This year’s vacation was back south, to Nashville this time, but the motivation wasn’t because we couldn’t find a better city to visit, it was toys. Nashville was home to a diecast car convention and I was excited to attend. I went ready buy more Hot Wheels and get the word out about Redline Derby…neither of which really happened. But Nashville was great.
An invitation I couldn’t pass up
Redline Derby Racing has been going strong for about two years now and through the game and message boards met a lot of other guys that dig the diecast racing scene like I do. One of them happened to be on staff of the convention and invited me to come and race on a giant 50-foot race track, so I happily took him up on the offer. Racing was the reason for the season but I was excited to check out a diecast convention, expecting rows and rows of people selling all sorts of cars and toys. Unfortunately, it didn’t really go down like I had expected or hoped.
If you’ve ever been to any sort of toy or game convention then you know what I was expecting in Nashville. In my head there was a big hall filled with vendors and people selling their cars and toys on tables. You then spend a couple hours walking around inspecting all there is to buy, maybe having a few friendly conversations, and then be on your way. Little did I know that the diecast community runs things a little differently. Instead of single space to shop, this convention was run room-to-room in a hotel.
Being in a hotel was to be expected and not a surprise. Hotels have ballrooms and big spaces just like any convention center, plus I knew the audience for diecast is a little smaller than say, video games or even model trains. However, when we arrived at the hotel we found the convention was more or less scattered throughout the hotel. There was a large room where you registered and that held the giant race track, but all the people doing the selling were in individual hotel rooms that spread over four different floors. This hit me as quite a shock as it was the exact opposite of what I was expecting, but I played along and checked out a few rooms with my incredibly loving and supportive wife in tow.
The only way to find out where open rooms were located was by checking out a few scattered bulletin boards by the elevators where people posted their room number. It looked like a bulletin board at the local coffee shop pimping garage sales and tutoring. So we went to the fourth floor and entered to find…well, a hotel room. Two beds, a desk, night stands…all the things you would expect to find in a hotel room…absolutely covered with Hot Wheels and diecast cars. In the corner, one or two people sitting looking most unhappy while shoppers like me walk in and walk out. I can’t think of anything more awkward than walking into someone’s private hotel room to purchase goods. It felt like a amateur drug deal. You walk into room 410, give the secret handshake, slip the guy a $10 bill and walk out with…a bag full of Hot Wheels.
Being this was my first diecast convention, it was all new to me, but everyone else was seemingly game and didn’t mind the format. But I can tell you that this room-to-room was a major buzz kill for me and directly stopped me from spending as much as I expected. Who wants to travel between three floors going door-to-door? Had all these people been organized in a bigger space like any normal convention, I probably would have spent twice as much on the toys I loved to collect. I’m not sure if the convention organizer was trying to promote some sort of intimacy or what, but from my perspective, I don’t think it worked. And because of how things were arranged, a day I had scheduled to be spending inside looking at toy cars was cut in half, which let us explore the rest of downtown Nashville a little earlier than planned…however, that turned out to be a great thing.
Music City saved the day
Nashville is great little city that reminds me a lot of Columbus, only with some actual historical clout and credibility. Nashville’s main drag is three blocks of country bars, each of which has no cover charge and a continuous stream of local, no-name country cover bands. Between every other bar was a souvenir shop or record store, each with its own local and historical charm. In fact, just about everything of interest in downtown Nashville is within five blocks and complete walking distance. When you exhaust all the bars (like we did) you can walk over to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the old Ryman Auditorium or even the Tennessee State Museum (which is also free).
Our hotel was actually a few miles from downtown on the Vanderbilt campus, and we couldn’t have been happier with it. Being on a college campus, there were lots of things to do that weren’t of the historical nature. First of which was Centennial Park, which was right across the street and is home to a replica of the Parthenon…yes, that Parthenon. And wow, what a nice park. For one, it’s a huge, green space that is wonderful for walking around at just about any time of day.
The Parthenon itself is a great structure to behold and just to hang out around. It’s probably not ever without tourists but since it is more than a simple walk from the downtown scene, it wasn’t that crowded, even during the weekend. Even with all the history, bars and other fun there was to have in Nashville, the Parthenon park was my favorite part, which just goes to prove to myself that the most simple and easy-going of locations beats any corner souvenir shop or crowded bar. I know, I’m boring.
Outside the downtown Nashville bubble lies Opryland, home of the Grand Ole Opry and other tourist attractions. Unfortunately, the biggest mall in the state at Opryland was still closed due to the floods from 2010 and weren’t scheduled to reopen until next Spring, so that left us with the Opry House tour, which was a lot of fun. It’s a great tour that takes you through the steps of a country music performer and leads you from the back stage area right out on the main stage. I’m not a big country music fan but I can appreciate the history and contributions of country music…can you say “rock n roll”?
And you can’t forget the visit the Cooter’s! No, not that cooter, Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard. The actor opened a free museum of Dukes memorabilia and it’s pretty awesome. You’ll see more toys and junk with Dukes of Hazzard on it than you could ever imagine or expect. I mean, I knew the Dukes was popular but didn’t know it was *that* popular. Of course, you can buy stickers, magnets and shirts emblazon with the Dukes name, but my favorite is the bumper sticker that every guy wants but no man would ever have the balls enough to put on his car.
The South redeems itself
So where the convention fell a bit short, Nashville as a whole did more than enough to make up for all of it. This was our vacation and it wasn’t just about Hot Wheels, but that’s not to say the Hot Wheels convention was a total bust. I did get to race my cars for my online game on the massive 50-foot track and met a few people that I had only talked with online, and it’s always fun to put faces to names…and I did leave the South with a few bags full of new Hot Wheels, which is never a bad thing.
It’s hard to say if I’ll go to another diecast convention. I might only if it’s within easy driving distance again, but next time I’ll know what to expect and can plan accordingly. Nashville, however, is certainly a town I wouldn’t mind visiting again and seeing a lot of things we weren’t able to get to while we were there. As far as I’m concerned, the South is back to a zero score with us. Our trip to Memphis was a disaster but Nashville was a great time.