I am suddenly allergic to Nashville

Ever since I moved to middle Tennessee 16 years ago, I’ve had allergies year-round. Itchy, runny nose, sneezing, coughing. It’s worse in the fall and spring, but even at its worst I have always been able to control it by taking Zyrtec on a daily basis.

But since I’ve moved to Chattanooga, every time I’ve been back in the middle Tennessee area I’ve had ridiculous allergy attacks. I come back once a month to spend a couple of days working in my office, and after just a few hours I find myself sneezing, sniffling and my eyes start itching up a storm (which is strange, because itchy eyes have never, ever been a symptom of my allergies until now).

At first, I thought it might be something in the bedroom of my friend’s house where I stay when I’m in town. So one night, I slept on her couch instead of in the guest bedroom. No change. Then last month she was going to be out of town while I was in Nashville, and my in-laws had invited me to stay at their house in Mt. Juliet. It was a great chance to visit with family while conducting an informal experiment on my allergies, too. But after one night at their house, my eyes were killing me and I was sneezing up a storm. So I am obviously not just allergic to my gracious friend’s house, which was a relief.

I’m at a loss, though. The only thing that makes my trips somewhat bearable is taking Benadryl around the clock and using Opcon-A eye drops every couple hours—all on top of my normal Zyrtec every day routine. But even then I’m still sneezing and sniffling and have itchy, red eyes.

I lived in this area for 16 years and have never had allergies this bad. And I’ve spent plenty of time at both my friend’s and my in-laws’ houses. I’ve only lived in Chattanooga for three months, so why am I all of a sudden having these allergy attacks? It’s happened four times now, so it can’t just be a coincidence. This time my nose and eyes started itching as soon as I hit Rutherford County; I noticed it after I stopped at a bakery in Murfreesboro to pick up some cookies on my way to Nashville.

And I guarantee, as soon as I get home to Chattanooga I’ll be back to normal within a few hours.

Can you become allergic to an entire region? It’s not like I’m completely allergy-free in Chattanooga; I still have to take my Zyrtec every day. But I sure as shit don’t spend my days there sneezing and rubbing my eyes. I guess it’s time to hit up an allergist in Chattanooga and figure out what I can do. I come back to Nashville at least once a month, and with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up I’ll be back in town more often. I’m lucky that Benadryl doesn’t put me immediately to sleep anymore, but this situation just isn’t tenable. I can’t take it when I have to drive, and it doesn’t help nearly as well as I would like it to.

I need help.

PSA: It’s really effing hot

It's hot as shit in Murfreesboro

It’s hot as shit in Murfreesboro

When we had a mild winter, people kept saying, “Oh, just wait until summer!” But when the weather for Bonnaroo was perfect (mid 80s during the day, mid 60s at night), I wasn’t sure if the hell of a summer people had been talking about would ever materialize.

Until this week, when it reared its ugly head and smacked us all in the face with a big, city-wide case of swamp ass. Yesterday Nashville hit an all-time high of 105, and today the high was another record-breaker at 109. I haven’t seen official information for the high in Murfreesboro yet, but my weather widget told me it was 113 degrees at 4 p.m today.

Rutherford County issued a burn ban yesterday for the entire county, but I haven’t seen a fireworks ban yet. I really hope they issue one before tomorrow night, when I’m expecting the local yokels will begin shooting them off. I’m actually glad that the Fourth of July is on a Wednesday this year; Ian and I have to work the next day so we don’t want to go out anywhere to celebrate, which works out since I’d probably be too paranoid about someone setting the giant field behind my house on fire with their bottle rockets and what-have-you.

This time of year is never fun for someone with a house-burning-down complex.

Maybe The Universe is trying to ready me for Bonnaroo

When I got into work today, I was greeted in the hallway by what I first thought was some kind of evil spider from hell on steroids. Turns out it was something called a Cave Cricket, and a co-worker kindly deposited it outside as I tried not to squeal and make myself more of a feminine stereotype.

Then, while waiting in line for lunch at The Grilled Cheeserie, a cicada flew into my hair. I pulled it out and threw it on the ground, noticing that only about half of it was intact. I have no idea where the rest of it went, and my co-worker who was waiting in line with me searched my hair for any remains but came up empty.

Strange day with the bugs around here.

I can now add “trained storm spotter” to my resume

Last night Ian and I attended the Nashville Office of Emergency Management’s storm-spotting class in an attempt to allay some of the intense feelings of doom and insanity I feel whenever there is any kind of storm warning in the area. I can’t say that the class made me feel like my house has less of a chance of being blown away in a storm (sidenote: I am not actually afraid for my own safety in a tornado; my concern is that my house—which contains everything I own and, more importantly, my cats—will be destroyed), but I did learn some interesting things.

