Goats were not specifically why we traveled to Chattanooga (we got there by way of Christiansburg, VA, thence to Knoxville before finally arriving), but the goats proved an entertaining and comical diversion one sultry evening on Missionary Ridge; they also made splendid subjects to photograph. I’ll get to them.
A theme that popped up again and again on the first leg of our travels on this Way Down South Trip (Part the Fourth) was Interstate traffic at a stand-still. The orange flashing signs on the shoulder warned us, Traffic Stopped Ahead. To exit, or to tough it out? It’s always a crapshoot: Leaving the Interstate might prove less time consuming in the long run and certainly more interesting. Or the accident up ahead could be almost cleared; one never knows.
We said we’d travel off the beaten path for this trip, and our car’s nav system actually took us that way early, through the picturesque rural areas in New York State, south and west of Albany, before we ventured through the breathtaking Poconos in Pennsylvania on two-lane highways and finally hopped onto the freeway, following the dictates of Ms. Nav.
Then we drove a while before we sat in traffic, more than once—it happened on the first day of travel to Christiansburg, and again the next day, between Christiansburg and Knoxville, each time costing us about 45 minutes to an hour. I kept thinking about Steinbeck’s observation that it’s possible to drive from the East to the West Coast on our system of Interstates and see exactly nothing of this country. We relented to the traffic, not so much because we lacked a sense of adventure as simply our desire to get there. This happens every year: A leisurely drive on rural highways seems like a good idea in its planning, less so in practice when you’re looking at the atlas laying open in your lap, and then it dawns on you just how far you must go before you finally reach your hard-won destination. There are reduced speed limits posted on rural highways as they pass through townships, gentle reader, and there are lots of traffic signals on them. Maybe if we had two weeks instead of one, maybe next time.
This trip was a wellness check of sorts, and a long overdue chance to visit—the kind of visit where you have time to unwind long enough simply to be in one another’s presence, maybe with a book or newspaper open in front of you or the telly turned on across the room. On my agenda: See the Frank Lloyd Wright house up on Missionary Ridge overlooking downtown Chattanooga; go to see the movie Yesterday (and insist everybody go with me); shop the discount stores we don’t have up this way for good stuff, cheap; go to the gym with dad’s lovely wife, Sheryl; visit some more with my kiddo in Chattanooga; and eat unapologetically, and well. Aside from family visiting, Chef David was mainly about the golf and the food.
The morning after we arrived Dad announced he was taking us—all of us—to the Chattanooga Market downtown, a farmers’ market at least partly under shade, and partly outdoors; it was hotter than all get-out but we all found fun. It’s hard to do it justice in photos; too many shots included folks whose permission I’m missing to post them. But the building where the vendors set up is obviously an old and industrial structure, with plenty of character. We watched a pie eating contest (yes, really), which I found mainly disgusting; the Chef loved it, said he’d even sign up for it if he knew what was in the pies. As ever, my eye was drawn to the building itself, and the massive fans spinning overhead, made by a company called Big Ass Fans (seriously), as my kiddo pointed out the second we got there.
What we did not come for, were the goats. Sugar’s keeps a few goats out back, right on the side of the Ridge. I have no idea why; could be part of a city-wide initiative to help keep the kudzu in check—that non-indigenous vine that has more or less taken over the entire Southern US; the New York Times covered the goat story in 2007. Inside Sugar’s, though, is a hand-scrawled note taped to the back door that says something like, Goats this-a way. I’m making that up, a little. But if you ask, the staff will give you a paper plate piled high with cabbage leaves, and the goats are more than happy to relieve you of them; watch your fingers.
The views of downtown Chattanooga from up on the Ridge that evening were magical.
On the way home, Dad drove us past the one Frank Lloyd Wright house in Chattanooga (which is one more than Knoxville can claim), also atop Missionary Ridge. But because somebody actually lives in this house (her name is Gerte Shavin), and there’s no good place to pull over and gawk, I snapped only a single, blurry image from the car. I’m sure lots of people do, and while it might be a tad invasive, if you live in a FLW house—one he actually designed for you back in the 1950s—you must be used to it, I’m guessing.
It was a good, happy visit. Dad and I talked about family history, looked at ancient photos under a magnifying glass, and in the end I asked for a chart: Once you go past great-grandparents, it’s impossible to keep all these folks sorted out, especially when you venture away from direct lineages and into the land of siblings. I left with some important photos, for keeps: a small picture of my great-grandparents (my dad’s mom’s parents), a large photo of my beloved Uncle Stan (which I will re-mat and re-frame), and a wonderful photo of my granddaddy (my dad’s dad) climbing into a trainer in Georgia on the eve of his WWII tour of duty; his time overseas would see him on a multitude of missions carrying cargo across the Himalayas between China and India—it was a special photo Dad and Sheryl had framed for me.
Dad and I also reminisced some about the Beatles. He’s a consummate fan, a thing he passed on to me starting when I was about four or five. For Christmas last year I gave him the new special edition of the White Album, remastered last November by Giles Martin, son of Beatles’ producer George Martins. It came with six music CDs—two of them the remastered tracks, the remaining four sessions recordings and demo tracks; there’s also a Blu-ray disc, and a beautiful hardcover book. Dad handed it to me to borrow for a while; I’m pretty excited and thus far have listened to one of the sessions discs—so funny to hear the guys in the band cutting up among themselves and with the recording technicians. Every time I hang out with Dad, I learn more about who I am and how I got that way: My love for this music is genuine. As is my tenacity when it comes to tracking down some bit of trivia, a thing that didn’t escape Sheryl’s notice during our visit.
And just as soon as we arrived, it seemed, our time there was over. Time stands still when you’re sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair next to your daddy, sipping coffee in your jammies, talking about the past, telling stories, thinking about the next chapter, and watching the world go by. I’ve been trying to keep a little of that feeling right up front in my head.
We’ll do it again just as soon as we can. Thanks, Dad and Sheryl, for all the love and hospitality. And for the goats.