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Summertime in Chattanooga 2013

At the end of our month-long eastern road trip, we enjoyed two months in our new home in Chattanooga.

The weather was mild, only a few days did the temperature rise much above 90 degrees F. There was more rain than usual, but typically only for part of the day. I ran a mile or so around the neighborhood park every other day and was rained out only once.

Having a wider choice in restaurants has been nice. There are two good Indian restaurants, though we have to remember to ask them to make the food spicy. Boccaccia LLC serves tasty Italian food, and unlike typical slightly-high-priced restaurants, the portions are generous. We dined there when Terry’s sister Becky and brother-in-law Gordon visited and again to celebrate Terry’s birthday. The most interesting new discovery was Sluggo’s North, an all-vegan restaurant north of the river. Like Chinese Buddhist restaurants, Sluggo’s (which has a “South” branch in Alabama) lists “meat” dishes on the menu, but they are all made with non-meat ingredients. We discovered the restaurant by accident, when we went there at 9:30 one Friday evening at the beginning of a music-filled weekend. We wanted to hear a hip-hop performance, headlined by the local group Natural Habitz and advertised as beginning at 10:00. (I teach African American History & Culture and have spent much of the summer trying to overcome a deficiency in knowledge of the contemporary period.) Because of technical delays, the program had not begun by 11:15, so we reluctantly reported that it was past our bedtime and requested a refund. During our initial wait over a beer, though, we were enticed by the menu, and when we returned a couple of weeks later, we were not disappointed. Saturday afternoon, we listened to the spirited Knoxville-based klezmer group, Tennessee Schmaltz, and Sunday we went to a weekly outdoor market to hear a couple of bluegrass groups.

We are gradually becoming familiar with our neighborhood. We’ve causally met people in the Highland Park Neighborhood Association and others on the street. We’re a little hesitant about becoming known to too many people until we are here permanently. A waiter at Sluggo’s lives nearby and told us about Mary’s Lounge, an “over-30” blues bar in the neighborhood, but I guess we will not make it there until next summer. I shopped and got a discount card at the Rite-Aid pharmacy a few blocks away. For future reference, a dental clinic, a physical therapy clinic, and a couple of florists are within a few blocks – all near Wally’s restaurant. A barber shop, too, but it seems to be closed a lot of the time and may cater more to women. My first local hair-cutting experience was with a $16 downtown barber. My second, more satisfactory one was at the Live and Let Live Barbershop and Laundromat, about a mile from home, not too far from the university. There is a branch post office a few blocks away, but we have to travel at least a mile and a half to get to a branch of our bank. As in Joplin, we ended up doing most of our grocery shopping at Wal-mart, 3-4 miles away. Oh, and there is a great bus system. When we return in December, I will be eligible for a senior pass, which lowers the fare from $1.50 to 75 cents.

I put in about 30 (relaxed) hours a week preparing for fall classes. By the time I retire, I will finally have all my syllabi in perfect shape for effortless teaching. I also continued networking with local schools. Chattanooga State, the local community college, wants me to call in December about possible part-time teaching. I made a little progress on two research projects, trying to answer the respective questions: 1) Why did the federal government pick George Washington Carver as the first non-white and non-president to honor with a National Park Service historic site? 2) Why did Folkways’ 1975 recording of Ossie Davis reading Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July speech omit the crucial, concluding “Constitution” section? After I got my book published (first review, in China Quarterly, is more favorable than not), I told Terry I was not interested in doing any more research. What I have come to realize is that I was simply not inspired to do more research on Sino-U.S. relations.

I made several trips (a pleasant mile-and-a-half walk) to the Lupton Library at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. Besides consulting books for classes, research, and general interest, I looked at several decades of the Tennessee Historical Quarterly. The state’s history is quite interesting – Jacksonian radical Francis Wright established a colony for emancipated slaves near Nashville, pro-Union and pro-Confederacy forces fought it out before, during, and after the Civil War, there was a Ruskin utopian colony, a Gilded Age Supreme Court monopoly case on sugar rates, etc., etc.

With help from friends at the synagogue, Terry found a teacher for the dobro she bought several years ago. She took weekly lessons and has made splendid progress. She is amazed that I don’t tire of listening to “Wabash Cannonball,” but it is one of my favorite songs. I have been pretty good about studying Chinese every day. Besides working on the film script for Zhang Yimou’s movie To Live I have used correspondence with a couple of Chinese friends as learning texts.

We made a few small upgrades to the house, like re-hanging the door to the laundry room and having a fancy new (old) chandelier installed in the dining room. We thought that putting down a new floor on the enclosed upstairs back porch would be a modest project, but it evolved into a fairly substantial one. It turned out that water coming in through the screens-only windows had been ruining not just the porch flooring but a structural 4x4 that (formerly) supported one corner of the house. Our terrific construction guy, Adrian, fixed everything, installed windows, and raised the porch by about a third of the 4 inches it had sunk over the years. The latter had the unanticipated consequence of pushing an old square-headed nail up from a floor board in the adjacent bathroom one evening, which provoked quite a gusher of blood when I stepped on it. Fortunately, I had had a recent tetanus shot.

Perhaps the biggest success of the summer was the mundane act of installing a new mail box. The house came equipped with a rural mail box on a post, just inside the sidewalk. When I stated my intentions of putting a new mailbox on the porch, our neighbor Richard explained the local rule, at least for our neighborhood, that no mailboxes can be moved from the curb or sidewalk to the house. Homes that already have a box on the house are grandfathered in, but new occupants are supposed to move their boxes to the street. The intent is to make it possible for letter carriers to deliver mail without leaving their vehicles. Well, my intent was to forestall decades of having to walk to the sidewalk, often in the rain, in order to pick up my mail. Fortune smiled on us. One day I was on the front porch when our carrier came by. I asked him about the rule. He confirmed it and suggested I asked someone at the neighborhood post office for permission to move the box. He also said that he was only a temporary carrier for our route, until a permanent one replaced the one who had recently retired – and that the location of the mailbox would not matter to him. He further observed that a carrier could not deliver to our current box without leaving his or her vehicle, in any case. We decided – without further consultation – to install the new box on the house and a flower pot in place of the old box. When the new, permanent carrier appeared on the scene a week later, he probably assumed that the box had always been on the house.

-- Norty