Sunday, July 20, 2003
A "no changes" warning applies, as does a two-hour time limit from initial query to purchase confirmation. I didn't feel the pressure when "practicing" on Hotwire a few days before I made my purchase, but on Tuesday the blood rushed when the clock started.
I asked for a round-trip ticket to Nashville with a Friday departure and Sunday return. Eight options matched these criteria, arranged in order of Top Picks (you can also sort by star rating, hotel name and price). Hotel details were provided, but except for noting that I didn't want a red-eye, there were no flight specifics. For that, I'd have to wait until after purchasing the package.
I scrolled for the cheapest options and liked the sound of $370 at the Sheraton, including all taxes and fees. I called the Sheraton to check on cheap transportation from the airport (Gray Line goes round trip for $17), then entered my billing information.
A few nail-biting minutes later (for all I knew I'd be on a puddle-jumper leaving at a God-forsaken hour) I had an e-ticket on US Airways through Charlotte, leaving Dulles at 10:20 a.m. Friday and departing Nashville at 10:40 a.m. two days later. Phew.
On Broadway, the main drag, twangs emanated from the row of neon-lit honkytonks (and this at 2 in the afternoon) as I headed to the Country Music Hall of Fame (222 Fifth Ave. S.). It rocked: Nudie Suits! Loretta Lynn's Crisco commercial! Elvis's diamond dust-covered Caddie!
Sam's Sushi Bar (200 Fourth Ave. N.) provided a respite from my afternoon of tasseled outfits and recorded "God bless yous." It's the kind of no-frills joint where you write down your own order and then the chef argues with you until given free rein, and he comes out with an enormous plate of the best sushi ever, all for $6.25.
At the Wildhorse Saloon (120 Second Ave. N.), the most famous of the strip of music 'n' mayhem establishments lining Second Avenue, I didn't meet a single local -- but Georgia and Alabama sure were well represented. I line danced (sort of) in the mammoth dance hall, where the music is live and the emcees raw. Even the elderly cowboy up in the two-tiered gallery didn't escape the catcalling; he obliged by shakin' it in the middle of the floor.
Saturday began with a groan . . . and a shriek . . . and then a little bit of rattling. The hotel pipes were feeling their age. I headed to the Frist Center for the Arts (919 Broadway) for some serious art (Ottoman artifacts) and then inquired about the Parthenon, honoring Nashville's claim as the Athens of the South and home to a 42-foot golden Athena.
I was determined to walk there -- and everyone else seemed determined that I shouldn't. "It's three or five miles from here," protested a concierge at the historic Union Station Hotel (1001 Broadway). "You have to take a cab!" said the woman at Centennial Park, site of the Parthenon since 1897. Undeterred, I strolled straight down the main drag, past fast-food chains and car dealerships, and 30 minutes later arrived at a grassy oasis across the street from Vanderbilt University. It was two miles, at most.
Kitsch craving satisfied, I fell into another world just minutes away at the Scarritt-Bennett Center (1008 19th Ave. S.), a retreat with Gothic architecture and a serene meditation garden. Every second weekend in July, the center hosts a Celebration of Cultures, with dahl, injera and other delicacies, Aashid Himons's acoustic blues, Chinese lantern-making and little girls in straw hats performing Colombian folk dances. Everyone seemed pleased, if surprised, at a tourist's appearance, for although there was not a cowboy hat among them, this was a strictly local crowd.
My feet took a rest on the 34X bus to Opry Mills (433 Opry Mills Dr.), where the Bible Factory Outlet rubs shoulders with the Bass store. A peek at the Gaylord Opryland Resort -- a bubble-covered world complete with hotel, general store and river (!) -- and it was time for Eddie Stubbs to announce the Saturday evening broadcast performance of the Carnegie Hall of Country: the Grand Ole Opry (2802 Opryland Dr.). Alison Krauss, Buddy Jewell and others fiddled, strummed and sang for us and their radio audience. Not a bad way to end 48 hours in Music City, even if the shuttle back to the hotel did put me $8.38 over budget.