Friday, July 30, 2010

Homeless Images

Here are some pictures from this month that never quite found their story, but seemed worth sharing. We'll call them "Sometime, someplace in Knoxville in July." I hope you like them. Remember, all pictures on the site may be clicked to make them larger - even the ones on the slide show.

Edge of Krutch Park looking down Gay Street at dusk.

Dave's Hot Dogs on Market Square

Freaky Dancer in the Drum Circle on First Friday

Preston Cherry and Elder Beatmaster - Two Poets on the Square

Cynthia Markert Art - Somewhere on the Street

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

If I had a Hammer . . .

What if you had one of these bad boys? This is a guy who got to grow up and fulfill every fantasy young children ever dreamed about while moving mud in the yard with their Tonka trucks. This picture is of the destruction of the sidewalk in front of the Daylight building. It was replaced the next day. Apparently, they are doing it a section at a time - just teasing us.

Here's another piece of the current state of construction. This is the building at 37 Market Square. They have bricks on the site and are finally not afraid to use them. They were originally planning to brick about a month ago.

Jack Neely wrote this week about the inscription on the facade at 37. Maybe you can make it out in this picture. Read the article to see his supposition regarding its genesis.

Meanwhile, across the square at 36 Market Square, they've done a bit of brick work, as well, but they are letting the 37 guys catch up. Josh Flory on his Property Scope blog posted a drawing of the projected look of that building. Just as I had mentioned in an earlier blog, he noted that this probably spells the end of the graffiti wall. Is there a new place it could be moved to? Any nominations?

Finally, around the corner on Gay Street there is an exciting development. I've mentioned Morelock Music opened this spring at 411 South Gay Street. Downtown Wine & Spirits is located in 407, leaving a gap in 409. The same contractor who did most of the work in 411 is now fast at work on 409. The space is owned by David Ewan who also owns Downtown Wine. Originally mentioned as a contestant in the I'm-going-to-build-a-grocery-store-first wars, the new business will include gourmet cheese - BUT - that isn't the biggest portion of the business, or the biggest news. The decision was made in the final days before the construction began to make the space primarily a book store!

It will be downtown Knoxville's first full-line bookstore in a number of years. There was one on Market Square for a while several years ago, but it seemed more of a niche market book store, with primarily gift books. There is also, as a reader pointed out when I wrote a previous piece ("You're the Missing Piece"), a used book store of sorts inside the public library.

I admire the guts of anyone who will open a book store at this point in the evolution of how people read. There was talk earlier of having tables on the sidewalk out front, meaning you could pick up a bottle of wine in the wine store, a cut of excellent cheese and a book next door and plant yourself out front to soak up that Urban Vibe. Not a bad way to spend an evening.
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When Free Speech Is Too Expensive

When should free speech be stopped? When does it cross some invisible line into public pornography? We'll see some of that pornographic speech when the various neo-Nazi groups descend on Knoxville August 14. There has been a great deal of community discussion regarding the proper way to respond to their message. One group plans to wear clown suits. Others are suggesting that no one show up. I hope no one gets hurt. The inclusion of hate speech under the protection of freedom of speech has been a long and painful discussion in our country.

The day I took the picture above, I didn't realize what was coming. I should have. This was a group that gives a cursory nod to various genocides throughout history so they can pull people into their real issue, which is abortion. They show images of the Nazi holocaust, for example, to engage people who acknowledge that human horror, in order to suggest - in a fairly direct manner - that abortion is an equivalent genocide. If you believe that a fertilized egg is the equivalent of a human being, I can see how you could go there.

That perspective, though different from my own, isn't what bothered me that day. What I found absolutely appalling and what I really question as far as acceptability for a public space is the use of horribly graphic images. Are all images acceptable in a public space? Is that always protected speech? What if a group advocating free sex wanted to show large pictures of their cause to every person, including children, passing by on the square? What if an anti-American group wanted to show pictures of our soldiers being tortured? Is there no reasonable limit? Would this group of anti-abortionists support their right to do so?

