Sunday, May 02, 2010

Knoxville, A First Impression



One of my favorite (narcissistic) activities is listening to a good friend recount their initial impression of me, and in return, I share mine of them. The best is when one of our stories begins with, "I didn't think you liked me very much," because, obviously, if that was the case then, it isn't anymore, and we are aware of our present mutual fondness of one another.

In much the same way, I like to recount my first memories of Knoxville as my potential home.

It was the fall of 2001 when I drove four high school classmates from Memphis to Knoxville for a college visit. Only parts of the trip still linger in my brain, but I do remember this: It was one of the most not fun weekends of my life.

Memory one: When we arrived into town, we exited onto Cumberland Avenue. We knew we were on the Strip, but we could not figure out how to get to campus where I needed to take one of my passengers. There we all were, finally at our destination, screaming at one another as I drove for what seemed like an eternity through a labyrinth of one-way streets.

Memory 2: That night, my friend (who I shall refer to as) Jane took me to a party at the SAE house, the fraternity to which her brother belonged. My conclusion of this party was that you had to be hammered in order to enjoy it, but I didn't drink. It was like swimming in a dark sea of glazed over eyes and red solo cups. Eventually, I persauded Jane to leave, and as we walked to my car, she tripped in a hole. I've never seen anyone laugh so hard at tripping in a hole.

Memory 3: I don't remember the actual football game Saturday, but I do know that I went to it because of a more vivid memory that happened Saturday night.

I was driving Jane to get keys from her brother, who was located at a bar that was in an old house. I don't know how long we drove around looking for this place, but it seemed like hours. What made it worse was that it was dark, the part of town we were in was scary, and the only people walking the streets were homeless.

Rendered helpless, we pulled over to ask a homeless man for directions. Our conversation was short.

Homeless man: "Are you girls from this part of town?"
Us: "No."
Homeless man: "Get out of this part of town!"

I don't exaggerate when I say that, as Jane and I drove away, we were screaming. Shrill, girlish screams of despair. Where was this bar in a house, and how could it be in THIS neighborhood???

Eventually we found it, and Jane and I walked up to the doorman. When he asked for our ID's, Jane explained that we were looking for her brother, and I told him I would stay with him and wait for her.

As I grow older, so many memories fade, but this one, of me standing in the foyer of that old Victorian house, will forever be etched in my brain. It felt like the house was going to burst at the seams. Beer and sweat-infused college students stumbled through the wood-paneled rooms as 80s music blared from the dance floor upstairs. I stood next to the bouncer, embarrassed because I was still sporting my orange TENNESSEE sweatshirt. And also because I had braces.

***

It's a wonder I decided to pursue my collegiate education at UT. It's also fascinating that I ended up moving into that dark and scary neighborhood, as well as becoming a regular at the bar in the old house for a year or two.

I like to think those first impressions of Knoxville were like meeting a potential good friend. We didn't get along at first, but for some reason we stuck it out, and now we are aware of our present mutual fondness of one another.

10 comments:

em said...

My first memory of Knoxville is 8 years old. I cant believe it. We drove in from Michigan so that I could meet my boyfriend's mother for the first time. He said, "stop in Knoxville; I want you to see this place I love." We stopped in at Lucille's, and that was the first ever place I visited in Knoxville. I miss Lucille's a lot. It is a good thing that I also love Back Room, which is a good second to Lucille's. The next summer, I drove down again with my dad to find an apartment because I would be moving here. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza on Summit Hill and went in for a drink at that cozy bar there. Some guys, who were locals, told me that my best bet was to find a place out on Pellissippi. Man I am glad I did not listen to them. Those are two fond memories.

Wild Bill said...

mine also involved a college visit that was terrible. we went to a fraternity party with some people who had gone to my high-school and it was super lame since none of us drank...so we walked to the fort to another older high-school friends house to see him throw a homeless man down the steps for trying to steal a tv, then we rode the late night t down to the strip and ate at the krystal, which with the clashing red carpet and the orange and white ceiling tiles was probably the most depressing place in the world. I can't believe that I made it here.

The Modern Gal said...

Hm, my first trip to Knoxville was when I went to my first football game as an eight-year-old. I was always fond of the city because of our annual football trips. It was after I came here for college that I stopped liking it so much (that obviously changed when I moved back a few years ago and discovered there was life beyond the strip ...)

The Pol said...

MG - You and I are like bff since birth!!! I started coming to K-town when I was in utero. One of my faves though was me falling asleep somewhere outside of nashville and waking up in knoxville having fallen asleep with gum in my mouth and the there was gum in my hair. Sam and Andy's and the Commodore (worn name probably, but a pizza place for ever) were also staples of my early childhood, along with season tickets to UT games.

ck said...

You had hair?!! I always assumed you have been bald since birth.

Anonymous said...

I was 8; Daddy was 53. The date was June 9, 1975. We lived in Social Circle, Georgia, but Daddy's mother lived in Johnson City. We visited her first. Then Daddy drove us to Knoxville, where I had never been before, but where Daddy had gone to school before and after World War II.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn and crossed the street underground in a tunnel to Miller's, where he bought me a psychedelic two-piece swimsuit with a matching t-shirt cover-up. Then we crossed the street again, in that tunnel, and I put on that swimsuit and went swimming in the Holiday Inn's pool. Every time I broke the surface of the water, I hollered, "Watch me, Daddy! Daddy, watch me!" and every single time I broke that water, he smiled and called back, "I'm watching! I see you!"

The next day, we drove home to Social Circle, and I read J. M. Barrie's _Peter Pan_ on the curvy mountain roads. And when we got home, it was time for my sister Amy's piano recital, and Daddy went to that.

The next morning, June 11th, Daddy woke up, started the coffee, and he had a heart attack and died.

I remember my first trip to Knoxville fondly for so many reasons. Not the least of which was that tunnel under the street between the Holiday Inn and Miller's. Where is it now?

Anonymous said...

It's nice that your father was able to go visit his mom in Johnson City when he did.

Anonymous said...

I grew up about 40 miles from Knoxville. My father owned a small business, and drove to Knoxville every Tuesday to buy goods from several suppliers.

I used to go with him every time I'd get the chance; we'd ride around all day picking up things he needed for the store.

Sometimes he'd get his hair cut on Gay Street and at lunchtime we'd usually go to the Brass Rail and eat at the bar, and talk to Gus.

That was back when 104 FM was WBIR's country station, before "rock 104" WIMZ came along.

Joe Ossenmacher-Bedford said...

My first Knoxville memory is playing video games at the "Play Palace" @ West Town Mall, c. 1977. There was a maze-like driving game that I was pretty good at. Eight people could race at once, two people on each side of the square console, with the screen in the middle. I always wanted more people to play so I could whip them all. :-D

benjamin said...

My first was also a college visit. I stayed at Stan's (that's right, Stan's) apartment. One night we went to a party at The Monastery, where I later lived for three years.

Knoxville had me at hello. I just had to brave a year of dorm life before I could thoroughly enjoy it.