispered to me across the makeshift bar. "She's feeling rather playful. I owe you one." He still does.The cheapskate didn't even leave a tip. I retired from bartending at the end of the night..
Karen, on the other hand, took a part-time job at a local bar and grill, and worked there for a several years. Her tips made it well worthwhile, but then she looks amazing in a black-leather skirt and heels. I don't.
To move the story along, I'll quickly summarize the following couple of years.
-- I suffered a bout of temporary insanity and got remarried.
-- My new wife had two evil, teenage daughters.
-- She grew jealous of my relationship with Karen.
-- We divorced after what seemed like the longest year of my life.
That's it in a nutshell.
So, I was on my own, again, and decided it was the perfect time to start anew.
My best friend had moved to Tampa, Florida, so I spent a week's vacation at his house, frequenting the gulf-side beaches and tiki bars that span from Tampa to St. Pete and up to Clearwater.
I was working for Aramark Uniform Services, which has facilities across the country, including one in Tampa. So, I decided to stop in and see if they had any openings. Try doing that today. You'd be politely instructed to carry your sorry ass back home and apply online. But, as some of you know, I'm a maverick.
I walked in off the street, schmoozed the young girl at the front desk, got an immediate interview with the assistant general manager, and he hired me on the spot. Score.
My general manager in Illinois, who wasn't exactly pleased when I called him, relented and granted me a transfer. Within a month, I was working in Tampa. I started in November, thus dodging the impending winter.
I never thought I'd see snow, again. We just don't get along (flashing back to New Mexico).
This time, Karen volunteered to ride along with me on my move to Tampa. So, buckle up, it's time for another ride on the wild side -- minus the .45 caliber handgun. It wouldn't have fit in the car, anyway.
We took off in my 2000 emerald-green Ford Taurus with everything I owned crammed inside. There was just enough room for an average-sized passenger. But, as you can see, Karen is not average size. Her legs alone are 36-inches long. Mine are a mere 30. She was cramping and it wasn't even that time of the month. Thank, God.
We made it all the way from Chicago to Nashville without incident. We decided to spend the night in Nashville because it marked the halfway point to Tampa. We arrived early in the afternoon, so we decided to see the sights and grab some lunch. B.B King's restaurant was out of this world. God rest his soul. I love BBQ.
We found it strange that the streets of "Music City" were rather quiet. I wondered if Willy Nelson was hosting a party at his local ranch. That boy knows how to get'r done. At my request, we strolled into one of my all-time favorite syndicated bars: Coyote Ugly. It just doesn't get any better. That's entertainment. I later found one in Tampa, too.
We were the only ones in the place, other than the "boot scootin' " bartenders. You gotta love a woman in a short shorts, part of a shirt, and cowboy boots. If not, you're simply unpatriotic. Being the only patrons, we drew all their attention. Score.
Karen wasn't the least bit amused, but she's a trooper.
She was just about to ask one of them why the city was so damn quiet, when the jukebox sprung to life. Out blasted Charley Daniels' "The Devil Came Down to Georgia," followed by four lovely young cowgirls clickin' their heels atop the bar -- right in front of my very eyes. I was in heaven. If you get the chance, you've just gotta go.
While grasping a frosty mug of draft beer and smiling from ear-to-ear, I glanced over at Karen. She was sitting on the stool next to me sipping on a refreshing lemonade. She lifted her chin in the air while letting out a loud "humph." Damn, I knew what that meant. It was time for us to leave or I'd be finding my own way back to the hotel.
Without moving her head, she shifted her steel-eyed gaze in my direction, to see if I got the message. I did. I was about to chug the last few swallows of my beer, when she nearly choked and launched the lemonade through her teeth and across the bar. It was immediately followed by uncontrollable laughter. She was teasing me. Why are women so damn good at that? I fell for it hook, line, and sinker, but ordered another beer. Score.
By now, you're thinking I have a drinking problem, aren't you? Well, I don't. It's no problem at all. You saw that coming, didn't you? Actually, it's just a segue to get us to the next bar we visited. They're everywhere in Nashville, as are the cute, southern belles with at least a slight, southern drawl. It believe it's required. Be still my heart.
On our way down 2nd Ave. North, we stumbled across one of the most famous bars in town: the Wildhorse Saloon. It has a huge dance floor smack dab in the middle of the double-decker bar. The second floor features a balcony that looks down upon the dance floor from all sides. It's also home to a few wooden ponies, painted and posed to look like pleased patrons. They were made for selfies, which wouldn't be invented for another decade.
Karen unleashed her feminine charms to gain access to the second floor, which is closed during the day. That's where we found the painted ponies. I popped up like the guy who hides in the bushes while his girlfriend stands suggestively along the side of the road trying to hitch a ride. It works.
Although the bar manager wasn't impressed, he revealed where everybody was hiding. It was the first year that the Country Music Awards were being held in Los Angeles instead of Nashville. It didn't matter to us. We weren't country music fans, anyway. We didn't even know the awards were even being held.
By now, it was beginning to get dark, so we headed back toward the hotel, but Karen remained in tourist mode. She had heard from a friend that there was a neat little bar tucked away in an alley somewhere. She couldn't recall the name. She was having another "blonde moment."
After following a couple of guys with guitar cases down an alley, we found it. They led us right to it. We watched as they arranged their equipment on stage. They were obviously expecting a few more friends to show to round out the band.
It was definitely a hole-in-the-wall and, once again, we were the only ones in the juke joint. The day's events triggered Karen's curiosity. When I'm with her, I don't need to open my mouth for anything other food or drink. She'll create her own conversations. I just nod and drink.
She asked the bartender, another very friendly young lady, who the band was going to be that night. She's so inquisitive.
"Oh, it's not a band, so to speak," she said. "It's a bunch of local guys who like to jam together."
"Are they any good?," asked Karen. "We're not really country music fans."
"I'd say so," the bartender; responded with a grin, as she pointed at each one. "That's so-and-so, he's plays for what's-his-name, and that's you-know-who, he plays for her majesty when she's in the studio."
At the time, we recognized the names, but I don't remember them now. Call it a "grey moment." Nonetheless, they were big names in country music. We never heard if their counterparts won any awards that year, but we really didn't give a rat's ass, either.
We didn't stay long. We'd planned to leave early in the morning. But, that didn't quite work out.
I'll elaborate on that in the next installment. You've read enough for now, take a break -- grab a drink. Plan a trip to Nashville. Tell them Karen and Randy sent you.
If you'd like to read about our initial adventure, please follow the link below. Every story has to have a beginning.