To be intellectually honest, I have to ask myself whether the fact that I disagree with this group causes me to hold them to a higher standard. I don't think so. If an anti-abortion group wants to gather on Market Square and give a lecture or hand out materials to adults who want it, that's fine by me. If they want to offer me a pamphlet and tell me it has images of abortion inside, fine. I'll decline and move on and maybe the next person will want to see that kind of thing. But to have large blow-up pictures forcing everyone of every age to look at them is wrong in my opinion.

Taken from one other angle: This same group would likely not want sex education in the schools because they would suggest that it is the family's prerogative to teach their children about that topic. Yet, they remove the decision of every parent walking through Market Square regarding to what degree and when to expose their children to this complex and controversial topic. That's hypocritical. The city should not approve this type of display in a public area in which we are working to bring families.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Things that make you go . . . well, to Doc Knox

Last month I wondered about what turned out to be a TreeGator. It is an object designed to slowly water trees and Mr. (or Ms.) Anonymous correctly gave us the ID. I can update that report to say that there is still only one TreeGator to water several trees and, alas, not only can the city only afford one, it appears they can no longer afford the water to fill even that one: It has remained deflated throughout our recent mind-numbingly torrid spell.

My attention has turned to another object that I imagine I've passed a few thousand times without noticing it. There are many flourishes on the buildings downtown. It is a compliment to the people who built the buildings that they didn't simply make them functional, they at least attempted to make them aesthetically pleasing, if not beautiful. Still, this particular architectural addition confounds me.

It's an arch. Normally I'm a fan of everything arch-related. I think they are beautiful inside or outside of a building and I love them in nature. This particular arch doesn't seem to rise quite to the level of beauty I've come to anticipate from a nicely done arch. Maybe you've passed it without noticing, as well. Here is a wide shot:

It's at the southeastern corner of Market Square above Reruns. It doesn't really look like the wonderful little additions the architects or builders added to most of the buildings downtown. If anything, it looks like they had some extra bricks and couldn't think of anything else to do with them. Here's a closer look:

Was it added later, perhaps, by someone looking to make the building prettier or somehow more noteworthy? This question probably can't be answered on the Internet. I'll welcome guesses below, but I'm thinking this may be a case for Dr. Knox. I've submitted the question and I'll let you know if we get an answer. Can any of you beat Dr. Knox, himself?

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Blue Plate Special: Christabel and the Jons

I can't believe I've written over fifty posts and I'm only now getting around to mentioning one of the coolest and most unique attractions downtown: The Blue Plate Special. It's not a culinary delight (OK, maybe food for the soul), but rather a daily live music show broadcast on WDVX from their studio at 301 Gay Street. Some days are now broadcast from other locations, such as this show I stumbled upon recently on Market Square. Fridays have gotten so big they are now broadcast from the Square Room to accommodate the crowds of 200-300 people.

Where to start? The history of music on Gay Street would rival the history of the music on any street in America. Yes, I've been to Beale Street and Music Row. Dolly Parton, Roy Acuff, the Everly Brothers, Archie Campbell, the Louvin Brothers, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Chet Atkins performed on early live shows broadcast over WNOX and other early radio stations. On this little street, I've personally seen Bob Dylan, Earl Scruggs, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Bobbie Bland, Koko Taylor, Joan Baez, Jefferson Starship, Merle Haggard and B.B. King, not to mention about a million (estimated) others. Hank Williams died on this street. You get the idea.

I mentioned the great Cradle of Country Music Walking Tour in a recent post and a helpful reader pointed out that it is no longer available. I'll get to the bottom of that and correct it if I have to publish it on this blog, myself. It was awesome. I can't find a link that includes the history of this great street, but I'll keep working on that. What an oversight!

So, a few years ago local hero Tony Lawson set out to single-handedly preserve the precious music of our area and provide an alternative to commercial radio and classical-only public radio. He gave birth to WDVX which originally lived in a trailer on a mountainside, but eventually moved to Gay Street, reconnecting with that grand tradition. Please go to their web site and learn about the station and make a contribution.

