Walking around Nashville, taking in the sites and figuring out what to do before day becomes night. The city is very hilly, a unique mixture of old and new. At a glance it looks like a place I could spend a lot of time in and I'm very much looking forward to exploring. After last nights bout with the cold I decide to seek shelter and on the quick because night is approaching a lot faster these days. Ymca seemed like a great place to start in Louisville and turns out to be a great resource in Nashville. I'm given a sheet of paper that has lists of hostels, shelters, and places to shower. I then ask the young women behind the desk if they have pingpong tables. She informs me they have one and my heart explodes!!! This is the third YMCA I've been to in a week and the only one that has a table. She quickly informs me that as a non-member it's 15$ dollars to play and with that I'm out the door.
I get to see some beautiful sites, more hills, and all to soon I'm walking through the doors of the Nashville rescue mission. I sit through a fairly painless series of questions by a man with the last name tater. I'm assigned a bed, told the rules, and already get the feeling that I have no idea what I'm exactly in for. Passing through a metal detector I'm met by gloved hands that pat me down and store my bag in a safe area. I'm allowed a small see through plastic bag with me in the shelter but everything else has to stay tucked into a locker I can only get access to once a day. They tell me to grab some food and then come back to meet with the chaplin I've been assigned.
I shuffle into an active line of various men, there are some interesting smells, and even more sites. The pale yellow bricking surrounds the hall and slowly with slinking into the cafeteria. Everywhere is tension, loud shouts, and very few smiles. A tray is handed to me, it has some sort of shredded chicken pieces in watery rice, a dinner roll, stale pita bread, and a stale doughnut. I grab a glass of water and head to the back of the cafeteria. I take it all in, the swirling energy, the various tables, and all the angst. Some men trade desserts, other try to buy full trays of food for loose cigerettes, and a various cast of characters you wouldn't want angry with you. I don't engage anyone, eat my food, and put my tray in its appropriate place.
I decide to visit the chaplin, get situated, and find out when I might beable to finally catch a few steady hours of rest. I meet a short black man, with gold teeth, and a focused demeanor. He juggles all the chaos around him with a hearty smile and helps me secure my bags for the evening. Then instructs me to be in the chapel before 8 p.m. for the nightly service. After that the dorms open up and I've already been assigned a bed number. I walk through the building, find the chapel, find a good seat, and begin to write. The past 24 hours have been jam packed and I"m trying to get down as many thoughts as possible. Soon enough a tall slendor man comes in and asks for any military veterans to come be interviewed in the other room. I get the feeling in my gut to go and next thing I know I'm looking down the barrel of an extremely impressive camera. We are interviewed for nearly an hour and I make sure to let my own recorder run as well. The reporter informs me the piece will run on Sunday as part of a Veterans day special. He say's he can forward the link to my email and I think him.
The whole interviewing process was a large span of emotions. For myself, it really made me value the choices I've made since seperating from service, helped me value the strong people who've come and gone through out my life, but most importantly it humbled me to my own idea's of how we suffer through out this great experience. To think for every one great war hero story you hear in this country, I'm willing to bet there are hundreds burried behind the scene's, and no one will ever know.
I make my way to the dorm I've been assigned, I walk in and there are 30 some sets of eyes looking at me and I start to think sleep might not be as easy as I had hoped. Then someone asks me what bunk I'm in and I tell them "one". That's when some chuckles start to circulate the room and a handle bar mustache with a packers hat says. "Oh! Yep, I had that bed, good luck getting any sleep." The bed I've been given is the first one by the door and over head is a blaring light. I ask when is lights out, they say all the lights that are suppose to be off are...sorry. The next few hours are a struggle, people come in and out quite frequently, I'm on the top bunk so my face is probably 4ft from the light, and this room is filled with inevitable theft. These factors all combine for a grand total of who the hell knows how many minutes of sleep and I'm not complaining. I had shelter from the cold snap that ate me up rather fast the night before and I was afforded a truly unique look into a place most of us won't even offer up time to help at.
They wake the rest of my room up at 5:45 and everyone is to be out of the dorm rooms by 6. The guy next to me had his phone stolen while he was sleeping and now tying my things to my person last night doesn't seem so crazy. I value many things about myself, I challenge you to pick out favorites in yourself, and celebrate those things in various ways. One things I value these days above everything else is my instincts and how they seem to get sharper over the years. I know in the coming months I will call on them to guide me through a variety of scenarios. Some how I'm able to find a secluded table in the corner of the building where no one else is and get to work on the book I'm witing. It becomes tuffer to really get this story off my chest but I have the feeling as I work through it I'll find my flow at some point and that's when the years will pour out like sweet aged Irish whiskey.
All to soon I'm eating runny eggs with suspicious looking green peppers and onions mixed in, a still frozen peach fruit cup, two cookies, and a glass of milk. Food is and goes. As I'm finishing up my "meal" one of the veterans from yesterday comes up and takes a seat next to me. His name is Rob and we arrived at the shelter about 20 minutes apart. I offer him a cookie and start to get more of the low down on his life. He's struggling from a sever opiates addiction (Hooray Pharmacology!) that he picked up while in the military and all his bridge burning has landed him here. He feels he has no other choice and will be entering a year long rehabilitation program. It will cut him off from the outside world, no phone, no internet, and whole heap of Jesus as your only savior. He tells me about his rise and fall as one of the larger X dealers in the city. The love he's lost, the shame that won't leave him alone at night, and how fucke it all is. I offer perspective where I can, share my story, and really start to drill at what he's good at. After some dancing, denying, and deluting he mumbles out something about drawing. This sends a lightbulb off in my brain and tell him before I leave today I've got a special something for him.
