Nashville has always struck me as an interesting city. And by “interesting,” I mean this town scares me.
The main culprit here is traffic. Nashville’s highway system is a mess because these roads were built to accommodate approximately 11 cars, whereas there are currently 229 trillion Nashville residents.
So this is a problem. Because everyone uses interstates at the same time. Which means that on any average afternoon there are strings of traffic longer than the ladies-restroom line at a George Strait concert.
My friend Jerry lives outside Nashville and commutes to work. Each morning, Jerry spends 90 minutes in his SUV, fighting motorists just to back out of his driveway. Jerry admits that he would much rather have a new job.
But I’m told there are no new jobs in Nashville, only new buildings. Because this is what Nashvillians do. They build stuff. Construction has gotten so uncontrollable here that as soon as one structure is built, demolition crews arrive to tear the building down so they can begin erecting a triplex in its place.
This town’s slogan should be “Boom!” Because that’s the only noise you’ll ever hear. In fact, while writing this very paragraph, I was interrupted by 13 loud construction booms.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Nashville. This city is young, hip, and exciting, but I always feel underdressed here. My friend Stacy works in a nearby clothing retail store and tells me that young Nashvillians spend fortunes keeping up with fashion.
In fact, some local clothing stores are so “current” they put wastebaskets beside the cash registers so customers can immediately throw away their newly purchased obsolete clothes and buy next year’s hottest trends.
But listen, I’m not being critical. If this town wants congested highways, cool clothes, and new buildings, more power to them. I’m only trying to tell you that this is a wild city.
Which leads me to a story about something that happened yesterday in downtown Nashville. I was standing at a crosswalk near my hotel, waiting to cross the street with a handful of pedestrians in masks.
While we waited, four or five party busses rolled through our intersection. These party busses are everywhere in Nashville. They’re basically open-air saloons on wheels, mostly catering to bachelorette parties.
Each bachelorette bus usually comes loaded with about 25 screaming females who wear tiaras, feather boas, and are howling swear words at passing vehicles while sloshing beer onto nearby police officers who are busy writing parking tickets to elderly tourists from Sheboygan.
Anyway, when the buses were gone and the crosswalk sign finally illuminated, we pedestrians moved across the street. And that’s when it happened. We all passed an elderly man holding a paper sign which read: “Hungry.”
And can you guess what happened next?
Well, if you guessed that the pedestrians simply walked past this man without stopping you’d be right. Nobody even looked back.
Of course you can’t really blame people for doing this. The truth is, many folks didn’t believe this guy was legit. They weren’t sure he was homeless. They probably thought he was lying. Or drunk. They thought he’d blow his money on drugs.
So most people just chose to stay out of his way altogether. They walked by without offering so much as a greeting. Which—I’m humiliated to admit—is what I did initially.
But here’s the thing. What if this guy really was hungry? This idea began to gnaw on me.
What if the old man awoke that morning in a cardboard box, hungover, with a sour stomach? What if he tried to find breakfast in a dumpster behind the Piggly Wiggly but only found rotten lettuce and rancid meat?
What if he was mentally ill? Malnourished? Lonely? In chronic pain? Dehydrated? Confused? What if he’d been on a bender for five days and hadn’t eaten in 36 hours?
What if, out of pure desperation, this guy staggered inside a cafe and asked for something—anything—to eat? And what if the gal behind the register, busy playing on her phone, merely threatened to call the police? Maybe this man is in withdrawals. Maybe he’s suffering dementia.
I was thinking about this after I walked past him. I started churning inside. I began to feel like a giant pile of something commonly found in barnyards and hog pens.
So I stopped walking. And I decided to turn back.
I removed my wallet. All I had was $5, but maybe this would buy a hamburger. Truthfully, I didn’t care what the guy did with the cash as long as he knew someone cared. And that someone was me.
But when I reached the old man, I was stopped in my steps. Because I saw something that filled my heart.
I was not the only one who had come back.
Because when I reached the old man, there were four of us waiting in an impromptu line to give this guy some money.
A middle-aged man handed the old guy a ten. A young woman gave some folded bills. A teenager gave a gift card. The elderly man in rags accepted our gifts with moist eyes and a low head. And I know what you’re thinking: “Hey! He’s probably just a panhandling crook!”
Well, maybe you’re right. If so, he was a panhandling crook completely overwhelmed by goodwill. Because peach-sized tears were falling down his nose when he said to each of us: “God bless you.”
If you can believe it, without pause, every person repeated the same words back to him.
And well. It changed the way I feel about this town.