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I flew in to Nashville and immediately set off for Louisville by car. My flight was a bit delayed, and I’d arranged a formal evening meeting. I was cutting it very close for my arrival. I’d done the drive before, though, and I knew it should take three hours. It’s mostly remote blue hills; only the occasional truck stop and Dinosaur World, a park with plaster dinosaurs.

As I went, I reminisced about the time I arrived an hour early for a Nashville event because of the change in time zone and thought nothing of it until the “Oh sh*!” realization that I had timed my trip wrong. I had to wait for a major exit just to have cell phone reception to call the meeting attendees. We decided to reschedule for early morning; they actually preferred it, anyway. Not long after, deep in the sticks in Kentucky, I saw a sign for a winery. Interesting. I hadn’t taken Kentucky for a winemaking region. I kind of needed to use a restroom. But let’s be honest, no matter how I try to justify the stop, I love wine. When I exited, I was amused to find the “winery” situated right next to a gas station, with a motel on the other side. An old, restored luxury car was parked next to the entrance door. The tasting room was overwhelming– two more restored cars were parked and displayed inside, and hand-painted craft wine accessories were displayed on large, ornate wooden tables on lacy linens and in baskets. It is my stereotype of everyone’s grandparents’ taste in home decor except mine.

“Hi! Here to taste some wine?” Of course, it being southwest Kentucky, the question came out more like, “Ha! Her to tase some won?” If I were to create a list of the most naturally beautiful women I’ve ever seen, this tasting employee would be very high on it. What, pray tell, was she doing at a winery next to a gas station with classic cars parked inside? I ended up staying for an hour.

It was late when I pulled in to the 21C Museum Hotel, and I was beside myself. Some of the installation pieces are permanently displayed but art in the lobby and restaurant had been replaced. One exhibit was a film of a ritual of adolescent schoolboys (looking oh so Abercrombie) baptizing each other–they went from their prep school attire to undershirts and boxers, I do remember that–and I believe there was blood involved. Stills from the film were blown up and displayed in the restaurant. The other exhibit was simply a collection of modified stuffed deer. One head was wearing black vinyl and zippers, a nod to bondage and perhaps bestiality, and a full doe body was covered in red lacquer, resting on a deer fur blanket. Again, beside myself.  If you’re going to kill a deer, you might as well eat it AND make art from it.

I got some work out of the way and dressed for dinner– Proof on Main, naturally. I’m finding that I have a strange need to be liked by every employee of the hotel– it’s as though I want to be invited to join the cult, and I simply can’t. I don’t work there. I don’t have the red penguin tattoo they all have. It’s very frustrating. Regardless, my server slowly warmed up to me, and by the time I’d ordered my appetizer, he was all but sitting opposite me at my table, telling me about the gay scene and what he goes for in men (polished, a bit kinky). I have no idea how I get into these conversations, but I am so glad for this trait. For my appetizer, he talked me into boiled octopus. It was more along the lines of Tuscan than Kentuckian, and I recall fennel, sea salt, and lemon being in the picture. It was very, very good. When else will I have the opportunity to be served $8 octopus by a possible cult member?

After a productive morning of meetings, I decided to reroute my trip back to Nashville to do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Honestly, I just wanted to go to Maker’s Mark. That was it. I do not even care for bourbon, but I’d missed my opportunity to go to the Jack Daniels distillery on a previous trip, and I needed a more exciting route than the one I’d taken there. It was a gray day, and slow going. I stopped at Jim Beam, a compound of old and new structures. A family with teenagers was taking a cigarette break out front– yes, the teenagers too. I skipped the tour and cringed my way through a couple of tastings, then set off again for Maker’s Mark. At the time, I was using directions I’d printed off from the website. At the time of writing this, directions and an address are not on the website at all! To make a long story short, it was a long drive with an important road absent from the directions entirely. When I finally arrived in a vicious rainstorm, I did a double-take at the sign: “Congratulations, you’ve found Maker’s Mark.” Then, when I told the manager that the directions were wrong, he just shrugged and said something along the lines of, “But you found it!” If it’s a trick, it is a very frustrating and clever one. I dipped my own bottle of Maker’s in the red wax. Before I left, I asked the man for directions back to Nashville. He handed me a slip of typed directions.

This time, a major highway was missing.

I got in to Nashville very late– the drive had taken more than six hours. Once I could get radio reception in Nashville, an ad on a rock station aired promoting a Louis CK comedy show that night. I checked in to a forgettable Marriott in the Vanderbilt area (though I do recall a man with a heart attack in the lobby–sometimes, I worry the travel makes me numb). As I had a Friday night off, and plans to meet up with a friend, I decided to check out the venue online and see how much the show would cost. The ticket sales rep said he actually had two tickets left before selling out. It was instinctive: “I’ll take ’em!” He is a very, very offensive and very, very funny man. After, we descended on Broadway for karaoke at honky tonk bars. It was one of the most fun nights I’d had in a very long time, and I was enjoying it so much that I repaired a broken flip-flop with my earring so I wouldn’t have to go back to the hotel. I was finally experiencing the Nashville I’d heard about, and I was appreciative.

Coworkers flew out the following day, and the group of us was invited by the same local expert to watch car races at the state fairgrounds. Uhh, YES! I love the idea of car racing, but because I don’t watch TV ever (no cable for about two years so far), it has to be in real life. This would be my first time watching a lower circuit, a feeder to NASCAR. We got one great crash, and a lot of laughs out of the die-hard fans.  Ahh, to see a 10 year-old boy flick off cars going 120 mph in the humidity of a Tennessee summer evening.

I spent the next week in a conference, but I did get out to honky tonks again. An event was held in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and it was highly entertaining in spite of the fact that I’ve never been wild about country music. Dolly Parton, for the record, should never have her photograph blown up.

Grateful Dead was never my thing, either, but the group sums it up nicely. What a long, strange trip it’d been.

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The winery interior.

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This is some nice graffiti on a downtown Louisville building.

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The elevator installation art. Read about it here.

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Sexy deer.

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Sexier deer.

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Art from the film, displayed in Proof on Main.

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More great art in Proof.

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I found Maker’s Mark!

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All that– just to dip a bottle I’ll never open. Did I mention that it’s a dry county?

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Sweet Tennessee road sign.

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Honky tonk!

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This is where stars are discovered…

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This too…

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VROOM.

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