Music City Silenced
Diane W. Repasky
Monday, March 30, 2020
Tonight my husband Larry drove me to see downtown Nashville in the midst of COVID-19. Though we live in “the ‘burbs”, we like riding into town. While Larry cruises the streets – lower Broadway; 2nd Avenue; The Riverfront – I always sit with the window open (all weathers), making a fuss with our dog Buddy, overall the “lights & noise & music & people & buildings & sirens — & horsies!!” down there. It’s constant. Every time. Never anything less than an utter roar. Wall-to-wall people. On both sides of Broadway. On 2nd Avenue, and crossing intersections. Dozens of bars with blaring music – each, fighting for prominence. Peddle-bars with whooped-up partiers. Parking spots crammed (never an open spot). Rows of horses & buggies waiting to be rented. Police directing pedestrians. Various sirens from sundry vehicles.
Music City had been silenced
But tonight, Music City had been silenced. On the entire stretch of Broadway – from I-40 to The Riverfront, at 5:00 in the afternoon, on a lovely late-March day, with tulips blooming and trees in blossom – we saw only 6 human beings: a group of 4 girls and a his-&-her couple. On 2nd Avenue, there was only a yellow-vested security guard and a girl walking with a shopping bag (although where she had shopped was a mystery, since every store was DARK). By Fort Nashboro & The Riverfront, a mere 3 humans + 1 dog walked 1st Avenue. Rounding the corner going back up Broad, all we saw then was a lone man sitting on the sidewalk, strumming his guitar, with a hat beside him for tips. –Tips? Who was even there to give him tips?!
No horses & buggies, or peddle-bars. An empty parking lot at the Hard-Rock Cafe. Empty parking spaces lining both sides of Broadway and 2nd Ave. Just one lone police car parked on Broad, and the officer not even inside. And the Music from Music City? –Just one…lonely…single bar on Broadway, playing the 33-year old Randy Travis cut “Forever & Ever” through its outdoor speaker (although, the bar it came from was closed). Not a “live” band; not an open establishment anywhere. Music City had been silenced.
Only sign of life were 3 yellow-vested workers
Up 5th Avenue N., the only sign of life were 3 yellow-vested workers unloading HVAC units from a flat-bed truck – but then, on the corner, one of the saddest sights I believe I’ve ever seen: One particular homeless woman.
… I’d like to talk about her a minute, because, generally, I admit, my heart is not especially attuned to the plight of the homeless. –It used to be. Larry & I used to actually co-head our program at Church that sheltered some of Nashville’s homeless, twice weekly; provided transportation to-&-from downtown; gave them 3 squares-&-a-bed; provided laundry & shower facilities; let them select from our clothing bank; and provided evening TV. Larry & I did this for years. We also participated in Habitat For Humanity builds, and with both programs, taught our children to participate too.
But somewhere along the line, we aged, and our participation in such programs waned. As did, perhaps & unfortunately, our hearts. –Which brings me back to tonight:
As we drove along, there she sat – that one, singular, homeless woman – besides the HVAC guys, the only person on 5th Ave. in sight, in an otherwise silent city. I could only tell she was a woman because of how she was dressed: In a dark shabby overcoat that hung unbuttoned down her sides, revealing a frumpy pink-patterned dress underneath, hanging long, to just above her ankles and droopy, dirty socks. I couldn’t tell how old she was, because a loudly-colored fishing hat covered nearly the whole top of her head, but I thought I saw some gray hair peeking out here-&-there. Right beneath the hat, she wore some sort of scarf, and it wrapped all the way around her head, then covered her entire face, then slumped down onto her coat.
We were waiting for the red light to turn
We were waiting for the red light to turn, and the whole time we waited, this poor woman sat huddled on the corner opposite us. And she never moved! Never looked up from her downcast stance. Never moved her body from its hunched position. her hands always clasped together on her lap. It was eerie enough that Nashville’s streets were so barren, but this woman’s statuesque body only added surrealness, as if the abandoned streets around us amplified her status – shouted it!; personified with accusation Munch’s painting of “The Scream”.
Immediately on the corner was one of Nashville’s fancy fluted lampposts. Stacked up against it to about midriff-height was a heap of garbage bags & boxes & duffle bags, maybe some loose clothing; and heaven-knows what else. –”Her only personal possessions in the entire world,” I said sadly to Larry. He answered, “Yeah…” and somewhat uncomfortably petted Buddy for a second. The light still hadn’t changed.
… And just on the other side of the stack of her possessions, there she sat, all alone and hunched on the edge of a Metro city-bus bench. Waiting, undoubtedly not for a bus, but for what? Dark? Was she claiming her sleeping spot tonight, with all her worldly possessions beside her?
–And she never moved! It was like the Music in her very soul – like the whole city’s soul – had been silenced.
The light finally changed, and up a block, we turned onto Deadrick Street. There in the median were the most lovely beds of tulips! Orange – my favorite color! And in full bloom. They were wonderful! And at the same time, grotesque; taunting.
“I wish you hadn’t brought me downtown tonight, Larry,” I commented, still passing the tulips. When he asked why, I could only respond, “Because even with these pretty flowers – in full bloom! – Nashville has died. And her Music is as silent as that poor lonely woman sitting on the corner. And I am ill, inside my stomach and my heart, with it.” With it all.
–We should have helped that poor woman. But we didn’t. We should have. We didn’t. And that knowledge, and the image of her – God bless her – will haunt me as gravely as the darkness of the silence of Nashville this evening.
So for those of us living in a city, when our lives eventually go back to normal after COVID – to the bustle, to the shopping, to the peddle-bars and the jam-packed streets – perhaps we need to remember the days that our Music was silenced. And far from socially-distance ourselves from the unfortunate people among us whose Music is always silent.