Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Thursday, AJ and I drove to Nashville (940 Miles and yep my back is sore) to help her sister and brother-in-law finish the renovation of a recently purchased house. It was a long day’s drive marked by endless traffic jams and, up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sudden summer thunderstorms that hit like gunfire. Otis and Amos came along for the journey and resigned themselves to the hours with a look that can only be described as “you cheap SOBs, couldn’t you just fly?”

I’d been to Nashville once before, almost twenty years ago, when I was paid to drive a car across the country from Boston to Colorado with a friend who would become a Rabbi. All I remembered about Nashville was that it was between Knoxville and Memphis. We were in a hurry back then and didn’t take in the sights.

This time we arrived in town at 3:30 in the wee hours and set to work the next morning. Nashville seems to be a group of neighborhoods arranged in random order, like jigsaw pieces from a bunch of different puzzles. But this neighborhood, Woodbine, had an easy, open feel. Lots of low ranch houses on nice sized plots, and people sitting on their front porches stroking their dogs’ ears as they watched the evening come on.

In fact, it was like visiting an America that I thought didn’t exist anymore. I met a guy, Jason, a true to life Hobo. Apparently there are legions of them – did you know that out in Iowa there is a yearly national hobo convention? They have a parade and a 10k fun run. A gifted, largely self-taught musician, Jason’s spent years hopping freight trains across the country. Falling asleep in the Dakotas and waking up somewhere in Texas. He was shingling the roof of the house. Helping him were some men who lived at one of the oldest communes in the country, a huge farm about an hour outside of town called, helpfully, The Farm. For almost 40 years, as the country has turned inexorably away from its utopian leanings, The Farm has been running on the hoary ideals of brotherhood.

Good days, good people. It struck me that back in the eastern sprawl, where it costs a couple thou to rent an apartment and money appears to melt out of your pocket as you walk to the corner grocery, that economic stresses have precluded this kind of rambling, unconcerned path through life. And I think because we no longer live that way, we’ve started to judge it harshly. But there is nothing wrong with rambling. Just don’t smack into anyone. And even if you do, it should be ok, because you weren’t going that fast to begin with.

"Can you imagine living here?” asked AJ and I could.

And then my cousin Moriah, in Nashville for a year to clerk for a judge, got punched in the face by a mugger. Who then grabbed her purse, jumped in an SUV and promptly billed a $100 dinner to her credit card. Which goes to show…what exactly?

“Wow that never happens in Nashville,” all the good Nashville people said to her.
“You look kind of Elephant Manish where you got hit,” I added.
“Thank you,” Moriah said.
She’d spent summers in law school working for legal aid, defending the very same petty criminals who had knocked her out. Now the police we’re out looking for her assailants, and the shoe was on the other foot and you couldn’t help but want to jam it up someone’s rear end. You strange, stupid world! Your children's superstars kill dogs for fun. Villagers starve so we can have our bananas cheap. How does it end?

And then I spent an afternoon in a bedroom of the new house painting the walls for the tenants-to-come, a dark rich red that appeared to be dripping blood or some kind of disturbing sexual fluid. And then we were sitting on a porch, drinking beer, tabulating all the ways bottle caps could be removed without bottle openers while dogs tussled and another day skittered off through a slow, pleasant dusk. And then I was back in the car at four in the morning, driving east through another thunderstorm, weaving around trucks huffing and puffing up the Smoky Mountains, full of that beautiful understated feeling that comes with driving your sleeping loved ones through the storm. Soon gas will be seven bucks a gallon, hurricanes will make landfall, and we’ll bomb another country or two and say we had no choice in the matter, but in the meantime, dawn was breaking and we were making good time.


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