Red Hickey

Which brings us, finally, to the show. Christabel and the Jons played on the square, hosted by Red Hickey of WDVX. Christabel has grown so much as an artist. She does her own brand of softly swinging indie country music. She would probably hate that amalgamation of a description, but that's as close as I can get. Check her out and you'll likely get enchanted. It was a hot day (haven't they all been lately), but she and the group plugged on and played a delightful set. They are touring west and north this summer, but have a couple of shows scheduled back home in the fall. Be sure to catch them. If you want a sample, two of my favorite songs are I Believe and Say I'm Crazy.

Enjoy more photos below. Remember, all pictures on the site may be enlarged by clicking them.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bus Rider

"Get up in the morning, get on the bus
Get up in the morning like the rest of us
Places to go, important people to meet
Better not get up or you might lose your seat.

Leave the house at six o'clock to be on time
Leave the wife and kids at home to make a dime
Grab your lunch pail, check for mail in your slot
You won't get your cheque if you don't punch the clock."

- Guess Who - (No, don't guess, it's Guess Who. No, no, it's . . . never mind, go here Bus Rider)

The new Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) Center is nearly complete. On their web page they have a list of opening events as well as a count-down clock to the opening. The first open house will be First Friday in August. Is this exciting news? Well, it depends. If you are a bus rider, I suspect it will make things better somehow, though I'm not clear exactly how that will be true. The center promises to be very nice and more conveniently located than the current temporary quarters.

For my part, I have two hopes and a tentative plan. My hopes are that the ocean (mountain?) of buses that are often parked in front of the city-county building won't be so formidable and that there won't be as many buses speeding past my building ignoring humans and animals in the crosswalks. The former probably won't change because people will still use that bus stop. I'll likely cling to hope regarding the later until I eventually get hit on a crosswalk. My tentative plan is to look at the new routes and see if there might be some useful route that I might use. I've never ridden the bus. I don't work downtown and a bus doesn't go to my work, so that's out. I wish it were otherwise. When I'm in other cities and use their public transportation (most recently the train in St. Louis), I envy the people who can read on the way to work. But maybe there would be other places. Maybe we should all commit to at least one ride and see how it goes?

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Mid-Week Evening at Oodles

Plenty of people go out to eat during the middle of the week in suburbs all over the country. Strip mall restaurants and traditional mall restaurants are full of those of us who simply can't bear to cook that night. Is it any different downtown? Yes: It's easier. A short walk from any point downtown and you pass by or are in front of a dozen or more restaurants all wanting your business.  No need to dress up. No need to crank the car. That's the good news and the bad news. It's good because, well, you're hungry. It's not so good for the budget. 
Still, in my experience, that may not be the biggest difference. The biggest difference for me is best shown by a description of a recent Wednesday night outing. Recently I read that Tomato Head began by serving only lunch and the hours were gradually expanding to weekend evenings and then very gradually into the week. The reason was a lack of clientele downtown. Such is no longer the case.

I walked in the direction of food that night and landed eventually at Oodles. My plan was to get something delicious and not break the bank. I was successful at the first part. I got two crab cakes and a salad and every bit of it was delicious. Of course, they routinely win the "Best Wine Selection" in Metropulse's best of competition. A soft rain began to fall while I ate (outside, of course) and I developed a new appreciation for their magnificent umbrellas. I never got wet and the rain cooled the air to just a perfect temperature.

Then came the biggest difference: Everything in every direction is interesting. On one end of the square a troupe practiced songs for the up-coming Shakespeare on the Square production.

A glance in the opposite direction revealed amateur hula-hoopers practicing the lessons being offered for free among the trees. Across the square I could make out the image of Elder Beat Master hip hopping all over the screens at Knoxivi.

Directly adjacent to my spot on the patio I watched a young busker trying to play and sing under a tree while the rain got harder, eventually forcing him to give it up.

Most fun of all was watching a couple consider then decide to have fun in the fountain.

So yes, the food was excellent, but it's the ambiance that makes all the difference. And it's priceless.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Taylor Disappearing

This has been a summer of disappearances in downtown Knoxville. Vagabondia, which was a Market Square staple, disappeared. I was told it was all good, the business was fine, but the offer to purchase the building was better. Fizz is coming in its place. 10,000 Villages, also a long-term tenant on Market Square disappeared. Again, I was told all is good, that the concept continues online and in other markets. The people who were running it were doing so as volunteers and they were ready to move on. Swagger took its place. Manhattans closed and that building and the one across the street housing Patrick Sullivan's are for sale. Both are Old City institutions.

