You know that Simpsons’ episode where Bart Simpson rents a car and drives Milhouse, Nelson, Martin and himself to see the World Fair’s Sunsphere? And remember how when they get there they find out that the city has lost its former glory and that the Sunsphere has been turned into a warehouse for a wig shop?
|Sunsphere in Knoxville|
Well… that’s supposed to happen in Knoxville and that’s pretty much what Knoxville felt like when we landed there yesterday at 8:00 am, with our heavy backpacks and no idea of what to do with them or where to go. We walked around downtown for a little while and bought some breakfast at a store, which we had on a bench next to a homeless man on crutches. We then walked around a little more, while people stared at us and our oversized backpacks until we found the Visitor’s center, which provided us a map, ideas of what to visit and how to get there. We decided to ride the free trolley around the city (‘cause hey, we love free things) and go check out the Tennessee University strip, the candy factory and finally, the formerly glorious 1986 World Fair Sunsphere. We shared our trolley ride with a group of extremely friendly Knoxvillians who asked us many questions about where we were from and what the hell were we doing in a place like Knoxville. After a short tour of the University campus, the trolley dropped us off at the self-proclaimed best chocolate factory of the South which was more of a store than a factory, but a good store nevertheless. We bought some chocolate bars called “Tennessee white trash” (self-deprecation is always more fun when there’s chocolate involved) and some peanut butter candy. We walked over to the once famous Sunsphere, which I have to say had a pretty nice view over Knoxville and its surroundings and then took a stroll in the World Fair Park. After that, we pretty much ran out of ideas and energy and went to rest by the Park’s interactive fountains for a little while until we could contact Rachel, our host.
|Walking around with a heavy backpack|
|Nearly world famous pizza...|
|Crashing in Knoxville|
And after we met with Rachel, I have to day that Knoxville was a completely different city. She contacted us pretty fast after that and told us she would pick us up in town with Ranger, her gorgeous dog. We waited for her a few minutes outside a Hilton hotel where a friendly (but really sketchy) guy approached us to ask where we were headed to. He told us he was in fact from Transylvania because, despite the fact that he had lived in Florida his entire life, he was born during his parents’ vacations in Rumania and knew that he was at heart a Transylvanian gypsy. He offered us the best tips for free food and entertainment in Knoxville, including free meals at the Knoxville Mission (a soup kitchen for homeless people) and invited us to see his Freak Show Circus of Mischief and Mayhem that evening in Market Square. Rachel picked us up a few minutes after we said goodbye to our new friend and took us back home so we could leave all our things. We went to the supermarket to buy some food and had lunch at her place. Rachel had to work in a café afterwards, so she drove us back into the city and we took Ranger with us on a visit through the city, as we still had some exploring to do in Downtown, Old town and we wanted to see the World Fair again (this time without backpacks).
|Rachel, our nice and friendly host in Knoxville|
We never even began to imagine what we were getting into by taking Ranger with us. Buco, my dog, was one of the cutest dogs I had ever seen and when he had just been groomed, people would stop us on the streets to tell us he looked like a little cloud and he was beautiful. Now, what happened to us with Ranger is unheard of. At times, we would have a circle of people surrounding us asking what his name was, if they could pet him and offering cookies and hamburgers to him (I’m not making this up, I promise). Everywhere we went, people would drop whatever they were doing, orb toward us and ask to pet him. We walked around the Old Town and Downtown, saw a couple of historical buildings and finally went to the Blount Mansion. We didn’t realize there was a fancy party going on, but a girl who was petting Ranger invited us in and offered us drinks. We talked to a few people there about what it was like to live in Knoxville. They told us that most locals don’t know about it, but there are quite a lot of things going on in Knoxville including art gallery openings, historical tours, live music shows and theater. They told us to head back to the Market Square and check out whatever was going on there as it was First Friday of the month and there are a lot of cultural events on that weekend. It was nice to have Ranger with us, because we got to meet a lot of very nice and warm people from Knoxville who were very honest, very friendly and very hospitable. I guess that’s that famous Southern hospitality everyone is talking about.
|Ranger, the Casanova dog|
On our way back to Downtown, we ran into a guy (who also looked pretty sketchy) who asked if he could borrow my phone to make a call. The conversation went more or less like: “Casey? Yeah, this is David… Yeah. Yeah…. Look man, I just got out of jail…. Yeah…. Yeah… I just wanted to ask you if you already hooked up today… Yeah? Can I get some of that? Ok, come pick me up”. He then called me a sweetheart and thanked me for letting him use my phone. Which brings me to… people in Knoxville are very contrasting. I already said that normal people on the streets are extremely friendly, open and honest about things. And then you have a population of very strange individuals who physically look wasted and worn down, as if they had an entire life of drugs and recklessness behind them, just like on those ads to prevent crystal meth addiction. It’s very strange to see that things you see depicted on television are not completely made up and that “white trash” as you see it in popular media (white, poor, uneducated, filthy and just not caring about themselves or their physical appearance), is actually kind of real. It’s interesting to see that the United States is not the land of opportunities for everyone, even if you’re white.
|Maybe Knoxville isn't so bad after all.|
In any case, we went back to Rachel’s café and waited for her, while watching the Freak Show Circus of Mischief and Mayhem from a safe distance. The show included mainstream acts like fire poi spinning and LED stick to more bizarre ones such as spinning in circles while holding a suitcase with your extremely stretched and gauged ear lobes. Afterwards, we went back home with Rachel who’d had a rough day, had dinner with her and talked a little bit before we all crashed. Today we hit the road again.