Nashville Skyline and Hatch Prints. Chapter 11 Book of the Lion

If I wanted to write a country song, for sure I’d have oodles of material for it. Being in the home of Country Music did not inspire me however, for we were too hung up on being safe and feeling well. The trip out with our transatlantic relations, albeit through marriage, however did much to raise the spirits. We learned that our American Superhero worked in the superhero styled AT&T building which has featured in all of the batman films. It stands erect against the Nashville skyline with its two masts and sculptured architecture creating the appearance of the Batman mask. In the dark it glows, effusing a neon aura between its masts drawing you into a mysterious pathway of superhero actions. You half expect the riddler to suddenly beam across the sky and the bat-mobile to hurtle toward him from the landing strip. It is a fascinating building, if only for the hours of endless imaginings on what might occur if you stare at it long enough.

Downtown Nashville was murky and threadbare, reminiscent of days gone by when vinyl ruled and Johnny Cash or Hank Williams wandered drunkenly between the numerous bars and hostelries on the street. There are a few shops selling cowboy boots or hats but not much else for shopping divas. To be honest this is a city where Music dominates the landscape and if its shopping you’re looking for I’d recommend you go somewhere else. However Hatch Prints, over 100years in business, who make the legendary screen printed posters that heralded the appearance of our jakey friends at either the Grande Ole Opry or Legends in the 1950’s and 60’s, remained largely unchanged by time or artists and offered a music lovers paradise.

Cats roam freely within the store, but I had little awareness of this on my first visit. It was dark on the inside, with an inky aroma floating in the air, much of which had settled on the large pane glass windows making it difficult to look in or see out. It was a massive store, barren of interior furnishings aside from several large screen printing machines, bottles of ink and little wooden pigeon holes. These held a host of posters in a variety of sizes and shapes, rolled up and luring you enticingly to unravel the contents. Easy pigeon hole listed the contents alphabetically to ease finding something that might appeal to the music loving buyer.

Some of the most popular prints adorned the brick faced walls but these did not guarantee your purchase and a rotation system meant that when it’s gone it’s not likely to make a reappearance until some uncertain and undisclosed date in the future. Some of the material was completed with a single colour, while others merged a combination of two screen print paints creating a vibrant contrast between the pictures and words. After a leisurely period of unadulterated browsing, I noticed the cats and had to make a swift exit, leaving the Lion to show me a range of purchasing possibilities through the ink-laden windows. I settled on a Patsy Cline, my heroine and Hank Williams, a favourite of the Lion, was chosen in the absence of availability of Johnny Cash.

We spent a memorable evening in the Wild Horse Saloon with the Miss Teenage America entrants, all of whom could line dance in organised and practised fashion. Country Music in the UK was still stuck in the 1950’s it had not yet appealed to a younger generation and most had never heard of the Dixie Chicks, Kelsey Ballerina or Carry Underwood. They don’t know what they were missing and certainly would have been shocked at the level of engagement by young people with this dreaded genre of music if we had tried to introduced it! The Wild Horse Saloon lived up to its reputation, loud music, modern country and even a rendition of Rod Stewart’s Baby Jane by the resident band to the delight of the pageant girls. It was a colourful spectacular with all of the pageant girls more glorious and beautiful than the last, their skinny frames enveloped by broad ribbons proudly announcing the state they were representing. We know a pageant girl, or I should say a few of them now, and wonder if any of them represented their state in their teenage years and we bumped into them, literally.

Eating in Nashville, and probably in the rest of the USA, was a functional rather than culinary delight in 2003. Most of the eateries were chain, fast food establishments selling hamburgers, fries and salad. Over the years this has changed significantly but back when we first visited the food and choices were limited and mostly awful. So it was a great delight to have the opportunity to dine with the superhero and his family in a restaurant they highly favoured, just a little out of town. Our American Superhero provided us with the transport once more, and we were joined by his family travelling in a separate vehicle, at one of their favourite restaurants. Their children were a mixture of cute and handsome. Their two all American boys, with short neat haircuts, matching casual open necked shirts and chinos were polite and mannerly. They were obviously accustomed to eating out, but not meeting many strange people from Scotland, despite their Gran, Grandpa and Aunty living there. Their baby sister, now a divinely beautiful young woman, was just as beautiful and cute back then. She was dressed in a simple but expensive white cotton dress that showed just a hint of matching drawers. I judged this choice had been easily impacted by the fact her mother had been dressing boys for the past 7 years.