On a personal level, Hector Qirko, who many of us assumed we would have forever, has moved to South Carolina, taking his quirky guitar licks and jazzy stylings to other markets. The clincher was a full-time teaching offer. That one hurts for those of us who have enjoyed his music and his smile for years.

Taylor behind roses and a young woman

Having moved downtown last fall, one of the people near the top of my get-to-know list was the Rose Guy. When I got an opportunity to introduce myself and ask his name, that was what he told me, "Rose Guy." It was a while before I learned his name was Taylor. When I asked him about the rose petals I found scattered around downtown, he said something to the effect of the universe placed the petals where they needed to land. In the following months I learned his name is Taylor and we developed a system of getting roses into the hands of people who looked like they needed one. It was great fun.

I've seen Taylor downtown forever, but never until I moved here did I make the attempt to get to know him. He's cryptic, soft-spoken and on a mission to sell roses, so he doesn't linger for conversations. I also learned he is very private. He does not particularly like to have his picture taken, so you won't find many pictures of him if you do a search. Cynthia Moxley has a good one on her Blue Streak blog, but I'm not sure if she took it. After a little cat and mouse, I managed to get these couple of photographs with Taylor being, well, kind of like Wilson on Home Improvement. I decided it suited him.

Sadly, Taylor has suggested that he, too, will soon disappear. He says this is the worst year he's ever had for rose sales and that the universe calls elsewhere. His voice trails off and he looks into the distance and that's all he'll say. Knoxville is losing a kind spirit and another person who makes the texture of life downtown richer for his presence. Hopefully he'll have a change of heart. If not,we'll miss him. Someone else might step in to sell flowers, but it will not be with the same style and grace and the flowers could not possibly be more beautiful.

Flowers on the sidewalk among the cigarette butts outside Pembroke

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Thursday, July 22, 2010


I love the song "Reflections of My Life" by Marmalade. It is definitely a must-have for any decent itunes collection. So what does this have to do with the city? Nothing, except that I've noticed some very cool reflections in our buildings, lately. I'll save my favorite and start with the reflection of First Bank in one of the Butcher Buildings. I happened upon it as I walked up Clinch across the viaduct between State Street and Gay Street just a bit before noon early in July. Click it to enlarge it and get a  closer look.

The other reflection is pretty amazing to see in person, but I'm not sure the pictures really capture it. It is a reflection of the Medical Arts Building as you walk up Locust toward Main just after 8:00 AM. The building in which it is reflected is the Bank of America building, which has a curved surface, which I assume accounts for the stunning deconstruction of the reflection. I hope you enjoy it. I can't decide which picture is best, so I'm posting them all. Are there other reflections you've noticed? Let me know and I'll try to get a picture to post.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nostalgia Can Be a Dangerous Thing

Most of us hue to a blend of nostalgia and modernity, particularly the older we get. We probably color the past a little too beautifully. I'm certainly a victim of that tendency. Add to that my infatuation with all things downtown Knoxville and you have a recipe for, if not disaster, at least problems. When we moved into the city last fall, I spotted the former home of the Union Avenue Barbershop on, of course, Union Avenue. It was in the Daylight Building and they were forced to move when that building was slated for renovation. Soon I found the new location on Walnut Street, around the corner from its original site, and had that rush of nostalgia I get at random times. That was the beginning, though I didn't know it last winter, of one very bad hair experience.

When I was very small, I got my first haircut at Mr. Welford's barbershop in Citronelle, Alabama. I loved the whole experience: the smell of the aftershave, the thwack of the razor on the leather straps, the 1920's era telephone that still worked, the rhythm of the older men's voices, being with my father in a man's world. The shop, of course, had an old fashioned barber's pole out front, though it wasn't considered old fashioned at the time. Inside there were two windows fronting the street with large inset areas where someone my size could crawl up and get cozy with a comic book and a transistor radio generally tuned to whatever football game I could find on the AM dial. Mr. Welford was a very sweet man who charged a dollar for my haircut and turned around and gave me a dime back to run down the street and buy a coke or a comic book.

