Category: Chattanooga

22 Dec

Main Street Chattanooga, revamped

Chattanooga, Tennessee 3 Comments by Christina Cooke

img_1736

Walk down the sidewalk of East Main Street in Chattanooga, and you’ll see dilapidated, falling apart, crumbling-right-before-your-eyes buildings next to freshly-renovated places open for business. You’ll see graffitied walls next to iron sidewalk sculptures, brick streetscaping next to weeds in the cracks on the curb.

img_1754_2

The shell of a brick building, no roof on the top, glass in the windows… or doors, for that matter.

Having recently spent millions building parks and paths along the Tennessee River that runs through downtown, the city has turned its attention to revitalizing a four-block stretch further inland. The idea is to move restaurants, businesses, galleries and art studios into the once gritty part of town, and to encourage people to live there.

Even as I strolled down the street during my visit to Chattanooga last week, change was happening: jackhammers pounded, construction workers in hard hats yelled conversations at one another, signs proclaimed “Coming Soon” and “Will Build to Suit.”

img_0729

The mural painted on the side of Madia’s Healing Arts studio

Private foundations have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the project, and it seems to be working. The Bluegrass Grill was packed with lunch goers eating Greek salads or corned beef and Swiss cheese sandwiches, Madia’s Healing Arts had a full schedule of yoga classes and spa treatments available and people were tapping away at their computers in the office of CreateHere, an organization that supports the economic and cultural development of the city.

I stopped into Niedlov’s Breadworks, an organic, artisan bakery in a refurbished building at 215 E. Main, where the motto is “We love to knead. We knead to love.” The ambiance was simple and nice — wooden tables, walls of exposed brick and pumpkin-colored plaster, a barn-like wooden ceiling — and the baked goods were delish. I had a cinnamon roll made with Indonesian course-ground cinnamon. I could taste the difference. OK, not really, but it was light, fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth.

img_1484

My breakfast

With all the changes taking place on Main Street, I can guarantee a year from now, it will be a completely different — and a really cool — place to be.

Here are a few other pictures of Chattanooga. Sorry, I can’t resist:

img_1567_2

The Walnut Street walking bridge across the Tennessee River, which connects the shops and parks on the North Shore with the arts district downtown

img_1513

The Tennessee Aquarium as seen from the opposite side of the river

img_1619_2

The really-old, sort-of-old and new wings of the Hunter American  Art Museum, taken from the Walnut Street Bridge

img_1640

The Hunter Museum and the Holmberg glass pedestrian bridge. (I hear they put that metal strip down the middle of the bridge so people on the road below can’t look up women’s skirts.)

img_16851

A glass and iron sculpture around a balcony in the Bluff View Arts District

img_1782

Broad Street, from the Tennessee Aquarium

img_1502

A bench and trash can in front of a grassy hill in Renaissance Park

img_1817

My sister Laura on the stadium-seating steps at Ross’ Landing, in front of the aquarium. (This is right before she broke out in a dance routine to the Britney Spears’ “Womanizer.”)

07 Aug

I say “Chatta,” you say “nooga”

Chattanooga, Tennessee 1 Comment by Christina Cooke

Whenever my friend Amy introduced me to people we encountered in Chattanooga, she would say, “This is my friend Christina. She’s just got back from South America. She was there for nine months, the length of a pregnancy.”
The person would look at me.
“Just a coincidence,” I would say.
Before I headed south a gestation period ago, I lived in Chattanooga for two years. I knew nothing about the city when I moved there to take a job at the newspaper, but I quickly grew to love it for its downtown parks, hilly old neighborhoods and position on the slow-moving Tennessee River at the base of Lookout and Signal mountains.

Coolidge Park and its carousel, on the river

I went back to visit my friends there last weekend and found the city a lot like I left it and a little different.

