Wednesday, July 11, 2018

When I Die: Bury Me Behind Sad Sam's Fireworks Outlet and Market

A trip to Nashville with some stops along the road.

Despite the prevalence of Confederate flags sold at roadside souvenir stands, slapped on vehicles, and flown on front porches, Kentucky never joined the The South in the Civil War. It maintained neutrality for awhile before asking the Union for assistance. A strategic location on the border, both sides sent soldiers to The Bluegrass State. Near the outskirts of Elizabethtown, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and nearly 4,000 of his men surrounded a much smaller force of Union troops. Just after Christmas in 1862, they requested that the Yankees surrender and then fired artillery until they got their wish. One of their shells never exploded, instead, it became lodged in the wall of the building it struck. The Confederates eventually lost, the war ended, and the misfiring munition became a piece of local folklore and national history.

It's still there in that wall. Kind of.

The building burned down in 1887, the cannonball was salvaged, the then reaffixed to an approximate location in a replacement building.

The Elizabethtown, KY cannonball was my first stop of the day. I walked past it twice before noticing the historical marker that pointed upwards. I snapped my photograph, chatted with a passing local about it, and then went back to the road. I was on my way to Nashville to catch FC Cincinnati's matchup against the new Tennessee team. I overslept, didn't leave anywhere near as early as I planned to, and was trying to keep an eye out for anything interesting on the road with respect for the time I needed to explore The Music City for a bit.

Diverting form the interstate briefly, there was an abandoned souvenir shop that once hawked rocks, antiques, and collectibles.

Then came Wigwam Village No. 2, a unique motel indicative of the "blue highway" roadside.

The motel chain was the dream of Frank A. Redford, who built seven of these places across the nation. Only three remain today, this one in Cave City, KY, another in Rialto, CA, and a third along Route 66 in Arizona.

I left the Wigwam and found where Interstate 65 meets Cave City, KY, Driving around here, a part of me considered blowing off the soccer match to just stay in this tourist area for the weekend. The place was lined with all the trappings of classic Americana, the kind rarely seen today or forgotten like the many former roadside attractions of Michigan's Route 12. "Guntown Mountain," with its chair lift and promise of wild west fun seemed particularly intriguing. As I stopped to photograph a dinosaur overlooking the highway, I made it a point to remember this place, that I needed to get back here at some point.

The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful. The sunny skies and oppressive heat of the highway gave way to humidity and a light rain when arriving in Nashville. The first thing I sought out were the remains of a modern amusement park that was demolished in 1997 and replaced with a suburban shopping mall. Opryland had opened in 1977, but was always challenged by its location and land constraints. After all was said and done, the only vestige left of the park was the trough and fake rocks of its water rapids ride. They supposedly sat in a patch of woods between the mall and a nearby convention center/resort. I hadn't come across any relatively recent photographs of the artifacts online and don't believe I took any new ones either. Whether the land owners got around to finally dismantling the last of the park in recent years, or if the 2010 Nashville floods did in the remains of the "Grizzly River Rampage," I'm not sure. All I know is that while the ground is swampy, what was once there, now seems to be completely gone.

However, according to some aerial photographs: the below pedestrian bridge and electrical components might have once been part of the ride. If you know for sure, shoot me an email, I'd love to add it as a footnote in the logs of abandoned amusement parks I've visited.

- Grizzly River Rampage?

With no interest in the nearby resort, the Grand Ole Opry, or the eye roll inducing Dukes of Hazard themed restaurant, I set out to go see the city itself. The torrent of water was so strong, that I decided to pull over at the first place I saw, what I thought was a gas station. As it turns out, it's a hot dog stand, built into a former bar, that was a former gas station.

Daddy's Dogs seemed as good a place as any for lunch and I wasn't going to shoot anything in the rain, so I walked up. The detour turned out to be a welcome surprise, though, as I stepped in and met the guys behind the counter. They couldn't have been friendlier, both kindly welcoming me out of the downpour and telling me about their shop, one of four locations backed by a fleet of food trucks. If the warm hospitality and conversation weren't enough, the food was incredible. The "Big Daddy" is "topped with cream cheese, bacon, pickle, grilled onion, jalapeno, and 'daddy's secret sauce.'" The sauce is heavenly and the hot dog was delicious. Sided with a helping of tater tots and a Miller High Life, the food and these folks were the perfect uplifting interactions to come across on a dreary day in a city I didn't know.

