In southern Illinois, there is the kind of town that is found under one of two conditions: by trawling the comic book forums (or is it fora? Or is technology so powerful and omnipotent today that the rules of grammar are left sobbing in a moldy linen closet while the party rages on in the next room? But I digress) in search of yet-unlearned trivia and unsubstantiated rumors of future movie adaptations, or by drinking 12.7 gallons of fluid in 75 minutes and having little recourse aside from an empty coffee cup in the back seat. That town is Metropolis! For an old comic nut this was just short of providence.
Standing proud in front of the city courthouse was a massive statue of the man in blue and red, on the corner of Liberty and Truth. I think. It might have been Truth and Justice, or Liberte and Egalite, or Pancakes and Waffles. I was distracted. And across the street was the obligatory mural-painted gift shop and museum. We drank up the colors and lights and action figures and forgot our bladder issues, we bought a sticker for the bus, and we approached and then slowly backed away from the museum gate after seeing the entrance fees. It was marvelous. (It’s almost sacrilege to make that joke within a Superman-related post. Comic people will get it.) At some point we had to leave, though, and with bladders empty we hit the road, the irony not escaping us that Metropolis, Illinois, was little more than that one statue and a gift shop in the middle of farmland.
But then we made it to Nashville. Now, I was not expecting much, not being a country fan or a fan of states with consecutive multiple letters in their names, which seems to be a deliberate attempt to make people feel dumb when forced to spell them, but I was impressed. Keep in mind that this was the week of Bonnaroo and the Country Music Festival, neither of which we were aware of, but apparently the rest of the world was because traffic was slightly more than atrocious. And despite all that we found it charming. There’s something to be said about any place where art and artists come together, where cultures converge and ideas mix and swirl and breed. There is life in places like this and that was what I liked about it. There are cute brick buildings and tree-covered college campuses and edgy bookstores and cafes everywhere but it’s the life of the place that makes you stop and get out of the car. You want to stand in the air and get some of that into your veins. You want to make three wrong turns and passive aggressively tell off a pedestrian who corrects you just so you can park your car and get out and stand in that city’s life. So we did that.
We spent the night again in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart and woke the next morning refreshed all but for the faint memory of skate boarders click-clacking away at 1:00 am and leaf blowers outside the window at 3:00. Breakfast at the Pancake Pantry across from Vanderbilt University was all we needed, though, to set things right. I can only imagine that the crepe’s failure to completely replace the pancake in the United States is a dogged attempt by a secret office of our government to squelch French influence that dates back to their ingratitude for their assistance in the Revolution. Go out and get one today.
On our way out of town we drove past honky tonks and clubs, restaurants and art galleries, the air of the city pouring through our windows, and we said goodbye to the crowds lined up on the street waiting for the coming parade. Tennessee, despite your name you get a gold star in my book.