Four Days in Tennessee

Coordinating a transcontinental reunion is about as challenging as it sounds.

It was Laura’s idea.  She’d been looking into the Cummins Fall Marathon pretty much since we’d gotten back from Cuba. 2016 was not to be, at least for me.  Four international vacations had left me too broke to even pay attention.  And while I can’t say I skimped, I did have enough money for a long weekend in Tennessee for a Cuban reunion.  

Dallas would have signed up first.  It was his marathon, his pet project.  To save the area of Cummins Fall near Cookeville, TN from being developed, he and some friends put up the money to purchase the land.  The marathon is to ensure that dream is continued.  What a legacy, what a way to be remembered. Someday, hopefully, my name will be linked to such a project.

Friends of Cummins Fall Facebook

Laura, who lost her job in December and had to make sure it would all work, was next.  Somewhere along the line, John signed up as well.  The Cuban foursome would reunite in February for the Cummins Fall Marathon!

Lexi, my fellow Lifebus’er, started asking me questions about the race and our plans.  “I dunno, we’re running a marathon and doing stuff” was about the best I could come up with.  We hadn’t really made any plans. I had Marriott points, so I was in charge of the hotel, so Laura would take care of the rental car, which happily doesn’t cost much in Tennessee.  And a marathon.  That was about it.  We were flying into Nashville, the closest airport, and since Nashville was on Lexi’s Lifebus list, Lexi was the last to sign up.

Lexi is more the planner than the rest of us, so she soon had a music venue and a list of places to see.  And eat.  First was Gerst Haus, a German restaurant with of course beer.  The meal was not carb friendly but it was delicious–or maybe that should read “and it was delicious”.  It was Thursday night and Laura and I had landed mid-afternoon and checked into a Marriott near the airport.  It was a short drive to the restaurant (but due to an odd location, it took us a couple tries to get into the parking lot), where Lexi met us after her flight.

I got up early Friday for a short run to stretch out my legs before the three hour drive to Cookeville.  Check-in was that evening so we were trying to stretch our time in Nashville. 

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First stop  was of course a coffee shop.  We found a small shop with great coffee and even better danishes.  Laura was wearing the hat she’d gotten in Cuba and as we walked from the car to our coffee, a young man driving by started honking and shouting “I’m from Cuba!”.  Who would have thought.

Laura had to take an interview via phone, so Lexi and I drank our coffee and wandered the streets of downtown, discussing this, that and the other.  As much as we tried, we could not solve the world’s problems in the short time we had.  

After breakfast, we headed to the Johnny Cash museum first.  Despite my time in Texas, I’m no country music fan, but when in Rome.  

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It was eye opening.  I had no idea about the man, outside of the usual regarding marriages and drug use that seem to plague many stars.  If you haven’t listed to “This Old Flag” or his version of the NIN song “Hurt”, I highly recommend both.  

But it was his song “Man in Black” that hit me in the feels.  It tells of his awareness of the futility of our penal system.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,

Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,

I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,

But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

I have read that he used that merely as an excuse to wear black but listening to the song, I believe him.

In the gift shop was a shirt that read “Hot Chicken”. Not quite sure what it was, we gave it a quick Google search, which revealed it was a famous dish local to Nashville. I bought the shirt (everyone needs a hot chicken shirt!)  and we added it to our list of things to do.

My little black cloud had followed me to to Tennessee and the weather for the Cummins Falls marathon was looking gloomy, so on our way out of town, we stopped at the only running store we could find, the Nashville Running Company, a fun little shop in a funky little area.  Laura ducked out for another quick job call as Lexi and I found a couple of long sleeve shirts to purchase. We were not prepared for the cold rain of Tennessee, even coming from Colorado.  Or maybe because of Colorado–50 just seems a lot cooler in the humidity.

We chatted for awhile with some fellow runners in the store. The Cummins Fall marathon was on their board of upcoming runs, but no one in the store had run it.  One employee had just moved to Colorado and had been regaling his friends about the amazing races there, so they were a little surprised that we had come from Colorado to run in Nashville.  Even without the reunion, it’s hard finding a marathon in February in Colorado. That whole snow and cold thing.

Lunch was well past us and, while I voted for I Dream of Weenie, we ended up at Local Taco, which advertised a taco version of Hot Chicken.  They do not joke around about the hot part.  Even the small street taco packed a lot of flavor and I was glad I’d only gotten one.

