3: Knoxville

A tunnel cuts through the Blue Ridge mountains. I love these tunnels. I love the echo, the sudden change of venue, and maybe the idea that there was no good way around, so they just blasted a hole through the center.

Instructions as we enter: “Turn on headlights.” Leaving the tunnel, there is no sign regarding headlights, but it reminds me of the conundrum: what should the sign say? Not “Turn off headlights.” Some people would turn off their headlights in the dark of night. The sign must work both day and night. I’ve seen “Check lights.,” but the one I like is, “Are your lights on?”

4:12 p.m., leaving North Carolina. Welcome to Tennessee.

Odometer 44,528 – trip 224


Friday, August 23, 5:17 p.m., Knoxville.
Odometer 44,592 – trip 288

One can’t really get to know a town in an hour. Can you get to know a town if you live there a year, even? I’m touring Knoxville just to have a peek, and get the barest of feel for the place.

The Historic District boasts some old houses in great shape, including a fabulous stone mansion turned into a television station’s offices.

The Old City is a block-long run of shops in rehabilitated buildings, and while I can appreciate the effort, there is still a ways to go. Friday afternoon, happy hour, and it’s mostly empty. Could be that there’s not a free place to park. Could be that there’s another part of the city where the hour is happier.

I peek into Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon, and the bar is dead empty. Waitress, hostess, bartender. No patrons. Across the street is the Manhattan Bistro. This is about as far from Manhattan – and as far from a bistro – as you can get. But there are people at the bar, so I go in and claim a bar stool.

To my left, four guys at the end of the bar, wrapped around its curve. One guy is drinking a Rolling Rock. Two are drinking white wine, one of whom is smoking a Marlboro Menthol. They’re talking about nothing interesting, which doesn’t surprise me.

To my right are two women, one about as clear an example of lifelong smoker as you’ll find. Select your adjective when describing her voice: rasp, rattle, gravel. She’s not old enough, I don’t think, to have earned the lines on her face from time alone. They’re photographers, and about to leave for a shoot. They were eating an appetizer and drinking what looked like iced tea, but they leave the bartender $40. You do the math. I hope they’re good photographers, or their cameras have auto-focus.

I try, but I can’t get a sustained conversation going here. I look longingly at the other end of the bar, drink a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and get out of there.

This is what I get for lolly-gagging; I’m going to be too tired to go out once I get to Nashville. I pass Memories Diner, the place I should have stopped, as I head back to the highway.


Toward Knoxville

Television station, Knoxville

The other end of the bar, Manhattan Bistro

Memories Diner