I learn something from every trip I make, and this year’s sojourn to the NRA Show in Nashville was no exception!
The NRA Show attracts a huge number of people every year. Some 70,000 people attended this year’s show, and Nashville wasn’t really equipped to deal with that kind of crowd. There are precious few hotels around the Convention Center, which itself is bordered by…well, not the best of areas, and any decent accommodations were booked months in advance. Even though I started looking six months out I found most of the hotels were already booked solid.
We ended up going to AirBnB and found a house that was described as being in an “arts” district. The price was right, the house looked nice, everything seemed to check out. I booked it.
While the house itself was a nice little place (clean and neat), the area turned out to be anything but artsy. It was a neighborhood that had definitely seen better days (though, to be fair, it had probably seen worse as well.) To call it “rough” might have been a little harsh; “seedy” would certainly be appropriate. It turned out to be quiet, actually, but we did see drug deals going down at the end of the block. By any measure, it wasn’t a comfortable place to be outside at night.
(As it turned out, this was not one of the worst places we could have stayed. I talked to numerous people who’d booked their accommodations through the NRA website and were stuck in motels that made our place look like the Taj Mahal. Like the one where the sliding glass door on the ground floor room didn’t have any sort of a lock and smelled — according to the guest — “like someone had left a dead hooker under the bed”, or the room where the door had been pried open with a crowbar and the bathroom “appeared to have been used as a meth lab.” Every time I asked someone about their stay, the stories got worse!)
I tell you this tale because it illustrates that planning a trip to a strange town and making arrangements with considerations to your safety is always tricky. Without the benefit of living there you don’t know the “lay of the land” — what parts of town are better than others, or if that road in front of your hotel is a major thoroughfare between rival gang territories.
In our case I had looked at Google maps and Street View, but I’ve found that they’re not terribly useful. My previous house in a desirable neighborhood of one of the most affluent towns in Oregon, for instance, looked like a slum on Street View. A map can give you a rough idea of traffic patterns, and the satellite view can give you a good idea of what’s around, but those still don’t tell you all you want to know.
One of the things I regularly do is to check local crime maps. In this case, the neighborhood actually looked pretty good; in fact, it appeared to be one of the better neighborhoods in the area. However, the old saying of “the map is not the territory” comes very true here. As the police officer who was in our party pointed out, some neighborhoods are so used to crime that they don’t bother picking up the phone and reporting them any longer. They look statistically better than they really are simply because people don’t provide the police any data to be reported.
The clue is in the crime reporting of adjacent blocks. People in all the neighborhoods around were obviously calling in a lot of crime reports, as those areas were covered in little crime icons. All the way around this neighborhood, in any direction, were large numbers of reported crimes. In this neighborhood, there were very few. As it happens, it wasn’t that crime didn’t exist there; it was everywhere within a large radius. There was nothing about this street that would have left it free of the incidents which plagued everywhere within walking distance.
The difference had to be in the reporting. I didn’t see that, which is how we ended up there.
It’s all the little things, those clues, which can help you make better travel plans. Maps are great, data is wonderful, but understanding how to interpret what you’re seeing is critical. Despite all the traveling I do and all the places I’ve been, even I can get skunked.
I won’t be so easy to fool next time.
-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-