As I stood outdoors at a local cafe, I found myself pining for the warm weather from a recent trip down south. The main mission of this trip was to head to Barber Motorsports to attend the Barber Vintage Motorcycle festival, watch the races and work in the swaps. Traveling with a friend from Buffalo, who had been swapping there the past several years, who I’d known my entire life throughout and beyond our fathers’ moto friendship, we were off. Loaded to the gills with a 1967 250, 8-speed Husqvarna, signed and ridden by Malcolm Smith himself, camping gear, a whole bunch of food, and booze to sustain us over the next week. More key products in our load were local Buffalo treasures going to some folks in Nashville, who’d once called our city their home. We left at the crack of dawn on a Tuesday morning and headed out toward Nashville, Tennessee. T knew the roads quite well and as previously advised, I “trusted in the van”. His friends out in Nashville had served as a stopping point so often on his travels, he still retained a key from visits passed, which cleared up orchestrating an exact arrival time. It didn’t matter. The entire week, throughout all of the ups and downs (some heavy downs), I felt some of the smallest levels of anxiety I’d ever known for vacation. We were off to the great unknown, well, unknown to me and I was smitten about it.
The drive seemed to fly by on the way there, as it usually will when you’re full of excitement. Minus an hour long car nap through PA, I was obnoxious and happy as ever. The greatest thing about childhood friends, is that even if you separate for years, the repore can still remain. When you combine that with the love for similar interests, it tends to make for easy travel. By the time we passed the first state line, we would be jokingly and spastically grabbing for the door handle and yelling “let me out, let me out, let me out”. That continued quite often for the next seven days, that and impressions of Lester ‘Roadhog” Moran and his Cadillac cowboys but “That’s Enough” of that. We made it into Cincinnati, where the TBFT (TB Food Tour) and the insane amounts of gluttony ensued. First food stop was Skyline Chili for ridiculous cheese-covered Coney dogs. The proof is in the photo. Lord, save my insides for the next week. Back on the road I began documenting stops and archiving our playlist, using Spotify when the radio failed us, I created the Barber playlist, which I stand by as an entertaining soundtrack for a solid drive.
Hours of banter and rigorous teasing commenced into delirium and mild laughing fits. We were almost to Nashville. We arrived to an empty home on the East End, Madison to be exact and we started to unload what we needed for the night. After a stiff drink and a round of introductions we settled into our night at the residence of two severely overworked comrades. Being Tuesday, there was a local Foreign Legion that opened their doors for that one night only, to young, hip non-members to enjoy a night of live country, dancing and cheap beers as far as the eye could see (2$ Narragansetts). The band was incredible, usually the Cowpokes, but I’m almost certain this was a different group of folks on this specific Honky Tonk Tuesday. The band began and the suspender-clad veterans rose from their seats to dance with young ladies with pink hair and sparkling dresses, twirling and laughing as though they were 25 again. Cowboys left their hats upside down on their seats and courted strangers and friends alike to sway with the weeping notes pouring from the pedal steel and shrill howl of the fiddle. The older gentleman on bass played with it strung up high and plucked seamlessly as though he’d never given it a second thought in all the years he’d been playing. His voice strong, but with the tender weakness of Willie Nelson, he swooned the audience like willows in the wind.
The second we walked up to the venue, I spotted another Buffalo native that had relocated and giggled at the smallness of the planet. The city of good neighbors, is all over the world. We watched the band sway the dancers for a bit, perched against the walls like a pair of tall weeds. We got our fill of cheap beer, warm tequila and the sadness and the heartache each song spilled onto the wooden dance floor. It was magical to watch the partners change, the outfits shine and the joy on the faces of the veterans. I’d take brief residuals outside to watch the smokers and drunks interact. After greeting the bass player/lead vocalist and thanking him for a magical night we decided to have a nightcap at Mikey’s. This bar was recommended to me as an incredible dive that was right up my alley. The door was large and dark. The entrance held one tiny raised window that held a Neo sign reading “THIS IS IT”; it sure was. The pour over from the Legion was apparent, as the crowd was young and tattooed, dressed in the attire you can only plan for a night out at the Legion. The shots were pricey but the beer was cold and their back patio was cozy and perched from the second story. After getting our fill I decided to pour some heavy conversation on my drunken traveling companion and that ended our two way conversation quickly. It was time for bed, so Uber it was, back to the house.
