I am seated upon an unfolded wooden frame with those fragile canvassy flaps that make you feel like you are one good lean or sneeze from hurtling into the great beyond. Above me, Leanne Rimes’ voice hovers with a canto about something equine. The restaurant/bar/honkytonk is filled with people who resemble no one and know it.
My waiter’s name is Slim – which is so abjectly cliché I might rip my own eyes out – and he has four visible teeth. I have traveled 2000 miles East and forty years back in time. This is Nashville, Tennessee and I am here for about sixty chaotic hours, some of which require work, and others which require work to avoid killing myself.
“Y’ant some sweeaat tea?” Slim asks, as I stare into the cave of stalagmites that just might or might not have been brushed this year.
The notion that Slim is opening with Sweet Tea suggests the fella has a proclivity for the drink. For those unfamiliar with this beverage, imagine a hummingbird, with a wing over his stomach, fallen backward onto a tree branch, staring at the sky with a sort of post-coital joy, and proclaiming, “My God, that stuff is sweet.” That’s about as near as I can get to describing what has to be 300 pounds of sugar dropped into a thimble of tea. And, based on Slim’s mouth, I’m imagining that when his teeth saw more sweet tea coming, they took the same route as that World Trade Center leaper and just plummeted to the sawdust floor. If I ever reincarnate, I’m coming to Nashville and opening up a dental practice. I’ll kill it.
There are several types of meals here, although most include what local chefs call “batter,” but what your observant foodie would call “The Great Wall of Cholesterol.” Interesting phrases like “Deep fried okra, and Pulled pork seem to be “Staples,” which is an appropriate term considering that’s pretty much what you’re going to need in your chest if you eat this stuff. I consider ordering a salad, but the woman next to me is having one, and I’m not certain there is any lettuce beneath the bacon and blue cheese. Instead, I ask for the healthy plate, a concoction of cheese and vegetables that has a Phelpsian caloric thing about it.
When it arrives, Slim asks me if I need a fork. Let me repeat that. When it arrives, Slim asks me if I need a fork. OK, sure there’s an accent that suggests mild retardation, and one of the movie theaters may still be showing Fletch previews, but surely they use utensils, right? RIGHT?
Turns out they do, for the most part, and some of them even hold the forks properly, not the way you would hold a knife to stab a deer – although, well, I’ll let it go.
I’ve finished most of my meal and I’ve just waddled back to my hotel, wondering whether the feeling in my stomach is even medically viable.
Tomorrow, I have this conference thing and my host says he’s going to get me a pair of cowboy boots. I’m forty-four years old and this is my second time in Tennessee. I have as much use for cowboy boots as he has for a surfboard.
Conversational snippet twelve seconds after my most recent cynical thought….
“Dude, c’mon, I’ll buy you a cool pair of shit kickers and you can buy me a surfboard. It’ll be a hoot.”
I’m going to bed now, right next to the Bible peering out at me from my nightstand. I’m not really a religious guy, but I’m willing to throw one out there for the home team so…
God help me!