November 7, 2019

Downtown Nashville

Dateline Nashville, Tennessee:

And another quick jaunt, this time for business purposes. I was hired as an expert witness to defend a large Nashville academic institution in a legal matter which I cannot go into the details to in public forum so, if you’re really interested, you can ask me next time you see me. I drove up last night, fortunately ahead of the storm and became ensconced in my hotel room (yet another Hampton Inn…) on West End Avenue which sounds like it should be in Manhattan or in London, but isn’t. I conked out relatively early and there were router problems so I wasn’t able to get on line and write things up.

I got up this morning to a blustery day. Cold, wet, windy, and definitely not the type of weather conducive to city touring. I felt in need of exercise, so I walked the mile or so to the attorney’s office under Tommy’s University of Montevallo golf umbrella that I keep in the car for such purposes. I got a number of dirty looks as I think the locals assumed it was LSU (same colors). The Vanderbilt campus was grey and wet. Centennial Park was grey and wet and the Parthenon was hidden behind a large construction site. I did eventually find the attorney’s office, got checked in, transported to the courthouse, and then spent several hours on a bench outside the court room as the trial was running long and my 10 am testimony was delayed to sometime in the afternoon. Then another grey wet walk to lunch and back to the hotel where I should be working on my lines for Dear Brutus but am reading Stephen King instead. Priorities. Tonight, I am off to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center to see a good friend of my good friend Ellise in a one man play called Every Brilliant Thing.

I was going to spend an extra day or two in Nashville, but the hotel prices are ridiculous so I am leaving tomorrow. I don’t need to be back until Saturday so I’ll make a side trip somewhere for Friday night. I was thinking Huntsville. I haven’t been for a while and it’s apparently been growing by leaps and bounds. My other thought was Memphis where I also haven’t been for donkeys years. I would just need to make sure I got there in time for the march of the Peabody Ducks. When in Memphis…

My first visit to Nashville occurred when I was two and I have absolutely no recollection of it. It was to meet my cousin Jenny as an infant. My mother, Alison Saunders, had one younger sister, Margery. They were close their entire lives and both eventually ended up in Seattle where my mother’s three children and Marge’s three children, my first cousins, all grew up in a tumble together. In the early 60s, as Marge’s husband, my uncle Don, was establishing his career, he spent a brief time on faculty at Vanderbilt which is why Jenny, the oldest of the three Hellmann kids, was born there. Jenny is two years younger than I, but skipped a grade so was only a year behind me in school and we followed many of the same patterns in adolesecnce and young adulthood, going to the same high school and to Stanford together. Life sometimes throws us together intensely for a while. Sometimes we barely see each other, but whenever we’re together we always pick up exactly where we left off. We look very alike and had a standard joke that someday we would play Viola and Sebastian in Twelfth Night (she is as tall as I am in heels). Fifteen years ago, I did play Sebastian but, alas, Jenny was in Seattle and Karla Stamps had to fill in as Viola. I’ve always suspected that late in life, the two of us will end up living together for mutual support and family convenience, a pair of distaff relatives in Edwardian eccentricity, sort of like supporting characters in one of the lesser novels of E. M. Forester.

Jenny and I, as the two eldest, have very strong memories of a trip to San Francisco together when she was two and I was four, to visit our mutual grandparents. Our grandfather, who at the time had been recently fired from the chancellorship of UCSF after running afoul of UC politics, was in no mood for toddlers underfoot and the two of us had quite a time exploring our mothers’ childhood home under the indulgent eye of our grandmother who, as a pediatrician, knew quite a lot about the healthy development of children. There is a famous photo of the two of us sitting in the pot cupboard under the sink in the kitchen, having taken out all the pots for very important childhood reasons. I’ll post it if I can find it.

The Opryland Hotel

I didn’t return to Nashville for some years. Steve and I came up for a long weekend sometime in the late 90s. I think it was in that brief window between our move to Birmingham and his illness which precluded travel. There was some sort of geriatrics meeting which I went to and he saw the sights. I remember making a trip to the Hermitage with him (he always wanted to go to anything that connected with 18th and 19th century American history) and I think we went to the huge Opryland hotel for some reason which had nothing to do with American history and more to do with American excess. Tommy had a professional meeting at Opryland for one of his music conferences about ten years ago and came up for a week and I joined him for the weekend portion. We stayed across the street from the Opryland hotel for a fraction of the cost. He want to music educator stuff. I went to the outlet mall and bought polo shirts. I really don’t recall anything else about either one of those trips. I might recall more if I got out into the city, but not in this weather.

One of these days I’ll go to the Grand Ol Opry for a show. Modern country really isn’t my thing but I do like the classic country of the 50s through the mid 70s. I was once in a burlesque of the Grand Ol Opry – a show within a show called the Down Home Opry from The Phantom of the Opry. (Phantom plot – classic country music. My character was the Fermin equivalent). I was in the World Premiere cast. To my knowledge, it’s never had another production. I’ll leave it to you, gentle readers, to determine why.

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