A few August epilogues

Secret History

by Jack Neely

I've written about the concrete railings on the Clinch Avenue viaduct before, but only mournfully. The rare design, that might be called Pine Tree Deco, set the bridge sharply apart from others in the web of viaducts that connect downtown's bluff with the rest of the city. Several months ago, as they tore it down, I wrote a sort of eulogy for it.

And they did tear it down. I watched it. At one time I thought it might be worth a Knox Heritage campaign to save it, but I couldn't help noticing that chunks of the 70-year-old concrete were plummeting down onto the roads below, and I finally acknowledged that maybe it did need to be replaced with a new, modern bridge. They tore it down. I swear they did.

But damned if it's not back. Just look. They've resurrected the old bridge, complete with its angular design. It appears to be near completion, almost ready for traffic.

It looks so much like the old bridge that if a convict comes home next month after 20 years in the pen, he might say, â“Boy, everything else is changing, but I'm glad to see that old viaduct sure is holding up.â”

As far as I'm concerned, that makes three for three for the new, reformed, enlightened TDOT, where replacing historic downtown bridges is concerned. The born-again department has done unexpectedly well-designed work on the Clinch, Gay, and Church viaducts, and seems to be making up for half a century of ugly and interchangeably characterless bridges.

On the prematurely mourned Church viaduct, the only thing it's missing is the old metal bridge stairway that led down to Central. It was the same story with the Gay viaduct, which used to have stairways. The city's losing its old up-and-down dimension, bit by bit. But I suspect I'm the only one who ever used them.

I was having lunch in one of my favorite taquerias on one of those terribly hot days we've had recently, and asked the waiter for a Coke. As I said the word, I looked over and saw a refrigerator with the 20-ounce torpedoes I've been griping about, the ones that seem to have become the standard for what â“a Cokeâ” is. As I was trying to remember the Spanish for â“not one of those,â” the man said, in English, â“Mexican Coke?â”

I didn't know what he meant, but just because I was curious, answered , Si .

And what he brought was an old-fashioned, voluptuous, fluted-glass bottle of Coca-Cola. It was bottled in Mexico, and at 355 milliliters, which I think is 12 ounces, bigger than the ideal-sized ones I remember. But, man, it was good.

Maybe Coke in glass just tastes better than aluminum or plastic, or maybe it's the psychology of aesthetics, but to me it tasted just as good as they did when I was a kid.

It's ironic, considering the national concern about how the unprecedented influx of Mexicans will affect American culture, that they seem to be bringing back some old-fashioned American culture that some of us miss. Fresh-baked sweet rolls, general stores, jelly glasses, men who sing while they work, and Coke in a glass bottle, served as if it's a perfectly ordinary thing.

I was sorry to hear about the passing last week of Bobbie Jean Moore, better known as Bishop Moore to the parishioners of the True House of God, which she founded. She was its preacher, theologian, and organist. After her son was the victim of random street violence, she became an advocate for youth, starting a Stop the Violence campaign. Her Homegoing was held in East Knoxville on Friday.

I would probably never have known Bishop Moore if not for the fact that she was the daughter of a woman who has intrigued me for years, a singer known on a few rare disks recorded at the old St. James Hotel in Knoxville in 1929 and 1930 as Leola Manning. Author and performer of â“The Arcade Building Moanâ” and â“Satan Is Busy in Knoxvilleâ”â"rare cuts that have made it onto more than one collection of early jazz and bluesâ"the plaintive singer seemed to vanish from the historical records after that. I assumed she died or moved away. Thanks to her daughter Bishop Moore, I learned that Leola Manning, under the remarried name Leola Ballinger, lived the rest of her long life here in Knoxville, and died here more than 60 years after her recordings.

When I wrote a story about Leola Manning two years ago, Bishop Moore was a tremendous help. She said her mother, a religious and humble woman, hardly ever spoke of her brief recording career, for which she apparently never received any royalties. She died assuming those days had been forgotten.


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