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Nashville sides with the ophidiophobes: no more snakes on the streets

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Now picture this. you're walking down the bright musical strip that is downtown Nashville. You might see buskers or a bachelorette party bar hopping their way through the night. But then all of a sudden, someone tries to place a very large snake on your shoulders, hoping for a tip. Well, council members Jordan Huffman and Jacob Kupin are saying no - no more of that. The Nashville Metropolitan Council recently passed a rule that street vendors can no longer use animals of any kind to solicit payments. We're joined now by council member Jordan Huffman. Thank you for being with us.

JORDAN HUFFMAN: Oh, thank you for having me, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So explain to us, how did this phenomenon of peddling snakes - like, how did that happen?

HUFFMAN: Yeah. It's a great question. First off, the bottom corridor of Broadway in downtown Nashville is really a heavy tourist destination. It's become quite the avenue for street vendors as well. Over the last couple of years, we've started to notice that there's been some vendors that will sell a multitude of things, including services to set large snakes on your shoulders for photos. I had a constituent that was downtown with some family members. So anytime a family member comes in and you live in Nashville, you got to go downtown.

RASCOE: Yeah.

HUFFMAN: That's the thing you got to do - right? - and was solicited for the service of setting a very large python on her shoulders. She did not agree, and the snake was placed on her shoulders anyway. And she reached out very upset. So I reached out to council member Kupin. And he said, good news, help is already on the way. I'm drafting some legislation due to some other complaints I have received. And would you like to be a co-sponsor? And this is a really easy way for us to say, hey, we're taking your feedback, and we're not afraid to take action when needed.

RASCOE: So how will the new rule be enforced?

HUFFMAN: So the - anyone that has a street - if it's a street vendor that has a snake at this point, will receive a citation. And then that person will be logged. So if they are repeat, you know, offenders, we can address that accordingly.

RASCOE: Some locals in Nashville, I guess, have complained over the years that the downtown has become too touristy. Is this part of your effort to make sure that the downtown is comfortable for everyone?

HUFFMAN: It absolutely is. And we are in the midst of a pretty large transition for our downtown corridor. We have a brand-new development called the East Bank that's coming in very soon. And this is going to be a really good chance for Nashville to hit a reset on that reputation of just being a tourist destination. And it'll allow us to form a section of downtown not only for tourists, but, you know, a little bit higher class for the folks that live here as well. That's the biggest complaint that you get.

RASCOE: OK. Did you ever see some of these street vendors who were holding the pythons? Did you ever put a python on your shoulders? Have you done that?

HUFFMAN: I have absolutely not (laughter). I have seen one coming out from a concert a few months ago. I stayed as far away as possible - not very - that much of a fan of snakes, personally.

RASCOE: OK.

HUFFMAN: But to each their own (laughter).

RASCOE: OK. All right, well, that's Jordan Huffman, who represents District 14 in Nashville. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

HUFFMAN: Thank you, Ayesha.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SNAKES IN THE GRASS")

DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) And they won't let you go. No, they're creepy, they're cold. So beware of the snakes in the grass - snakes in the grass. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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