Finding Nashville while searching for America

Friday, September 1, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 35

Ron Lund and Linda Parker, whose love of travel  is one of the traits they have in common, are spending their retirement years looking for America in their 34-foot motor home. They are  spending a part of that time parked at the RV camping area of the Fairgrounds.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

Merle Haggard likely is playing in the head of the man I spot, tiny dogs dancing at his feet, as he puffs on a thick stogie atop an asphalt knoll in the middle of Nashville.

“Down every road, there’s always one more city,” a line from Hag’s “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive” is the motto of the man, his mate for life (and road buddy) and their two dogs.

Of course, I don’t find out about the Hag song until well after I’ve gotten to know these people, who I meet after spying the unlikely silhouette of cigar-chomping Ron Lund, 71, and his itty-bitty rescue dogs enjoying an urban section of our town.

I’m out free-styling the city (sometimes I call it “free-falling,” depending on whether I’m in a defeated, Tom Petty-kinda mood), looking for good people, a nice story to tell in this space, something to make me – and you, I hope – smile.

It’s while taking a spin up and through the Fairgrounds that I spot Ron and his dogs enjoying the almost-autumn sunshine outside the motor home parked atop the knoll overlooking the Speedway, within eyeshot of Nolensville Road, our international highway.

I park and climb up the knoll and introduce myself to Ron, interrupting what is likely treasured solitude while enjoying his nicely chewed Diamond Crown Churchill. (“He doesn’t smoke, he just puffs,” his wife, Linda Parker, clarifies later.)

Ron is watching over the couple’s rescue dogs, Poco, 8, and Noble, 7. He wants them to stretch their little Chihuahua legs (Noble is also part Cardigan Welsh Corgi) before he and Linda go downtown to visit my pal Bill Miller’s Johnny Cash Museum and later sample our native fare of fried chicken, fried okra and fried green tomatoes at Puckett’s.

They also will likely visit Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge because they like the mythology of the place that has changed completely since its 1960s and 1970s heyday, when Bobby Bare, Shel Silverstein, Tom T., Roger Miller, Waylon, Kristofferson and Willie ran up beer tabs and exchanged lyrical inspirations and likely bawdy road tales.

“We just like the nostalgia of it all,” says Linda, later on in the conversation that springs from my introducing myself to her cigar-savoring husband.

“When you retire, the hardest decision is figuring out where you want to live,” allows Ron, a former medical office administrator, when I first ask him what he’s doing on that knoll.

Well, he explains, this is just the latest stop in the couple’s search for America, a long and winding road trip that has occupied most of their time since 2012, when they climbed into the 34-foot Thor Hurricane motor home and made it their primary residence.

Oh, they may winter in Arizona, Vegas or even out in Southern California, where they fortunately bumped into each other back in 1990 at a Huntington Beach club called “The Rex,” that now has been turned into a Cheesecake Factory.

But the road is their home, until they find a place they wish to permanently park, maybe buy a Del Webb home, like the one they rented in Vegas for five years before their odyssey began.

These are not your typical Nashville tourists, the kind of folks Butch Spyridon and his hard-working gang (the Sundance Kids?) at the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. try to recruit to fill our $500 hotel rooms while running up room-service tabs on expense accounts.

These two are drawn to their $30 per night parking space (including hookups) by their mutual love for the road, as well as their fondness for music of just about every variety.

“We’ve been here since a week ago Saturday,” Ron explains when I ask if he minds if I pull my old Saab up the hill and park next to his wheeled home so we can have a conversation.

And they’ll be here for awhile still, although they do have tickets to go see The Eagles up in Louisville October 24, so they will take a bit of a side trip there.

“We want to see them with Vince Gill,” adds Linda after she joins us in low-slung “tailgate chairs” – those canvas or whatever contraptions that trap your butt when you sit down, (sink down, really), while clinging to the arms that have holders for Yuengling cans or other pregame beverages.

“He’s the nicest guy in Nashville,” I tell them of Mr. Gill, amending it to “he’s one of the nicest stars in Nashville,” only because I haven’t met every person or entertainer in Nashville to make the hyperbolic assessment. (Vince: call me … I’d love to talk to you about your brutally handsome life in the fast lane these days….)

“We’re really looking forward to seeing him with The Eagles,” says Ron, a music enthusiast who admits life’s been good to him so far.

After the concert in Louisville – I’m sure they’ll visit other shrines, perhaps the Muhammad Ali Center and Churchill Downs – they’ll return to Nashville again for awhile.

