Nashville, Tennessee

We only dipped our toes into Nashville’s vibrant, swirling currents. It was enough to show us how easy it would be to dive in and submerge ourselves for days. But we only had a few hours.

We wandered along Broadway as the bars awakened for another day. Each one had its own house band setting up to entertain patrons as early as lunchtime and presumably well into the night. The weather was warm and sunny, open windows let the music spill into the street: music for patrons and for passersby who might be enticed to enter.

Broadway is also the place for souvenir shops and shops specializing in cowboy boots. You don’t need to be a cowgirl to feel the urge to buy a pair of boots here. They are all fabulous, whether it’s the work-a-day versions built for real cowhands or the off-white pair with silver embroidery, part of the “Bridal Collection.” Tooled leather, velvet, bright colours, sequins, rhine stones, there are hundreds to choose from.

Souvenir shops have the usual endless selection of t-shirts, mugs, key chains, postcards, shot glasses and other tchotchkes. But in Nashville, they also have pyjamas decorated to look like one of Elvis’s jewel-encrusted white jumpsuits. Oh, they were tempting…

In the end, I think the best part of Nashville is the people watching. The day we were there, the country music world was celebrating. Streets and parking lots were cordoned off in preparation for an event still hours away. Security was everywhere. These guys were busy, yet still had time to take a minute or two to talk with charming politeness – good morning, ma’am, yes ma’am, this side walk is closed, please use the other side, thank you ma’am – in their charming southern drawl.

Down the street, a tour saleslady told us where to find the best coffee in Nashville, then laughed out loud when we returned to thank her and made jokes about how buzzed Ken was from his Man in Black coffee – a large dark roast with two extra shots of espresso.

It was from Bongo Java, the coffee shop in the lobby of the Johnny Cash Museum. It’s a people-watching haven – tourists buying tickets for the museum and souvenirs from the shop, and locals coming in for their daily shot of caffeine. Some of them work at the nearby bars and restaurants. Others are the personal assistants of presumably important people. They juggle large purses, a phone, a tray of coffees and a bag of house doughnuts, while working to maintain their look of cool nonchalance. Black is de rigeur, for sneakers, high-waisted skinny jeans, and crop tops.

An international crowd gathered around the coffee shop’s single bar-height table, standing or perched on stools. Ken chatted with a woman from San Diego visiting for the first time and having a quick coffee before touring the museum. I spoke with a group of French people from Marseille. What brings you to Nashville? I asked. I’m a musician, said one of them. Yesterday, I got to play on a piano that Elvis used to play on and no one has played it since his death, he said. What a thrill that must have been.

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