Some highlights include:

  • If you see the funnel and there is no debris at its base, then it’s not a tornado.
  • Tornados form in an updraft, not a downdraft, which is what happens when the temperature drops suddenly. So if you feel cool air, you’re probably OK. But if you notice the temperature has dropped and then all of a sudden you feel a warm breeze, you best get to your safe place.
  • There are two main types of storm clouds: Wall and shelf. You will see 100 shelf clouds for every one wall cloud (haha I just noticed I wrote in my notes “They are like unicorns!!”), but wall clouds are what tornados form out of. If you see a wall cloud and a rain-free base, get your ass in gear and head for your safe place.
  • If you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning. I’m pretty sure the meteorologist said that you can be struck by lightning up to 20 miles away from a storm.
  • Most tornados are 99 percent survivable if you are in the lowest, most interior room of your house WITHOUT windows. Our safe place in our house is the downstairs bathroom, which is under the stairs and has no windows. So I feel good about that.

The National Weather Service’s Nashville office launches weather balloons twice a day (6 a.m. and 6 p.m.) and the guy leading the class said we were welcome to attend a launch as long as we emailed ahead of time to set up an appointment. I think Ian and I might try to do that one day in the next few months just to see what all is involved.

In the meantime, I am going to practice my storm-spotting skills. Actually, I am going to figure out if there is some pagan anti-tornado dance I can do instead. Prevention is the best medicine, right?!

A five-hour tour. IN HELL!!!!

Yesterday morning, all I heard was that “the big one” was coming. People were yammering on and on about how it was going to start snowing at noon and it was going to be crazy. But noon came and went, and no snow. Sweet, I thought, maybe it’s passed us by and I can stay here and get more work done.

But then Ian called me a little after 3 p.m. and started singing “Let It Snow,” which I took as my cue to look outside. It had started snowing big fat white flakes. Fast flakes. We debated whether we should stay or go home, and he told me to make the call. Nobody was leaving at work, and only a couple people on my Twitter stream were talking about heading out, so I thought we could just stay put.

And then 10 minutes later, I looked out the window. And almost had a heart attack. Everything was covered in white. The cars, the ground, the trees, the grass. Everything. In 10 minutes. A few coworkers and I gathered around a table in the office discussing commuting, and the decision quickly was made that people should leave. I grabbed my things (including crackers, just in case I got stranded) and headed for my car at 3:45 p.m., but apparently so did a lot of other people in my 11-story office building. I didn’t get out of the garage until after 4 p.m.

I got to the on-ramp of I-440West, which is maybe a block from my building, an hour later. Yes, it took me an hour to go one block on West End.

My first mistake was taking the safe route to 440. There is a very difficult-but-shortcut left you can make across Murphy Road to get to West End, but people were not moving and I can barely make that turn with regular traffic. So, I went around the side of our building out to the light. In hindsight I probably should have gone another back way through a neighborhood near our building, but whatever. Too late now.

Once on 440, I had a little less than a half tank of gas, which I was trying to conserve by not running the defrost too much, but my front and back windshields were constantly filling with snow that was quickly turning to ice. People were abandoning cars on the side of the interstate, there were several wrecks, and I started to worry that I wouldn’t make it up the somewhat steep hill before the I-65 interchange. I stayed in the right lane, which proved to be the right choice as several people in the lane next to me spun out repeatedly. I saw two plows, only one of which was putting out salt behind it.

I had to make it seven miles to the Murfreesboro Road exit to pick up Ian. That took me another hour and a half. Yes, people: It took me two and a half hours to go nearly seven miles. When I finally got to the Murfreesboro Road exit, I discovered that it was not plowed. It was after dark by then, and everything was beginning to freeze. I freestyled it down the exit and was greeted by several cops working a wreck on the ramp back onto 24/440. I saw someone slide down the very steep hill at Fessler’s Lane, and the guy driving next to me kept trying to slide into me. Partly because he was a moron and wouldn’t just drive in the tire tracks.

When I got to Ian’s office, I was greeted by him and a circle of state troopers (he works in the Office of Research and Statistical Analysis for the Department of Safety). After relaying the hell I had just driven through, the troopers began debating how they were going to make it home. Ian and I hung around for a few minutes and talked with the troopers, and then headed back out and up the hill to the lot where I had to park my car. (But before we left, I grabbed some more crackers from his desk. At this point I was starting to believe that we really might not make it home. I mean, if it took two and a half hours to go a little more than six miles, how long would it take to go 34 more?)

The car was down to about a quarter tank of gas by then, too, and we knew we needed to stop to fill up. The only problem? Ian’s office is basically at the bottom of a valley. Hills all around leading back to the interstate, and all of the gas stations were at the bottoms of hills. But we needed gas, so we stopped, I got more food rations (Coke, Gatorade, a PayDay and candy cigarettes because I know how to prepare for disaster), and we pulled out the side entrance of the gas station so we could build momentum to get up the hill.