In the morning we went on the prowl for supplies followed by more local eats, our next destination was their local liquor store Frugal McDougals to stock up for Barber, then to Arnold’s Country Kitchen. Meat and 3; a term I got to know all too well, though most of my orders slowly morphed into meat and 5. When I entered the always present cafeteria style line, one of the servers behind the counter yells “Oh My Goodness, you’re one bad lady! All those tattoos! Tried to get one once, I made it to the front door.” Then the woman to his left continuing with the explanation of how even birthing three children naturally, she had also been too afraid to venture into the tattoo world. Thus beginning the constant tattoo discussions that would follow me through several states. After eating like hogs, we ventured next door to Carter’s Vintage Guitars. One of many guitar shops we would eventually visit.
We then rode down to Gruhn Guitars after a brief stop over at Hat Werks to drool over the Stetsons I couldn’t afford. At Gruhn, I cradled a “Cadillac Green” 1959 hollow-bodied Gretsch, that made my heart just melt. If it wasn’t for the $5,000.00 price tag, I’d have made it my own. We walked down to a vintage shop called Pre To Post Modern for some shopping. While I buried myself in dusty finds, I gabbed with the counter girl and found some much needed gifts for friends back home. There was another old Buffalo connection meeting us in the area for a drink, so we all converged there while I finished my impulse buys and then we ventured to a local bar down the street. This man was an incredible musician (as is most everyone in Nashville, Music City, USA) and had decided to give up his music career for a relationship and a teaching job. Nothing wrong with that I thought, until I heard him play and sing the following week, but I’ll get to that.
After a few beverages at several spots, we said our fair-wells and we headed back to the house to pack up our gear for the real haul. We had to make sure we had our camping gear, motorcycle gear and food ready for an early, but short, 3 hour drive further south to Leeds, Alabama. The closer we got to Leeds, the more bikes, trailers and gear piled high in truck beds we saw. The bungees were knotted around the luggage strapped to the sissy bars like a rubber bands in a bun full of dreadlocks. The excitement was everywhere. I wanted to witness the cross country motocross races to see if I had what it takes to try the single track trails the following year. Getting into the swap area was a bit of a pain, but ended up being eventually doable and we were ready to get unpacked. We set up a kitchen, pitched the canopy tent, the luggage/dressing tent, unloaded the motorcycle and loosely set up the swap. We Turned the van into a sleeper with an air mattress, I tucked the husky in tight with a shammy cloth and we drank to success and fell asleep in the silent spender of old men swappers sleeping. We were up early the next morn to swap the swap itself. Watching T buy from other vendors and turn it around on them for what it was actually worth was interesting to witness. We percolated some coffee and cooked some grub on the camping stove. I spent a lot of time wandering around in the hot sun and taking it all in. Trying to take photos of every bike that swooned me was impossible, so I did what I could. I was loosely keeping my eyes out for parts some I needed for bikes back home, but I found myself lost in the rows and rows of incredible rusted beauties and shining rebuilds.
Day two in Leeds we showered at the track and headed out to the local PO to try and mail a towering stack of various sized packages full of parts we had packed by lantern light the night prior, including a guitar. After seeing the town we were blocked from reentering due to the new rule for swappers. We were of course not told this when we were leaving, so we were now stuck with trying to find a way to haul all of our gear back to camp, with no place to lay down or get away, change or hide things in a lockable and secure environment.
Thankfully T knew some swappers along the way that offered us use of a cart half way to transport out freshly filled cooler, along with our other gear. Once we dealt with all of that I shotgunned a beer and stayed put at the swap meet until the van returned. After a brief visit from an old friend from home, now residing in North Carolina with their new baby, we started getting odd news. It seemed as though the races and side events that we were about to venture off to, were being canceled one by one.
Soon we saw our friends from Nashville, claiming the same thing. The races were being shut down due to an oncoming hurricane threat and the rumor of evacuation was increasingly concerning. There were thousands of people day drinking in the sun and they were now being forced to pack up and go home, not only just pack up and drive home, thousands of which exiting on motorcycles! Racers who came from far and wide who couldn’t compete. Everyone was in a strange whirl and in the swap zone especially, they expected you to load up instantly. That was pertinent information for us personally, without having had immediate access to our vehicle. We did it, magically in an hours time and were back on the road to Nashville a day and a half early. We were certainly bummed about the turn of events since this was the main point of our journey, but there was nothing we could do.
