Switching to Tourist Mode From Nashville to Chattanooga
I'm not much of a meandering tourist. If I'm going somewhere, I like to get there without delay.
Karen, not so much.
We fully intended on spending the night in Nashville and resuming our trip to Tampa the following day.
That didn't happen. Imagine that?
We weren't really tired from our 12-hour drive from Chicago to Nashville, probably due to the adrenaline rush you get
when you find yourself on an adventure. But, after strolling the streets of Music City well into the evening, we were ready to crash.
I sleep rather soundly. Neither storms nor sirens can disrupt my slumber.
But, Karen can.
I don't recall the exact time, but I awoke with her shouting my name: "Randy!"
I awoke just in time to see her pulling back the curtains to the window of our hotel room. And, yes. It had two double beds.
"Quick, come here," she said. "There's a bunch of fire trucks downstairs. I think the place is on fire."
I usually don't venture out without a shower and a few cups of coffee, but this was different.
We were on the second floor of a hotel that might be on fire.
I slipped into a pair of jeans and headed for the door. I opened it and stepped out onto the cement walkway.
"Yep, something's burning," I said. "I can smell it. It smells like burnt toast and bacon."
However, nobody seemed to be too excited. There were some hotel staffers milling about with a few firefighters outside the front door. I couldn't see much else.
Some other guests came out of their rooms, looked around, and asked me if I knew what was going on.
"Not sure," I told them. "But, I'll bet it's a kitchen fire. Can you smell it? There's a heavy odor of burnt breakfast."
Finally, a hotel staffer arrived and told us it was nothing to get excited about. He said a fire had started in the ventilation hood above the grill in the kitchen.
I was correct. My son had worked for an outfit that cleans those hoods.
I looked over at Karen, who was peering out from behind the door. She wasn't about to go outside with her hair all a mess, even if flames were about to singe her butt.
The flames would have to be rather high to accomplish that, anyway.
"I told you so," I said. "If you don't have those cleaned on a scheduled basis, you're asking for trouble."
We determined that having breakfast at the hotel was probably out of the question.
No problem. Karen knows I have a knack for finding good places to eat.
I much prefer mom-and-poper's to fast food joints and the one I stumbled upon was incredible. It was a small restaurant just down the street from the hotel. We had an awesome breakfast of biscuits and gravy. I don't recall the name.
It was the real deal. Not some northern substitute.
We were already behind schedule, but it didn't matter. We weren't in a hurry. Florida wasn't going to move further away.
So, Karen switched-on tourist mode and suggested that we take in some more of the sites. I agreed.
She remembered passing the Ryman Auditorium on our way to the hotel. She scanned the rack of tourist-trap brochures at the restaurant and pulled one out.
"I have an idea, she exclaimed. "Let's check out the Grand Old Opry. It's right inside the Ryman Auditorium. They're kinda one in the same."
"I guess that's as good a place as any," I responded. "Let's go."
I never really have a choice. I learned that in New Mexico.
It was only a few blocks away and there was no getting out of it, anyway. It's a neat old building.
There were a handful of people waiting for the next tour, so we joined them.
I wish I could tell you that it was interesting and informative, but I don't remember a damn thing about it.
I just followed the group.
Like I said, I'm not a fan of country music, especially of the Hee Haw variety.
I did notice the framed posters of shows featuring Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I had no idea Bruce Springsteen played there. Until then, the Grand Old Opry had conjured up images of rhinestone cowboys, complete with Stetsons, steel guitars, and fiddles.
Not my style. It's not Karen's, either.
Nonetheless, she's the type who'll go out of her way to see the world's biggest ball of twine. I should have known better. Remember that little detour we took while driving through New Mexico? Well, she would eventually do it to me, again.
"We can't tell people we were in Nashville and didn't see the Country Music Hall of Fame," she said, as we were leaving the Ryman. "Can we, huh, can we?" I had no choice. I just can't say no to her, especially when she pulls her little-girl-pleading-to-daddy routine. It's just ain't fair.
"Do they serve alcohol," I asked. "That's the only way I'm getting through it."
"You know better than that," she responded, with a look of consternation. "Come on, we're going."
I was fully aware of my situation. I was only delaying the inevitable. At least it was within walking distance.
I remember it was a massive building. Turns out it's also a museum. Other than that, I'm drawing a blank.
We probably saw Elvis Presley's solid-gold car, one of Johnny Cash's thousands of black suits, and Earl Scruggs' banjo. At least that's what popped up when I just Googled the place. I could be mistaken. I don't remember.
We decided to hit the road before it got too late, so we continued on our journey south.
We didn't get very far. We hadn't eaten lunch.
In those days, Karen ate like a bird, but she had to nibble on something every few hours. Her ever-present snacks had already been consumed, but at least we hadn't lit them on fire in the backseat.
Another reference to our first cross-country adventure.
"You always find the best places to eat," she said, as we were approaching Chattanooga, which is only two hours south east of Nashville. "Let's stop. I'm getting hungry."
Chattanooga is not the easiest place to get around. It's one of those places where you can see where you want to go, but getting there's another story, especially when you don't have a particular destination in mind.
My innate good-food tracker was acting up. We must have passed half-a-dozen fast-food joints before making several twists and turns and ending up at a quaint little restaurant somewhere off the beaten path.
I should be called the "Quaint Little Restaurant Whisperer."
"At least we're not in the middle of a blinding snowstorm," I said, glancing over at Karen. "Does Tennessee remind you of New Mexico?"
"Stop it. We're fine," she said. "Let's go in and eat."
I must admit that the tracker was working fine. Our meals were delicious, but I probably couldn't find the place, again, even if I could recall the name. The fried chicken was quite tasty. Southern cooks have their act together.
After lunch, we leaned toward the south, which means we didn't get far. Can you guess why?
Yep. Another one of those damn green-and-white signs that indicate the distance to places you don't care about, unless you're Karen. The scenery didn't help. Tennessee is indeed beautiful, with winding rivers and rising mountains.
This one read "Ruby Falls," which sits atop Lookout Mountain, the site of a Civil War battlefield.
It's just outside Chattanooga. I followed the signs, what else could I do?
We wound and chugged our way up the mountain in my overstuffed car.
I thought the site was closed. We were the only ones there. I was wrong.
There was a guy selling tickets, which included a ride to the top of the mountain on a rickety, old cable car. I prayed that the young operator knew what the hell she was doing.
We made it without incident and discovered a magnificent view of the valley below.
Not to mention, you can see seven states from "Rock City" point: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, South and North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. However, the state lines aren't painted, so you really can't tell one from another.
It all looked the same to me.
On the way to Ruby Falls, which was very disappointing, we stopped to read a billboard that explained what happened during the historic battle. To make a long story short, let's just say the union troops eventually starved out the confederate troops stuck atop the mountain. I don't recall the cast of characters.
By the way, Ruby Falls is nothing more than a glorified rock garden, with a souvenir shop, of course.
There is a waterfall, but, if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. There's also your obligatory "Lover's Leap."
We snapped a photo of it, but kept our distance.
We wasted way too much time on Lookout Mountain, so the impending darkness forced our hand.
Karen beat me to the punch when she asked, "Shouldn't we just spend the night? I don't feel like driving, do you?"
"No," I answered. "If we leave first thing in the morning, we can make it to Tampa before dark tomorrow."
That plan would fall apart, too. But, it wasn't my fault. Unless you consider my giving into her every whim a flaw in my character.
Don't answer. It was a rhetorical question.
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