Things that did not change while I was gone:

  • The same stained white curtains are hanging in the bottom half of the nine-foot, wavy-glassed windows of my dear old apartment at the corner of Mississippi Avenue and Summer Street.
  • My former landlord, a bleached blond in her late 30s, is still crazy. The last time I saw her before my move, she proudly shouted to me — and everyone sitting on the grass behind me at an outdoor concert — “I got new boobs! Check ’em out!”
    When I ran into her this time, she introduced the man on her arm, then performed a song and dance. “I got a boyfriend, I got a boyfriend!” she yelled, shaking her hips back and forth. The man on her arm looked mortified.
  • The cathead biscuits, omelettes and grits at the ever-popular North Chattanooga establishment Aretha Frankensteins are tasty as ever. Stuffed crows, movie villain heads and rock ‘n roll posters decorate the walls of this turquoise house-cum-restaurant perched on the steep side of Tremont Street. The porch, patio and inside tables are still packed on weekend mornings.

  • The homeless man with a bushy white beard still sits on the bench at the end of the Walnut Street walking bridge that spans the Tennessee River (he has a new pair of overalls, though).
  • Friday evening Nightfall concerts at Miller Plaza downtown still draw a crowd that’s not afraid to dance. Texas-based soul singer Ruthie Foster performed while I was there and completely rocked the place.
  • The Pickle Barrel, a rickety downtown pub with rooftop seating, will still give you Tater Tots in place of French Fries, and it will still make your night.
  • My running route along a section of the 10-mile downtown-to-dam riverwalk still makes me happy. As do the hiking trails on Lookout and Signal mountains, which overlook the river valley as they weave through hardwood forests and granite formations.
  • I still wish I could rollerskate through the Times Free Press newsroom, which has expansive hardwood floors that just BEG to be skated.

Things that DID change since I left:

  • Holy riverfront condos! Honestly, are there THAT many people clamoring to live in condos to justify building 50 MILLION of them along the river’s edge?
  • The Yellow Deli, run by the long-haired members of the Twelve Tribes Christian sect, is back in town. The religious community opened the original Yellow Deli in 1973, but left town after stirring up controversy and arousing suspicion they were a cult. They returned to the Scenic City this spring for Try #2. Tribe members, dressed in modest handmade clothing (which means long, flowing skirts for women), serve dishes like fresh chef salads, reuben sandwiches, papaya smoothies and carrot cake. Every aspect of the building — from the doorways to the walls to the banisters — has been meticulously hand-carved or painted. The quality of the food and décor is almost enough to make you forget the misgivings you have about the group that runs it.
  • Greenlife Grocery closed its store down the street from my former apartment and opened a big new megastore closer to the river. With the addition of second-story restaurant seating, there’s really no reason to ever leave. Pick up breakfast burritos from the hot bar, the best blueberry muffins in the world (I’m not kidding), made-on-the-spot sushi, gourmet salads, smoothies, fruit, whatever, and hang around.
  • And, perhaps the biggest change of all: VW is coming! VW is coming! The German automaker Volkswagen announced last month they’ll be building a $1 billion production facility in the Scenic City in 2011. This means an additional 2,000 jobs in the area. Everyone is elated about the economic boost the automaker will bring to Chattanooga. “Willkommen” signs hang from the side of all the street lamps downtown. I can only hope the city plans its growth and expansion wisely and with taste and that it doesn’t ruin its charm by erecting cheap, cookie-cutter neighborhoods, strip malls… and more condos.

Arethas photos by Dorie Turner

03 Oct

Adios Chattanooga, hola Chile!

After more than two years of writing for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, I quit my job. No longer will I write about what the children of Hamilton County are learning in their classrooms and whether the school board thinks seatbelts on buses improve safety.

I am moving to Chile, to the Torres del Paine National Park way down at the Southern tip of the country. Someone I met there two years ago when helping repair the park’s most damaged trails offered me a job — actually, two — last month. I start on Monday.

I will be marketing for Fantástico Sur, a Chilean company that arranges treks for hikers and naturalists. As part of it, they have asked me to start a bi-lingual magazine, which I have happily agreed to. I’ll also be guiding for AMA, a company that educates visitors about the park’s environment and helps them complete projects that conserve it.

In addition, I hope to publish some travel articles on my own… and soak up the language and lifestyle.

php5e9u4vam.jpg

Deciding to leave Chattanooga was incredibly tough, and I went back and forth with it for weeks. I loved my full-time writing job at the paper, which allowed me to interview, for example, the governor and a first-grade teacher in the same day. I enjoyed hiking, cycling and paddling in and around Chattanooga, and I knew I’d miss lounging around my sunny apartment on Saturday mornings and listening to my friend’s bluegrass band practice on her porch. Plus, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my friends and boyfriend.
But I decided to take the leap, to find out what I don’t know and to let the experience take me where it will.

