Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Characters Everywhere

LoonyMy daughter and I talked while eating crepes at the French Market Cafe this weekend – I had strawberries and cream while she enjoyed the butter and sugar style.  We did a lot of eating and talking this weekend.  Lots of different topics.  Lots of things discovered.  It was good.

One of the areas we covered was the number of “characters” that abound in the Knoxville and East Tennessee area.  You know what I mean  . . . the quirky, funny, possibly a little crazy or just plain weird folks that seem to be a part of everyone’s home town.  The ones that, if you haven’t actually met them, you have heard about them.

My daughter was comparing and contrasting Knoxville and Atlanta where she now lives.  In her words, “One thing’s for sure . . . Atlanta doesn’t have near as many characters as Knoxville.”

At first, I leapt to the defense of my hometown.  “Atlanta has them, they are just spread out or unnoticed because of the shear size and pace of the community”.  Then we talked about it and I began to change my mind.  Every town has one.  But we have a lot more than one.  We really do have a lot of characters.  Maybe it’s just Tennessee in general.

You’ve read about our Southern quirkiness in many novels - there’s Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird and Forrest Gump – and then there’s TV – Ernest T. Bass from The Andy Griffith Show, any of the Beverly Hillbillies or The Dukes of Hazzard

We have them here.  You have read of my fascination with the late moonshiner Popcorn Sutton.  If not, you can read about him here or here or just Google his name.  Popcorn was quite the character on the surface.  Under the beard and overalls was a human being with lots and lots of faults, some scary, some sad, some obscene.  But we seem to forgive all that if you’ve got a good story.

We have the man who has become known as the Bikini Man, an older gentleman who is in the process of gender reassignment surgery.  He walks on one of the busiest main roads in Knoxville every morning.  He wears a giant blond Dolly Parton style wig, a sports bra and spandex biker shorts on a good day . . . I have literally seen him wearing a bikini on occasion.  He also rides a pink scooter if he has further to go.

Then there’s what has become affectionately known as The Fellini Kroger.  It’s a regular Kroger grocery store but the variety of characters shopping there seem to be straight out of a Fellini movie – surreal.  Weird things seem to happen during each visit – stories of a toe found in the parking lot, sightings of morbidly obese 3 foot tall albino twins in overalls, the man shopping in his tighty whiteys and tube socks.  There is even a Facebook fan page devoted to the store called Friends of the Fellini Kroger. 

I could go on, there are many more examples.  We love our characters here.  Hopefully we leave them alone or when necessary, get them help.  I’m sure Atlanta has them too.  It is the South after all.
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Travel Bug

I was listening recently to a radio show in which the host asked people to call in and share their favorite US travel destinations and/or hidden gems at those locations.  It really made me think about some of my past experiences traveling and some of the places friends have shared with me.  So here are some of my favorites:
  • IMG_1894Hopkinsville, KY – Ferrell’s Hamburgers.  I have shared my passion for Ferrell’s before on this blog.  That passion has not diminished.  
  • Upstate NY – The Thousand Islands.  We visited my grandmother’s home town of Ogdensburg, NY when I was about 12 and toured the Thousand Islands.  We took a boat tour down the St. Lawrence River and saw all the tiny islands, some with large Victorian mansions, some too small for a house.  It is an amazingly beautiful place and I would love to spend a family vacation there with my kids.
  • Panama City Beach/Laguna Beach, FL – Thomas’ Donuts.  They have been around since 1946 and I think the building has not changed much since then.  You can get donuts, breakfast and lunch and it is definitely beach food.  Our favorite is the breakfast items and the yummy donuts.  It is directly across from the beach, a walk-up place with a small inside and air conditioned dining room.  Bring cash cause they don’t accept credit cards and be prepared to stand in line.
  • Gatlinburg, TN – Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  Most people who come to the Smoky Mountains are very aware of the National Park, Cades Cove, and the very touristy Gatlinburg area.  But smack in the middle of downtown, you turn down a side road, go a short distance and turn off into one of the most beautiful areas in the mountains.  It feels like you are stepping back in time as you pass the old homes and the giant trees.  You can follow the small, one-way road through or park at one of the narrow pull-off areas and explore.  And you should spend the 50 cents for the guidebook for sale at the beginning of the trail.
  • Gulf Shores, AL – The Pink Pony Pub.  Many great memories were created in this fun, beachside hangout.  On a trip with friends, we christened ourselves the “Pink Pony Dancers” after a few pina coladas.  This is the place my daughter ate her first oyster on the half shell at the age of 6.  And later, if I remember correctly, it’s the place where she got her first taste of a pina colada.  Fun beach food, a great deck, and live music.  The ultimate beach experience.
Now it’s your turn!  Share your favorite hidden vacation gem.
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Confessions of a High School Homecoming Queen

So, I’ve been thinking lately . . . about high school.  Yes, it was a LONG time ago and who really wants to go back, right?  It was a time of awkwardness, teasing, and trying to be one of the “cool kids”, right?

I have a confession to make.  Although all of us were kind of awkward, I never got teased and, horror of horrors, I was kind of one of the “cool kids”.  I know you are mildly mortified and you can just go ahead and judge me right now but I feel a little bit of a need to defend my high school experience.

I loved high school.  I know that’s weird but I did.  I’m not saying it was easy.  I went to one very large high school in Virginia for 2 1/2 years where I was completely comfortable.  I had friends whom I loved and I was involved in a lot of activities at the school.  Then my family moved to Germany in the middle of my junior year.  I had to start over in a new country and a new, smaller school with people who had totally different experiences in life.  I was naturally a shy person, not one to jump in and approach people with whom I had no comfort level.

The first day, I searched out the basketball team and asked to try out.  I had been playing on basketball teams since 6th grade and it was the start of the season at this new school.  I was allowed to play and met several people who are still my lifelong friends. 

I learned quickly that things were different here.  I had rarely lived in a military base environment so I was unaware of what it meant to be an “officer’s kid” in this new school.  As far as I was concerned, my father’s rank had nothing to do with who I was or with whom I was supposed to hang out.  I liked people with whom I had things in common, not because their dad had the same rank as my dad.  Once we got past that craziness, I started to make friends and since kids in the school were used to people coming and going, the “new girl” label went away quickly.

I don’t remember any of the “mean girls” antics by anyone.  I remember everyone having a “live and let live” kind of attitude.  We were all different but we pretty much got along.  I do remember a couple of times at school dances where we discussed people’s dancing or outfit or general behavior but it was not one clique versus another and once the dance was over, the gossip was over.

Since most of the people I went to high school with are on Facebook and this blog feeds into Facebook, please tell me if I have selective memory.  I personally did not experience the stereo-typical horrible high school experience.  I don’t believe I created that experience for anyone either but again, please set me straight friends.

And yes, I was homecoming queen.  I was also the senior class treasurer, was voted “best personality”, and was nominated for prom queen where I lost to one of my best friends.  And all of that means nothing today.  I’m honored by it all but, just as my dad’s rank had no bearing on who I was, all of those things have nothing to do with who I am today.  I have to prove myself as an individual each day and high school is done.

Many of my friends today say they hated high school.  They talk about the experience in the cafeteria, the way the “cool kids” made fun of them, the feeling of being on the outside.  I listen and feel a little guilty.  While I didn’t experience that, do people I went to school with feel the same way?  Did I contribute to that?  Gosh, I hope not.  I tried to be nice to everyone unless they gave me some serious reason to stay away from them.

These friends are still affected by that experience to this day, in both good ways and bad.  I guess I am too.

What was your high school experience?
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