When the rain finally let up, I set off in search of some murals around town. According to the internet before I left home, Nashville is apparently rife with wall art commissioned via organized strategy and independent artists. There was also some interesting street art along the way.

- Painted on an abandoned silo, this piece by Guido Van Helten commemorated a 91-year old resident of the nearby neighborhood.

- Cassette tape mural on market.

I met some friends in Downtown at the historic arcade. Built in 1902, the Nashville Arcade is mainly an arts community lined with studios and shops as well as several spots to eat. It's a bit dark, but ultimately charming, an eclectic and unique spot that connects with the nearby street, but can be easily overlooked if you're not from the city or unaware of the place's existence.

It's hot and humid in there, the giant fans doing very little to move air, but it's a great place. The kind that makes you wish something productive would be done with a similar, yet far grander structure, in Dayton, Ohio.

- Where the arcade intersects with an alleyway, complete with rolling gates for when it closes at night.

We ventured to the city's tourism thoroughfare, the bachelorette party-laden Broadway Street. One block was all we needed, none of us really being big into songs about Skoal and trucks or craving the tunes and treats of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Back to the regular city, things were nice again with more artwork to be seen.

- I want so badly to know if there's truly a pool behind that garage door.

We found of a House of Hades tile, this variety of street art existing in the asphalt of cities further beyond their Toynbee predecessors, but still giving credit.

I never managed to find the time to try any of the places serving Nashville's renown Hot Chicken, but we did snag some good barbecue, visit a great neighborhood diner, and enjoy a delicious place that served ice cream and crouton-sized cookie dough chunks atop a chocolate waffle.

Like FC Cincinnati, Nasvhille SC is a club slated to join Major League Soccer as an expansion team. While FCC goes up in 2019, NSC is expected to join MLS in 2020.  Both teams currently compete in the second-division United Soccer League. Normally, Nashville plays its matches in a minor league baseball stadium, but the first regular season encounter with Cincinnati warranted a venue with a larger capacity until the club's soccer-specific stadium is built. Just over 18,000 turned out to Nissan Stadium, a good chunk of traveling Cincinnati fans filling a section on one end. The match ended in a 0-0 draw, FC Cincinnati remaining at the top of the standings.

The home fans were friendly and welcoming, inviting us to join their pregame tailgate. While there, we drank, swapped stories, traded scarves, and ate awesome hot dogs from the folks I had met the day before. Running up and down the aisle while encouraging people to chant in lieu of being allowed a megaphone was fun as always. Great seeing friendly faces from home out on the road.

Post-match proceedings included sampling local beer, vying for Uber when we couldn't make sense of the local transit system, and wandering the neighborhood surrounding our Air BNB in search of hot chicken, but settling for delicious pizza. Met a lot of nice folks along the way. Nashville was a good away day, one I'm excited to continue when they join Cincinnati in MLS. If any NSC fans are reading this: everyone's welcome to join us at Mecklenburg Gardens on August 4th of this year.

I woke up the next morning, packed my things, and headed for home, stopping for coffee at a gas station emblazoned with the neon outline of a tearful clown. "Sad Sam's" also serves as a fireworks outlet, souvenir stand, and grocery store. There's a rough statue of a Native American with his arm raised in a questionable position out front, but around back, there's something a bit more curious...

...a small cemetery surrounded by a warped and rusted iron fence.

When I die: bury me behind Sad Sam's Fireworks Outlet and Market.


  1. Should you ever find yourself back at Sam's, not yet dead and with a little time to spare, I suggest a 3 mile side trip to downtown Cross Plains and the classic soda fountain at Thomas Drugs.

    1. Oh man, I am so bummed I missed the classic soda fountain. Thankfully, FCC resumes matches against Nashville in 2020.