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Finding more local artsy shops, we wandered, Lexi purchasing a beautiful bag (partly for the plane ride home) and I found a great women’s focused bookshop, where I purchased “What I was Doing While You Were Breeding”.  I have only started it, but I am in love with the misadventures of a woman who wasn’t ready to settle down when our culture strongly suggests you should.  I can completely related.

Much later than anticipated, we were off to Cummins Falls and the race check-in. The falling of darkness and knowing we were running behind made the three hours drag by. It’s in the those moments where one notices the oddest things.  In Tennessee, they have mile markers every quarter mile.  This is one of those things that, once you see it, you cannot unsee it, and you spend many miles trying to ignore the quarter mile markers.  Every quarter mile. I still don’t know why.

Dallas and John had finished carbo loading by the time we got to the restaurant, but stayed with us as we ordered our obligatory pasta dinner and an optional glass of wine. John had brought his new/old girlfriend.  Friends in high school, they had lost touch until we had forced John into a Facebook account after Cuba so we could keep in touch.  Say what you will about Facebook, it looks to be a happy ending in this case.  

Dallas bid us farewell first.  The most (or possibly only) competitive person among us, he wanted to get his beauty sleep before the race.

I’m quite sure how to introduce the next character. He just kind of inserted himself at our table, cutting Laura off from the rest of us as he carried on what was a very intense conversation for a first meeting.  It eventually turned out he was actually trying to flirt as he attempted to convince Laura to go back to his hotel room, failing miserably and not just because Laura has a fiance.  

I’m not quite sure how to introduce him because part of me wants to portray him as an amusing drunk desperate for attention, but the truth is, he was more than a bit creepy.  We saw him again after the race, when he came up to us at a brewery and asked if he could insert some testosterone into our conversation.  I’d be lying if I said Lexi and I didn’t now use a similar phrase when going up to a group of guy friends. But really.  Really?

And the best part. A quick search on Facebook (thank you again) turned up that he’s married.  With a kid.

So I’m not portraying him amusingly.  I’m writing this as the hashtag “metoo” is taking over Facebook and I am going to honor that . We were trying to be polite when, in retrospect, I wish we done ourselves and possibly other women the favor of just telling him f— off.

For anyone who’s ever done a race, there’s no need to mention no sleep was had that night and the morning came too early.  The weather was in a very iffy place–would it rain, would the sun make an entrance–so we piled on clothes, took them off, then piled them on again.  The general rule for running is to start cold as you will definitely warm up, but I hate being cold.  I also hate carrying five pounds of extra clothing with me when I run, but instant gratification generally wins.

Dallas was easy to find at the start.  Dallas doesn’t know any strangers.  John soon showed up, pre-race photos were taken, and we were off.

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Laura and Lexi, training a little lacking–at least in their opinion–had opted for the half marathon.  The half had a crux–a challenging point one had to get across in order to complete the run: a bridge made of boards over kayaks.  Over really cold February water. On a very chilly February day.  

Falling is not an option.  

Both were far ahead of me by the time I reached the infamous “bridge” but a couple runners were crossing it, definitely not setting any speed records in the process. I happily continued down the road.

The race meandered down back roads, with only the occasional pickup truck traveling by.  The aid stations were the only times I really encountered anyone, so I paused to chat a bit at each one.  One aid station came with a warning about an oversized, over-friendly dog.  The gentlemen managing the station had done it every year and had learned that runners were a little intimidated by the enthusiastic pup.  But she was now getting up in years and was already napping when I happened by.  I gave her a quick pat on the head and continued on.

The last few miles gained the elevation lost in the first few miles, making for a challenging but scenic ending.  Around mile 23, John came into sight.  It took me another couple miles to catch him.  I commended him on his improved time–I had overtaken him at mile 15 in Cuba.  He told me I had been his motivation during training and he promised I wouldn’t see him at all during the next marathon we did.

My time didn’t set any records, but did earn me first place in the masters category, meaning that I’m doing pretty good for an old person.  My award had been misplaced but the race director promised me it would be mailed as soon as possible.  I’m not one much for awards but these were hand crafted from the wood of a collapsed barn on the property, so it had sentimental value.

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Laura has won the masters award in the half marathon.  On the way back into town for a shower (thank you, Marriott, for the late checkout) and celebratory beers, Laura realized her award said “Marathon” instead of “Half”.  I felt half bad about taking “her” award, but I was happy to get my award.  Hers was mailed after the race, so everyone got their award.

