Tom Waits Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards We were very lucky to know about the 2006 Tom Waits shows in time to get tickets. On one of the rare tmes we checked our email in Africa, our friend Julia from London kindly sent us a message giving us a heads-up that a tour announcement was supposed to be forthcoming. The announcement took place the day after we arrived home, and although we had forgotten to take a look, our friend Tom forwarded the announcement email to us. We are very grateful, because we were so backlogged with mail that otherwise we never would have seen it in time. Having just returned from a big trip, I couldn't take much more time off from work. Although there were only 8 scheduled shows on this Orphans Tour (to promote his forthcoming 3 album set "Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards," scheduled for release on 11/21), they all required travel. We studied the dates and determined that with one day off from work, we could catch two shows: Memphis and Nashville. Before the shows were announced, I had been saying how much I would like to return to Memphis. We were last there five years ago, and we were feeling it was time to go back. The timing of the Waits show couldn't have been any better, and it was at the Orpheum Theatre to boot. When we saw the Handy Awards there in 2001, we remarked that it would be a perfect venue for Tom to play. The following night he would be playing at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. We had always wanted to go to Nashville, and this would be the perfect excuse. Seeing Tom Waits at such an historic venue would make it all just too much to ignore. Tom and Karen would drive up from Florida for the shows, Kevin would fly down with us, and Gary and Vicki would fly down from Rhode Island. It would be like old times! Add to that the fact that we'd be meeting up with all of our Raindog friends...a perfect weekend! Tom and Karen were doing a road trip and able to go to the Atlanta and Asheville shows as well. They had an extra ticket, and I convinced Craig to fly to Atlanta on Tuesday for the club show at the Tabernacle. I couldn't get the time off from work, but he could, and it was a great opportunity for him. Of course it meant flying out early Tuesday, going to the show Tuesday night, flying home at 6 am on Wednesday to go to work, and then flying out again on Thursday for Tennessee. Maybe it's a good thing that Tom Waits doesn't tour more often, or we'd never get any rest! We decided to fly in and out of Nashville as the flight times were more convenient and a bit cheaper as well. We would rent a car and drive to Memphis and back. It would be a fun road trip, with Tom Waits on the CD player the whole time.

Thursday 8/3/2006 - Arrival in Nashville, Robert's Western World

Craig worked from home today and I left work a little bit early. Jenn and the girls dropped Kevin off at 4:30, and Craig's mom drove us to the airport. We got the the US Airways check-in and there was no line at all. We checked in quickly and went through security. Again, there was no backup. Being quite hungry we each got a slice of stuffed pizza and shared a piece of lasagna at Sbarro's, and got some bottled water at Au Bon Pain. We ate in the food court area, facing a Ben & Jerry's, and we couldn't resist getting some dessert. The process wasn't as quick as we had hoped. Though we were only second in line, the guy in front of us ordered a smoothie, which turned out to involve an arduous process of blending and then pouring from one cup to another three separate times (?). At one point he glanced over at us with an apologetic and bemused look on his face, we just shrugged our shoulders and understood his frustration. When he was finally done, I ordered a cookie dough ice cream with caramel sauce in a waffle "cup". Craig got a cookie dough hot fudge sundae with mini M&M's. The employee was incredibly slow, and kept asking us our order again and again, but he spoke so softly that we couldn't even hear him. The whole process literally took between 10 and 15 minutes. Kevin kept looking over at us wondering if the guy was actually making the ice cream right there and then. The ice cream was great, but we had to eat it rather quickly as the plane was already boarding.

