Monday, February 25, 2008

Basement Tornadoes

I'm not planning on making a habit of using this blog as a link hopper, but this is apropos.

Basement Tornadoes, courtesy The Onion

Score one for Tennessee

I will admit that my social commentary both here and "IRL" may be construed as disparaging toward the South. Honestly, I believe that people are people no matter where you go and as humans, we all have things that we want and need. Location truly affects this very little. So my feelings toward the South aren't hostile or negative so much as they are indifferent and cynical. You know, how I feel about most everything in the world.

In this case, though I will give credit where it is due. A few weeks ago, the wife and I happened to decide to take the kids to the local "Center for the Visual Arts" because it features this great activity area with all sorts of art-related activities.

Coincidentally, that Saturday also happened to be the first Saturday after a new exhibit opened. This exhibit is unlike anything I have seen in California. Sure, you could find something of this caliber at the Getty, or at MOMA in The City, but Nashville is a city of 1.5 million. The LA Basin and Bay Area have populations of approximately 100- and 85-billion, respectively.

The exhibit features the following artists, among others:

Van Gogh

So, a relatively small city in Middle Tennessee is currently an entire Art History course unto itself. The collection is on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Art on display until June 1st. Come visit us and see it. I'll be going back.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I Don't Know What Meat and Three Is

I'm not a card-carrying world traveller, but I've been a few places and eaten lots of different kinds of food. Food is one of the many things that differentiates a culture; food can tell you a lot.

There is something that happens here is the South called "Meat and Three." On two occasions, native Southerners have attempted to explain it, but the specifics still elude me.

I gather it is a meal, seemingly lunch, but a simple examination of the name raises many questions. I am concerned that no one has been any more specific than to use the term "Meat." And the completely abstract "Three" provides no context to decipher any further information. I gather that mechanics some how play an important role in this nebulous ritual as well, but my questions are always answered with platitudes ("It's great" and "You'll love it") or adjectives ("incredible", "huge", and "amazing").

I'm not too shy about food; I've eaten many different kinds of meat, but the possibility that this is an initiation has crossed my mind more than once. I have been promised a trip to "Meat and Three" next week, so if I make it back I'll let you know.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I Have Three Lanes and Yet I Must Scream

Driving, I think, is heavily cultural. If you think about it, how people drive, and their attitude about it is related most directly to the geography and development of their area. That is to say, folks in the LA Basin who have to plan on driving for 2 hours to get 20 Miles and those in, say, Texas, who may drive for 2 hours to get to a gas station have drastically different mental maps of their world.

There is a lot to say on this topic, but for the subject at hand, I will say that I was expecting the traffic and driver attitude here in Nashville, metropolitan population estimated at 1.2 million people, would be a lot like that found in larger metro areas in California. Extended traffic hours, long waits, and everything that comes with it.

I was wrong, though. Sure there are similarities: I drive about 15 miles to work, which takes me across one named local highway and three more interstate freeways. Directions to get anywhere in town start to sound like a game of Battleship: "24E to 65N to 40W to 70." And after all that, you've gone 9 miles.

But even though we're in a big city, and most of the freeways around town are 3 or 4 lanes, and split and loop back all over the place, I've noticed a major difference between driving here and driving, well, anywhere in California.

Most 2 or 3 or 4 lane freeways in California are densely occupied most of the time. You don't have a lot of open lanes, or room to move around. Even so, they stay moving at a pretty good pace except for the heavy traffic areas. The speed limit may be 55, but you won't find us caught dead driving that speed except in inclement weather. Like if it was raining and snowing and hurricane force winds and the sun was setting and shining right in your eyes and there were trucks on the road and there had been an accident and the highway patrol was out in force. Even then we'd be doing 65 in a 55.

Here around Nashville, I'll jump on the freeway to get across town and find three glorious lanes, nary a one backed up except at the splits, with wide open holes as I bob and weave my way from freeway to freeway. Somehow, still, this freedom is a secret to the faces staring right into it every day. The Tennessee drivers have picked their lane and they will never leave it, they drive 55 in safe conditions, content to arrive when they may. But not me. No, I am downhill slalom champion in my Yuppie Outback. I am shackled to no lane, and these drivers, all of them outmaneuvered and outclassed see only a teal blur and me, pumping my fist out the sunroof as I scream past.

Friday, February 1, 2008

What lane am I in anyway?

This post isn't about the freeway driving or merging aptitudes here in the South (believe me though, that post will be coming friends, yes it will), rather it is about the roads themselves.

Californians, we like to think we aren't so shallow or fossil-fuel obsessed, we love our cars, our roads, our deftly engineered, precariously balanced, interlocking cloverleaf overpasses. Overpasses that enable the necessity that has become an addiction which grips those hardest who need most the freedom. Our routes and secrets for avoiding traffic, the cloverleaves that deposit our climate controlled, plush leather, heated-seat, living coffins from one multilane artery to another without reducing our speed "unless there's traffic," the jinx we all utter at least once a week; the closer we live to The City, or LA, or Sac, the more frequently we say it and cross our fingers, knock on wood, or cross ourselves.

Living in The Golden State, I thought of roads in categories, none inherently better than the others: back roads, streets, big/busy streets, highways, freeways. In Cali, most roads are well maintained given how much we drive. The state, counties, and cities know expensive construction projects, diverting and backing up traffic, are cheaper and generate less ill will than the uprising that would ensue, keyfobs and lattes in-hand, were our precious, precious roads poorly maintained. We expect the same common courtesy in other parts of the country.

I experienced a phenomenon living in Chattanooga that I have rediscovered in Nashville: when in rains here, as it often does in winter...and spring...and summer, the street lines simply disappear. One might think that CalTrans and TDOT could find a single, reliable source for reflective paint, but they must get different catalogs. Dividers, bike lanes (where they exist), shoulder lines, stop lines, arrows, everything painted on the streets, everything friends, all completely invisible when wet.

This is faith-based driving. These roads that suddenly veer left, on a hill, with a blind stop coming directly at me, wet roads, invisible street lines, I say a silent prayer prayer to Ohchit, I mentally divide the street into thirds: left lane, turn lane, right lane, I guess where my lane should be, hope no one is coming over the blind stop and hang on.

Will I make it?