We enjoyed pizza and beer at the Red Silo (after some great steak, baked potatoes, and beer compliments of Outback after the race–hey, it’s why we run).  Lexi took off shortly after to head back to Nashville. Laura and I were meeting Dallas, John and his girlfriend for dinner for a last chance to catch up.

Crawdaddy’s is the best and one of few restaurants in Cummings so the wait was pretty long but seemed otherwise in the company of good friends.  It was only a couple days in Cuba, but when your soul recognizes itself in others, that’s all it takes.  We took our time catching up on our lives in the past two years, and as always, entertained by Dallas’s story telling.

While at dinner, Lexi had sent a text, directing us to not miss Ralph’s Doughnut Shop.

If you ever go to Cummins, TN, you can skip the marathon. You can skip the Red Silo and even Crawdaddy’s. But. Do. Not. Miss. Ralph’s Doughnut Shop.  I’m pretty sure heaven has one of these.  If not, I’m not sure I want to go.  More doughnut types than I can describe.  I got red velvet and something chocolately, thinking I would have a snack for later, but they did not last that long.

And yet again, I was able to prove that it takes a lot less time to consume the calories burned in a marathon.  

It was a painfully late three hour drive back to Nashville, so the morning started a little late as well, tired from the drive and the race.  

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Our goal for the day was to see Studio B, the recording studio of many greats of the past, Elvis, Hank Williams, and others.  We made good use of Google Maps through the morning and took the long way to Studio B, meandering through some interesting districts, stopping to see some history, do some shopping and of course more eating.  And while Google gives you all sorts of helpful information, it failed to inform us that the tour starts at the Country Music Hall of Fame,practically across the street from our hotel, and there’s no shortcutting the process.  It was a little tense walking back as the frustration built on the fatigue. But we’d put that much effort in so far, we had to finish it.

 

The upside is that we also got tickets to the Hall of Fame.  It showed the progression of music from the roots of the music and instruments of African slaves through jazz to country then rock and roll.  They are all sounds that I would never have put together, all so unique and related to seemingly different locations and cultures within the United States, but hearing and seeing them together, the influence is obvious and beautiful.  

The tour was a little abbreviated as we had a bus to catch to the place we’d already walked.  Studio B.  An innocuous, seventies-styled building that one never have guessed was the birthplace to so much music.  It is still used today, even though technology has left it long behind.  It still has magic, though, and no technology in the world can replicate that.

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The highlight of the tour is the room where all the music was recorded.  Near the middle of the room on the floor is a innocuous blue X that I would never have noticed had our guide not pointed it out.  It marks the place where the musicians stood as they recorded their music.  The piano played by Elvis was in the corner.   We listened to recordings made there.  

A believer in ghosts, I could almost feel their presence, energy, passion. Soul. The sacrifices that went into their creations, their legacies. They gave their lives to it, literally you might even believe.  I listen to that music just a little differently now.  

The last stop on our whirlwind music tour was to 3rd and Lindsley Bar and Grill, and a band called The Steeldrivers. But first, of course, after a nine miles walking day, we had dinner at Party Fowl, to try Hot Chicken.  A half chicken doused in spices that will light up your evening.  I admit I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy food, so maybe a bolder palette would be unimpressed, but the flavor and the heat made for a memorable meal, and, for once, I drank my entire beer.

Google maps took us directly to 3rd and Lindsley, although we kind of wished it hadn’t.  It’s located in a dark, industrial side of town that looked nothing like the music scene we were anticipating, but the reviews online for both band and location had been great, and the price more than reasonable.  We finally had to ask directions to get us to the front door.  We we late arriving so it was standing room only in the bar, but we managed to snag some space to listen to the 2016 Grammy award winners.  

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My particular favorite of the evening was “Drinking Dark Whiskey (Telling White Lies)”, but I was also a bit partial to “If You Can’t Be Good, Be Gone”, which kind of says it all.

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Despite the late night, we had to get up early. Biscuit Love was on the menu for breakfast, and if you don’t want to wait an hour, you have to be there close to opening.  I’m not sure how I was still hungry after all the local cuisine sampling we’d done, but I was, and the food lived up to the hour wait we had avoided.  

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In all, a successful and fun four days in Tennessee.  I’m hoping the next Cuban reunion will be in Salida for the Run Through Time marathon. Stay tuned.

 

 

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