In downtown Nashville, on Fourth Avenue, between the capitol building and the river, there used to be a couple of blocks of bus shelters. For every bus route this was the end of the line–or one of them, anyway. There was also a rectangular shed with maps of every bus route and schedules and a customer service/help/information window that was permanently closed.
The shelters have since been removed and the end of the line is now a covered bus depot and I kind of miss them. The depot is safer and depending on the weather I guess most people are happier to be under a roof, and depending on the weather they were a place where anyone walking from one part of downtown to another could stop. And even when I had to wait for the bus I wanted I could stand around and watch the other ones go by. At almost any time there were at least a couple of buses dropping off, picking up, or just waiting for their scheduled departure.
And then one night there was the singer.
It was one of the coldest nights of the year, which isn’t saying much because it was still January, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t get much colder in any other month, not even August. For once I hadn’t taken the bus downtown. My wife and I had parked a few blocks down the street because we were on our way to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center to see Garrison Keillor. This was not A Prairie Home Companion but just Keillor himself telling stories from his new book The Book Of Guys, but that’s another story. Or stories.
Anyway we were walking past the bus shelters and under one of them stood a tall black man. He wore a dark wool coat and a dark hat. He might have completely blended into the shadows if he hadn’t been belting out “Beautiful Dreamer” in a lovely, loud bass baritone.
I’m still not sure what he was doing there. I thought, and still think, he might have been an opera singer or a member of a chorus headed home from a rehearsal. The strange thing is there were no buses around. This would have been around 7:30 at night and while pretty late the buses run from 5:00am to 2:00am. Even at that time of night there should have been a couple of buses around.
Yes, that’s the strange thing. A man standing in the middle of an empty sidewalk singing to himself, and to us but only just because we happened to be passing by, doesn’t seem strange to me at all. We smiled at him and he smiled back, glad, I think, to have an audience.