Longtime TA Nashville employees recount historic 2010 flood, support and recovery

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Nashville TravelCenters of America flooded

This week’s Overdrive Radio podcast edition features the voices of six current longtime staff of the Nashville, Tenn., downtown TravelCenters of America location. It’s certainly a unique stop with its proximity to the city center, likewise just a few city blocks’ worth of distance from the banks of the mighty Cumberland River. TA Nashville’s continued existence at its now 40-year location is remarkable further for what happened nine years ago this past May, when over the weekend of May 1-2, 2010, the city and surrounding region got almost 20 inches of torrential rain in some areas, flooding the city’s drainage system, area creeks among other tributaries and, ultimately, that nearby mighty river.

As a resident, I spent that weekend lugging buckets of water sucked up by a 10-gallon shop vac from the basement of my home, but by the time the rain stopped, we were mostly dry in the immediate vicinity around where I live in East Nashville. I wouldn’t learn of the dire situation at TA Nashville before I got a call Monday morning from trucker Jeff Clark, who’d just come off a jog in the median between east- and west-bound I-40 west of town, stuck in a traffic jam of then-indeterminate-and-ongoing length ahead of the bridge over the Harpeth River, which was underwater.

I knew of that closure, and others around the region – no way I could get all the way out there in my car. So I jumped on a bicycle and pedaled to the TA, where men in rowboats were working to secure the area, several trucks were flooded up to their windshields, and the smell of fuel from the big pipeline terminal between TA and the river, under even deeper water, was ubiquitous on the high bridge into downtown that spanned it all.

I found a couple haulers parked in a nearby unused lot on slightly higher ground, both of whom were cooling their heels and waiting for word of a way out of the city, given the widespread nature of the calamity.

For the men and women behind the voices you’ll hear next, by then the uncertainty of what was to come was real. But perhaps the most frightening aspect of it all, watching all that water make its way higher and higher onto the truck stop lot, was more or less finished. Take a listen:

The team you’ll hear in the podcast, from left: Longtime fuel-desk cashier Marie “Granny” Duke, tech Steve Whitmore, inventory manager in the service dept. Shay Rucker, Donna Dement (also on the fuel desk), regional service manager David Green, and tech Matt Lasher. They’re all standing in the vestibule to the interior of the place, where is displayed the painting above them featuring Nashville country music icons — it’s a holdover from before the flood that was able to be salvaged.The team you’ll hear in the podcast, from left: Longtime fuel-desk cashier Marie “Granny” Duke, tech Steve Whitmore, inventory manager in the service dept. Shay Rucker, Donna Dement (also on the fuel desk), regional service manager David Green, and tech Matt Lasher. They’re all standing in the vestibule to the interior of the place, where is displayed the painting above them featuring Nashville country music icons — it’s a holdover from before the flood that was able to be salvaged.

After reopening to much fanfare nine months after the flood, the Nashville TA — honoring owner-op Candy Bass now in its official name after Bass was honored the TA Petro Citizen Driver Awards some years back — continues to transform.

The day I visited earlier in July the new Charleys Philly Steaks franchise at the Nashville TA location was on its way toward being finished.The day I visited earlier in July the new Charleys Philly Steaks franchise at the Nashville TA location was on its way toward being finished.

The Country Pride restaurant that was once a guaranteed feature of most any TravelCenters of America location nationwide is no more, but some of the kitchen staff there have signed on with the new Charleys Philly Steaks franchise that has just this month come in its place, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. While it’s not a traditional diner-type restaurant, the food at the fast-casual joint, I’ll attest, is quite good. I had the wings today for an early lunch accomplished in just under a half-hour. The rest of the menu is dominated by, in addition to wings with various sauces, cheese-steak and breakfast sandwiches and more.

The new Charleys interior, now open for business.The new Charleys interior, now open for business.

As you may have noticed in other regions around the country, the TA Nashville isn’t the only TA Petro location to move away from traditional sit-down diners to these kinds of franchise concepts. Market pressures on sit-down dining in truck stops include the hours of service rule and its ticking 14-hour clock and the virtual elimination of the lunch break throughout society for many — the overall squeezing of all of our time, truckers’ time included of course.

Tom Liutkus, senior vice president in public relations with TA Petro, says the nature of the current hours rule “seems to methodically eliminate lunch as an option altogether. Now even breakfast time has been squeezed as drivers and the population in general don’t have the time to sit for a meal.”

Reckoning with such market pressures, TA Petro’s turn toward popular national and regional brands at some stops, Liutkus notes, has brought in new customers and boosted sales, generally, as some individual stops adjust to market pressures.  The company is “also adding variety to the food choices, something professional drivers have asked for through the years.”

They’re also committed to maintaining what Liutkus cals the “strongest Country Pride and Iron Skillet restaurants along with a large, varied assortment of national and regional brands.”

A selection of past coverage of the TA Nashville and regional flooding, from the time, in rough chronological order:

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