Return to Big Ed’s Pizza

February 25, 2008

The best pizza joint in East Tennessee is a dark, dimly lit place on Jackson Square in Oak Ridge. I was introduced to Big Ed’s when I went to UT in the early 70s by a couple of Oak Ridgers. The photo below, taken with a time exposure, makes Big Ed’s look much brighter than it really is.

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Surgoinsville cops with a sense of humor

February 25, 2008

I was driving through the tiny town of Surgoinsville last week and noticing the very small building that houses the police department of that hamlet when a poster in the window caught my eye. This photo shows how small the law enforcement headquarters is hereabouts.

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Hale Springs Inn: the walls come tumbling down

February 25, 2008

Rogersville’s Hale Springs Inn, which has served presidents going back as far as Andrew Jackson, is undergoing a renovation project aimed at updating the rooms and putting in a state-of-the-art kitchen. The Inn sits right on the main drag in Rogersville, and is the most impressive building in that town.

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When builders got to an 1870s addition to the historic structure, however, they found that they don’t build hotels like that anymore. Thank goodness. Sometime during the night in January, the wall came tumbling down. Read the rest of this entry »


Dixie Barbeque serves up interesting politics

February 23, 2008

Here’s a barbecue place in north Johnson City that has Confederate flags outside and in, photos of Confederate generals and soldiers, and a framed membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Quick–what presidential candidate is the owner supporting?

If you guessed John McCain, you’d be wrong.

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You meet the most interesting people at a funeral

February 19, 2008

I started giving eulogies for my grandparents’ funerals back in the 1980s. I had attended the funeral of an aged great uncle, and the service was led by a minister who clearly didn’t know the deceased. The preacher made a few remarks about Uncle Walt and then segued into a little sermon that would have applied to me, the person sitting beside me, or the next person to walk in the door. It was that vague.

And so, when my grandmother Bradley died, I stepped up to the pulpit and tried to tell the story of her life and what she meant to us. I have since done that for five relatives. Having a non-clergy person conduct a funeral is sort of like the talking dog–it’s not what he says as much that he does it at all. These performances are emotional high wire walking, but when you can pull it off without falling apart the experience is enormously satisfying.

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James Agee’s “A Death in the Family” 2.0

February 10, 2008

James Agee, who now vies with Cormac McCarthy as the greatest writer to come out of Knoxville, is most famous now for his autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family, which was published two years after he died in 1955. It won a Pulitzer Prize, and began with these words: “We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.”

Based on new material found in archives at two “UTs”–the University of Tennessee and the University of Texas, Michael A. Lofaro, a professor at the former, has reassembled a version of A Death in the Family published by the University of Tennessee Press. Fred Brown has a great piece in the News Sentinel about the new book.

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Mystery Train

February 6, 2008

I’ve always liked trains. The first one I ever rode was Tweetsie, a steam powered narrow gauge tourist attraction near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. My work on the East Coast gave me the opportunity to ride Amtrak and Metro North lines, and I’ve also ridden trains in Europe. I think that rail travel offers great potential in America to save fuel, reduce traffic, and create a wonderful travel experience.

Tennessee’s main cities are close enough to seriously consider trains. A Nashville/Chattanooga/Atlanta train could attract all kinds of passengers, and going by rail from Nashville to Memphis would transform one of the more boring drives in the state into a pleasant experience. Right now, there’s only one Amtrak train that comes through Tennessee: the City of New Orleans, which goes from Chicago to New Orleans. It stops in Memphis and Newbern, Tennessee.

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