Michael Totten

From Washington to Knoxville

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After the Pajamas Media conference ended in Washington it was time to make my zigzagging way back to the West Coast — by ground. I bought a car out east, a 2002 Acura RSX. I can’t really afford one of these, but I managed to get one anyway because I bought it on eBay. I saved 7,000 or 8,000 dollars by buying on eBay because I got the cheapest one in the entire country. So I could afford one after all. And, hey, I get a road trip out of it too.
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(For those curious, no I did not just blindly buy a random car on the Internet. I hired a local mechanic to take a look at it for me and tell me whether I should do it or not.)
My first stop on the way home was Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to see newspaper editor and former guest-blogger of mine Callimachus. I was late getting to Cal’s house because the hotel in Washington held my laundry hostage for more than 36 hours, but I finally made it around midnight.
Cal and I sipped scotch on the back porch, bemoaned the sorry state of journalism and politics, talked shop, talked travel, and went to sleep around 4:00 am. He just about knocked me out of my chair when he told me you can buy one of these fine old houses in Lancaster for just 75,000 dollars.
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The next morning we had breakfast at a diner out in Amish country. Amish country diners are far indeed from the rarefied air of Manhattan. A sign taped to the door said “We do not have a non-smoking section!” Ha ha, I thought. Just like the Middle East. They smoke in hospitals and schools in the Middle East. Maybe they do out in Bumpkinville, Pennsylvania, as well.
I couldn’t stick around Amish country, though, much as I would have liked to. It was time to drive south and west. First stop: Knoxville, Tennessee, to see Glenn and Helen Reynolds.
Aside from some of the airports, I had never been to the South. Not once for any reason, not even briefly. It’s not because I avoided the South for some reason. I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
While driving in Maryland I felt a slight tingle of anticipation as I approached the Virginia border. There I would cross a line for the first time. Maryland and Virginia don’t have (or at least have not always had) the same kind of relationship with each other that, say, Oregon and California have. Oregon and California were never at war with each other. The southwest never tried to violently break from the northwest.
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In the modern era, though, I suspected Maryland and Virginia wouldn’t look different from each other at all. At least not from the Interstate. You can’t see much from the Interstate anyway. The same Shell stations and McDonalds grease pits clutter the exit ramps from Miami to Seattle.
It was irrational to expect everything, or even anything, to suddenly change once I crossed from the North to the South. I knew it, too. But as I drove toward the state line and toward the old Confederacy I also drove toward a storm.
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And I reached that storm the instant I reached Virginia.
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Rain spattered the windshield. The sky went almost black. Ferocious wind whipped leaves around in cyclonic patterns across the road. Traffic came to a stop. Welcome to Virginia.
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I got an occasional glimpse of what the Virginia countryside looked like. It’s lovely, I’m sure.
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But mostly what I saw in Virginia was the backs of the cars in front of me in bumper-to-bumper stalled traffic.
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At one point I thought I saw a small patch of snow. How could that be? Snow? In September? In the South? I figured it must have been something else.
Sure enough, though, a guy got out of his car in stalled traffic, ran to a snow patch, and made a snowball to throw at his friends.
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The rest of the trip to Knoxville was in the dark. I called Glenn to tell him I would be late, that we would have to meet the next day.
The picture below was my first real view of the South that was not from an airport or a car. It’s from the window of my hotel room in Knoxville at midnight.
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Here is Knoxville again in the cold light of dawn.
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The next day I met Glenn and Helen in their spacious new house. They have a special studio just for podcasting, and they use serious professional equipment. I didn’t go there to be interviewed, but I didn’t mind being interviewed either. So they plunked me down in a chair, stuck a gigantic microphone in my face, and prompted me to blab about the Middle East for half an hour. You can listen to the interview here if you’re so inclined.
Later Glenn took me to one of Knoxville’s microbreweries downtown. He likes to bring his law students here during class on occasion. They seem to be prefer that to the classroom.
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The next morning I toured downtown Knoxville myself on foot.
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I recognized the Downtown Bar and Grill because Glenn has posted photos of this place himself.
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Knoxville isn’t a big city, and it’s mostly pretty quiet. But it’s a pleasant enough place to spend a day.
Outdoor restaurants and cafes line the edges of Market Square.
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A band played live salsa music on the square itself.
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Since Knoxville is in the South I would have expected, oh I don’t know, a statue of a Confederate something-or-other in the middle of the city. Instead of a monument to anything old, dead, slave-holding, and male I found a memorial to women’s suffrage.
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Welcome to the New South.
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