Friday morning, we headed up to Nashville, as the shows we wanted to see didn’t start until later. Stephanie had never experienced the joys of the South, so I aimed to show her the highlights. We started at Bongo Java. She witnessed the miracle of the Nun Bun, and I bought coffee and some souvenir underwear, because it’s what I do. The coffee boy freaked when I pulled out my wallet. He said, ‘Can I take a picture of that?’ and pulled out his camera phone. I held it up for him, and he told me about his Hello Kitty fandom. I said, ‘Well then…’ and put my keys on the counter so he could see my Hello Kitty sushi chef keyring. Then I showed him my cellphone. He looked like he was going to pass out. He dug in his pocked and produced a little Hello Kitty, which he placed lovingly on the counter. It was a moment.
We drove over to see the Parthenon. Stephanie was unimpressed. As a sports fan, she was way more excited by the Coliseum (I even learned there’s a sports team there called the Titans, and apparently they play a game known locally as ‘football’), which was crawling with country music fans in town for the CMA festival. We drove around for a while trying to find a parking spot amongst the crowd of cowboy-hat-tube-top-wearing fans. The nice thing about Nashville is that all the funny touristy stuff is confined to a few blocks along Broadway, from Ryman Auditorium (the original Grand Ole Opry) to the… well, Hard Rock Cafe. Whatever.
Anyway, we wandered. I pointed out the Batman building. We went into the offensive souvenir shop where half the merchandise comes emblazoned with a confederate flag. We stopped into Hatch Show Print, because I’m obsessed (my upcoming portfolio is a tribute). We marveled at the fashion we saw:
‘Was that a one or two-piece hot-pink bodysuit?’
‘How does he transport that giant beer gut on those spindly legs?’
‘What’s the connection between NASCAR and country?’
We stopped to get our photo taken with Elvis, and to talk to some country music fans on the street, who told us about the festival events, and the loads of free crap to be had. We decided to check it out.
They had a bunch of tents set up, selling state-fair food (again!), and crappy beer. There was a tent with Sharpie markers, one for eBay, and a cooking tent sponsored by Mrs. Dash. No, I’m not joking. There was even a karaoke stage, on which bemused fans in various degrees of patriotic decoration were belting their hearts out to today’s greatest country. It was… interesting. We went to the Charlie Daniels museum instead. And then, we were just in time for the opening of the world-famous Wildhorse Saloon. If you’re not me, you probably don’t recall that it’s the place I learned to line-dance.
I was feeling nostalgic, so I ordered fried pickles even though Stephanie wouldn’t touch them. I ate a few, then had a ‘cowboy’ caesar salad. As she pointed out, I was eating the same thing I eat at Luce: caesar salad and a diet Coke. I told her to shut up, since it was the only thing on the menu I could eat.
This would become a theme.
We headed to Katy K’s Ranch Dressing. I can’t say enough good things about her custom western wear, so I won’t. You just have to see it. She noticed the kitty shoes I’d bought from her last spring. I bought a tshirt with her logo. She gave us directions to Bonnaroo. I wanted to hug her goodbye, but I restrained myself.
So we drove the 70 miles to Manchester. The main exit was closed, so we had to go three miles past it and turn around at the next exit, as instructed by about a hundred state troopers. There were cars lining the freeway for those entire three miles, and they didn’t seem to be moving. People were hanging out of their cars and wandering around on the side of the road. We decided to stop at the gas station to pee and get snacks and water.
We got on the entrance ramp and sat parked there for half an hour. I got out and talked to the passing folks. One boy with rhinestone sunglasses told me he was parked about a mile and a half up the road, and it had taken him three hours to get to that point. We turned off the air, opened all the windows and sunroof, and settled in. I watched the temperature creep from 92 to 101.
We crept down the three miles of I-24 and reached the Manchester exit after almost 4 hours. We were thrilled to almost be there. We were drenched, had to go to the bathroom, and were running out of water. We had watched people walking down the highway twice the speed we were driving. We watched them climbing into the woods and peeing, and seriously regretted being girls.
At the exit, the friendly troopers told us we were entering total chaos. There were 90,000 people there, way more than they expected. There wasn’t enough room for all the campers, so people were just parking anywhere. It was a mess. They were amused. We were not. We realized that the traffic backup didn’t end at the exit, and that we had farther to go, but no idea just how far.
A total of nine hours after leaving the gas station, we were parked at Bonnaroo. They were correct about chaos. We drove through rocks and grass and mud and found a parking spot amongst the campers. We weren’t camping and were supposed to be parked in a separate area so we could leave later, but they had abandoned any order. I asked three different people in STAFF tshirts and was told they had no idea how I was leaving, since all the exits were blocked by cars trying to get in. My favorite response was, ‘I heard there was another exit around here, but I’m not sure. It’ll probably be cleared up by 8am.’
We tried to remember where we parked in the dark, and walked a mile or so into the festival. The main camping area was full of vendors. They had some tshirts and such, but mostly it was glass pipes and ganja brownies and mushroom truffles and inventive mixed drinks. It would’ve been really funny, had we not sat in the car for 9 hours without water, having to pee. Knowing we would have to face the dreaded music-festival port-a-potties. Shiver.
It was a life-changing event for me. I tried about six bathrooms before finding one that seemed tolerable. I climbed in with Kleenex and seat covers. Since it was dark, the stalls were pitch black; she held the door open partway while I peed and watched the folks outside buying weed. As we traded off, passing hand wipes, a girl came barrelling out of the next stall, stoned and freaking out. And the Dead weren’t even playing that night!
Finally, we were in. We watched Dave Matthews. Or she did, and I watched the people. I have never seen so many people stoned at one time, and I’ve been to many shows. And in keeping with her request/threat, I remained completely unaltered. The entire time.
After the show, we did manage to find our way back to the car. I told Stephanie I was going to get us out of there, no matter what. I had a plan that mostly involved brute force, and it worked.
Chico is not an offroad vehicle, and even a Jeep would’ve been hard-pressed in that environment. We made it out to the road, and another trooper stopped us. He said, ‘You know you’ve got something dragging up here?’ Apparently a piece underneath the bumper had dropped down. He said it didn’t look like it would cause any damage, so we headed back to the hotel for the night.