• WORST EXCUSE FOR AN INTERSTATE IMPROVEMENT
    • The I-40 West Hills Exit
    • Okay, so the I-40 West Hills off-ramp got a little backed up sometimes, especially during Christmas, when rabid shoppers not seduced by the glittering panorama of sprawl that is Turkey Creek would jam it up during peak hours on their way to the still-viable West Town Mall shopping center. But that didn't happen too often, and the on/off ramp there at least offered motorists a certain easily configurable simplicity, one simple, central location to get on and off the interstate at that particular juncture.
    • But ever since the latest TDOT SmartFu—, er, SmartFix improvement, getting on and off the interstate around West Hills, depending on your final destination, requires a degree in advanced geometry, a state-of-the-art Global Positioning System, and some primal instinct for stumbling through mazes of asphalt like a doomed rat. The ramps there turn, turn off, change directions, curl, and repeat themselves until you're not sure whether you're coming, going, or whether you even cared pigshit in the first place. (Mike Gibson)
    • WORST EXOTHERMIC REACTION
    • The McClung Warehouse fire
    • ... of Feb. 7, 2007, and its aftermath, have managed to accomplish something most non-cinematic disasters couldn't touch: become sort of tedious. It's been more than a year since the massive blaze engulfed the historic Old City buildings, and we're still hearing a lot of language like "ongoing" and "on hold" in the news.
    • The fire itself was, of course, awful. Four city firefighters were injured, floating embers coming off the blaze caused a short-term mass panic as they ignited adjacent rooftops, and scores of commuters had to sit in an extra five minutes of traffic as they detoured around the site. Not to mention the loss of the buildings themselves, three intact late 19th-century structures, a rarer and rarer commodity in this town.
    • Two of them were abandoned before the fire, for years embarrassingly blighted thorns in the side of Old City developer-boosters. Owner Mark Saroff, who purchased the warehouses in 1991 and was living in one of them at the time of the fire, just couldn't seem to get a rehab off the ground.
    • But February 2007 was like a structural Bar Mitzvah for the warehouses. Once merely abandoned eyesores, post-fire they finally grew up (read: fell down) into fully-fledged hideous ruins. Mazel Tov!
    • And that's, more or less, what they are now.
    • They're still standing there, uglying up the Old City, a hazardous temptation for transients and explorers. There still aren't any real answers as to what started the fire. And repeated requests and actions from the city that Saroff either rebuild or demolish the buildings have yielded little in terms of visible progress.
    • Two months ago, though, Knoxville's Community Development Corporation put out a request for proposals for the property after more delays from the Saroff camp. No word yet as to the soundness of any bids, but maybe there's going to be an end to this thing soon. (Charles Maldonado)
    • WORST WASTE OF PUBLIC FUNDS AND URBAN ACREAGE
    • Between downtown and the South Knox Bridge
    • In the last several years, some drivers with a full tank of gas and time on their hands have gamely entered the curvy maze of asphalt between downtown and the South Knoxville Bridge. Some have emerged. Most have found ways to avoid it.
    • Laid out for purposes now obscure, as if by some ancient race of prankish giants, it's a network of blind chutes, under-explained options, and irrevocable choices. This expanse, which includes part of James White Parkway and theoretical points of access to it, seems deliberately calculated to bewilder. Nothing about it is simple or direct, comprehensible, if at all, only from some point in the lofty heavens. Its chief virtue is that drivers hardly ever have to stop, even if they dearly wish they could, just to figure out where the hell they are and how to proceed, on their relentless course to the wrong destination. It has, not surprisingly, inspired some bizarre single-car accidents. Some of us have figured it out, at long last, enough to learn that it's not useful for most practical treks, and that the whole trick to dealing with it is to find some way around it.