The restaurant was busy, although only 6pm families were comfortably seated, surrounding our party seated conspicuously at a central table, ignorant to the fact we had not met before but bound together in this meal by rather unconventional circumstances. The waiters poured us water and handed around the menus. I was salivating as I opened it and pursued the contents containing what was only the upmarket range of fast food hamburgers, fries and salad………..

Chattanooga Choo Choo. Chapter 9 Book of the Lion.

Chattanooga gained notoriety following the roaring success of the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ a song written by Mack Gordon and originally recorded by Glenn Miller in 1941. A film was later made in 1984 but we were neither caring nor interested in the musical history of this City, we simply wanted to catch up with our tour. We had already missed out on our trip to Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls, but this had little impact on our current state of mind. The fact we were even here was a miracle in itself.

Recently discharged from University Hospital Atlanta, the Lion was still subdued by class A drugs designed primarily to contain his back pain but also stupefying the brain and his senses for the same price. Our Greyhound bus trip had been eventful but finally as the bus lurched into the station at Chattanooga we disembarked safely, intact and none the worse for the encounters or dramas on the way. Our new found friends wished us well, and I hurriedly ushered the Lion off the bus ensuring they remained aboard for their journey to Ohio, hoping they stayed on the right side of the law.

We took a taxi to the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, which was located in the south side of the city trying to take in the sights while making sure the Lion was comfortable. We unloaded our cases, including our newly purchased bag for excess weight, onto the forecourt and surveilled our surroundings. A large train modified into bedrooms, dominated the landscape which, although no one told us, I was pretty sure was the infamous Choo Choo. Beyond this unusual hostelry, about 300 yards across the driveway lay the more conventional entrance to the larger standard traditional hotel,

I did hope we were sleeping in the train as I guided the Lion to the check-in desk, given our luck on the BA flight this was a strong possibility but our luck didn’t last. Having managed to coral the Lion into the reception I sought assistance to collect our baggage, while he clung to the reception counter and steadied himself. The tour guide had left instructions to be contacted as soon as we arrived and he joined us directly, It was like meeting a long lost friend, such had been the extent of our isolation in Atlanta. He hugged us, or at least approached the Lion with that intention before I prevented him from making any physical contact that would set the Lion’s back off again.

We then made our way to our room (not on the train), and flopped onto the bed exhaling an incredible sigh of relief. I was still so uncertain about continuing with the tour, but the Lion again assured me he would be fine. I studied him closely, trying to seek reassurance in his body language but seeing nothing that confirmed what he was saying. I unpacked his medication and our cash, that had made us feel so vulnerable on the bus, glad to have the security of a safe. There were significant volumes of tablets within assorted coloured containers. They had American names but appeared to include diazepam and Tramadol. These, in various permutations, were to be taken daily for the next two weeks. This didn’t bode well for the usual holiday experiences where alcohol might feature on more than the odd occasion.

We had started out on this holiday with friends, although they had continued with their holiday while the Lion was in hospital. I have tried to reconcile their abandonment of us in our hour of need with their need for a holiday. It’s something I continue to find difficult to understand, we could never have left them had the shoe been on the other foot, but then it was a holiday and perhaps I was just being unreasonable. Within the hour they arrived at our door glad we had made it in time to make the next leg of the journey to Nashville, The lion put on his mane, his bravest face and agreed to join them for dinner. I was not entirely sure this was a good idea, but we had to eat and so managed to join them despite being physically and mentally exhausted with our journey to date.

What became evident was that they had absolutely no clue how bad the situation had been, and were trying to make the most of their holiday and who could blame them. We ate and I ordered a glass of wine, I felt entitled given the last few days dramas, and soon that turned into two more. For the first time in 3 days I was able to relax, the Lion appeared to have relaxed but on closer inspection I noticed he was grinding his teeth as he continued to stay seated for longer than he was able to. We made a fast exit from the dining room, or at least as fast as the Lion could go and returned to our room. It would become a familiar pattern throughout this trip. Although it was now apparent that the potential to make the rest of our trip was looking more than hopeful the word holiday didn’t inspire me with any pleasure at all not in this situation. Back in the room I played nurse, (calm down he was ill), settled him in bed and dispensed the evening meds before tucking the Lion into one of the enormous king sized beds in our room.

I finally made it to bed, having tidied the room, arranged our clothes for the next day and re-packed the wardrobe cases ready for the off the next day. As the Lion drifted into his slumber ably assisted by diazepam. I wondered how he would be on the rest of the holiday, given his ongoing pain. He had little option at this stage, we’d made our decision coming here away from Atlanta and the airport. Our music tour of the Deep South was going to be an interesting trip, there was little doubt it would test us and as we now know, the Lion has no recollection of any of it given the meds he was prescribed for that trip.