When we finished, we went straight to the gate and on to the plane. It seemed that everyone on the flight had rather large wheelie suitcases, and being a slightly smaller plane there wasn't enough room for most of them. The crew had people line them up at the front of the plane to be checked. Most people went along with this fine, except for the rather twitchy guy seated next to me. He looked startingly similar to the principal in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". He had several large bags and a laptop, and was determined to shove his large suitcase in the overhead bin no matter what. He was constantly exploding up from his seat, moving other people's things, and cramming his suitcase in, crushing whatever was already in the bin. He would then ask the help of a flight attendant, "If I move this here and put this over there do you think I can fit it in?" The flight attendant tried to convince him to just leave it at the front of the plane but he wanted no part of that, he was on a mission and nothing was going to stop him. The woman in front of us had brought something fragile from Finland, and was none too pleased to see the guy crushing her stuff. Her companion finally asked the attendant to please give him one of the bags so he could place it at their feet where it would be safe. None of this helped though and in the end the spastic guy had to face defeat and surrender his bag to the attendant. Minutes later, through the plane window, Craig noticed the automatic conveyer pulled up to the door of the plane. As they stacked more and more luggage onto it he saw the controversial bag take a dive over the edge and fall all the way down to the tarmac below. Oh, that couldn't have been good. Of course Craig couldn't resist laughing and commenting to me about it, plenty loud enough for our twitchy companion to hear. The flight took off late, and seemed to be the result of having to stow all of the extra luggage.

During the flight, the TV monitors showed Cranium game trivia questions. Craig had already seen these on his flights to/from Atlanta several days ago, so he had an unfair advantage. We were served cranapple juice and mini pretzels. In no time at all it seemed we were already landing in Charlotte. As we taxied to the gate, one of the little vehicles carrying luggage almost drove right into the path of the plane! The driver stopped very suddenly (we could see the necks on the passengers snapping back in a whiplash-like fashion) and then turned around and sped (well, as much as those little luggage trailers can speed) off. One of the bags fell off of the back and the driver didn't notice. Luckily, some other workers at another gate did notice, and ran over and picked the bag up so that our plane could continue taxiing. He called to the driver to stop and brought the bag over to him. Meanwhile one of the higher ranking employees (a woman with those lighted wands for directing planes in) went over and really started yelling at the driver. She was waving her lighted wands in his face. She was clearly laying into him for his very unusual behavior and not letting him off easily. You go, girl! To paraphrase Tom Waits, "We've seen it all, through the yellow windows of the evening plane." By the time we finally disembarked, it was around 9:15. Our next flight was scheduled to take off at 9:30 and they normally close the plane doors 10 minutes before flight time. We were supposed to arrive in terminal B (where our connecting flight was taking off), but we actually arrived in terminal D. What followed was a mad "OJ-style" sprint across the airport to terminal B, arriving at gate B13 at 9:29. I ran to the desk and asked if we were too late for the Nashville flight. To my surprise, the woman said that Nashville boarding hadn't even started yet; the plane was late arriving. Woo-hoo! That was a relief. And we actually now had time to use the bathroom in between flights.

Eventually the plane arrived, and we boarded. The plane wasn't too crowded at all. It was a 3-3 configuration. Craig and I had a window and aisle with an empty seat between us. Kevin had three seats to himself. Unlike the "freezer-section" flights Craig experienced to and from Atlanta just a couple days before, this plane was extremely hot and uncomfortable as we taxied out. We sat on the tarmac for quite a while. After maybe 10 minutes sitting there, they announced that due to some small "problem", they needed to return to the gate. We were totally frustrated. Fortunately they didn't make us all deplane, but the pilot did go up to one passenger sitting near the front of the plane and escorted him out. A few minutes later, the passenger got back on the plane, they shut the door, and we were off. What was that all about? We finally took off at 11:05, a full hour and a half late.

