The best part about being even marginally nomadic is that there’s a good chance (some of) your friends also
possess that flaw maintain that same lifestyle of drifting. In San Francisco, I often received emails/Facebook messages/Tweets from friends out of the blue saying they were passing through my city. This meant I was constantly welcoming a steady stream of visitors, as well as that I just had to go out for happy hour more often than not, or eat at B-Star or drink the city’s finest cocktails at Bourbon & Branch. I mean, who am I to allow people I actually like to visit San Francisco and not show them a piece of what I so love(d) about it (which, inevitably, always involved food and libations)? It was a rough life, let me tell you.
I thought the move to Nashville would be different. It’s not nearly as transient a city. There’s no gateway airport. It’s not really a point on any major driving route. People don’t just “stop over” in Nashville while on their way to Vietnam. Or Paris. Or anywhere (other than, say, Lexington, Kentucky). Yet, I’ve been back all of two-and-a-half months and have already seen my share of friends passing through, from Dubai to Boston and many places in between.
Evan, who I met studying abroad in 2003, was the first to come stay, a happy stroke of luck that she was interviewing for a medical residency in Nashville while I just happened to be in town for the weekend (a rarity). Evan and I have lived in Scotland together and traveled through Ireland. She’s accompanied me on assignment in Canada. I’ve visited her in Red Wing, Minnesota and Seattle; she’s visited me in San Francisco and now Tennessee, as well. I’ve met her parents, she knows mine. I’ve been a part of her world and the various stages in her life, just as she’s been a part of mine. It’s about as nomadic as a friendship can get. On this particular reunion, we toured Nashville, raided the Jason Wu racks at Target, busted out our fat pants for Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House and watched countless movies one random Saturday. The best kind of friends are those with whom you can be perfectly content doing nothing at all.
This past weekend, one of my dear Semester at Sea friends, Myla, was the next to fall prey to her itchy feet, and decided to come down to Nashville from Indianapolis on a whim for the SEC women’s basketball tournament. We bonded the very first day on board the M/V Explorer over our love for the Lady Vols, and it turns out one of her childhood friends is none other than the great Briana Bass. My mom and I were already planning on attending the tourney—our blood runs orange when it comes to basketball, and there’s no one more beloved in my family than Pat Summitt—so we gladly accepted Myla’s invitation to attend the first game against Vanderbilt with her.
As if that weren’t enough, we actually got to be “player guests” of Briana’s—and sit with her darling parents! After watching the game from the third row off the ground, I officially can’t ever return to nosebleed seats. Sorry I’m not sorry.
(This was this past Friday so there was that little issue of, you know, SOME OF THE WORST TORNADOES IN HISTORY, which resulted in the SEC postponing the game a half an hour and keeping us all confined in Bridgestone Arena, but once you got over that little bit of fear—or full-on panic attack, as the case may have been for some (ahem, me)—it was all smooth sailing. Especially when we won.)
That night, one of my good friend’s little brothers, Dustin Lynch, made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry, so after a quick dinner at Tazza in Downtown Nashville, Mom, Myla and I headed out to the historic venue and watched a lot of really great country music and bluegrass (including Gloriana, Mel Tillis and Montgomery Gentry), as part of the country’s longest-running radio show (dating back to 1925!).
On Saturday, SVV was my date for the day and we headed back into Nashville—we’re still staying with my parents until we find a place in the city to buy, mind you—for the semi-final match-up of UT and USC. (We won. Obviously.) We had a quick lunch and mid-afternoon cocktail with Myla, who stuck around to see the Lady Vols take the whole conference the next day after beating up on LSU. (SEC champs once more…holla.) I would have liked to have been there, but instead, Georgia was on my mind.
My Semester at Sea-filled weekend was just beginning. On the way to Savannah, where I now am, I stopped over in Atlanta, an easy two-and-a-half-hour drive south from us. First, I got to have lunch at the Flying Biscuit with one of my absolute favorite people from the ship, Jordan. She drove out from Athens for the afternoon so we could get together, and nothing thrilled me more than catching up over French toast and omelets.
(Isn’t she a knock out?)
Then, it was off to Decatur to stay with another SAS pal, Tracey, and her pooch, Hannah. I assumed I would just be crashing on Tracey’s couch, but she has the most charming (and spacious) apartment I’ve ever seen, and I even had my own bedroom and bathroom. We gabbed for hours before our shipmates Julia and Margaret, who happen to live just three miles away, showed up to join the party.
If there’s anything weirder than seeing people you know from a dream world during a time that didn’t really exist, as feels the memory of SAS, in their native environments—in this case, living in a gorgeous, modern home as opposed to crammed like sardines into a ship cabin for four months—I’ve yet to encounter it. It’s funny to think that all of these (now former) colleagues of mine have lives outside of the M/V Explorer that consist of daily dilemmas beyond worrying what the pasta of the evening is going to be in the Garden Lounge or whether or not Mandy would keep the bar open late night.
In homage to our shared international backgrounds, we had dinner at Julia’s and Margaret’s favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Desta. Our time together was far too short—and if you’re one of my many hometown or college pals who live in the ATL who I didn’t tell I was coming, I’m sorry! next time! (maybe.)—and I am already plan on roping off the first weekend I can after my next stint at sea to see them again.
Making friends while living abroad or traveling can be a bittersweet ordeal: You have a sneaking suspicious they’re like-minded people with whom you would get along like a house on fire (case in point: see the photo above), but simultaneously acknowledge the friendship has an expiration date due to logistics. Still, it doesn’t always have to go that way—as is evidenced by the fact that I met Evan nearly a decade ago in some other place and time, and not a thing has changed in our friendship.
So far this Tennessee move is working out quite perfectly all around, and my trip to Atlanta is just the first of many Semester at Sea reunions I’m planning in coming months. Now, who’s coming to see me next so my own track record of incoming visitors doesn’t start to falter?