By COLLEEN LEDDY
When I realized my daughter Rozee had spring break at a time I would have a break between two big library programs, I began hatching plans to meet her. I tried to find a common destination that would be relatively cheap for each of us to fly to. I figured if we could find cheap tickets to anywhere, leaving from Detroit and New Orleans, we could afford a better hotel. Alas, I couldn’t find anything within reason.
So then I looked into each of us driving an equal distance to somewhere. Somewhere turned out to be Nashville, Tennessee. I’d been to Nashville nearly 30 years ago, back when my friend Laurie was applying to graduate schools and was checking out Vanderbilt University. I recalled a beautiful lawn where I waited for Laurie to exit a majestic building after her appointment with an admissions counselor.
I was just along for the ride on this journey and figure she surely must have checked out graduate programs at other universities, but the only other place I recall was called Mountainview, I think, and it was the exact opposite of a university. Mountainview was a residential community for developmentally disabled youth. Maybe Laurie was looking into it as a possible employment opportunity. My memory is fuzzy.
What I do remember about Mountainview is a young teen boy jumping up and down on a trampoline yelling over and over, “Make a turn turn cake! Make a turn turn cake!” Every time I make a cake, I think of that boy jumping up and down, saying that over and over. I think he was the same kid who could tell you what day of the week you were born when you told him your birth date.
On the drive to Nashville to meet Rozee, the folly of the trip came to me. Sure, Nashville was almost exactly halfway between Morenci and New Orleans, but half way is still 500 miles for each of us to drive. I don’t know why it took so long for that fact to sink in, nor why it didn’t sink in until I was nearly to Indianapolis—far too late to turn around. Instead I just laughed and declared out loud, “This is really stupid!”
Driving 500 miles isn’t really so bad. But driving 500 miles by yourself when the broken CD player plays nothing but Bob Dylan and the radio specializes in country music? That’s a long 500 miles. And when you’re doing all the driving...OK, I should say when I’m doing all the driving...I need to stop more frequently and stop for longer. Eating a hard-boiled egg is a task best accomplished in a stopped vehicle. Reading directions while driving? Also a task best accomplished in a stopped vehicle. I stopped a lot. When you stop a lot, no matter what Google Maps says, you aren’t going to travel 500 miles in 7 hours and 48 minutes.
Rozee left New Orleans a little later than I did and we arrived at Scarritt Bennett Center within five minutes of each other. I found the place on the Vanderbilt University website. Not knowing much about Nashville, I figured a college would at least suggest places in safe neighborhoods. Scarritt Bennett seemed like a real winner and sounded kind of intriguing. It’s a “conference, retreat, and education center offering programs addressing eradication of racism, empowerment of women and spiritual education”—and cheap rooms.
OK, so they are old, worn out dorm rooms and you might have to share a bathroom with people you don’t know in the room next door. Wouldn’t that just make the trip all the more fun? I pictured myself lumbering out of bed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, only to find our neighbors had forgotten to unlock the bathroom door to our room. Yeah, I laughed out loud...everything is funny when you’re driving 500 miles alone and listening to country music.
Scarritt Bennett is a beautiful place...lots of old gothic buildings on green grounds with lots of trees and the staff arranged it so we wouldn't have to share a bathroom with people in the next room—all that laughing for nothing.
Our first night there, we ate at what seemed to be a really nice restaurant...until the man at the next table noticed a gigantic cockroach crawling on the wall. He alerted the waitress, who ran for the manager, who walked over to the wall, grabbed the roach with a paper napkin, wadded it up, explained that they had sprayed on Sunday, and said our meals were on the house. Cheap room, free meal—this was looking to be a really cheap vacation.
Cheap, of course, is not necessarily good—or safe. When I realized that the only lights coming from a room on our side of the building, were from our first floor room, I started getting a little nervous. We appeared to be the only guests staying in the place. But it was nothing like the creepy joint we stayed at in Charlottesville, Virginia where the hookers and pimps were prowling the parking lot and we braced the door with a chair and slept in sleeping bags on top of the bed because the sheets were pocked with cigarette burns and stray hairs.
I figure I’m going to need another vacation after our next event at the library this Sunday...a football extravaganza with a tailgate party, pre-game show and Michigan Notable Book winner Michael Rosenberg speaking at 3 p.m. And I’ve found just the place...almost equidistant from my son Ben and daughter-in-law Sarah—Greenville, South Carolina.