Local Life and Lore in Nashville
Here, the insider scoop on what to do and say (and not do and not say) when in Nashville.
Because three interstates (I-24, I-65, I-40) pass through Nashville, there are always two ways to get somewhere: surface street and interstate. And of course the secret back ways. When you ask someone about their day, they’re likely to start by describing which route they took. Here are some tips to help you navigate Nashville:
Why North is East. Parts of town often correspond to their position relative to the river. North Nashville is really west, but it’s north of the river. East Nashville is really north, but it’s east of the river.
Street personalities. Nashville is a “hub-and-spoke” city, and each ”spoke” has its own character. West End is the clogged business corridor. Church Street has several gay-owned businesses and the funky Elliston Place strip. 21st Avenue is dominated by Vanderbilt Medical Center. 16th and 17th Avenues hold the largest concentration of music industry companies. Charlotte is the hospital corridor. As it headed south out of Nashville, Franklin Road/Eighth Avenue was the traditional home for country music stars, while closer to central Nashville is the antique district. Rosa Parks Boulevard borders historic Germantown and runs past Bicentennial Mall. Clarksville Highway has fantastic barbecue joints.
Be forewarned that in pockets of town you may run into an unexpected term for the carpool/pickup line at school. Don’t be aghast when your child is sent to the "hookup line." It’s an innocent term that hasn’t died out despite its other, more popular meaning.
Why you’ll need to carpool. There’s a thriving carpool culture here for lots of reasons. For one thing, while it’s slowly improving, public transportation still isn’t great, and the city is so geographically spread out that existing public transportation isn’t very useful to large swathes of town. Plus, nearly 13 percent of Nashville’s school children attend private school and must furnish their own transportation.
Shifting street names. Pay attention while you drive – the same street can change names unexpectedly. One minute you’re driving down Harding Place and the next you’re on Battery Lane. One minute you’re on Hillsboro and the next you’re on 21st Avenue. And Old Hickory Boulevard? If someone gives you directions involving Old Hickory, listen carefully, as it’s a ring road that stretches some dozens of miles around the city.
Foreign street names. Ask someone before you try to pronounce Demonbreun or Lafayette. Especially if you actually know how to speak French.
Landmarks that no longer exist. They baffle transplants, but locals use them to navigate. “Turn where the Shoney’s used to be, then go eight blocks. Park in the old Commerce Union parking garage.” By the time you’ve lived in Nashville a while, you’ll know what it looked like 20 years ago.
Epidemic of broken blinkers. Oh, and wherever you’re driving, remember that Nashvillians don’t use their blinkers, so watch the car in front of you.