Tuesday, February 19, 2008

love it or hate it, it's yours

in regi's fiery furnaces post, he referenced an encounter i had with an indie girl at the pilot light. it sent me down a few avenues of thought. first, let me describe:

she asked me where i was from.
have you ever listened to this band on vinyl?
no (aren't their albums recorded digitally?--i'm not sure).
i followed them up to chicago.
i bet that was cool.
it was f***ing awesome. chicago! not like this city. knoxville sucks. i feel like i'm gonna get mugged.
well, i know it looks bad, but you're in a pretty safe area. there are mostly bums down here.
don't worry, i'm from atlanta, i know what it's like. but knoxville sucks, where do you go here?

i don't want to go on a rant against some girl who came to knoxville to have fun at a show and was disappointed (though my wife and i were wondering: why is it that single girls at concerts often seem to assume the 'i'm a bad a**' mantra?).

like i said above, the conversation got me thinking.

on one level i believe she's right. knoxville is certainly not the an easily accessible town (like, say atlanta or chicago) in regards to night life. obviously, i love knoxville, i wouldn't be writing on this blog otherwise. but she has a point. even in the old city, your choices are limited. you will have to do some walking to find what you want. in terms of a readily available night life--if you're looking to skip from bar to bar--or in an abundance of trendy restaurants, knoxville does suck.

but this led me to my next thought: if you give it a little effort, you will be rewarded by knoxville. this is what i love about this city and why i enjoy writing and reading about it's eccentricities. if you are willing to branch out, maybe learn more about your community, you will be amazed by what you find. maybe some will consider thought trite and even trendy, but i think it is absolutely true.

a few examples here: king tut's (egyptian diner off of chapman hwy.), steamboat subs (central), marie's tavern (often praised here). these are just a few eclectic and off the path establishments that came to mind. i think that these represent a sort of microcosm for greater knoxville. the culture may not be the most easily to get to--you may not be able to get off of i40 at broadway and plop down in some local haunt (in fact, getting off at broadway will prob. convince you to get right back on) without doing a bit of searching--but it certainly exists. the fact that you have to dig in to get to it actually makes this place a little more communal. i get the sense that the knoxvillians who have invested in their community (with time, money, etc.) are proud of what they are a part of.

don't write me off as an extreme community activist. more often than i would like to admit, i am simply content to consume, and in those places which are familiar to me. i don't want to have to exert any effort, and i want it now. because i live downtown, i have a plethora of options easily available to me that offer a wider variety. but, like i said above, i think any true member of a community seeks to go beyond what is familiar. it is not about simply taking what we want, but being actively involved. and being actively involved of course goes beyond how we consume (though i believe we should factor it in to consumption habits).

this is an area where i have only marginal involvement, but seek to become more active. a group from my church serves breakfast to terminally ill men once a month. again, i'm not here to say i've figured it out--serving breakfast once a month requires only a small commitment from myself, but its a start.

an important addition to this idea came up in a recent discussion with friends. we (modern consumers, americans, knoxvillians) focus on the national and international news. the world is depressing--it is unfair and arbitrarily cruel. news organizations pay more attention to the worst of it--the nature of the beast, i suppose. it makes perfect sense that so many of us are cynical. any effort seems wasted. we believe pain and suffering will win in the end.

this is why i love community involvement (and wish i wasn't so damn lazy). of course, it can still be frustrating and seemingly meaningless, but with it we can see a real need and be part of the group that helps. of course, give money to charities that feed people around the globe, go work for them if you want. but we should also be active here, in our own neighborhoods.

don't ask how my mind went from nightlife to community service. but my mind has been mulling over these things recently.

knoxville. i hate it for being small and weird and love it for the same reasons.


Anonymous said...

this is a good, thoughtful post, stan. thank you. youre a smart one.

a friend of mine is thinking of visiting from michigan. he asked, "is there a lot to do?" to which i responded, "of course there is a lot to do. we will have fun bc this is my town." but then i followed it up with, "it's certainly not a tourist town, though." and, you know, that's true. but that's okay. we're not virginia beach or atlanta or even asheville i suppose. we're a big little livable city. and i love it. there's not a lot of touristy stuff here, and you kind of have to know your way around. but that's cool. that's why people like us live here :). to show outsiders around...

i felt badly once on a late night flight home when the young girl who was flying here from jersey as a tourist asked me what to do. i did the best i could, pointing her to gay street. she asked, is there a lot of shopping? i said, some. she asked, is there a lot of food? i said, some. it's just not very touristy.

but come to think about it, most towns, even the touristy ones are that way. i've been to new orleans many times and have always had the most fun when my best friend, who attended law school there, showed me around. off the beaten path, you know. stuff like bourbon street and the tabasco plant dont do it for me. which maybe is a testament to why i love and live in knoxville. same same for visits to NYC and LA and San Fran, just to name a few.

i come from ann arbor, which isnt much of a tourist town, either. but it does differ in one, major way. ann arbor and university of mi provide a much more diverse (in all manners of the word) campus. i often feel a little badly for undergrads here, because they dont have a true "strip" like a lot of great college campuses do. i watch a zaxbys open on the strip instead of a cool, local place and i think, there's just not much to do unless you know where to find it.

Debra said...

I used to write for knoxville520.com and loved to feature fun and unusual places to go and things to do in the scruffy little city.

Knoxville really is a cool place, but you have to be willing to get up off of your couch and venture out and explore the town.

Mickey said...


Bro. Byron said...

On a recent business trip to Greenville, SC, I was really impressed with their downtown. They have revitalized over the past few years and are really focused on fun, convienence, and technology. Having free Wifi was great too!

stan said...

whoa, whoa...wait a second. free wireless--throughout the downtown area?!

the concept blows my mind. seriously knoxville...