“We’re going to be going out to Brentwood and Franklin,” Linda offers.

“In Franklin, we want to visit the Civil War sites and monuments before they are all torn down,” adds Ron, shaking his head slowly. “I’ve seen a lot, but nothing like what’s happening in America now.”

Of course, he’s talking of the proposed (and sometimes already accomplished) demolition of Civil War statues and monuments that, thanks to The Great Divider and other “very fine people,” have been used to stoke the country’s racial and red-neck tensions.

“We really enjoy taking in the history while we travel,” Ron says. “And we like to go to museums.”

Linda and Ron “have been husband and wife since 2009,” she says. “But we’ve been together since 1990.”

Why the 19-year gap before marriage?

“We were trying to decide if we like each other,” she points out.

“It’s the slowest decision I ever made in my life,” Ron says. Likely something they’ve said many times, I surmise by the unison laughter that punctuates that line.

While they are out to discover America now, the two were in the thick of their professional success when they met at Rex, a club and restaurant in Huntington Beach (the town also trademarked as “Surf City USA”), a fairly well-to-do settlement in Orange County, on the coast south of Los Angeles.

It got its “Surf City USA” moniker from the song mad genius pal Brian Wilson wrote in his sandbox and that was amended by sunny hit-makers Jan & Dean. (“I bought a ‘34 wagon and we call it a Woodie, Surf City here we come….” is a lyric that likely strikes deep within the hearts of Baby Boomers …. especially old ones like me drawn by the song’s fetching promise of “two girls for every boy.”) By the way, on the internet, that lyric appears sometimes as “I got a ’30 Ford wagon…” and other phonetic variations.

“We met up there and then we had a cup of coffee a week later and, well, things took off,” says Ron of the romance sparked by their Rex encounter.

It is the second marriage for both, and between them they have three children and three grandchildren.

“We dated and then we were together off and on,” says Linda, explaining that there were times she had to return to her native Canada so she could maintain her immigration status. Now everything has been straightened out and she has an up-to-date green card.

Linda is 74 and proud of it, though she appears much younger to me, who she proclaims “a mere puppy” at 65.

Her professional track began with her working as an office manager with a construction company up in Edmonton, Alberta.

“Then I worked as an office manager and sold real estate for 14 years in Saskatchewan. When I moved to California, I was the office manager for the Long Beach Yacht Club.

Linda Parker with her two rescue-dog travel companions, Poco, the Chihuahua, and Noble, a Chihuahua-Corgi mix (they think.) Poco is 8 and Noble is 7.

-- Submitted

“After that I was an office administrator at a Huntington Beach trademark litigation firm.”

Ron, as noted, was a medical group administrator, taking care of contracts, HR and other business matters for 40 years at different medical groups – in Indiana, Northern Virginia, Southern California and Spokane – before polishing off his career with an 11-year stint in Tacoma.

“You’ve probably gotten by now that we like to move around a bit,” adds Linda, noting one of many pleasures she and her spouse share.

They swear to me that no one’s chasing them. “I don’t have to look over my shoulder,” says Ron, laughing. (That, lyrics fans, is contrary to the lonesome fugitive at the heart of the aforementioned Haggard song they’ve adopted as their own theme song.)

Travel is just one mutual passion. “We’re also big hockey fans,” she says.

In fact, one of the things they plan to do here is go to a Predators pre-season game against the Florida Panthers on September 19.

“We’re going to go to the box office at Bridgestone Arena tonight to see if we can get tickets without paying all those online fees,” says Ron, who adds that the couple, like the good and righteous everywhere, cheered for the Predators who came within a power play or two of icing the Stanley Cup early this summer.

And, although the two have a fondness for classic country, they had tickets for relative newbie Brett Eldredge’s concert at Ascend Amphitheater on the day after our first encounter.

“We like to go out and do things,” Linda acknowledges. ‘’We like to go to the attractions. We like history. We like museums.”

Ron says one of the best things about being on the road is that it is freeing. “You’re not worrying about that mortgage.’’

This time they’ve been on the road since November, which they spent in Edmonton, Alberta, so she could visit her family and catch a couple of Oilers games. They spent December in Eastern Arizona.

“We were in Yuma most of the winter, but we went back and forth to Las Vegas (site of their last land-based home) for doctors’ appointments. From there it was Escondido, California, Las Cruces, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Abilene, Lubbock and Amarillo in Texas, then on to Oklahoma City and Memphis before coming to Nashville,” he says.