    • I know it was expensive to build, which may seem the chief reason to keep it intact. However, it would be altogether better if we just cut our losses and bulldozed the whole thing. That acreage, re-plotted on a sensible urban street grid, could support thousands of residences, hundreds of businesses. The city could use that massive acreage to put in something much nicer, like, say, a used-car lot, a trailer park, or a Wal-Mart. (Jack Neely)
    • WORST FOOD FOR SOFTENING YOUR ARTERIES
    • A&W
    • Accelerate, don't look to the left on the main drag to Pigeon Forge, never, ever speak to anyone in the know about "curiously delicious" deep-fried cheese curds… or just say fare-thee-well to arterial health every now and then and revel in the decadence at A & W Drive-In in Sevierville. The fries (sure, there's burgers, but who cares?) are crispy and fresh, lightly salted, and all the more alluring with the optional creamy orange cheese goo and/or mid-range spicy store-made chili (all beef, no beans) on top. They, along with floats of real ice cream and home-brewed root beer (yes, it's also that A & W) used to generate the magnetic force here. But for the past few years, those tantalizers come in a distant second to the aforementioned "what in the heck is a?" curd, lighter and crispier than a mere mozzarella cheese stick, billed by the restaurant as "the richest, creamiest part of white Wisconsin cheddar." Addictive? We'll never know, since the store is an inconvenient 30 minute drive from downtown Knoxville, as are the other cheese curd purveyors, the A & W in Maryville (with a drive-thru, not a drive-in) and the second, walk-in only, location in Sevierville. Distance makes the heart grow… and the arteries stronger. (Rose Kennedy)
    • WORST SOUND AT THE ZOO
    • I-40 Traffic
    • God bless it, the Knoxville Zoo has certainly come a long way in the past 20 years, with interesting new attractions, nicely redesigned habitats, great educational programs, and a fresh look. It feels reinvigorated, a wonderful place to take the kids each month. But who in the heck decided to build it right next to Interstate 40? I suppose it makes logistical sense—a nearby off-ramp makes it easier to round up tourists. But it also results in an entirely discordant aural experience: just as you’re peering into the limpid eye of a mighty elephant hoping to make a mental connection—HONNNK! Another 18-wheeler announces its impatience from behind a hatchback several hundred yards away as they scream past on I-40E. All throughout the pretty, wooded trails and artfully constructed environments of the zoo, you’ll hear the constant reminder of Man’s Anti-Nature Machine, the Automobile: Woosh! Woosh! Wooooosh! I hope the animals have become so accustomed to this daily drumbeat of speeding traffic that they zone it out. I have a feeling, however, that they’re really looking forward to the year-long-plus I-40 shutdown. (Coury Turczyn)
    • WORST CONSUMERS
    • UT students
    • College students are supposed to lead the way, alarm us, amuse us, shock us, inspire us. UT students aren't doing the job.
    • There was a time, a generation or two ago, when Cumberland Avenue was a fascinating street to walk down: a Greek deli, then a record store with a piratical reputation, then a real book store―one that actually did more business in Russian novels than in blaze-orange grazewear―then a place you could buy ice cream, pornography, and chocolate-covered grasshoppers, then a place you could get mettwurst and beans, then a place where you could buy cool old clothes, then a bar run by an old couple who know some stories, then another record store that has some stuff the other one doesn't have, then another Greek deli that was different from the other one, then a beer store that had imported beer you never saw in any bar, then a used book store that does a lot of business in paperbacks that aren't even on someone's required reading list. And nightclubs: the same night, you'd hear live bebop in one, live punk in the next one, live country in the next.
    • Now the fringe of campus looks like middle America, and West Cumberland looks a whole lot like any interstate exit in Oklahoma. Judging by the crowds at Taco Bell, UT students like it that way. The last several crops of UT students are indistinguishable from middle-aged suburbanites, and would probably not be insulted by that allusion. They seem to favor big chain restaurants, they drive SUVs , and they've even gotten a good start on that middle-aged gut.
    • Only UT students could have made an icon of an O'Charley's, and the fact that their Cumberland Avenue store had become a student hangout apparently astonished the national office, which had never witnessed such a phenomenon anywhere else. It freaked them out so thoroughly that, despite its undeniably profitability, they closed it, muttering something about the fact that they were mainly a family restaurant chain.
    • Breakout bands, I hear, get bigger crowds in Asheville, a much smaller city with fewer college students than UTK has. UT students travel in big packs, and don't want to go somewhere unless they're confident that everyone else is going. (Jack Neely)