I try to plan my next move, I'd really like to fully explore the city, and I'm told I can leave my bag in lock up. That's when a very exciteable younger man tells me about 11 dollar bus tickets to Atlanta. A train of thought takes off in my brain and feels right. My brother has recently switched over into a monday through friday job. So if I can make it to Atlanta by tonight we should get a solid chance to spend time with one another. We rarely see the other and this trip seems like a perfect chance for us to create some unique memories. Plus as I start to map what would be me hitching out of Nashville it starts to look less then favorable. There are many different interstates, a lot of crossing, and no one straight shot to get down there on foot. It would probably take many different rides and from what I gather I'm in the "Deep South", wrong turn land, and other urban myth omen paranoia palooza. I decide that when the library opens up I'm gona check it out and see what is the what. I have time to kill and end up in the recreation room of the mission. I sit with an older man named Glen, I ask if he'd like to play a game of chess, and we lock horns quickly. I can tell some of the lessons Jeff and Johnny were passing onto have greatly enhanced my game. The momentum of it goes back and forth but towards the end I catch him looking. Take full advantage and then just play the patiences piece...I think more chess is needed in my life.
I finish up the game, get my bag out of storage and plant myself next to Rob. After some scrounging through I dig up one of the two blank moleskins I was gifted by my great friend Ryun. She dropped them in my possesion a few days before I set out on the road and I planned to fill them. Now though, I get the calling to give one to a person who seems to need a bit more hope then me and who knows how it'll find it's way back into my experience. We sit outside the shelter, he smokes what will be one of his last cigerettes, and swap life. I tell him to fill this bad boy up over the year, take time with each page, go over, add dimensions and filter out all that doesn't serve his life anymore. The past for a lot of us can linger like a wound that continually scabs, never scars, and ofcourse we just keep picking at it. I share my story of liberation, the rebuilding of bridges I thought burnt, and how every lesson learned is forgiveness earned. With that we share a strong hug and I leave him ways to contact me if he needs a life line over the next year.
I have 6 hours to explore the city but I still have the nagging problem of the bag. So I put that menacing muscle of mine to good use and figure out how to leave my bag in the library. Pull out a book, set up some pens, my water bottle, drape one of my jackets around the chair, all to make the most convincing work station I can. Then I head over to the table closest to mine, ask for three words, and whip up a delcious poem for the two undergrads working on a report about the first World War. I spit it, we share in some laughter, and with that I take off leaving everything out in the open. I'm told it's best place to hide...
I set out through the various streets, sit in some parks, take in the wonderful fall weather, and feel a sense of freedom I'd only previously dreamed. At some point a bag lady comes wandering by me with her rig, she sits on the bench next to me and begins talking about her theories. Mid sentence a guy walks up, hands her a dollar, and then gives me one too. HA! I guess I'm starting to look the part, definitely been feeling it but that about seals the deal for me. I'm not use to strangers handing me money on the streets, I'm just usually miming, dancing, doing poetry, or something for it. I take in a few more jibberings about the complex delusions of someone much further around that bend most of my loved ones have watched me stroll thess past few years and decide to get on with the afternoon.
...and also some people, I approach hopeful they might want to play my super fun poetry game but alas I meet rejection. It's been a while since I've done this so I expect to meet some defeat. About an hour later, walking near the capitol building, I meet an older couple seeing the sites, and they seem really intrigued by the idea. So they give me some lovely words and I take to weaving a sentimental peice about love, longing, and learning. I'm met with a question about if I'm addicted to drugs. I have to laugh, I wonder how many dope fiends can string together an impromtu piece of poetry, and then perform it with pristine purpose. This goes on internally, externally I give a simple no sir, and he smiles.
"Just had to ask."
He hands me a twenty dollar bill and take the piece of poetry. We all end up hugging and swapping some football hopes for the season before parting ways. I'm over joyed! Twenty bucks can go a long way on my travels and I don't really have that many resources to begin with. It's also nice to see that I still got it, after all these months, and keeps me hopeful about the months to come. After getting the tip I decide to not push my lucks anymore and head back to where I left my things. I end up in an elevator with two highschool girls, there is an odd silence, I meow, they can't tell it's me, we begin to look around, I meow again and still they can't tell. As we get off the elevator, I tell the people to becareful because I think there is a cat somewhere in the elevator. To which the two young ladies walk off laughing hysterically.
I make it back to my things, everything is as I left it, except for one thing has changed and I'm pleasently surprised. The two students who were working on their research paper and left me a heart warming note in their place. I pack up, strap on (gross), and hobble to where the bus is suppose to pick us up from. I grab a bagel from a panera across the street and as I'm refilling my water bottle I'm jolted alive by a table full of loud Highschoolers. They are being hilarious, not a care in the world, perverse, and no regaurd for anyone else. So I lean over their table, take off my hat (to show my age :D), and take a very serious demeanor.
"You all are being way to loud, perverse, course, and wildly inappropriate..."
There is a pause and then one of them goes to say sorry but I cut him off with...
"Keep that shit up you rowdy mother fuckers!!!"
and the high fives fly...my exit is to the sound of sharp laughter and "oh my god did that just happen."
Soon enough, I'm on the megabus, and settling in for what will be a large unknown. Still haven't been able to get a hold of anyone that I know in Atlanta but I'm going with the flow and so far the results have been amazing.