When last we left Nashville, we’d stopped there for lunch on the first day of our 2005 road trip to San Antonio. We ate at our first Jack in the Box nearly a decade before they finally came to Indianapolis; we saw their version of the Parthenon, a World’s Fair tribute to their old nickname “the Athens of the South”; and then we moved on. Ten years later, we returned once again for lunch and spent slightly longer there this time than last time.
One last state capital before returning home to our own. One last Presidential burial site. One last sign of Confederacy fandom. One last pretty garden. One last Andrew Jackson statue. One last official Southern meal. Our midday stroll around downtown Nashville was like a symbolic highlight reel of our entire road trip.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This year’s trip began as a simple idea: visit ostensibly scenic New Orleans. Indianapolis to New Orleans is a fourteen-hour drive. Between our workplace demands and other assorted personal needs, we negotiated a narrow seven-day time frame to travel there and back again. We researched numerous possible routes, cities, and towns to visit along the way in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. We came up with a long, deep list of potential stops, but tried to leave room for improvisation…
After our encounters with Andrew Jackson and TV’s Cooter, my wife had one last site she wanted to catch while we were in town, conveniently located on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol with other assorted statues and constructs. Our unlikely star: James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States of America. His final resting place is right there on the southeast corner of the hilltop.
My childhood history classes provided very little coverage of any Presidents who didn’t serve before 1800 or preside over a war. What little I know of him comes from the eponymous song by They Might Be Giants, which for me was reason enough to stop here. Anne of course had her history-buff motivation.
In the grand tradition of other Presidential burial sites, interred with him is his wife Sarah. Polk himself died of cholera a lousy three months after finishing his single term, but Sarah outlived him by another forty-two years, spending her long retirement at their home, called Polk Place, till she passed away in 1891.
It might’ve been nice to tour Polk Place just as we’d toured Jackson’s Hermitage. Sadly, it was demolished in 1900 against the stipulations in their wills. Today their former plot is home to a Best Western. Really not the same thing.
The Polks’ resting place is one of many structures sharing a hill with the Tennessee State Capitol. Built like a Greek temple and skipping the dome option that so many other State Capitols rock, it was impressive and weird at the same time.
Elsewhere on the grounds, some new names and topics, and a few you may recognize.
From the Capitol I used Google Maps to find us a random non-franchised place for lunch. Thankfully it worked better and more accurately here than it did in the French Quarter, where I imagine business turnover has been a lot higher in recent years.
Couple more sights on our walk:
Our final decent vacation meal would be at 417 Union, a two-story classic-American restaurant in the heart of downtown. It was close enough to the Capitol that we weren’t yet dying of heatstroke before we arrived, though I’d considered giving in to it.
They’re big fans of history, decorating their dining rooms with memorabilia from WWII and other famous moments. Our waiter directed our attention to a recent acquisition, an ink drawing of Lincoln done entirely in ballpoint pen.
Anne had the fried chicken blue-plate special. I had the chicken ‘n’ waffles. As a last hurrah, we couldn’t get much more apropos. Delicious meal, loved the breading on the chicken, would gladly eat again.
…and then we headed straight back to the car and let the open road beckon us back home.
My biggest regret from this walk: not a single reminder to me of anything from Robert Altman’s Nashville. Better luck next trip, I suppose.
To be continued!
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