These days I wear my hair in a pony-tail, which I like much better than the crew-cut from the Mr. Welford days. I generally get one hair cut per year, and that is done begrudgingly. I don't particularly enjoy it and I don't like to waste the money, but it does start to look a bit ragged, so I give in. This time I was excited, feeling that old Mr. Welford vibe, and heading toward the Union Avenue Barbershop. Maybe I should have questioned the wisdom of patronizing a place named something it is not (shouldn't they be the "Walnut Street Barbershop?"). Maybe I should have gone to one of the several fancy hair places downtown and paid more money. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

I watched the men in front of me get their trims and exchange pleasantries with the barber. I totally gave him the Mr. Welford halo effect. As far as I could tell he did a good job on the lawyers and accountants who preceded me. Maybe I should have watched more closely. When it was my turn, I tried to make small talk (failed) and held my fist over my ponytail to show about how long I wanted it to be when he finished. He wrapped my neck in that old-fashioned onion-skin paper barbers use for some purpose I can't identify. He lifted my pony-tail and as I waited for him to pull out the pony-tail holder and begin the trim, he raised his scissors and cut the thing off. One slice and done.

A few moments later, stunned, I paid him and quickly walked home to survey the damage. My pony-tail looked more like its name than ever before - a pony's tail that is chopped off in a straight line. Take my hair down and it is long in the front and short in the back. Worse, it's so short there is no undoing the damage until it grows out. To even it out now would be to give up the pony-tail I've had for twenty years. You'll have to take my word for it - I can't bear to post a picture. It made me long for those satisfying days of Mr. Welford's shop. I didn't even get money for a comic book. I guess I should be glad I didn't come out with a crew cut. I suppose downtown can be a dangerous place, after all.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

"The 100 Block"

As I approached the 100 Block of Gay Street for today's ceremonial re-opening, I was reminded how special this spot is in downtown Knoxville.

I think the western side of this block contains one of the prettiest line-ups of facades in the city. Shorter in stature, longer in character, perhaps, they have their own style. They project a small-town America feel in the middle of the city. This historic area is where the Jewish community met the African-American community located just down the hill and it retains a distinctive flavor, even though these communities no longer reside there. The last small remnant was Harold's Kosher Deli which closed in 2005, prior to Harold 's death in 2008.

Even on this happy day, there are questions: The larger trees will be planted in the fall. Work is continuing on several store-fronts and the use of the corner site on the northwestern side is in the hands of Jeffrey Nash, owner of the Crown and Goose, who purchased the building from the Volunteers of America. Of concern is the boarding up of Havana Nights (above picture). I hope that is temporary and that they return, as they are a unique restaurant in an area accumulating a significant number of eateries. There was some question last winter regarding their future, but hopefully they are on a hiatus. The street itself is still a couple of weeks away due to some cracks, but the beautiful block is open. And a beautiful block, it is.

A promise amid the opening were the signs (in window above) stating that Nouveau Classics will open on the southeast corner in September with an inventory of "contemporary furnishings."


Mayor Haslam worked his way through the crowd, shaking hands, giving statements and posing for photographs before the ceremony began.

In his introductory remarks, Bill Lyons pointed out that this is the only place downtown that can be referred to by number and everyone knows the street (I may be paraphrasing, Bill), and he had a point. Probably some of that has come about because of the construction itself, but that may be a plus in itself going forward.

After remarks by Mayor Haslam thanking everyone who suffered and/or worked to make this happen for the last year and a half, the ribbon was cut and the 100 block of Gay Street was proclaimed "re-opened" for business.

There is clearly more work to be done, but the street is beautiful and the sidewalks grand. It was a feel-good day with congratulations all around. I thought there might be a greater attendance, but for most of us, work days continue no matter what ribbon is being cut. I'm sure there are many more people celebrating tonight than were in attendance today. 

All that remained was interviews with the media as another chapter in his mayoral tenure came to a close. Perhaps he'll complete his term, but the feeling here today was that we are seeing the final acts of Knoxville's mayor and a prelude of the tenure of our new governor.

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