They always tell me that as we get older, time always seems to pass faster. As we approach middle age, years pass in about seven months or so. Other people's kids always grow up alarmingly fast. People always say, "It doesn't seem like five years agoÊ..."
Maybe I'm weird, but sometimes five years seem like every bit of five years. Maybe even six or seven.
Five years ago, we were gawking at the huge building Whittle was finishing on Main Street. Nobody had yet seen the inside of it. The company was every bit as prosperous and extravagant as it had been for years, and was now a month away from moving into its enormous and mysterious new headquarters, the palatial insides known only by rumor.
Whittle was huge, Whittle was high-tech, Whittle was the future. Its computers were equipped with a new thing called e-mail. The new building had whole wings being fitted out as TV studios and the break rooms were furnished with state-of-the-art snack machines that didn't take money, but rather special magnetic cards. You even got into the place with the same magnetic cards. (Low-tech stuff like keys and coins had nothing to do with the future Whittle was guiding us into.)
But for the time being, Whittle's hundreds of employees from all over the country were still straining at the seams of five old buildings downtown. They were getting a lot of national press for Channel One and an even newer project called SRTV. Some were calling Whittle immoral, some called Whittle esthetically unpleasant--but no one was alleging the company was unprofitable.
Today, "the old Whittle building" sits silent, controlled by the metal-detector-equipped federal people. Try to remember the summers when they sold ice cream in the little shop under the arch and you saw girls--or, rather, extremely young women--in shorts and sun visors throwing Frisbees on the green lawn. Or remember when the courtyard played host to band concerts there in the grass, and public debates, and volleyball tournaments. Then remember, if you can, back before any of that ever happened. If you can, that was five years ago.
Knoxville was a different town. There was no such thing as a Knoxville brewpub or local modern-rock radio station or a Museum of East Tennessee History. There was only one Knoxville coffee house, and many regarded it as a subversive aberration. But we still had two daily newspapers. Both newspapers' restaurant critics, including the Journal's Quiche N. Tell, were raving about an especially promising new restaurant in Homberg Place called "Jonathan's."
Johnny Majors was coach of the Vols, confidently anticipating another winning season in spite of an NCAA investigation into recruitment improprieties. Andy Kelly was the Vols' star quarterback. Heath Schuler was down the list, a freshman mentioned in the same breath with another second-string QB, Quincy Prigmore. Freshman tailback James "Little Man" Stewart was reportedly a disappointment.
Meanwhile, Knoxville's baseball team, the K-Jays, led the Southern League.
Mikhail Gorbachev was still in charge of the Soviet Union, Larry Bird was trying to decide whether he was up for the Barcelona Olympics, and Sam Kinison irritated Joan Rivers when he didn't show up on her late-night talk show. A wacky new movie called Delirious, starring John Candy and Raymond Burr, was opening at the Capri in Bearden.
Congress was Democratic and the White House was Republican, as they would always be forever, we thought. Riding high in the popularity polls--after the Gulf War victory and the surely imminent fall of Saddam Hussein--President Bush was looking forward to re-election next year--despite his Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, who was in hot water over an investigation into his wife's financial dealings.
If a large, puffy-faced man named Bill Clinton showed up in your office lobby five years ago, your receptionist would have said, "And you areÊ...?"
Meanwhile, from that primordial swamp emerged a new tabloid magazine on the streets of downtown Knoxville. Not many people paid much attention to it at first. I know I didn't. There were half a dozen others, all sorts of wacky free papers on the sidewalks. If this Metro Pulse was different from the others, it was just that it was more earnest with its carefully comprehensive entertainment calendar, and therefore a little duller.
Every once in a while, you run across somebody who hasn't noticed the magazine until lately. (I always assume they're surgeons who spend 14 hours a day in the operating room and go home on the interstate, to sleep.)
When people say Metro Pulse--is that a new paper? I always say, "Um, yes."