Trying to pick my favorite Street Talk subjects from any given year is like expecting me to choose a favorite child—each one's my favorite the week their interview runs. I always have some quotes I find especially memorable, though, and here are 10 of those:
Why's it named after Luther Vandross?
Chandler Goff, inventor of the Luther Burger: Myself and two others were sitting around, and the kitchen manager was reading some magazine interview with Luther Vandross and it was when he'd lost all this weight. He told a story about when he was heavier, and he'd woken in the night and made a burger and then realized he didn't have any bread—all he had to use was a donut.
Who works with you?
Maria Compere, co-founder of the Knoxville Green Association: Many private individuals, and the prisoners from the Northern Correctional Facility, that used to be Brushy Mountain, and women from the county jail. It turns out they are the best workers, and the women are very nice to me. I give them consideration and respect. It just happens they are in jail and I am not.
Gay Lyons, editor of Knox Heritage's ‘Summer Suppers' cookbook: There are three recipe versions for it in the cookbook. And there's a funny story about that first tomato pie. There were a few pies leftover at that summer supper, and Bill Haslam, who was there, auctioned them off for $50 a piece.
What's your favorite Yankee tune?
Conny Ottway, Civil War Musician: It's actually a slave song. I love "Follow the Drinking Gourd," it's about the underground railroad. The Drifters did that years ago, too. Talk about mournful.
And this is cost-effective?
Kristen Gasnow Brown, president, Feral Feline Friends of East Tennessee: Yes, a lot of people don't know that it's far more expensive to euthanize and dispose of unwanted animals than to do what is called TNR—trapping, neutering, and returning feral cats.
How do you help?
Tracy Foster, co-founder of Project Being There, which aids orphans in Vietnam: The first thing, we helped pay for heart surgery for one of the children. The next thing, we built sinks. They had been washing dishes in a pond. Now they have some place to brush their teeth and wash their faces—80 orphans.
James White Fort curator Robert McGinnis, guide for its "walking tour of ghostly Knoxville": Sally got on a swing set at Old Bell House school and got her neck broke. Now the school is underneath Riverview Towers. All our ghost stories are true based on Knoxville history. You know, we're supposed to have three ghosts here at James White Fort, but I have never encountered them.
Do you have a higher tolerance for alcohol than most?
Marty Velas, Smoky Mountain Brewery's brewmaster: No, I taste a lot of beer, but I'm still a lightweight. People say, "You don't look like a brewmaster, you're too skinny!" I adhere to the Surgeon General's recommendation of one to two servings a day, and I enjoy those very much.
Have you won any similar contests?
Donna Doyle, second-place winner in the Metro Pulse YUMMM! haiku contest: In the late '90s, Walmart, they had an Ol' Roy photography and essay contest I won. My photo of my dog and my essay were on display at the Chapman Highway Walmart and the phone hasn't stopped ringing since.
Is performing before judges nerve-wracking?
Kelle Jolly, winner of Mountain Soul Vocal competition featuring Dolly Parton songs: Not for me. I don't even remember looking at them. I just look at the crowd. I don't believe in nerves.