Comfy Jeans meet the Capitol *

I have certain convictions about which I am inflexible.

One such is that I absolutely must wear my comfy, worn-out jeans to attend the frequent educational seminars required of accountants.  Last Wednesday I had one such seminar in Nashville.

The agency I work for was awarded a grant, and my boss, Senator Becky Massey, “suggested” that we both attend the accompanying compliance seminar.  I invited my wife to drive up with me Tuesday evening, take in the sights, sounds, and flavors of Demonbreun Street, and stay at the hotel Becky recommended before meeting for the seminar.  “It’ll be like the honeymoon we haven’t gotten around to these past 4 years,” I told my wife.  Such is life with four children.

As we checked into our hotel, I noted, amused, that our stay coincided with a heavily attended convention for I-ACT, or International Association of Colon Hydro-Therapists.  I texted Becky that I would never ask her for a hotel recommendation again, answering her followup query with a photo of the lobby’s I-ACT Welcome banner.

Ever professional, Becky simply responded, “At least you can get some expert advice.”

Later stuck waiting in the lobby, I perused the conference set-up, amazed by the vendors and members in attendance. Everything from the “Squatty Potty” to enthusiastic members from Germany, Ireland & Italy filled the halls of the hotel conference center, quietly but fervently debating the relative merits of diet and lifestyle modification versus heredity on colon health. Feeling I had ventured off into some Grimm fecal fairy tale, I became afraid to use the public restroom for fear that someone might pass me a tract under the stall or, worse yet, attempt to audibly diagnose me and offer treatment in a free public demonstration of their equipment.

I slept restlessly with dreams of being chased by extremely thin, glowingly healthy people with high-pressure hoses aimed at my derrière.

The next morning, my wife dropped me off at the Andrew Jackson building and commenced the city equivalent of snipe-hunting, i.e., locating a reasonably priced parking spot in the concrete garage jungle.  Not much of a shopper, she planned to walk along the river during my seminar, hoping not to be too sweaty for lunch at Puckett’s, a Nashville landmark also recommended by Becky.  I had decided not to hold the hotel against her.

True to my conviction, I met Becky at the classroom in my comfy jeans.  Governmental agencies being governmental agencies, the two-hour mandatory seminar for which people drove from all over the state lasted 30 minutes.  So Becky offered us a tour of the Capitol.  Convictions notwithstanding, I felt a little uneasy about touring the Capitol in old jeans.  But even non-employees don’t turn down Becky Massey easily, and my wife and I are both history nuts.  When would we get such an opportunity again? At least my wife had dressed appropriately.

“Change in plans,” I texted, “Becky wants to take us through the Capitol.  Are you close?”

She was. Yes, downtown Nashville parking takes roughly the same time as a government seminar, at least for thrifty country folks.

Her response, however, upped the stakes. “I have to go back to the van first. I changed into my gardening tennis shoes to walk.”

Having received her screen shot of the van’s GPS location in what is probably Nashville’s only $5 all-day parking garage, my accountant gears switched on for a mud versus sweat analysis:  98 degrees by 87% humidity times five city blocks . . .

“Don’t worry about it.  The Legislature isn’t even in session.  We’re not likely to run into anyone.  I promise.”

Moments later she arrived in her dress slacks, blouse, and once-white, now mud-colored, gardening, tennis shoes.  We looked about as out of place in the Capitol as the Clampetts in Beverly Hills.

But you only live once.

Becky showed us all the behind-the-scenes areas and gave us a proper tour, not only of what is there now, but what was and will be there in the future.  Just off War Memorial Plaza, for instance, a monument will be installed by 2019 to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage, the first monument to depict a woman in Tennessee’s Capitol.

I felt more commonality with our legislators when viewing their underground, windowless offices.  Luckily they can emerge from this labyrinth into the stunning views of Bicentennial Park from the airy Capitol Building.  Tennesseans would be more impressed with legislative events if the television cameras could capture more of the ceilings and architecture and less of the carpets. The Library was magnificent, amazingly beautiful with its spiral staircase. The archivist assured us the upper railings were only slightly shaky after all these years since 1853, but we declined to test them.

We passed the looming bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in silence, and I was relieved that her embarrassment over mud stained shoes had restrained my wife from an audible “Goodbye and good riddance” to the KKK founder as repayment for my previous broken promise.  So far, we had only met the archivist, a tour director, Becky’s receptionist, the Director of TennCare, the Commissioner of Finance and Administration and . . .

Someone caught Becky’s eye in a nearby office, and we followed as she greeted yet another friend.  Then a door opened and out walked Governor Haslam.  After introducing us, Becky suggested a picture.

“Keep it from the waist up,” I whispered as I handed Becky my phone.

So there we stood side by side with the Governor, smiling sheepishly, I in my worn-out jeans and my wife in her mud-colored gardening shoes.

Don’t worry, friends. We didn’t mention being from Sevier County.

If you enjoyed this column and would like to see more, click here.

© Michael L. Collins

*Published as “Comfy, worn Jeans meet the Capitol” in the July 1, 2015 edition of The Mountain Press

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