Survivor: Nashville

**Two things I feel are worth mentioning, that I didn’t when I originally wrote this blog post:  First, while we were away, my son lost his first tooth.  Considering the disastrous time we were having, this felt like a Mommy Fail of the highest order.  I’d have given anything to be there.  I also missed his Christmas party at school, which is less of a big deal, but I still felt like I made a bad choice. 

Second, I am aware that this post may come across as whiny, entitled, or ungrateful.  Please take my word for it that I am none of those things.  The plain fact is, though, that my  husband and I could have bought tickets to a Darius Rucker show, booked a hotel, and driven to Nashville for much less than this “win” cost us.  Knowing that makes it really hard to say thank you for what was supposed to be a wish granted (although I did say thank you, dozens of times over the year that I waited to hear from someone.)**

Hello, any readers of mine who still read me.  This week, I was on the losing end of a series of unfortunate events, so I want to take the time to write it down in order to ‘let it go’.  I’ll try and explain in detail.  Here goes…

Last year, on Christmas Eve, I received notification that I had won a contest/sweepstakes.  My husband and I were just driving home from my Granny’s annual Christmas Eve party, feeling happy and in the Christmas spirit.  So this win was like the cherry on top of my holiday.

It was the Darius Rucker Homegrown Holidays Sweepstakes, where fans could tweet Darius something they wish for as a Christmas gift, and certain lucky ones actually got what they wished!  I tweeted that I’d very much like to bring my husband to see Mr. Rucker play in Nashville, and he actually said he would do that for us!  No way!  We were so stoked!  I shared the post from his Facebook page and many of our friends were excited for us, too.  We live in the South so Country music is beloved, and to get to see the birthplace of country music?  It was just incredible that this was really happening!

The past few years have been hard on us, financially, so in that respect, the idea of a vacation was super appealing as well.  We had not taken one in years, so it really felt like a big blessing had just arrived on our doorstep.

In January, I was contacted through Facebook and Twitter by two separate reps from Darius’ label, asking for my contact info and saying they would get back to me with details on the concert trip.  How can I put this succinctly… they never did.

Now, I’m not a patient person all the time, but I do ok with gifts, and this totally was a huge gift so I was not going to rush the giver at all.  I was just so thankful and grateful.  A few months went by, and I hadn’t heard anything.  I sent messages on twitter, FB, and email, to cover my bases.  No one replied to any of them.  April, July, and September were (if I remember correctly) the months I tried to get someone to speak to me about the sweepstakes.  Every other prize winner had received their win months ago.  Still, mine was big and involved travel so maybe these things take a while.  I had not won anything so big, so I didn’t know how it was supposed to work.

During this time of waiting, one of my husband’s co-workers took a trip to Nashville.  When he came back, they chatted about the trip.  Turns out he had gone to the Ryman to see Darius Rucker.  Oh.  Really.  At this point I began to think we might never get to go.

Well, beginning of December this year, I asked a friend what she thought I should do.  It had been almost a year, and still I heard from no one about the sweepstakes prize, even when I tried contacting them. (My messages were always concise and respectful, for the record.)  She got me the phone number for Universal Music Group, so I called and asked for the rep who had asked for my contact info on Facebook (and who had friended me as well, and was still listed as my friend).  I believe I called 3 times.  Finally, I spoke with him, and he let me now that Darius Rucker would be playing at the Ryman Auditorium this month.

After that call, things moved quickly.  I received via email affidavits to sign and return.  The concert was in 10 days, give or take, and if those dates did not work for me, I would forfeit the prize entirely.  Now, what rubbed me the wrong way here is that I had been so patient, and even kind, about the whole thing.  I do have a life here, and my  husband works a lot of hours.  It would be a challenge to find someone to watch my kids, handle their school and care for 3 week days, and my husband get the time off work that quickly.  We had to hustle.  Besides all that, I am nearly 5 months pregnant, and I know there are restrictions for flying after a certain time in pregnancy, so I really felt pressure here.  If we don’t go  now, we don’t get to go, period.