We finally arrived in Nashville at around 11:30 Central time. We picked up the car (a silver Dodge Stratus) from Thrifty. It was a good deal at $25 per day. Since Kevin made the reservation he was the driver. Not wanting to stick Kevin with all the driving, we asked to put Craig on there as well. The employee at the desk informed us that it would cost an additional $8 a day, one third the price of the car over again, so we didn't fall for it. Kevin would have to drive the whole time, but he was a trooper about it and said he didn't mind, and for that we thank him. It was a bit tricky finding our way out of the rental car lot. It seemed there were little barriers in every direction and we didn't want to drive over the notorious little spikes they love to place at entrances. Once we finally got ourselves out onto the roadway it only took us about 15 or 20 minutes to get to downtown Nashville. Downtown is pretty much an easy straight shot on the highway from the airport. We passed the "World's Largest Adult Bookstore", which is apparently open 24 hours. We found our hotel, the Best Western Downtown Convention Center. There was a small convenience store attached to the lobby, and we bought some Gatorade and two yummy-looking individually wrapped chocolate chip cookies. Kevin opted for a bottle of water and a small bag of Fritos. It was a motel in that the hallways were outdoors, but they were only accessible from inside the building. Once on our floor, Craig laughed as we rounded the corner from the elevator saying that the exterior hallway looked just like the one at the end of "Poltergeist", Kevin laughed heartily with approval. Craig said he wanted to get a photo of Kevin rolling the TV out of the room but fortunately it was on a large stand and didn't appear to have any convenient wheels attached. The room had two double beds and a (very) small bathroom. This would work fine for the one evening but really wasn't anything special, especially for the price. We settled in and all decided to walk downtown to check out the honky tonks which were only a few blocks away. The honky tonks are a small region of the city where there are many little clubs playing live music. Although it is likely rather touristy these days, it has always played a part in the music history of Nashville and is even featured in a Willie Nelson album.

Leaving the hotel, we were immediately drawn towards a nicely lit up set of buildings for a night time photo opportunity. It turned out to be the State Capitol and surrounding buildings. Since our goal for the night was to head for the honky tonks, we were going in the wrong direction, and would need to turn around. Soon after, we were accosted by our first panhandler of the trip. A somewhat older gentleman, he pointed out to us that he "approached us politely," was using "good English," and didn't have "the crotch of his pants hanging down to his knees". He immediately told us how he was a Vet (this is commonly used to butter up potential victims because, being a country at war, we are always supposed to be sympathetic to those the government has since forgotten). He said he hadn't eaten all day and was looking for $2.25 for the hot dog special at a place right down the street. Knowing he probably had plenty to eat today and was now looking to score something a little more recreational than a hot dog, we did give him a single loose dollar that we happened to have in our pocket from an earlier transaction. He sure was right about one thing though. He was the most civilized panhandler we would meet on this trip (yes, this is blatant foreshadowing).

We walked down Broadway, peeking into each of the honky tonks. Some were a little too loud and crowded and not at all what we were looking for. There was some good country bluegrass emanating from Robert's Western World. We stored this in our head but continued walking the rest of the strip and looking at the various building in the area. We finally decided that Robert's Western World was where we wanted to be. Of course, by the time we got back there, the band was on break. There was a very nice three-wheeler motorcycle sporting a car engine parked out front with a few folks admiring it. Heading inside, we continued toward the back of the hall, and grabbed three seats at the bar. Craig ordered a Mackeson stout and I had a Smirnoff Ice. The decor was very interesting to look at. There were all sorts of things (cowboy boots, etc.) all over the walls and in every available place. The room was lit well enough to be able to enjoy all the decorations as well. I noticed a sign over the bar which read "Misdemeanor." Not looking at it too closely at first I later decided to actually read what it had said. We expected it to be warning against selling alcohol or cigarettes to minors. We were surprised to see that what it actually said was that there was mandatory jail time and up to a $2500 fine for brandishing a firearm in an establishment that sells or serves alcohol. You just don't see signs like that in Boston.

