On a Monday morning, sleepless after a night split between the Memphis Greyhound station and a crowded bus, I wandered the streets of Nashville looking for a decent cup of coffee. Few other people were stirring except for the homeless, who sat patiently in a little park across from the public library. Where were the armies of flatpickers, the corn syrup crooners desperate for a break? Whither the twangy sequined suits and the Schlitz-and-rivet tough guys in their ugly hats? Back in their rented rooms, no doubt, playing a lonesome tune on the one-holed flute. Does it make sense that country music should have a capital city?
But much to my surprise, Nashville turned out also to be the capital of Tennessee, full of monuments to its own glory. Approaching the War Memorial Plaza from behind, my first view was past the heroic ass cheeks of an immense stone Nike. The fountain had been left on all night, and the high winds had scattered its water across the plaza. Pieces of the sky lay scattered like false memories between the estranged pair of trash receptacles.
The wind blew in great gusts. Half the metal newspaper boxes in town lay face down in the gutter. I walked along with a hand on my head to keep my hat from flying off, the one with an ivorybill embroidered above the brim.
I caught two small hydraulic excavators enjoying a tender moment right in front of the bank. When I came back that way fifteen minutes later, they were gone.
At the base of the Life and Casualty Tower, a pair of concrete planters with little nodules of boxwood poking through tangles of English ivy were making maternal gestures toward a traffic cone.
Larger-than-life, priapic guitars dotted the streets, each the work of a different local artist. I suddenly remembered an artist and sculptor I used to know who had moved to Nashville ten years before. Back then, almost everything she worked on sooner or later turned into a guitar. I wondered if she still lived here, and if so, whether she was behind all this, somehow. It seemed possible. She always had a pretty good sense of humor.
I’ll admit, I didn’t expect much from a city whose landmark skyscraper looks like the head of Batman. When the public library opened its doors at ten o’clock, I followed the homeless people inside. I had found and drunk my coffee an hour before, and now I needed a place to get rid of it.
But there, in a hallway lined with old theater posters, was the perfect title for the last post in a travelogue. Life imitates art, as Oscar Wilde said – especially when one is severely sleep-deprived. Art never sleeps.
I walked around for a while eavesdropping on the quiet conversations of the books, which were crowded onto shelves for no better reason than that they happened to be headed in the same direction. I felt as if I were already halfway home.