Within days, perhaps starting even as we speak, Nashville will become occupied territory. Thanks to the 2008 presidential debate Oct. 7 at Belmont, our city will receive the same honor previously accorded to O.J. Simpson's front yard and Florida circa Election 2000—full-tilt media saturation. The Brokaws. The Schieffers. The Matthews...es. These are the guys the networks paratroop in when the bullets are whizzing and viewership's highest. These are the guys who hit the tarmac running, the guys who can tell you within 15 minutes of landing in Islamabad which Starbucks still serves mocha valencias.
But digesting, assimilating and commenting knowledgeably on an entire foreign culture is easy. Nashville is hard. So is escaping the pack mentality when it comes to local color. Esteemed colleagues of the media, you don't want to be caught huddled around the last biscuit at the Loveless, or shushed en masse at the Bluebird. As a courtesy, we provide this quick-study dossier on the city—a briefing that will catch you up to speed on noteworthy civic events, locations and terminology. Read this, and by Oct. 6 we'll have you ignoring traffic signals and giving directions with convenience-store landmarks as if you really lived here.
Athens of the South. That's us, believe it or not. Once upon a time, we built this enormous replica of the Grecian Parthenon, and the nickname stayed with us, just as it did with the fat kid everybody called "Tiny." Use it sparingly. When you tell people in Athens they're "the Nashville of the East," wars result.
Bible Belt. A term designating the territorial stronghold of America's Religious Right. Just 15 years ago, it would have been said to encompass most Southern states (except Florida, and we just knew our Jewish brethren would come around). In recent years, its reach has expanded somewhat—roughly from the downtown library in Wasilla, Alaska, to a few miles off the coast of Cuba. The buckle remains the same, however—and you're standing on it, Bigfoot Media. This is the town sometimes called the Protestant Vatican for the sheer concentration of ecumenical command centers (the Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Publishing, any Cracker Barrel on Sunday morning). Who's the Pope? Look for the guy with the big hat. His name is John Jay Hooker.
"Bless your heart." An ancient Confederate curse, used in cases of extreme censure. Rough translation: "Fuck you, Yankee." Sample usage: "You're supporting Obama? Why, bless your heart."
Demonbreun. As in "Demonbreun Street," the downtown artery connecting the Belmont area to the riverfront. Common pronunciations include "demon brown," "demon brewin' " and "that street over there"; all are accepted, none is correct. But we know how you guys like to seize upon a long, hard-to-pronounce name or term that shows you've mastered the local culture—"Ahmahdinejad," for example, or "Pekka Rinne." So say it with us: "dee-MUNN-bree-unn." Hell, throw a few M's in there if you want. Congratulations! You've advanced beyond 99.7 percent of Nashvillians. Or if you really want to show off, eliminate the vowels, kinda like Steve Martin's name in The Man with Two Brains: "d'mnnnbrnnn." Sample usage: "Déjà Vu on D'mnnnbrnnn, and step on it." Which brings us to...
Hover dance. Only Nashville could combine the expense, seaminess and public humiliation of prostitution with the lack of physical contact that's abundantly available for gratis. Behold the "hover dance," the lap dance's squeamish schoolmarm cousin, the result of a Metro ordinance that allowed the city to keep its conventioneer-friendly strip clubs as long as the performers maintain a strict three-foot no fly zone. In other words: Don't take it personally when the girls bob and waver above you as if your boxers were stuffed with hot coals. We're looking at you, Jim Lehrer.
Meat-and-three. Along with hot chicken and the hot fish sandwich, this is Nashville's regional delicacy, consisting of one meat entrée and three meats-by-association (or as we call them, "veggies"). This is what you will send your B-roll crew to film in search of the average Nashville voter while you dine at Miro District, Capitol Grille or Andrew Chadwick's on Rutledge Hill. Try the chilled coco blanc soup with chanterelles ($49 prix fixe)—the misting of thyme air really puts it over.
Music Row. You know how the Red Sea isn't actually red, or Chicken of the Sea isn't actually chicken? We're just sayin', in case you accidentally enter the Bond-villain lair of the country music industry expecting to hear, like, notes and harmonies and stuff. It's more like Wall Street, except with about $694 billion fewer reasons to panic. (At the moment.) No, if it's the real Nashville you want—by which we mean the "covered-to-death reinforced-cliché Sunday Night Football-establishing-shot image of Nashville"—pack the camera crew off to...
Lower Broad. Short for Lower Broadway, the city's holding pen for unfortunates who show up in cowboy hats and worn jeans with git-fiddles slung across their shoulders. They'll remain in this ghetto until they lose hope, their teeth, their will to live or their parking space outside Rippy's, whichever comes first (the parking space is usually last to go). You'd have a better chance finding Obama supporters at John Rich's house, but you can probably pin down some folks who like "that girl on 30 Rock."
English only. What you'll be speaking for the duration of your stay in Nashville, though perhaps not what you'll be hearing. It's not mandatory—yet, despite the best efforts of council member Eric Crafton (not the "Layla" dude)—but we're working on it. Sorry, Wolf Blitzer. Sample usage: "Ain't you got no sense? Hit's 'Inglish awnly!' "
"You Are So Nashville If...." A contest held by this paper every summer, in which Nashvillians define their city by completing the sentence fragment above. You'll know you've made Music City your concubine when you can fill in the blank like a local. Suggested entry: "You are so Nashville if...your Bible school erects a beer tent for the media."