We were really hungry at this point and those two cookies just weren't going to cut it. We asked the rather attractive bartender if they were still serving any food. Smiling she produced a few menus for us to peruse. We settled on the healthy evening option of chili cheese fries (with the chili on the side) and an order of onion rings which came highly recommended. I must admit that she sure was right about the onion rings and the chili cheese fries was equally decadent! While we were waiting for the food to arrive the David Owen Tanner band took the stage again. They had a pedal steel, a standup bass, a fiddle, and a guitar. They were a lot of fun, and they played selections such as "Rolling in my Sweet Baby's Arms," "Three Days", and a hysterical original called "Tootsie's Is a Gay Bar", which poked fun at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, a few doors down. The very establishment that is highlighted in Willie Nelson's "Crazy: The Demo Sessions". It's not actually a gay bar at all, but very purple, and David Tanner joked that he played that song for them at his audition, and they decided against having him play there. At one point in the night a couple sitting at the bar next to us asked if we were here for the Tom Waits shows. Craig was wearing one of the Raindogs shirts and they were admiring it. They were locals but glad to see that folks were travelling to Nashville to see Tom. Not long after they left, two rather scary looking women took the two empty stools right next to Kevin. Kevin, who was watching the band, probably wasn't pleased that a rather large woman had just plopped down her three packs of cigarettes (Why would you need three? Two, I can understand, but three?) right next to him and taken the seat somewhat blocking his view. I noticed this and was waiting to see some sort of reaction from Kevin but none was forthcoming. Shortly afterwards she turned in her chair, looking right at Kevin, and revealed a rather scary smile that sure seemed to indicate that the extra pack of cigarettes would be needed to make it through the night and the following morning. Just as we were about ready to burst into laughter, Kevin spun around towards us with a very frightened look on his face and we just laughed. Fortunately I think the two women detected our amusement and they chose to sit up at the front of the club where there were more victims for whatever plan they had in mind. Craig ordered a second beer and at 2:00, closing time, they launched into another original song called "Get the Hell Out." Everyone got the hint and finished their drinks.

Kevin bought a CD from the band, and while we were standing near the stage, I noticed that one of the patrons looked an awful lot like (the very distinctive looking) Rich Gilbert, whom we had seen play in Tanya Donelly's band on several occasions. Craig agreed that it looked like him, but it seemed coincidental that it would actually be him. But we were in Nashville, after all. I asked Craig if he thought I should say something to the guy. He said that he wouldn't. I asked, "Do you think it's him?" and he replied, "It sure looks just like him." "So should I go ask him and say hello?" "No", he replied. It was funny but since Craig is a bit more shy than I am, I decided to do so anyway. I went over to where he was sitting and said "Excuse me, is your name Rich?" He sort of looked at me with a bit of surprise as if maybe he owed us money, and hesitantly said "Yeah." "Rich Gilbert?" He looked even more surprised. "How did you know that?" I explained that we were from Boston and that we had seen him play with Tanya. He stood right up with a big smile and shook our hands and asked our names. He said that he used to live in Boston, but has been living in Nashville for the past 2 years, and he really liked it there. We told him that we were in town for the Tom Waits concert. He said "Oh yeah, at the Ryman." Rich had played at one of the honky tonks across the street earlier tonight, and would be playing in Bowling Green, KY the next night. We asked if he was playing anywhere in Nashville on Saturday night, and he said that he was playing at Layla's on Broadway, a few doors down, from 11-2, and that we should stop by after the Waits concert. He gave us some tips about the drive to Memphis tomorrow, saying that we shouldn't speed too much because it was a known thing that the cops were trying to bag people to raise money over the next couple of weeks. He said that it was funny: people in Nashville think they have a lot of traffic. He laughed and says he always just goes along with them, but he knows REAL traffic from Boston. He said that driving around here is always like a country road, even on the freeways, it's so open and so nice. He said that he just got email from Tanya Donelly, and that he should be playing some shows with her in the Boston area in October. He said "We recorded a live album in Vermont two years ago..." We said that we were there the second night. He was pretty excited that we were at such an exclusive event and he said that it was finally going to be released, though he hadn't heard it since the recording. He did say that all reports he heard at the time were that the recording came out really well. We were excited to hear that, as it had been a great show, and it would have been a tragedy if the recording had never seen the light of day. We told him that we thought it wouldn't be released because enough time had lapsed where we thought Tanya might have moved on but he was quick to point out that she was just busy making a baby instead of a record. We all laughed. I said "I know it's stupid, but could we get a photo with you?" He said he'd be honored and Kevin took the picture for us. We said we'd see him Saturday night and then we headed out. It had been a very nice conversation and hopefully made him feel pretty good too. It was clear he enjoyed that we noticed and recognized him, for his musical background and not because he owed us money or something like that.

