Constructive Griping

Of bottlenecks, disembodied ladies, a real convention, and a bold new leaf-blowing tactic

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who’s tried to run the gauntlet, on foot or bike, at the cars-only bridge-rebuilding construction site at Kingston Pike and Forest Park. I’ve heard from a few others who’ve had harrowing experiences with TDOT’s Bearden bottleneck. Given that it’s key to accessing the popular Third Creek greenway, and essential to the many handicapped, elderly, and automobile-less foreign students who live near there and are accustomed to shopping for groceries and drugs in the neighborhood, it seems a particularly neglectful fumble to have a cars-only construction zone with no explainable alternative routes for any other sort of vehicle, whether bicycle, wheelchair, or foot.

However, a prominent attorney with some transportation expertise tells me he has learned to dash across one line of traffic in order to jog in the unused automobile turn lane, in the middle between the two lanes of traffic. Until the project is finished, sometime next year, it’s safer than any other option TDOT has provided us.

***

Everybody has a few gripes about the recent general transit facelift that coincided with the opening of the transit center. I do, too, as I do about nearly everything. Drivers’ refusal to let us off at any intersection takes some getting used to. I’ve been riding the bus for years, and have gotten used to the independent ways of some bus drivers. One of my favorite drivers used to like to stop the bus at Krystal to get a biscuit. But this summer, it’s as if our standards shifted from Mayberry to Munich. Maybe it’s better, if a bit of a shock.

There’s one new thing I do like, and that’s the cheerful lady who announces each next stop. I think she’s supposed to take the sting out of the fact that buses no longer stop nearly anywhere you want them to.

Ordinarily I might find it annoying, but this woman somehow sounds lovely, and her clear voice is like a song—she makes me think of June Lockhart—and she sounds really excited to be in Knoxville. I don’t even want to get off at non-official stops anymore.

On weekdays when walking’s not ideal, I find the Orange Line free trolley to be the fastest and easiest way to get back and forth between downtown and UT. Sometimes, reading the mundane news, we get jaded, and forget some of our unique attractions, and how they might sound to a stranger. My favorite announcement on the Orange Line is “Now approaching: Candy Factory! World’s Fair Park!”

It’s a phrase you’ll probably never hear in any other city in the world, and she makes it sound like Oz. Sometimes I get off there, even when I’m going somewhere else.

***

Speaking of—remember, eight or 10 years ago, the architects’ renderings of the Knoxville Convention Center? They always showed the place as a mecca of thin, fashionable, smart-looking people with briefcases. A couple of weeks ago, it actually did look just like that. Hundreds of people of a dozen different hues, speaking a dozen different languages, obviously from Somewhere Else. They were walking around looking at buildings with a keen curiosity us locals have a hard time mustering. They flowed to and from the hotels, eating at locally owned downtown restaurants. These are the people the Ashe administration believed would come to a convention center, affluent people bringing in new money to the Knoxville economy, maybe even spending the per-diem amounts we once heard were likely from conventioneers.

I was amazed. I pass through the convention-center plaza almost every day, and when I encounter anybody, they usually look like locals attending a reunion, not much different in girth and attire from Expo Center gun-show crowds. They probably don’t need a room. If they eat supper here, they won’t buy supper at home, which may be in Norwood or Vestal. The economic impact of a local person attending a wedding at the convention center is probably pretty close to zero.

This particular exception two weeks ago seemed to me remarkable. Naturally, I was curious to see what was going on, and looked at the electronic board that shows events.

Who are all these cool, stylish people spending money in my hometown? I had to know. I waited through several screens about “Southern Hospitality,” with rocking chairs, and “Tinsel and Treasures,” before I learned.

Scheduled for that week, it turns out, was the “IIEE NSS MIC RTSD.” There were no actual words, and it was only up for a few seconds, shorter than anything else. I had to watch three rotations of the whole sequence to copy it all down. I looked it up online. It was a pretty important-sounding international convention about nuclear research in medicine.

You’d think the KCC would play those up. Say, “See? Remember those important-looking conventions in the architects’ renderings? Looky here.”

But judging by the rotation, “Call Our Wedding Specialist” was up about six times longer in duration, and the fact that it employed actual words implied that the wedding specialist is of much greater import.

Maybe it’s what we want for our $90 million Knoxville Convention Center, once touted as the highest-tech convention center in the world. Maybe it’s now, mainly, our own Jumbo-Sized Weddin’ Chapel, our last, best hope of competing with Gatlinburg.

***

Here’s a sign of our times: The advanced technology of leaf blowers offers us a bold new world of opportunities our fathers never hinted. When I was a kid, I was trained to rake leaves carefully into piles, and thence onto a canvas tarpaulin, which could then be gathered up by the corners and hauled to an appropriate piling spot for the city trucks to pick them up.

But that’s old school. With leaf blowers, now we can just blow them right out into the street! Eliminate the middle man. What happens to them there is not our problem.

Several times this fall, everywhere from Cherokee Boulevard to Broadway, I’ve driven through a pocket windstorm of leaves being deliberately blown into the street. That wasn’t even possible in my youth. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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