On the way out of town we made sure to stop by Miss Myra’s BBQ for an exquisitely fattening display of gluttony and pig shaped trinkets. We hit some of the rain on the road back to Nashville, but nothing torrential, our friends however were riding in it. We beat them home by about 12 hours. We took full advantage of a hot shower and chance to catch up on laundry. It was an extra night to eat tacos again from Andreas Taqueria.
We wanted to gorge and we gorged hard. The next day we took advantage of one of our hosts’ days off and went into the city to walk Broadway, hitting up some of the famous honky tonks. First was Roberts, well known for its bar food, constant live music and two level loft set up that allowed us to watch an incredible female fronted band, who played a Patsy Cline tune for me personally after brief chat and a $5 tip. Then over to Tootsies which I enjoyed much less. Too chaotic and drunken. Loud and crammed to the gills with wasted tourists. After a few songs and beers, we ventured back to the house to cooked up some Buffalo wings and homemade pizza.
The following morning the TBFT continued and we grabbed some home cooking at Cal’s Country Kitchen. This was a holy grail of soul food. You felt as though you were eating with the family themselves. Run out of a house, they pass the orders from a window in the kitchen to a chopped cafeteria cart with an old register attached. Also in the living room, a single overloaded cooler full of wrapped servings of banana cream pie (essentially a mini styrofoam bowl full of vanilla pudding with Nilla wafers shoved in it). Needless to say I ate until I felt as though I had diabetes and hunks of lard running through my veins. The proof was in the pudding, quite literally. After that I took the opportunity to drag my friends to a place of my choosing that they openly snickered at, as the hipster Mecca of coffee shops.
Throughout this whole process my sister, who suffers from a terminal Illness, was hospitalized and my traveling partner hadn’t properly known how to deal with my tears about it at the swap meet. Concerned and unable to do anything to help, it was changing the carefree nature of the trip. I felt so far away. Thankfully my other sister had driven down to be with her while she recovered, which gave me some solace. The reason I mentioned this is because the coffee shop was my way of being with my sister. We had discovered it on our cross country road trip years prior and it made me feel like I was with her. They humored me and we all spent a few minutes sipping our coffee and keeping her in our thoughts. It was all we could do.
That night everyone was tired and started drinking back at the house. By 11pm the clan was pretty hammered, everyone but me. So I decided to have a night out alone. I took a cab to a local dive that was supposed to be a spitting image of the Nashville version of the bar I’m employed by in Buffalo. The bar was called Dee’s and it lived up to its reputation. When I walked in I was greeted by the burly bartender Joe who served me a beer and a shot of fernet. Just then my gaze gently rose to the television screen displaying the dvd disc menu for The great Escape. Asking the bartender if the movie had just ended, he noticed he had never pushed play, so in fact the movie had not yet began and I was just in time. Conversing with the regulars I met an extremely talented local painter, who ended up being quite entertaining. We ventured back to play music and listen to records and play with a dog. Their house was covered in amazing artwork between the paintings and the partner being a touring musician from the UK. They had a quaint house full of so much talent. I called a car as the hour got late. Being only semi familiar about the distance I was from the home base, gabbing with the older women who was driving, I realized I was not headed to the correct address. We reentered the address and she started back the correct way, so we spoke more. She told me about her children, both grown men but still getting into trouble, in and out of prison and rehab. We discussed her current struggles and the reality of working three jobs to raise children that in theory should’ve no longer needed her. Her name was Donna, if you’re in Nashville and ever get in her car, it’ll be one of the best rides you take. I snuck in and washed my face, headed off to bed to try and rest for our big drive in the am.
We were out of the house by 6am and headed for one of our last few TBFT stops. Slowburn Hot Chicken was our destination, to grab up some of their signature chicken and waffles and garbage breakfast plates. Once we had that in our system we were back on the road. A few hundred miles later we stopped at Grandpa’s Cheesebarn, grabbed some gifts and then jumped back on the road. When we got a little closer we stopped for a burger and fries at Swensons and eventually a cup of coffee and bite at Waffle House. What can I say? We made attrocious pigs of ourselves, but we had a wonderful time. Nashville is a city I’ll look forward to revisiting again and again. It’s swoon worthy music scene will always pump through the veins of its residents and visitors alike. Nashville truly lives up its handle as Music City. Until next year.