We worked it out.  Shout out to my husband, who was a huge support in getting everything together.  We each packed light – one carry on bag per person, plus my purse – and away we went.  First, we drove 2 hours to the ATL airport.  Parking fees!  Oh, I did not expect parking fees.  (Chalk this up to not being an experienced traveler, I suppose.)  That ate our first day’s budget, which was already sparse because it’s Christmas time and so incredibly last minute for this sort of trip.  One hour flight to Charlotte.  It wasn’t too bad.  I don’t like to fly, and before this had not been on a plane since 2011, so if I’m honest I must say there was some deep breathing, praying, and a few tears.  From Charlotte, we hustled (as well as my belly and I could hustle) to the flight to Nashville.  We bought lunch for an astounding amount of money, but figured that was just because it was an airport.

FINALLY we arrive in Nashville!  There’s even live music in the airport.  So cool.  It’s crowded, but I suppose that’s because it’s close to Christmas.  We find our way to the shuttles and inquire about ours.  (I was advised earlier by Mr. Rucker’s rep to take a shuttle to our hotel.)  Come ot find out, there is no shuttle to that hotel.  We can purchase one-way shuttle tickets for 15/person, one way.  I feel deflated.  In this moment, I don’t know what to do.  If we take the shuttle, 2/3 of our Nashville budget is gone before we even get to our hotel room.  I emailed the rep.  He never responded.  My hubs decided we could ask to take a shuttle to a hotel near ours.  That backfired on us, though, because we ended up at some OTHER, other hotel, still stuck.  Finally we paid $20 for a taxi to the hotel.

We arrived at the hotel, stressed but relieved to have made it.  We’ll just have to do the best we can with money, I say, and we take an hour or so to rest.  The hotel was nice, it did not have room service but we figured on walking around the city, so at dinner time we got ready and went exploring.

Nashville… is dirty.  I don’t mean that to be ugly or insulting.  It just is.  At least, the only part of Nashville we saw is dirty.  Gritty.  Lots of honky tonks, which were cool to see, and live music coming from every direction.  I took a lot of photos and we searched for a place to eat.  Finally, starving and upset that I could not find anything affordable, we ate at a local barbecue place.  At this point I was feeling like we had made some terrible mistake.  We should not have come here, I really thought we would be taken care of, we would have a point of contact, but it was more like being dropped in the middle of a strange place with no money, no directions, not even a pat on the back and a “good luck”.

I didn’t sleep well that night.  I kept going over our bank account.  My husband works SO HARD for what we do have, and I take that very seriously. Christmas is coming up and we have 2 kids to buy for and it’s a helpless feeling, knowing we have to spend money in order to eat, but also knowing we really can’t.  We argued a little, then we prayed, then I cried.

Tuesday.  The concert is tonight.  Maybe we can find some “free” things to do.  Checked my email, just to see if that rep might be concerned about us at all.  Nope, nothing.  He’s also unfriended me on Facebook.  This pretty much confirmed for me that 1) they didn’t want to give me the prize but did so reluctantly because I kept calling, and 2) they weren’t going to give me anything more than the plane tickets and hotel because – see #1.  I realize they weren’t obligated, but when Mr. Rucker tweeted that it was going to be his gift to have us out to see him in concert, well, that’s what I expected to happen.  Anyway…

Tuesday morning we walked a little ways to Subway.  I don’t like Subway, I don’t eat much meat, but it was the cheapest option.  Did I mention there are no grocery stores in Nashville?  There are no grocery stores in downtown Nashville.  No kidding.  And the looks you get when you ask for fruit or steamed broccoli (or any kind of vegetable)?  Man, if those looks could kill.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good biscuit and bowl of grits from time to time, but the prices… $9 for some steel cut oatmeal. No kidding.  I felt like I might break out into hives.