I found this passage in the 2001 Best American Travel Writing, which I picked up at McKay’s Used Books in Chattanooga the other night:

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring ourselves what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and to fall in love once more.

Pico Iyer, from “Why We Travel” in Salon Travel

I may encounter frustration and loneliness in the far Southern reaches of the world, but I may also have experiences that change how I see the world and live my life. I just don’t know, and that’s the fun part.

And now, for some fun facts about my destination, for my sake as much as anyone’s:
* Chile is tall and slender, stretching along the southwestern coast of South America. It’s as long as San Francisco is from New York, but only 150 miles wide at its widest point.
* The northern part of the country is desert, the mid-section is a fertile river valley, and the southern landscape is made up of a string of rivers and volcanoes that dissolve into a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, peninsulas and islands. The Andes Mountains border the country to the east.
* Chile is a republic. Michelle Bachelet is Chile’s first woman president, elected in 2006.
* About 85 percent of Chile’s population lives in urban areas. About 40 percent live in greater Santiago. Most have Spanish ancestry.
* The local currency is the Chilean peso.
* About 89 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, about 11 percent is Protestant.
* The average Chilean expects to live about 76 years.
* Chileans are required to attend 12 years of school, and 96 percent of adults can read.

I have three short days before my plane departs for Santiago. Time for the business of shuffling boxes and realizing exactly how much stuff I have accumulated.

28 Sep

When the crows fly

Chattanooga, Tennessee No Comments by Christina Cooke

starlings.jpg

Ok, so they’re starlings. But the convention was tonight, in the parking lot outside the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

18 Sep

Is that a catfish on your arm?

Chattanooga, Tennessee No Comments by Christina Cooke

Jeff Leigh makes sure all of his customers read the sign mounted on the counter before he sets to work with any needles.
“The tattoo you choose to get will be with you for the rest of your life,” the placard reads. “So before asking how much, ask first about the skill and talent of the artist. You are getting tattooed, not buying groceries.”
It’s a warning that has been passed down through the tattooing community for the past 30 years, he said.
Leigh opened Hillbilly Mother Fucker Tattoo — known as HMF Tattoo to the children — on Cloud Springs Road last January, after a friend’s unfortunate encounter with a train provided him enough money to fund the start-up. He had worked at five or six shops and was glad to get his own place.
The 36-year-old specializes in free-hand, custom artwork, while his employee, Scott Anschuetz, 29, takes care of piercings and “flash” art, or tattoos based on pre-drawn designs.
Leigh said the demand for tattoos in Fort Oglethorpe is high. He estimates that he produces 15 to 20 tattoos a week and spends an average of two to three hours on each session. He charges $100 an hour and requires a $60 shop minimum.
He said the most original tattoos he’s produced recently (that he can mention) have been a chicken drumstick and a catfish.
“Fourteen years and I’ve never done a catfish,” he said. He noted that he has done a few bass.
When people come into the shop with ideas, Leigh starts by sketching the design onto their skin with a permanent marker. Once both he and the client are pleased with the look, he sets to work with the needles.
Leigh describes his style as “traditional new school,” or his own twist on the traditional tattooing aesthetic.
Allen Tate, 32, who hangs around the shop and sometimes volunteers to take out the trash, said that when people see Leigh’s trademark skull drawing, they know it’s his work.
“Everyone is well pleased,” he said.
Leigh got his first tattoo, a dream catcher on his left upper arm, in 1991. Since then, he has gotten more than 20 tattoos, which have blended together to form solid masses of design on his forearms. His favorite is the mohawk on his head, a strip composed of a skull with question marks and exclamation points streaming from its forehead.
Leigh said that like himself, most people he knows are “in progress.” They periodically drop by the shop to add a new portion to the design spreading across their skin.
“You don’t see people with just one most of the time,” he said.
He said he enjoys creating artwork that has the ability to hold memory.
Every tattoo on a person’s body marks a spot in time, he said. “And it’s going to be here a lot longer than I will.”
Published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, April 3, 2006