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?"
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.