June 9-11 2011, Days 2-4
I feel like I’ve grown five years in the past three weeks. It’s not that I was terribly naive before—or maybe I was, hard to tell—but being on my own has brought me closer to my thoughts and emotions. I’m not creating imaginary friends and having philosophical debates with them, but because I am awake 18 hours or more a day and generally have no plans to speak of when waking up, I have a lot of time to think. 18 hours, 1080 minutes, 64,800 seconds of time every day!
Traveling alone allows you to meet people when you want, and complete solitude when you want. So everything that happens I get the chance to analyze, think about, and file away for further use. When you are around other people, you are often bothered, busy, or whisked from place to place and topic to topic in conversation. I have grown stronger in mind in just these past 20 days than I even knew I could, and it is beginning to show.
Here at the Country Music Festival in Nashville, 100,000 people converge on the city—population 580,000—and sing, dance, play, and meet their favorite stars. At night, massive concerts starring famous country singers playing in succession get the crowds going. Thanks to my press pass, I get to view the concerts, work in the very comfortable and friendly Chevrolet ReCharge media lounge, and have a great excuse to talk to people.
My goals here are to learn more about country culture, meet other journalists, practice approaching people, listen to some great music, and do interviews for an article for possible submission to a men’s magazine about relationships at music festivals. Some are easy—great music is everywhere in Nashville, from the field to the streets—others are more difficult.
I guess I am fairly good at talking when I am in the right mood, but I am very bad at approaching. Part of the experience of this trip has been figuring out how, then overcoming the butterflies and putting theory into practice. As I have mentioned, situational conversations—in line for food etc—is not that hard. The hard part is approaching a group of (or just one or two) people you do not know, and enjoying an interesting conversation so that they leave happy to have met you, and vice versa. This skill, once developed, can work wonders for networking, making friends, and generally enjoying life.
I am still figuring out the theory of it all, but that has not stopped me from putting it into practice just a little bit. I’ll write here about a couple of experiences over the past three days of the festival.
My second night at the concerts, I met a guy through are shared annoyance at not being able to stand where we wanted to. He was there with his family, and we spent the rest of the night talking, laughing, and enjoying ourselves. I took some pictures for his daughter, a great singer in her own right, and got along great with everyone. I found out later that night that his company built the stage. An interesting note: women were giving me more flirtatious glances that normal while I was talking rather than hanging out alone, I imagine that psychology would support that affiliation and gregariousness is attractive to women?
Speaking of women, I think I have mentioned that one of the things I was hoping to accomplish this summer was to figure out how not to treat an attractive woman any better than someone I did not find as attractive. I hate the idea of attraction holding a subconscious sway over the way I treat people, so I am trying to get rid of it. Since I was interviewing women to ask them about relationships at CMA Fest for the article I mentioned, I decided to up the stakes. I went to the third night of concerts, where the twenty-something women dress up and hang out in groups, introduced myself as a reporter and asked three questions:
Are you here with anyone?
If not, did you come hoping to find someone, or have you in the past few nights?
What are some qualities you look for in guys?
As if that wasn’t hard enough to do entirely alone, I would only go up to women I found attractive in hopes that by talking to enough of them and asking questions like that within moments of meeting them, I could kill the butterflies one gets when talking to someone he finds attractive. That way, I would not feel any different when talking to an attractive person as someone I didn’t find attractive. On a side note, I have a similar goal for celebrities, but more on that later.
Anyways, I approached ten groups of women between 2-5 people. It got a lot easier after the first two. I didn’t get slapped or ignored. In fact, all the ladies but one was extremely receptive. The one who was not so receptive, when asked about qualities she likes in a guy she looked at various things I was wearing and said “not (insert John’s silly hat).” Many of the conversations even continued well after the interview was over. It was not even all that awkward. At any rate, this example pleases me because it would have been very easy to just not have asked anybody anything once I got there, but I did anyway.
My final example of a success I found was also during the third night of concerts. I ate dinner at the S’honeys where I have been parking my car so as not to pay $20 a day for parking. As I was leaving, a woman was arguing with the manager about a waitress who brought her the wrong order and then “angrily” snatched it back. My guess is “hurriedly” would be a better word, but that is beside the point. I’m standing there paying my check, and it pops into my head to say something. Normally I would have just kept it in my head, but this time I didn’t.
‘You know, I’ve been coming here for years and I just think I won’t come here anymore.” She said to the manager.
“Ma’am,” I adopted my most bashful southern accent. “It’s none of my business but, everybody has a bad day once in a while. The manager says that she is good most of the time, and most of the time you like this restaurant. Don’t let one not-so-great experience stop you from coming back.” She looked at me for a moment, as did the manager and the hostess, and the woman’s young daughter. I figure she’s thinking “Who is this redneck wanna-be wearing cowboy boots telling me what to do?” Instead, she laughs.
“Well, I suppose your right. It’s a pretty good place.” To which I commented on her daughter’s sippy cup provided by the restaurant.
“Plus, they throw in those cool little sippy cups too.” The mother and daughter both laughed.
“Have a good evening.” I said at they walked out. I paid my bill and rolled my eyes at the hostess. “How was your Meal?” she asks with a smile. The manager flashes me a thank you glance, and I leave.
That is the man I want to be. If I can regularly defuse a situation and make everybody leave happy, then that is just where I want to be.
I have a lot of work to do still, but I will claim at least one small success from my list of goals so far. I had hoped to be able to get along with any type of person. Here at CMA Fest, I have been able to get along with guys and girls likely very similar to the ones from Simpsonville whom I failed to get along with just two weeks ago. I have made friends among Nashville born and raised southern boys, journalists from around the country, and families. This to me, is a good sign.