“We both loved Merle Haggard, so we are going to a show his sons (Ben and Noel) are doing September 11,” Ron adds. “It’s at The Basement East.”

They already caught the boys in a tribute show to their pop in Vegas, but this time they are playing their own gig, not a tribute to the famously pot-smoking Okie from Muskogee. (Remember: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee. We don’t take our trips on LSD.”) And, as noted earlier, another Merle song is the “theme music” on their conquest of America’s blue highways.

I personally marvel that a couple of tourists who live at, to put it kindly, the upper end of my generation is even going to attempt to traverse into hipster-heavy East Nashville for a show at a place some might dub “Americana World Headquarters.”

Ron shrugs off my tongue-in-cheek worry that they may get lost and forced into some hipster-mind-bending servitude during their walk on the wild side of the Cumberland River.

“Uber,” he says, suddenly, noting those drivers know where to go. “We use Uber. We don’t drag a car along with us.”

“It only costs us $7 to have an Uber to Broadway,” Linda explains.

Wanderers Ron Lund and Linda Parker are parked at the RV camping area of the Fairgrounds.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

In addition to soaking in the history and the music, the couple likely will snag a few tee times on our public courses.

“We both love golf,” says Ron, noting that during their most recent five-year residence in Las Vegas (“It has the heat like here, but not the humidity,” Linda adds), he played golf year-round.

“I was playing three different golf courses, with a group of guys, Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” says Ron, who notes that he’s not much of a golfer, though his wife butts in to remind him he shot his best score, an 87, not that long ago.

“He’s my favorite player,” Linda says, noting that, while she didn’t join the fellows for their thrice-weekly and foolhardy pursuits of par, she does enjoy whacking that little ball around with her husband.

“It’s just the idea of being out there,” adds Ron, when asked his attraction to the old Scottish game. “You lose yourself, have fun and enjoy the environment.”

His wife nods.

This trek, by the time it ends in December in Yuma, will be their longest yet, though they lived several months in their motor home shortly after they bought it in 2012. “We went from Vegas to Edmonton, Montana into North Dakota. Came down through Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma. Did a little bit of Arkansas, then to Texas, where we got down to San Antonio,” Ron says.

This journey will take them to Clearwater, Florida, for a niece’s wedding, and then over to Louisiana (I recommend the Sunday gospel brunch at the New Orleans Hard Rock) before crossing Texas, hitting Houston and Austin, and then getting back to their wintering HQ in Yuma.

“If the schedule permits, we want to swing by Virginia Beach and Norfolk so I can say ‘hi’ to a couple of friends who were with me in the submarine service in the late- ‘60s,” says Ron, adding that his duty beneath the sea did not take him to Southeast Asia, a section of the world that hosted way too many Americans back then.

Of course, they have a lot of time still in Nashville, and they plan to enjoy it. Perhaps have some more fried chicken at Puckett’s or wander out to the Loveless or hit Arnold’s.

“We are going to the races Saturday night,” Ron says, pointing to the few feet from our perch over to the faded-asphalt, oval, crown jewel of the Fairgrounds. “Racing pretty good around here?”

I recite briefly the legends of Sterlin’ Marlin and Darrell Waltrip, aka Ol’ D.W.

A crew of Metro workers pilots a fleet of weed-eaters up the hill to this spot in the Fairgrounds RV Park, a loud cue that it’s about time to end this visit.

“They are cleaning up for this weekend’s races and the flea market,” says Ron, noting that they plan to wind their way through the aisles of upholstered angels, old spoons, antique curio cabinets and the like.

As I finish off the water they’d given me – our entire conversation took place outside the trailer so as not to disturb Poco and Noble – I bring up the subject of those canine campers.

“They’re both rescue dogs,” says Linda. “We rescued Noble, who was starving on the streets of Las Vegas and we rescued Poco at my son’s boutique dog store in Edmonton. … A woman came into the store with this little dog and asked if I knew of someone who would adopt the dog. I said ‘Poor little guy’ and I took him…

“He was so skinny, I picked him up and put him in my purse.”

While the couple and their dogs love the adventurous road lifestyle, Linda admits she is looking increasingly to finding a place to put down roots.

“I would like to find a cozy little house here in Nashville,” she says. “I’m about ready to stop.”

Ron’s not quite ready to pull over for keeps, but he does admit Nashville is a place he’d consider. “But I don’t like that humidity.”

I smile and tell them they’ll never get used to it, but add that there are plenty of homes for sale over in my neighborhood. Most of them have nice yards for dogs to play in.