Tomorrow we would depart for Nashville, and realise a dream we had shared for many years, but first I had to make a final sweep of the room for any small bits of paper that the Lion might be inclined to bend down and pick up……………………………

From Lion to Hyena. Chapter 6 Book of the lion

Grey’s Anatomy is not a show I have ever seen before, despite my previous albeit fleeting  reference to it. All the same here we were in a hospital in America, living the medical dream. The Lion was still sedated no longer in pain and unaware of the drama unfolding.  The hospital room we were allocated was small,  a range of wires attached to the lion were tied near his shoulder  to monitor his vitals. There was a large wing-backed chair that doubled as my bed, for despite being offered to stay in the Sheraton Suites, I couldn’t leave the Lion alone, without support in a strange country. Our cases, come wardrobes, sat side by side at the end of his bed, a stark reminder of how devastating this episode had been,  leaving just enough room for the nurses to edge past and take his blood pressure.

He lay motionless on the bed, breathing of course, but still and for a time, peaceful. They brought him in a tray laden with food three times a day, but his current comatose state prohibited any enjoyment. When no one was looking I devoured it, starving I was not the recipient of any meals during our stay. Although this was in 2003, the mobile phone was not widely used or owned equipment by me or the Lion. I had travelled to America with no phone, only cash and the iPad had not yet been invented.  I was keen to speak to someone at home to let them know what we were facing. During one of the monitoring visits I asked the nurse how I might be able to use the phone in the room and learned I had to purchase a credit from the store and use that to make international calls. Never take the convenience of the mobile for granted, its a godsend in these situations.

Realising that I wasn’t exactly overflowing with visitors, the nurse also contacted the hospital chaplain to attend and comfort me. He was a welcome intervention but really there was nothing anyone could do while the Lion was incapacitated. I had been thinking however, and wondered if perhaps  we could rent a house here in Atlanta for the two weeks,  that might allow the Lion time to recuperate and prevent any flight re-arrangements. BA had been so good they’d think I was at it surely, if I called back and said the same passenger needed to go home now two days after we had arrived.

I made calls to the kids, who, although young, were supportive and helpful. I spoke with my sister-in-law who’s brother, rather conveniently,  lives in Nashville. Perhaps there was something they might be able to do she suggested and made some contact. Meanwhile  I tried to see whether RCI, which we had points for, could provide us something in Nashville.  (Anyone with RCI will have fallen off their seats laughing by now since they never have anything anywhere, still worth a shot). Nothing seemed to be working in our favour, and an alternative to the trip we should have been on just wasn’t forthcoming.

In the darkness of the room at night, I tried to find a comfortable place to rest. The night nurses were at their station nearby and I overheard them talking about the Scottish Man who was in with back pain, ‘he’s so handsome’ one declared. I glanced across to the bed and had to agree he was handsome and peaceful but he was my Lion. In that moment I was overwhelmed, we had so looked forward to this trip and now this you could not have predicted this was how it might end.  At 0400hrs that morning, the staff nurse came into the room suggesting they were going to wake him up and, pending a confident circuit of the ward,  might discharge him. I did feel slightly elated, but our experience of this kind of episode usually meant there was a slow progress toward improvement and I was nervous that he might not manage it. Nevertheless at the stated witching hour, she woke him up and by 6am, he was sitting up eating his breakfast.

Nothing for me to eat that day, then. He was feeling much better, seemingly relaxed and reasonably pain free, given the drugs they had given him but it was evident that he was struggling to stand up straight. Much of his gait was tentative, protecting his back,  twisting and contorting the muscles to conceal his discomfort as he tried to manage the circuit, determined to be released. They appeared pleased and confirmed we could re-join our tour two days after they had departed. It was the easiest solution to be honest,  and so the wheels (pardon the pun) were set in motion for us to join the tour as it was about to depart Chattanooga. I collected his prescription and retuned to the ward where it was clear the Lion had shrivelled in size and was nothing more than a hyena in stature now. He looked to have lost weight, his pallor was grey and clammy, all the hallmarks of a junkie. So it was that we opted to re-join the tour by taking the greyhound bus. It was something I had wanted to try and the $350 taxi journey did not appeal to me so we headed off to the bus station, me trying to manage hand luggage, two wardrobes/cases and my Lion, little did we know what would take place next……………………………………..

grayscale photography of hyena
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