Opryland, Dark and Under Water

Anecdote of the Jar

Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

2 Years and 15 Days since The Flood, but who’s counting? Kim and I had been together for just over a year. We were in Memphis to take her boys Jesse and Justin to their first rock festival, the annual Beale St. Music Festival, or Memphis in Mud as it’s come to be known in some circles.

Generally, we had a great time. The boys saw their first Panic show. We ate fried chicken at Gus’s, which for me will always be a defining moment in fried chicken. We saw Cody from North Mississippi All Stars plug in the old electric washboard and get down with Govt. Mule. We watched the always awesome Drive By Truckers. We were prepared to see the reboot of Alice in Chains, but that evening the weather rolled over us. By 9 o’clock, they were closing the park, announcing over the loudspeaker that the festival was being evacuated “due to events within the park.” More than likely, they were planning for potential disputes with a 36 reunion rather than the tornadoes that hit West Memphis, Arkansas.

We spent the night in a downtown hotel listening to tornado sirens across the river and huddled up. Nothing brings a family together like natural disasters.

The next morning it cleared up, and had breakfast at Elvis’s favorite breakfast joint (and according to some the birthplace of the “Elvis” sandwich) and the oldest restaurant in Memphis, The Arcade. We had plans to go to a service at The Reverend Al Green’s Church, but about noon Kim’s phone started blowing up from work. The same storm cell that hit Memphis the night before had rolled east to Nashville and stalled. For 36 hours straight, it rained on the city of Nashville like a Nick Cave song. We had to get back.

2010 Flood
The 36 Hour Wall of Rain.

It took us 8 hours to make the otherwise 3 hour trip back to Nashville, as the highway was closed off in multiple locations. We had to take back county roads way the Hell up near the damn border of Kentucky to reconnect with 26 up by Clarksville, then find our way back down to Nashville. In the dark we couldn’t see real well, but you could smell it everywhere – the Cumberland had flooded the banks and breached the levees.

Team leaders and managers at Opryland had gathered guests and STARS and evacuated them over to McGavock High. I dropped Kim off and headed back to my place in the 37206 to hang with Jesse for the night. Kim called. “Drop Jesse off, make sure he’s safe and get your ass back down here.”

Jesse’s dad came to get him at my little house in East Nasty. I wound my way through the multiple checkpoints and detours to get back over to McGavock High. When I got there, buses were still being unloaded. Kim was there, somewhere, everywhere; wrangling media, directing first responders. I wound my away around to the back of the school, behind the gym and the cafeteria. Opryland F&B had set up a makeshift kitchen on plastic Rubbermaid carts. My team mates made an assembly line, I gloved up and jumped in. For the next 14 hours, working through the night and well into the next morning, I made sandwiches, gathered and distributed blankets and pillows. About 4 in the morning, Seth Kondor and I drove to the all night Wal Mart for any blankets, pillows or whatever would make people comfortable. What the Hell else do you do? Half of Nashville was under water.

About noon the next day, I finally crawled my way back to my place. I didn’t see Kim again for 36 hours. For 36 hours she stayed with the property, coordinating between local, state and federal authorities, fielding requests from local and national press. I finally was able to get her to come to my place to catch a few hours’ sleep on my couch and a shower. I brought her some Eastside Fish.

After the waters began to recede, we were called back in to assist in locking the place down. With no power,  that river slurry of diesel fuel and raw sewage began to get funky in a hurry under those domes like noxious bacteria under a giant pietri dish. We locked down what we could and grabbed what we could of our personal belongings. As my restaurant was under more than 12 feet of water, it was declared a total loss – I lost my books, drives and couldn’t even get in to get my knives. Opryland went dark.

Over the next few days, weeks, months, we decamped to an external trailer, they laid off 80% of the work force, and we spent the next 6  months in flood remediation, redesign and rebuilding. Then we interviewed, re-hired and re-trained our team of 3,600+. While I wouldn’t trade that process for anything, I would never care to go through it all again. We re-opened in November. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Months later, I would still come around a corner in a sub basement tunnel and catch a strong waft of “FLOOD” from the air recyclers. I’ll never forget that sickening sweet, musty  smell of flood.

On a national level, we picked a bad week to have a flood – it was the same week the Deep Water Horizon Platform decided to fold due to half ass maintenance and puke up its oily guts all over the Gulf of Mexico. What did Nashville learn from Katrina? Not to expect too much from The Fed, that’s what. As a community, I saw Nashville pull together in a way that makes me oddly optimistic about human nature and our long term potential to get our heads out of our asses and work it all out.

Kim went to work for FEMA for a while, helping to get Nashville rebuilt. Eventually she found a position here in Charleston, in non profit health care, which she finds imminently challenging and rewarding as well. I stayed on in Nashville, living like a ghost in her house as we tried to sell it. It finally came together in August, we sold the house, the movers came, I said goodbye to Nashville.

There’s a lot I miss about Nashville – my team mates, friends, my favorite old haunts and the meat and three’s. I miss going to shows. Sometimes, I even miss Opryland. But everything, as they say, happens for a reason. Kim and I are engaged and share a lovely home on the marsh with Jesse and Justin. Today was an off day and I drove 10 minutes to spend 3 hours on a beach with no one else in sight. It’s just that sometimes you have to stop and remind yourself just how lucky you really are indeed.

I’ve held on to these pictures for a while, but figure there’s enough water under the bridge by this point.

The Ghost Ballet and Nashville.
What remained of my restaurants and atrium.
Just like the Titanic
Note the waterline on the escalator. This was the high point of the atrium – my restaurant and the lobby both sat well below this.

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