Jimmy Buffet sucks.
Festooned with palm trees, Hawaiian print shirts, and a token plastic Marlin somewhere in the background, his whole legacy feels like a Caribbean theme party sponsored by a church basement. I’m sure that when it started, the relaxing beach lifestyle and sand-in-your-toes bit seemed refreshing, but now it’s more the bastion for unimaginative 40-50 somethings who still want to cut loose, but, you know, in a very safe way.
In fairness, I’m cranky because though I fancy myself a savvy traveler, a rude awakening has come while I sit at a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville on Music Row in Nashville, drinking terrible beer and listening to “live music”, which consists of one long-haired guy named—predictably– “Dusty” strumming a guitar through several overly-popular covers (among them, obviously, “Margaritaville”) while a 12’-tall man on stilts dances around the room with a plywood cutout of a shaker of salt for…you know where this goes. It would appear that I’m just another jackass tourist.
Mike, Kevin and I had spent most of the day getting acclimated to our surroundings. We’d checked into our AirB&B house, had grabbed some breakfast, and then headed to the Nashville Convention Center to pick up packets for the race I wouldn’t be running because of my foot injury. Since I’d been hurt, I’d softened a bit, and few things set up for self-shaming more than waddling through a room of people prepared to run 26.2 miles.
With race packets acquired we set off for Music Row a few blocks away. The strip itself is 8 blocks long, splashed with neon, and packed with people handing out advertisements, playing music, or taking pictures. Walking the sidewalk is to spin the dials on a radio; a different band blasts out of each door, offering a different country variation from every bar. Quieter doors opened into various gift shops and tourist traps, which we of course availed ourselves of. Before we knew it was an area thing, we were amazed to find that we could purchase one pair of cowboy boots and get two free. Turns out these cowboy boots ranged from $300-1700 a pair, so we turned our attention instead to belt buckles and cowboy hats.
We wandered in the groggy way that jetlagged travelers do until it was dark and exhaustion gripped us. All around the energy was ramping up; it was a Thursday night in Nashville, and Music Row was prepared to justify its moniker. “We should at least get a beer and listen to some music,” Mike pointed out as we walked back in the direction of the car. This was a fair point, I thought as I stared at the neon kaleidoscope that was Broadway Ave; I’d never regretted not getting to bed early on vacation. Most bars vibrated at a tempo we just couldn’t match; moving at half-speed, we’d followed the sound of mellow live music, slipped past a 12’ stilted man, and found ourselves sitting at a table while that same 12’ man intermittently pretended to sprinkle us with salt.
Brimming with annoyance I did my best to think my way into enjoying the experience that was playing out before us. Listening to music here was like ordering pizza at a New York City Domino’s. Around me middle-aged people in cargo shorts and brimmed sun hats either chatted over nachos or sang along with the songs. They seemed to be having a great time on their vacations, and they’d go home and tell their friends about the crazy dancing man on stilts at the crazy bar in Nashville. And maybe that’s the thing; I’d been so intent on having the ‘real’ Nashville experience that I was discounting any other experience I might have. And that’s the whole point of travel—the risk of landing in a place that isn’t what you wanted—the very best-of-everything desire that I’d been attempting to satisfy was the exact reason that tour groups and tourist traps exist; everyone wants the best story and the most amazing experiences to talk about it, but when it becomes a sure guarantee, it loses what’s special about it. To enjoy the sweetness of traveling success, you need to risk an abject failure, and a failure this certainly was. But the key to true travel is to lean back, drink your beer, and just accept what’s happened to you. But if you choose to finish that beer a little faster than usual, no one’s going to blame you.