Aaaand cue the jackholes that don’t know how to drive. Four people inching up a hill. GAH. We watched them get stuck, back up, and try to inch back up it again. We circled the gas station three times trying to wait for those morons to either give up or grow a brain, but neither happened and we had to abandon that plan. We then tried to drive down Glenrose and make a left on Nolensville, but that wasn’t happening. That road wasn’t moving at all. So we headed back toward the Department of Safety to try our hand at the hill again, and on our way we saw a broken-down semi, a couple of abandoned cars, and a fucking snow plow NOT DOING ANYTHING.

We got back to the hill and got a good running start, and despite being behind another slow-going asswipe, we made it. Of course, once we finally got to I-24 it was like driving on a frozen tundra. A crunchy, unplowed, unsalted tundra where you just grip the steering wheel and hope nobody rams into you. For the most part, traffic moved between zero and 15 miles per hour with the occasional sprint up to 30 until we got almost to Smyrna. By then the interstate was still horrible, and some geniuses flew by going 80mph despite the cars in ditches on either side of the road, but Ian stayed in the carved-out path made by the cars before us and we were able to get up to about 40 mph.

We made it home at 9 p.m. Five hours after I left work at 4 p.m.

I had never been so happy to see my cats, my couch, my Slanket and a bottle of wine before in my life.

May 10 | Barenaked Ladies at The Ryman

Monday night Ian and I sat among what Ian called “the safest concert crowd ever” at The Ryman Auditorium to watch The Most Awesome Band in The Universe, aka the Barenaked Ladies.

Now, those of you who know me know that I have been a pretty ridiculous Barenaked Ladies fan since about, oh, 1998? 1999? A long-ass time, anyway. So you will understand the significance of this next sentence:

While I thoroughly enjoyed the concert, I’ll have to admit I was a bit bored at times.

I know, right? Me? Kind of bored? At a BARENAKED LADIES CONCERT? I mean, that’s the shit that I live for, pretty much. So WTF happened?

Two things, really:

  1. The crowd at The Ryman was just… lame. I’ve seen the Barenaked Ladies five times before, but never in Nashville. This was the first time I’d seen them and almost everyone in the audience sat. During the entire performance. They finally stood for the first encore song, but then sat again. It was disheartening. And because I was not drinking (it was a school night and I think I was still hungover from Saturday), I was not willing to be “that girl,” the lone girl in the balcony who stands and dances and waves her hands around, annoying all of the wet blankets around her.
  2. Steven Page’s absence. The energy just wasn’t the same. Page and Ed Robertson, the other/now sole lead singer had this really awesome chemistry. Like, you could just tell they were BFFs and having a really fucking good time at the show, like they’d be doing it even if nobody was there and they weren’t getting paid. Kevin and Tyler are good sidekicks, but they couldn’t make up for the palpable absence of Page. The witty banter, the adlibbing, the goofy dancing, the great guitar-playing… it was all still there, the show was just… missing something.

Now, I’m not sure that anyone who hadn’t seen them live before, as a whole band, would think the same thing. Maybe I was expecting too much out of the audience. And the show was still really good. They have always put on a great live show, and even people who aren’t necessarily fans (aka Ian) still have a good time, or so I hear.

I’m seeing them twice more this year—once in Austin at the end of the month with Summer and again this Saturday in Louisville with Holly and Ron—so I’ll be interested to see if the crowds are more energetic and have a positive impact on the show. And I’m curious to see what Holly, who’s never seen them before, thinks about the stage presence.

Now, this is not to say I didn’t enjoy the show. Because I really did. I’m glad I went, and I’m really, really happy Ian is willing to suck it up and go to their shows with me every year or so because despite not being his cup of tea, he knows it makes me happy. That’s pretty awesome.

Two cool things that happened at the show, too: They brought out Erin McCarley, who sang on Every Subway Car on their new album, to sing the song with them live because she happens to live here in Nashville. (Ed told a story about never having met her before this show, and he happened to run into her on the street earlier that day and recognized her, but she didn’t recognize him. I just have to say this: I hope that was a joke, because how the hell can you be a fledgling musician in Nashville and get the chance to sing on a Barenaked Ladies song, know you’re going to be performing it live with them at THE FUCKING RYMAN, and not bother to look up the lead singer of the band so you can see what he looks like??)

Also, later in the show he told a story of going to The Station Inn the night before and hearing David, the dude at the far left in the above picture, killing it on the guitar with his band Cadillac Sky. Ed apologized for putting him on the spot but asked if he’d come up and play guitar on Fox on the Run with them. Of course David accepted, and he fucking tore that guitar up. It was awesome. A very Nashville moment, I guess, where some oddly shaped dude with a raging hipster beard gets pulled out of the audience and completely blows up the stage like it’s no big deal.

