Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nashville, Ya'll

                I know it’s bad blog form to start a blog and then suddenly drop it to fester for two-plus weeks. Honestly, I didn’t mean to. I got job (woo-hoo!) that required a two- week training course in Nashville, TN. It must be a big, fancy, highfalutin job, right? With perks, benefits, a company car, and a salary to finally buy those sweet Coach booties I’ve been drooling at since spying them in the Nashville Macy’s, right? Not so much. Hold on. I’ve got to put on some music for this:
                Okay, U2 is on. One can never go wrong with 80s/early 90s U2. Anyway, back to this job.
                It’s cupcakes. Yep, after pulling my son away from his father this summer, I left him for two weeks to learn about cupcakes. Now, in my defense, I was under the impression that this two week period was going to be full emersion in this company, learning all about how to open up a bakery from the owner of this twenty-plus store franchise. I mean, why else would I leave my son for two weeks unless I was confident that this would help us both down the road, right?
                Apparently, it was to stay in a sub-par hotel, get sick as a dog, and throw chocolate jimmies on cupcakes while my “trainers” stood around complaining about the fruit flies in their home kitchens. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning:
                I was offered a job at this cupcake bakery that required the stay in Nashville. Deciding to go was no easy task. It meant, as we’ve discussed, leaving my son for the time, as well as missing out on my cousin’s reception in Cincinnati, and flying a few hundred miles away with some random guy I’d met only twice before- once at the interview and once to grab some paperwork. If I ended up wandering the Appalachian foothills raped and battered no one was going to be particularly surprised. And those were just my concerns. My Mom, Oh She of Finite Support, didn’t want to watch Elijah for two weeks. My Dad was not at all impressed with the ideas (me wandering the foothills or him watching Elijah), either.  It wasn’t like people were banging down my door to hire me, though. This cupcake joint was the only solid offer I had. So, without their full endorsement but a grudging promise to keep my son from relative harm, I accepted.
                Then there was the issue of what to do with Elijah while my folks went to Cincinnati for the reception. My idea was to leave Elijah with my brother Douglas who was staying home anyway. I’d be home either late Friday evening or early Saturday morning. I’d grab an Airporter from RDU, head home, and with any luck, sleep in my folks’ bed while they were gone so I could stretch out and not have to share a room with my son for a couple nights. My parents didn’t like the idea. In their defense, Douglas has the aforementioned issues so we aren’t really sure how he would handle an emergency. But we’re talking seven hours alone with Elijah- not the whole weekend. Since, at that point, Dad had not reserved a hotel room and had alluded to possibly being okay not going should I end up in Nashville, I assumed, well, that they would just not go and I’d come home as soon as training was done.
                Dad decided, however, that a better plan would be to take Elijah to Cincinnati and I could catch a flight from Nashville to Cincinnati. They’d drive to the airport, pick me up, and we would then check into the hotel together. Because Southwest doesn’t fly to Cincinnati, my soon-to-be boss offered to pay for a ticket on a different airline up to the cost of flying back to Raleigh. The cheapest one we found was $300. Yep, $300 from Nashville to Cincinnati. Ouch! But I agreed. Then, Dad said that Elijah and I should have a room to ourselves for the weekend. Tack on an additional $300 for that. Are you following this here? My idea is to grab an Airporter home. What’s that run? $75 or so? My Dad’s idea is a $600 trip to Cincinnati on my non-existent dime. Guess which idea we go with?
                Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of going to Cincinnati to see our family. I desperately want to introduce my son to all his aunts, uncles, cousins, and definitely his great-grandmother. I just don’t want to be $600 in debt to my folks when I still have a huge amount of stuff in Washington to ship, new glasses to buy, and other bills to pay including more money to my folks for food, etc. Plus, did I mention that there is $5 in my savings account? And, as mentioned before, it’s not like Elijah’s getting any support from his father.
                We decide I’ll go to Cincinnati. Instead of focusing on not getting my winter clothes or Elijah’s toys from Washington, or glasses so I can finally get a license and not be stuck in Podunk, NC, I focus on seeing my family in Cincinnati. We make the arrangements and I head off to the airport.
                Now, I’m not sure about you but I wasn’t under a rock on 9/11 and, more importantly, I’ve flown several times since then. So, when I get to the airport and one of the first things that happens is a guy dropping off his luggage in front of me and then literally running out of the lobby, the hair on the back of my neck tends to raise a little. So, what do I do? Same as everyone else. I look at the bag, look around at other people, and decide that it’s not worth losing my place in line or looking like a fool to inform security of a possible bomb. We collectively inch as far away from the bag as we can like cows in a pen avoiding eye contact with the flailing, seized up heifer in the corner.  Besides, if I get to the front of the line quick enough I can get a cheap business upgrade. I’ll risk being blown up for that extra drink voucher.
                Our flight is rather nondescript. Having missed the upgrade, I was sandwiched between “Joe Dockers” and the sort of guy that makes little old ladies clutch their purses to their chest even in the produce aisle. Looking over, though, I saw that he was listening to an NPR podcast and felt doubly reassured that there would be no shanking in my row. By the fifth time our pilot announced we were going to Nashville, though, I really wanted to jump from my seat and scream “Nashville? I need KNOXVILLE!!!” My boss might have frowned upon me, though, so I remained silent and pondered the Hindu cow illustrations in the safety manual. Thank you, Fight Club, for making all my flights just that much more enjoyable.
