You can read travel guides, watch videos, scour the internet and ask friends for information about your new travel destinations, but almost always you will be met with some surprises. I really think you’ll find at least one small thing at each new place that leaves you wondering “why didn’t I know this?” or “why didn’t they tell me THAT?”
That’s what this segment is all about. Today, a look at what I didn’t expect in Nasvhille.
1. Booted Out — Ahhh, cowboy boots. Such a quintessential country accessory. Sort of. Boot stores line Broadway and countless tourists can be seen toting the cardboard boxes containing their new boots. These stores are all over. It seems like every third shop in downtown Nashville is a boot shop.
It makes sense that Nashville would have so many cowboy boot shops because it is oozing with country culture and the boots clearly fit into that category, right? Well, I noticed something strange… almost nobody actually wears cowboy boots. I thought maybe it was because downtown has a lot of tourists and they just didn’t immediately put on their new purchases, but I didn’t see anyone wearing cowboy boots, even in the areas where locals hang out. I did see a lot of boots, but they were fashion or snow boots. Like I pointed out in the Music City post, it seems like many locals aren’t embracing the traditional country culture as much as I had expected. It was interesting to see something I had thought would be a big part of the city only turn out to be a tourist attraction. Regardless, of course I rode that cowboy boot tourist attraction. (Yes, I’m wearing boots, but not cowboy boots. Just like everyone else in the city, apparently.)
2. Begging for Tips — As much as I liked hitting all the different bars and music venues to take in some tunes from talented aspiring musicians, something about it didn’t sit quite right. I thought perhaps the first band I saw was just rude for requesting tips, but I encountered numerous bands basically begging for tips, and then I realized it was a thing. It’s not just that they ask for tips, but that a member of the band actually grabs the tip jar from the stage and goes table to table, person to person in the audience, asking for money. By the way, the music venues do pay the bands. Not a ton, but they get paid — similar to every other bar I’ve ever been, where they don’t go begging tableside. One musician actually hovered at our table, trying to get my hubby to take out his wallet until my man said we didn’t have any cash (we really didn’t, I never carry cash). I just don’t care for the feeling audience members got when confronted with someone coming right up and requesting money. It really feels like getting confronted by a beggar on the street. I’d much rather pay a small cover at the door one time than endure the band circling and guilt tripping the audience multiple times.
Here’s a photo of it in action. I wanted to hide this poor singer’s face because I know she was just doing what everyone else in downtown Nashville does to make a buck. The picture isn’t great because she was bouncing around a lot, so I pointed out the bucket labeled “Tip$ for the BAND!” Ugh, so awkward.
3. Free Wi-Fi in Downtown — This is an innovation I think every city should have. Free Wi-Fi is a magical thing. It makes babies smile. It lets drunken bros quickly find pizza instead of starting fist fights with each other. It lets thugs check kitty videos instead of mugging people. Don’t you see that free Wi-Fi everywhere could create world peace?? Well it could. I was surprised when I sidled up outside a restaurant during the ice storm (it was closed, like everything else in town) and tried tapping into its Wi-Fi. The free Nashville Wi-Fi popped up, and I think angels started singing. The city launched the initiative a couple years ago and hopes to expand into other neighborhoods. Bravo, Nashville.
3. Drink Up! Or Not — The alcohol laws in Tennessee are weird, even in counties that aren’t dry. Bartenders and servers begrudgingly check everyone’s ID, even if they’re clearly over age. Tennessee became the first state to mandate universal carding when it launched the effort about eight years ago. Although certain loopholes apply to bars and not to stores selling alcohol, most bartenders still card religiously because of all the intricacies of the laws and the strict enforcement. A bartender told me, with a sneer, that the state’s alcohol control board decided to make up arbitrary laws when it was losing money. Apparently the board regularly sends around employees to check that bars and servers are following the laws, and they slap violators with heavy fines if for a small slip-up. That means they card even 60- and 70-year-old customers because others have been busted for not doing so. Seriously, I saw it. The moral of the story is, bring your ID everywhere no matter how old you are. Otherwise, no beer for you!
4. It’s quirky — Having heard so many stories about Tennessee residents being rather reserved, it was cool to see that wasn’t necessarily the case. Nashville definitely has a quirky side. For instance, it had a full-scale replica of the Parthenon built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition. It’s the only place outside of Greece to have such a thing. That’s pretty quirky, if you ask me. Also showing the city’s quirkiness and sense of humor is these two bars. “Losers” bar is right next door to “Winners.”
Or the “I Dream of Weenie” restaurant in East Nashville. It’s a stationary yellow Volkswagen van. There is no seating, but I understand that in nicer weather the employees loan out picnic blankets to customers.
Or the unusual wall mural with a pop-out arm and faux soda fountain with real running water at Mike’s Ice Cream. Part quirky, part creepy.
Obviously, everyone’s experience is different and these are just some things that struck me, personally. Let me know in the comments section if you were surprised by anything while visiting Nashville.