It’s shit like that that makes me love Nashville, despite its frequently crappy crowds. So I’m heading into Saturday’s show with an open mind. And Holly’s already agreed to get up and dance with me, so watch out Louisville!

Nashville cleanup efforts continue

I have to hand it to Nashville: We* know how to organize and get shit done. All over town groups are meeting up to disperse into neighborhoods and clean up, tear down, rip out and salvage what they can. Yesterday some co-workers and I gathered in the kitchen to make more than 50 sandwiches to donate to a volunteer group handling relief efforts in the neighborhood of a former coworker out in Bellevue.

If you’re looking for a way to help out, visit Hands On Nashville. They have no shortage of projects, and not all require goggles and work gloves, if you’re not into that. Or you can donate money. Or food. Or just about anything to those who lost everything. Or you can buy a t-shirt (here too), and all of the proceeds go to the relief efforts.

Actually, just go check out Nashvillest’s “So Nashville Is Flooded… How Can I Help?” post. It will tell you everything you need to know.

*I’ve been struggling with whether or not I’d look like a douche saying “We Are Nashville,” since I don’t actually live in Nashville. BUT… I work there. I spend at least 10 hours a day, 5 days a week there. I have friends there. I hang out there. And I’m trying to believe that “We Are Nashville” means “We are the greater Nashville area” and it’s not excluding all of the surrounding areas—including my own Rutherford County—that were affected badly by this flood.

Trying to help

Last night Jamie, Lesley, Christy, Alison, Samantha, Paige, Ian, Dave, Tara and I (and babies Maisie and Cecilia) drove around Inglewood and other parts of East Nashville giving pizza, water, cokes and baby wipes to people outside cleaning up their homes after the flood.
The end of the road | Inglewood
I hadn’t seen any damaged homes in person until last night, and I’ll admit my heart kind of caught in my throat and is still there.

We drove past so many houses where you could see the water line had been up to the roof and there were just piles and piles of carpet, debris, clothes and other items sitting out on front and side lawns drying off or waiting to be picked up by garbage trucks. Y’all, I can’t even fathom seeing my house surrounded by water up to the roofline. I don’t know that I could handle that.

Chain link fences were bent like straws, car hoods were popped and personal belongings lay outside of homes as we listened to the sound of chainsaws in the distance. We drove around for a few hours, coming up suddenly on people alone or in groups, all confused at first as to why a group not belonging to any church or official organization would be out offering food and drinks to them. Many accepted gratefully; others politely refused. We’re a proud lot down here in the south.

I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have my entire house soaked to the brim, losing everything I have ever owned, and then have to come back and sort through it all, wondering what I might be forgetting about or stumbling upon sentimental items that can never in a million years be replaced, no matter what kind of insurance I had.

We saw signs on streetposts notifying us about lost pets. We met an elderly woman who lost everything and, understandably, was having trouble wrapping her head around it.

As we drove through neighborhoods that I had never been in before, my lungs became claustrophobic. The scent of rain, rust and mildew was pungent and undeniable. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that smell.

Day 4: The Flood

Today* was the first day Ian and I both were able to drive into Nashville together, as we usually do. Monday I had to work from home, as our building was closed, and Ian was sent home early because of no water/water pressure in his building. He was given a day of paid leave for Tuesday because the building was deemed “uninhabitable” by the commissioner of the Department of Safety, and when he returned to work today they had brought in Port-a-Potties, hand sanitizer and bottled water for the employees. There is no water on campus there at all.

When I returned to work on Tuesday the elevators were not working, so I had to walk up 28 flights of stairs (14 from the garage up to the main floor and 14 from the main floor up to my office on the 7th floor), but—and I realize this will sound crazy—I kind of liked it. Not at the time I was doing it, but I was pretty energized from that adrenaline rush you get when pushing yourself keep going even though your lungs and thighs are burning so you don’t pass out and look like a jackass as an old lady passes you walking up the stairs. Because water pressure was low, we could only use the restrooms on the first, second or fourth floors, so I walked an additional six flights every time I had to take a bathroom break. Which actually was enjoyable, and I wish the building would allow the stairwells to be open even in non-disaster times.

Traffic is absolutely insane, as certain parts of the interstates are still closed, and various roads that people normally took every day to get to/from work are either under water or busted up to smithereens.

I want to make it clear, though, that I’m not complaining, just documenting. We didn’t lose anything. Our neighbors didn’t lose anything. I freaked out for a bit on Sunday and Monday when I heard talk of the Stones River, which runs about a mile away from our house, might flood badly, but it turned out OK for us.

Now I’m just trying to figure out the best and most efficient way I can help others without getting in the way.

*I originally started this post on Wednesday but am just now publishing it today, Thursday. So pretend like you’re reading this on Wednesday.