Sometimes, it is the most unexpected of times that provide some of our most profound memories. Like my first trip to Nashville, Tennessee.
I was in my early to early to mid 20s, attached but not married, when my parents asked if I’d be interested in a free trip to Nashville. As it turned out, my parents and another couple had planned a four-day or so excursion to Nashville to visit the country music capitol. But something came up and the other couple could not go, then something else came up like the day before they were supposed to leave and my parents could not go either.
All the attractions on the trip had already been paid for — except for a place to stay — and it was too late for a refund, so the four tickets were going to go to waste if no one used them.
When they found out they could not go, my parents called and asked if I could use the tickets. But after a look at my wallet and a check of my bank account (actually, I’m not even sure I had a bank account at the time) it was pretty plain that it would not be possible for me. So I turned my parents’ offer down.
Shortly after my mother called me, she ran into one of my buddies at the grocery store and she told him about the tickets. I was not aware of them running into each other until I went over to the buddy’s apartment to hang out that evening.
“Cmon, let’s go,” he kept saying. But while a road trip sounded fun, there were other things to consider. Like how much money we had between us, where in the world we were going to stay, and how I was going to get off work for a couple days when we had to leave early the next afternoon. The buddy kept trying to talk me into it, and I kept telling him it was not possible, until he finally quit asking.
About that time though another buddy stopped by the other buddy’s apartment — and he was driving a van — and the conversation about the trip started all over again.
The van was one of those 1980s luxury models, nice and new with tables and sofas that could be turned into beds and such. The van belonged to the second buddy’s father, but that didn’t end up being an issue. Before the evening was up we pooled our funds together, did the math, and decided we could afford to stay at a campground and sleep in the van.
I do not remember for sure, but I must have called my boss that night, explained the situation, and asked if I could take a couple days off. Because I did not go to work the next day. Instead, I met my parents and an aunt for an early lunch and to pick up the tickets. Sometime during lunch my aunt slipped me a $20 bill for the trip, and it’s a good thing.
I was not a country music fan by any stretch of the imagination, but for four days we had a hoot, hanging out with people three or more times our age most of the time. We took a tour bus around Nashville, visited Opryland, stopped at a couple other places, and even sang on the stage of the old Ryman Auditorium. But there were a couple issues.
The first one arose when we went to shower the first morning. We had rushed to put the trip together so fast that the buddy with the van and I both forgot to bring a towel, tooth brush, tooth paste, or a razor and shaving cream.
So for the next few days our mornings went like this: The buddy with the apartment — and all the shower necessities — would head to the shower house and I’d follow behind. When he got done showering and drying off, he’d toss me the towel and starting brushing and shaving. About the time he got down with the that, I’d be done showering. So the apartment guy would hand me the brushing and shaving stuff, I’d pass the towel to the van buddy, and so on.
Yes, I know it sounds rather strange, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. And besides, money was tight and we didn’t want to waste any on towels and razors.
We were fortunate enough to pick a really nice campground. But as my buddies I prepared to leave it for the last time we found we had one other problem. When we added up all our available funds, we didn’t have much left, and we needed gas and food.
A gas station was the first stop. We got what we figured was enough fuel to get us home. An hour or so down the road we started getting really hungry. When we pulled into McDonald’s and counted our change, we found we had enough for two cheeseburgers. So we split the two cheeseburgers between the three of us.
Thinking back, I can see the three of us in that van as plain as day. And I can see us very carefully splitting those cheeseburgers.
I have been back to Nashville three or four times since. My wife and I have stayed in places from that very same campground to the most fancy condominium I ever stayed in. All the trips were great, but none was more memorable than that first one.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.