Part 4 of the Tennessee Chronicles
Thursday, January 14
The first thing you notice about the factory is its location. Plunked down in the middle of a field, surrounded by farms and ranches, hemmed in by concrete and a few other industries, the plant consists of a two-story brick office attached to what looks like a metal factory.
The woman at the front desk is friendly and efficient, and a ringer for Courtney Cox. Upstairs in the showroom, a consultant briefs us on new initiatives that will change the business. His name is Andy and he knows more about chemistry and marketing than all of us combined. After the meeting we tour the plant—1.3 million sq. ft. under one roof. Wearing safety glasses and earplugs, we watch as green shower enclosures bob on L-shaped hooks that sweep through the factory on a overhead conveyor. A woman dressed in white pushes one into a booth and sprays it expertly with a white substance called gelcoat. Two men heat a sheet of acrylic and create a tub on a thermoforming machine. A man drills holes in a shower enclosure and installs a grab bar. Others brace the enclosures with wood and box them. The units sit row upon row in the warehouse, marching toward a door on the far wall.
Back upstairs, we break for lunch, then do our day’s major act of kindness—creating Valentine’s Day packets for the relatives of employees who are serving overseas. As I pick the name of a serviceman, I realize how much the people who work here care for their fellow workers, and their families. Such, I hope, are the benefits of living in a small town.
Tour and packages done, we exchange hugs—another pleasant surprise—and pile into the car for the ride back to Nashville: Route 22 north to Interstate-40 and a straight shot to our next destination, the Gaylord Opryland, Garth Brooks singing “Standing Outside the Fire” as the miles fly by. “So what else would you be doing?” Carlene asks and we realize she’s right: we’d be pushing paper, staring at computers, deleting email. Chances are we wouldn’t be doing acts of kindness, or experiencing them on a factory floor.
The Gaylord Opryland is quite a contrast to the surrounding countryside. It is a mammoth structure, a hotel and convention center with 2,100 rooms, four indoor gardens, nine restaurants for dinner, coffee shops, sports bars and shops. There are four indoor gardens: Cascades, the Garden Conservatory, Magnolia and Delta. Each consists of an atrium the size of several footfall fields, surrounded by guest rooms and topped by a glass ceiling. Each has a different theme. Cascades features fountains, palms, poinsettias and a gazebo-like bar that overlooks a waterfall.
Tonight we’re headed for hot wings at Jack Daniels and Volare for steak and chops. After dinner we walk through the gardens, 4.5 acres of tropical lush under glass complete with a river and rental boats. It reminds me of the Wynn in Vegas, without the casino, or the Mark Twain riverboat ride at Disneyworld. It’s a long way from the factory, an impression that isn’t lost on us.
Tomorrow: Nashville cats.