I have been watching the PBS documentary on the history of country music and it has certainly been amazing and a walk down memory lane for many of us that grew up in Nashville.
One particular moment of the series is when they talked about the legend, Roy Acuff. I owe Mr. Acuff a lot of money, has do a lot of my friends.
Towards the later part of his life, Mr. Acuff had a house on the Opryland, USA property. You could walk from the Grand Ole Opry to the front gate of the park and go in that way. Along the way though, you would pass Roy’s house.
Then one day, spring of 85, this happens. “Hey man, come here.” I was being motioned over by this older guy.
“Want to get into the park for free, not buy a season pass and never get caught?”
I thought to myself, of course not! “Absolutely, but how?”
“See behind me? That is Roy Acuff’s house. See that door on the fence there? Open it, walk up the steps, and it leads to a gate on the other side. Open that and you’re in the park. That simple. A lot of workers cut through that way and no one ever says a word.”
I bet you right now you are picturing this guy in your head and rightfully so.
OK, let’s see if this works.
Here we go. So nervous, I wanted to throw up. I walked around that gate at Roy’s house the same way Sean Penn did in The Falcon And the Snowman at the Russian Embassy. Around and around and around and finally, opened that gate. Dang! What did he say do next? Oh, the steps. Where are the steps? Where? Oh yes, right in front of me. Up the steps we go and on Roy’s porch and then down the steps.
Then my mind, which is usually dormant, and only comes awake in situations that don’t warrant it, starts asking me questions. What if Roy comes out and tries to stop me? Joe, he is about 150, both in age and weight, he can’t stop you. But it is Roy Acuff, he IS country music. What if he calls the cops? How does my mom feel bailing me out of jail when people at work ask her what I got into trouble for? Why couldn’t I have been born rich? OK, Joe, lets do this.
Straight ahead is the gate to the park that would ultimately dump you out into do-wah-diddy-city. That walk from the end of the steps to the gate seemed like it took an hour. I felt like Dustin Hoffman in The Marathon Man trying to escape from Laurence Olivier and just running forever.
I made the gate, took a deep breath, opened the latch, and bingo, right into the park. Not a soul around looking at me. All right, I am going to keep this to myself and it will be my secret forever.
Two weeks later, I had told about 10 people and we all used it. We never got caught either.
The park shut down in 1997 and a few weeks before it closed, I decided to see if for one last time, our secret pathway still worked. All the nerves from the first time 12 years later resurfaced.
“Joe, dear God, you are a grown man!” Nope, I really never grew up. Sorry, mind, you are not getting me this time. I opened the gate, up the steps and yes, there is the door, open that and I was in the park. No one said a word.
I miss you, Opryland.