All in all I enjoyed walking the blocks of the city, looking in all the kitschy little gift shops.  We took a lot of photos on Tuesday, it was a fun day.  Just a little note: If you happen to go into B.B. King’s, please take not of the Eric Clapton painting.  By far the most entertaining thing I saw the whole time.  I had to take a photo and send to my brother, we’re both blues fans.  It is a must see.  That evening, we went back to the hotel to get ready for the concert.  I needed to eat but could not stomach more fried food.  My husband ended up walking 2.5 miles, round trip in this strange city, in the DARK, for a dang green smoothie.  (If I had known it was that far away, I would not have allowed him to go.)  It was delicious, though, and felt life-giving compared to all the dead stuff I had been eating.

We walked to the Ryman, picked up tickets, and went in.  We had pretty good seats.  The place is small, so I think all the seats are good seats.  I didn’t know most of the acts, but we still had fun.  We met some interesting people.  Two highlights: Lorrie Morgan, who I LOVED as a teenager and didn’t know would be there, and of course, Darius Rucker.

Really great part of the trip:  Mr. Rucker exudes humility.  Just watching him on stage for a minute, I got the feeling he is a very down-to-earth guy, who just happens to love music and perform it well.  I wish he had done more than 3 songs (which is what each artist did), and I wish they’d been songs I recognized.

Kinda sad part of the trip: I didn’t get any souvenirs from the Ryman or from the trip, because we just couldn’t.  We had already gone over budget just trying to feed ourselves (which sounds like an exaggeration, I’m sure, but isn’t.)  We didn’t see the Johnny Cash museum, the Grand Ole Opry, or the Gaylord Opryland (which I wanted to see because years ago I worked at the Gaylord Palms in Florida, and I’ve heard the Opryland is amazing).

Wednesday morning, we woke up and walked 2.5 miles together, to McDonald’s.  Now normally I would run screaming from McDonald’s but it’s affordable so off we went.  Hubs showed me where he had walked the night before just to get me a green drink, and I scolded him a little.  It was scary, obviously not a good part of town, and I’m so thankful God was looking out for him.  To any pregnant ladies wearing cowboy boots:  It’s not a good idea to walk 2.5 miles around Nashville at 7:30 am.  If you can avoid it, please do. My shins are still sore.

The BEST part about this walk was accidentally walking past the Southern Baptist Convention and a HUGE statue of Billy Graham.  It was SO cool!  I love Billy Graham!  The WORST part about this walk was that my heart was overwhelmed at the sheer number of homeless who exist in the downtown Nashville area.  We bought a couple of biscuits and passed them out.  I mean, what can you do, right?  It certainly put things into perspective for me, which I realize I need from time to time.

Anyway, check out, pay a ridiculous cab fee to get to the airport, spend more on lunch, and we are separated on the flight.  A nice man offered to switch so we could sit together because I’m nervous and oh, yeah, pregnant.  But on the second flight, no such luck.  I set next to a very loud man, and my hubs was about 20 rows away from me, so I mostly prayed and kept my eyes closed.

Landing in Atlanta, I could have kissed the ground.  Man, it’s good to be home.  Found the car, paid the amount of the electric bill to get out of the parking lot, and then drove 2 hours in the pouring rain to my dad’s house to pick up our son.  Oh, light of my life.  Seeing him made everything better.  We drove home and I thanked God about 100 times for our home, our family, and that I don’t treat people like I had just been treated with this sweepstakes.

All total, we spent hundreds of our own money on this “win” trip.  Hundreds we didn’t have in the first place.  Christmas will be tight this year, and I am kicking myself for going at all.  But I couldn’t have known.  At this time I’ve tweeted Mr. Rucker about it but I doubt that he or anyone else will respond.  It makes me sad that something so cool turned out to be such a strain on us, but at least we had some new experiences and we know better for next time.

Bottom line(s):  Be careful what you wish for.  You might just get it.