Monday, February 15, 2010

Chattanooga to Greeneville

We were once again struck by the quiet of the traincar when we woke up. I guess most modes of transportation are built to be insulated from outside noise when they're moving, but one is not usually aware of this fact because one is not usually in a non-moving conveyance for any length of time. Our morning's repast was bagels and coffee and a newspaper in a small cafe across the street. (We had been perusing newspapers over breakfast at each of our stops in order to gauge the quality of journalism in the various locales. The Times Free Press wasn't half bad.)

By this point in our journey we were starting to fall behind. Since we didn't have a set itinerary it wasn't really possible to miss out on engagements or anything, but if we didn't start making some progress we would end up having some long highway drives towards the end of our trip. Given that that would defeat the point, it took us a while to decide to stick around town long enough for the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum to open, but ultimately we were glad we did.

The museum was situated out in the outskirts of town in an industrial district. We parked and took a look at the sculpture/fountain outside, which depicted a tow truck operator retrieving a man and child from a vehicle that was mostly submerged in the deep blue pool of water below. Very dramatic. If they've memorialized it in sculptural form, it must've happened, right? We then went in, paid our admission fee, watched a video about those hard-working, valiant men and women that are so often taken for granted. After the film we were allowed into the room that held the old trucks and various memorabilia. There were toy tow trucks, dioramas, tow truck-themed quilts, etc., etc., etc. The Hall of Fame was a literal hall, a corridor filled with pictures of the homliest group of people you ever did see. Next up was the gift shop, where I got some nice postcards featuring an ad for the very first tow truck.

From there we went to Dayton, where the Scopes Monkey Trial was held. The courthouse there had a small museum in the basement. The guy working there was elderly and animated and was having nothing to do with this so-called evolution. Fortunately he buttonholed another group of people in there and was lecturing them, so he mostly left us alone. Once they disappeared we fled to the second story courtroom where the trial was held. It was a toss-up between marveling over the events that took place there inside vs. watching them taking down a large old oak tree that had probably been there when the trial took place outside. The tree won.

There was a farmer's market going on outside, and although we weren't yet in mid-summer-full-on-produce mode yet, they did have a decent selection of items. We got a pound of raw peanuts and some South Carolina peaches. I wasn't quite sure whether the peanuts could be eaten raw or not, but once I tasted one I didn't have any qualms about digging into the rest. They were chewier and sweeter than the dry roasted ones, and very pleasant. So good, in fact, that I might have to try to grow them myself.

Lunch was fried clam boats and sweet tea on the shores of a nearby waterway. Then we continued back towards 11, crossing into Meigs County (surely named after my favorite Quartermaster General of the US Army). For an afternoon snack, we went on a tour of the Mayfield Dairy in Athens, where they bottle milk and make ice cream. We were separated by glass from the production lines, but nevertheless we all had to wear silly hairnets. I guess there's a lot of corporate espionage in the dairy industry, as we weren't allowed to take photos. Strangely, we stopped in front of a glass-enclosed office at one point to have a Q&A with our guide, and sitting out on the desk was the list of companies that they provide store-brand ice cream to. Surely that's no secret, but I would've thought that they'd prefer their customers to think that Mayfield was an exclusive brand commanding a higher price. The ice cream itself (purchased at the end of the tour) was okay, but not great. I wasn't sure what the fuss was all about, but perhaps it's just a good place to take your kids in the summer when they've about run through all your patience.

As the afternoon wore on, we continued to wend our way through eastern Tennessee, stopping at Knoxville to visit the site of the 1982 World's Fair, which figured prominently in my youth. The (surprisingly small!) fairgrounds are mostly empty aside from landscaping at this point, with the only remaining major landmark being the Sunsphere. Fortunately the Sunsphere was open for business, so we stopped in for a beer and watched the city below.

Dusk was approaching as we made our way to the tiny town of Greeneville, electing to stay at the Charray Inn. We were greeted by a most enthusiastic staff member, who seemed elated that we chose to stay there.

Greeneville had signs pointing to the historic center, so we went to check it out as dusk fell. There was the usual assortment of Civil War sites, homes of former Presidents, and so on, but the most striking item was a historical marker that had to do with the lost State of Franklin, the capital of which was situated in Greeneville (the reconstructed capitol building is shown). After the Revolutionary War North Carolina donated some of its land to the feds to help get it out of hock, but the landowners in the area were not terribly pleased by this idea. They elected to secede and become Franklin, an independent state, which lasted for all of 4 years. Greeneville itself hadn't fared much better, becoming a quaint backwater bypassed by the highway. That suited us just fine, though.

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