I gave the man a scrutinizing glance, then remembered I was wearing my Cubs shirt and hat.
“Yeah, I was born there. But I’m actually from Wisconsin.”
“Mmmph. Wisconsin. They still got Jesse Ventura as governor there?”
“No, you’re thinking of Minnesota.”
I leaned back into the bench. I was in a good mood. I had only been in Nashville for an hour and already I’d had two incredible strokes of luck:
1.) Despite my relatively late arrival I’d managed to find free parking downtown (at the lot of Nissan Stadium, where the Tennessee Titans play).
2.) After accosting a few strangers I’d managed to score a pair of Eclipse Glasses, also for free.
The old man next to me started rolling a cigarette. He looked like a consummate Dixieland caricature; bandanna, chopper sunglasses, tobacco-stained Duck Dynasty beard, and a cassette tape player on his lap, probably loaded with ZZ Top or something like that. We chatted for a while. I told him about my travels, how this was my first time visiting the South.
“It’s diff’rent ’round here,” the man said. “This where folks is corn-fed, inbred and brain dead.” I laughed politely.
“Nashville seems really nice,” I said.
“Oh, yessum. This is the jewel of the South.” We stared across the river, at the old brick saloons and music halls which lined the riverfront, and the massive modern office buildings and condos that dwarfed them. The man pointed to the latter set. “I bet none of that shit was there when Dylan made Nashville Skyline.” I agreed, and for a while we talked about the gentrification I’d noticed in Seattle, Portland, Austin, etc.
It wasn’t the first Dylan reference that had crept up on me in the past 24 hours. The night before I’d stayed in Helena, Arkansas, a tiny town on the Mississippi Delta, in the home of a woman who was positively obsessed with Bob. The next day I cut through a tiny section of Northwest Mississippi and realized I was driving on Highway 61. Maybe Dylan is my Guardian Ghost Angel. That would certainly explain the good fortune.
The man talked about all kinds of things including the surrender of Savannah, GA to General Sherman (you can’t escape the Civil War down here), but ultimately I had to move on so I got up, shook the man’s hand and asked his name.
“Oh, let’s see. What am I calling myself today…” he scratched the back of his bandanna. “How about David?” [pronounced the French way, DAH-VEED]. I liked David. He had the aura of a proud drifter, in a weird way I felt I was looking at a mirror 25 years into the future.
Obviously I had come to Nashville for the eclipse. Not so say that’s the only reason I’d come to Nashville; it’s a wonderful town with a tremendous music history and I would have stayed longer if I didn’t have to be in Atlanta by nightfall. But on that day Nashville had become a particular place of pilgrimage due to its location under the Path of Totality for the solar eclipse (before we move on, let’s just pause and absorb the weight of that phrase, “Path of Totality.” Isn’t it just a gorgeous literary utterance? So dark, so imposing, like an ancient legend).
All around the city, as with the rest of America, Eclipse Mania predominated. Christian radio stations (of which there are ample choices in this region) picked up on the phenomenon, either to remind us of the majesty of God’s creation (“Can you really look at a spectacle like that and not think there’s something greater than yourself?”) or to exhort the unrighteous masses (“I say that in this great nation the light of God’s glory has been eclipsed by the sin of moral relativism!”). Morning talk stations constantly repeated this joke: “How does the moon cut his hair? Eclipse it!”
The Tennessee highways were cluttered with out-of-state cars. DOT signs warned travelers not to park on the shoulder during the eclipse. The traffic was annoying, but I couldn’t really complain given that I was part of the problem.
It was as much a people-watching event as an astrological event. The thousands gathered downtown knew they were part of something special, for many something that wouldn’t happen again in their lifetime. Old and young, black and white, pro-Trump and anti-Trump, no one could deny this spectacle.
We waited with bated breath for the moment to arrive, the Totality we’d been promised. We checked and checked again through our special glasses, watched the oblong black moon slowly eat away at the crescent of a sun. I watched the sky morph into a violet-blue hue similar but also distinct from dusk. The anticipation was ever more palpable. Finally the moment simply arrived when the sky became a dark purple, a happy bruise, the lights went on in Nashville and people began cheering.
“Wooooo!” We had won. We were cheering for the moon, and the moon had upset the sun. Don’t fuss over the logic of it, just embrace the effervescent humanity of it all.
Then you can go back to complaining about traffic.