                Upon arriving it was straight to work. Our first day was mostly making sure our paperwork was in order, getting a tour of the bakery, and hearing for the nth time that the company was started by a failed country musician who loves small dogs and Jesus. We called it a short day and went to check into our hotel rooms.
                My room was okay. It was rather non descript with a painting so generic that I found myself looking at it quite often just to remind myself what it was of. But, for the most part, it was tidy and relatively clean. Plus, it had a kitchen so I wouldn’t have to eat every meal out- a huge bonus in my book. My boss, however, had a room where the air conditioning did not work and my coworker had a funky smell and ants in her bed. She was upgraded to a better, larger suite but still claimed dreams of ants crawling across her for the first couple of nights. I don’t blame her. Ants- yuck!
It became swiftly apparent that the training program was set up for the lowest common denominator bakery-experience wise. My boss and my coworker both graduated from prestigious culinary programs and my coworker was a pastry chef at an exclusive resort outside of Asheville, NC. My seven years baking professionally looks like dog poo compared to these two and I was dying of boredom. I can only imagine what they were experiencing. We decided within the first few days that our biggest problem was learning to get the “signature swirl” just right. Weight-wise, this company puts as much icing on their cupcakes as there is cupcake. Getting all that to stay “just so” is a little bit of a feat- especially if there is any filling seeping from the cake that would make getting the icing to stick that much more difficult. So, my coworker would bake all day long simple recipes for the cupcakes and I would put whatever decorations on the cupcakes that they called for. I didn’t even get to ice any cupcakes until the last day because you had to be “certified” by the owner of the company before you could do that and between her running around to all the other stores in the area and my being sick for two days, it didn’t happen until our second-to-last day.
Speaking of getting sick, it all started on the Friday after we go there. I woke with a scratchy throat. A little tea knocked it right out, though, so I gave it no mind. Saturday my nose got a bit stuffy as well. I grabbed some medicine and powered on. It got progressively worse until Monday morning found me lying in bed unable to talk or walk farther than the bathroom (thank goodness for small blessings). A trip to Urgent Care diagnosed me with a “contagious virus.” My doctor was really cool, though. He decorated cakes on the side to ease the stress of his job so I smiled weakly as he explained how he recreated a beach scene on his. last cake. It honestly sounded adorable and had I been able to croak out the words, I’d have told him so. Oh, and his med student shadow “Nathanial” was yummy enough to eat with a spoon- if it didn’t hurt to swallow. Visions of hot med students in my mind and prescriptions in hand, I shuffled to the pharmacy and then back to my room where I quarantined myself until Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, my Dad was dealing with an illness of his own. He came home Monday afternoon incredibly sick and unable to keep anything down. I called for my daily check-in with Elijah and Dad sounded atrocious. A few hours later Mom called to say Dad was in the hospital with an obstruction in his small intestine. The next day the surgeon thought that it might just be incredibly bad stomach flu but it turns out the original diagnosis was true. With a surgery already scheduled for this week, it was advised that Dad not go to Cincinnati so, when he got home, he cancelled our hotel reservations and booked me on a Southwest flight back to Raleigh after work on Friday. Of course, I’d have to pay for that flight as well.
Thursday night, my coworker and I treated ourselves to a fantastic meal at Wild Ginger- an Asian fusion restaurant across the street from our hotel  (they obviously catered to the Hyatt-W crowd and less the Homestead Extended Stay group but, hey, no one was checking our room keys at the door). It was our last night in town and we’d saved up for this event with the money give to us to cover food while in Nashville. Both my coworker and I are huge foodies so pulling away from the fast food and casual dining experiences of the past two weeks was exactly what we needed. We started our meal with a fantastic lobster-crab bisque that was both creamy and spicy. Then, it was on to steak fried rice for her that was miles above anything you’d get at an average Asian restaurant. I had their “Crazy Cow” sushi which was a piece of lobster sandwiched between pineapple and rice that was then topped with filet mignon and jalapeno and served with a spicy mango sauce. On the side, I had octopus nigiri and got my coworker to try octopus for the first time. We split a Saigon- Cinnamon dusted bombe and I had a mango-ginger martini. If we’d stayed at the W and eaten at Wild Ginger every night, I’d have suffered through any amount of repetitive cupcake topping.
On Friday we all packed into the car, said goodbye to Nashville, and boarded our flight home. As it turned out, I ended up with the exact same flight as my boss and coworkers. Since my quarantine granted me some extra spending cash, I was able to take advantage of the Business Select upgrade this time. I offered to save seats for my coworker and boss and let me tell you, nothing will earn you more snide comments or dirty looks than saving a window seat on a flight with open seating. By the time they finally got to me, I was about to go off on the next person that asked for my row. Thank goodness for the drink voucher.
My folks met me at the airport with Elijah in tow. I don’t think I greeted either one of them but I held onto my son and cried for a good ten minutes. He hugged me tight, alternating between resting his head on my shoulder and looking into my eyes and smiling. We held hands all the way home.

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