On our walk back to the hotel (it was now 2:15 in the morning), we took some night photos of the Ryman, where we would be seeing Tom Waits two nights from now. A nice white pickup truck with a contractor's toolbox in the back came around the corner. The driver had his window down and called to us. "Could I ask you something?" He pulled over to the side of the road, parked the truck, and jumped out. He asked if we were from around here, and we said we just got into town. Thinking he wanted directions, we hoped being new here would get us off the hook, but no such luck. "Well maybe I could ask you anyway..." Oh no, here we go, what's his angle? He launched into a drawn-out story about how he had been in Knoxville for the past two weeks and was driving home (somewhere outside of Memphis) and his radiator blew. "It's plastic so I couldn't patch it." ? On and on he went with this big long elaborate sob story about how rough things have been for him. To make his long story short, he had to spend $500 on a new radiator and now didn't have enough gas to drive back home. He's a "working man" and he feels "about this big", gesturing with his fingers as if he's holding up a quarter, but that he would "so pay us back" if we could just buy him a few gallons of gas. A few gallons? At about 3$ a gallon, what's this guy smoking? Kevin, with a straight face, looks at him and says "Sorry, we don't have a gas can with us". When he kept going on and on Kevin responded, "Oh, you're looking for money?" as if he didnt know. It was hilarious. The guy then said "If you give me your address I'll send you a check." Uh-huh. So now you know we are out of town for the weekend, and you can call up the New England contingent of your syndicate and tell them where they can find a nice empty house ripe for the picking. Of course our house is not actually empty when we are away but that wasn't the point. We told him we couldn't help, and continued up the street and around the corner to the hotel. We stopped and took a few more night photos of a few buildings as we were discussing his story.
Craig and Kevin with our Nashville wheels

Kevin and Craig at our hotel

State capitol building, Nashville

Site of James K. Polk's house, Nashville

Architecture, Nashville

Customs House, Nashville

Three wheeled motorcycle with a car engine

Robert's Western World

Watch David Owen Tanner's band play 'Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms'Watch David Owen Tanner's band play 'Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms' (20 second clip)

David Owen Tanner and Band at Robert's Western World

David Owen Tanner and Band at Robert's Western World

Rich Gilbert at Robert's Western World

The Ryman at night

State capitol building, Nashville

Eventually we got back to the hotel and were still having a good laugh as we waited for the elevator to arrive. We said that it was the first time anyone had ever actually pulled over in a vehicle to try to bum money off of us. At home, panhandlers are much more to the point. They don't mince words. "Spare some change?" is all they say. It seems they really had to work hard around here creating elaborate stories. In the meanwhile, two other guests came along laughing as if they knew exactly what we were talking about. They had also run into him just after us. They said they were laughing because they had once heard the very same story in Seattle and Pittsburgh. They really have a syndicate? They aren't even making up a new story and working hard at all? Is this one of those TV ads where people learn get rich quick schemes or something? We told them that it had been a new one for us, and that maybe we should bring it back to the Boston area and try to make some money off of it ourselves. We got back to the room and finally went to bed at 3. While laying in bed, trying to fall asleep, we kept having giggle fits about the gas money guy. We found ourselves thinking of ways we could have responded, such as that "maybe you should trade in you large pickup for a more fuel efficient vehicle". Or maybe he ought "not buy big American vehicles if they come with plastic radiators". It was a great evening and we knew the trip would be a fun time.
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