Play a fucking train song!” That was the anthem of the “new” East Nashville back in my day. That was back when Skip “Play a Fucking Train Song” Litz ran sound at the Radio Café. Back when Todd Snider walked his dogs without a leash around Little Hollywood smoking a joint every morning. Back when 5 Points was nothing more than the Slow Bar and the gas station, which was just called “Benny’s Market” and was the only place to get a cup of coffee outside your own kitchen.
And I’m not trying to be all “You kids get off my lawn” about it. I mean, let’s be real, East Nashville has seen more than one renaissance. We weren’t the first generation to come along and change the face of this neighborhood. Since its inception, this area has changed hands numerous times. Most times out of great tragedy — like the fire of 1916 or the tornados of 1933 and 1998. But there is something distinctly different about this “new” East Nashville.
In the past, no one tore it down to start from scratch. Not unless Mother Nature took it out first. Previous newbies just built on what was already here and even paid homage to the history that came before them. The old Family Wash was actually a Laundromat; the old Turnip Truck was actually a service station. Newcomers to the area fixed up the Victorians and Post Wars, they refurbished the Tudors and Bungalows. They didn’t tear down entire blocks of them to build giant, ugly track homes.
And don’t get me wrong; I’m not against growth or change. I love being able to find a decent meal close to home now. I love meeting friends and clients nearby for fancy coffee. I love the new Family Wash as much as I loved the old one. I realize that with all that growth there are going to be different kinds of folks with different ideas and different viewpoints moving in. But some of the demands of the new residents have gotten out of hand.
It’s bad enough that our city has allowed developers to completely destroy one of the most beautifully diverse, historic neighborhoods in the country with shitty construction that crams four families onto a lot that was designed for one. It’s a crying shame that they let it happen without updating the NES power stations, causing people to go without heat during this year’s record-setting snowstorm.
But when the people that move into those places start petitions to stop the train horns, you’ve just taken the fucking joke too far. I’m sorry, but I don’t have an ounce of sympathy for anyone who moves into some cheaply constructed, overpriced, prefab track house with thin walls and shitty insulation a block away from a working train track, and then bitches about the sound of the fucking trains.
And I certainly can’t get on board with the city spending what is estimated at $1.5 million to turn them into “quiet zones” when our goddamned interstates are littered with potholes the size of swimming pools after every freeze, which only compounds our almost paralyzing traffic situation — a traffic situation that is a direct cause of all that new growth. As a city we have bigger hot chicken to fry when it comes to dealing with the amount of growth we are under than making the train horns go away.
Whitney Pastorek, from Houston, is leading the fight against the train horns. She alledgedly started a website, stopthetrainhorns.com. Whitney describes herself as a “40-year old Houstonian who spent 15 years living in New York City, and six in Los Angeles.” She says, “The light, sound, and energy of the urban experience have been at the heart of my entire life. East Nashville is fantastic, but I didn’t buy a home here because it was trendy. … I found a home I loved in a neighborhood I loved at a price I could afford.”
Well, I call bullshit, Whitney. I’m also from Texas, and I also spent 11 years living in Southern California. In my personal opinion, Houston is a giant, grey shithole and literally one of the ugliest, smelliest, most soulless cities I’ve ever seen. LA, on the other hand, is one of the most pretentious, self-involved communities on earth. These references do not help your aesthetic or cultural credibility in my book. The last thing I want East Nashville to become is Houston or LA.
And secondly, what is it about that home and this neighborhood that you love if it is not the fact that it is trendy? Is it the close proximity to Hair World that resonated with you? Did you find solace in the dozens of discount beer and cigarette stores along Gallatin? No, you loved this neighborhood because of all the new trendy shit so just fucking say it. I’ll have more respect for you if you just say it.
The brilliant tagline at stopthetrainhorns.com is “Because Train Horns Blow.” Am I the only one who literally spit my drink out at the absurd irony of that? Yes, train horns do in fact blow. That’s so people, children, animals, motorists, cyclists, runners, and a multitude of living beings’ lives might be spared from being run over by a fucking train. But what is one life in comparison to your quest for a restful night’s sleep in a neighborhood you love?
If you move somewhere, do your research. Nashville might be “Music City,” but it was built on the import/export trade, which is still a huge part of our commerce. How do you suppose all those prefab doorframes and specialty coffee beans get delivered around the country in the first place? Trains, Whitney, trains deliver that shit. Noisy as they are they are a necessity, as are their safety horns.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the city caves to the new money and passes through this absurd legislation to stop the horns, but the trains themselves aren’t going anywhere. The “new” East Nashvillians like Whitney, on the other hand, will.
They will leave when the last Todd Snider moves to Hendersonville, and the last Jamie Ruben moves to West Nashville, and the last Brian Wright moves to Donelson taking all that art, creativity, and music that made this neighborhood kick ass in the first place with them. The Whitneys will then follow suit and go gentrify those neighborhoods too.
Either that, or in five years those cheaply built houses will simply fall apart or they will go up like matchsticks when the next big tornado whips through here leaving rubble in it its wake. And when they go, another “new” East Nashville will move in on their heels. I just hope that “new” East Nashville will have more respect for the history, architecture, and culture that made this neighborhood great in the first place.
In the meantime, I’m gonna milk all the goodness I can out of what’s left of East Nashville. At least until I, too, get priced out. In fact, I’m gonna wrap this up and head over to the 5 Spot right now. And I’m gonna sit under that poster of Skip Litz and I’m gonna yell for the band to play a fucking train song.