Our accents, or more likely the lack thereof give us away. We may be back in our home country, but Tennessee is definitely not where we are “from.”
I started this post at the one year-in mark, 20 June 2020, a year after I landed. But is that the right start date? Should it have been 27 June, when Tony arrived? Sometime in late July, when Anna Grace finally made her way back across the pond? Or did the clock start on 8 September with our arrival in Knoxville? Or 18 September, closing on the house? Or 20 September, when our household goods were delivered?
Perhaps more to the point, does it even matter? Just as I was never Eine Wienerin, or cut from the same cloth as the majority of people in our previous posh postal code of suburban D.C., I don’t see myself becoming a Hey Y’all kind of gal, either, so now is as good a time as any to reflect on a year-ish back in country.
So just how is repatriation going for me? Good days. Bad days. Fish out of water days. Pretty much like Austria, except in a language with far fewer than 16 ways to begin a sentence with, “The.”
The mountains are practically in our backyard. There’s always somewhere to hike, a sport that has been particularly good for our mental and physical health during this pandemic/protest/riot/whatever period in which we find ourselves.
I have commented repeatedly, at least to myself if not here in words, that we envisioned beginning the Empty Nester phase of life in a small well-appointed brownstone type residence within walking distance to everything of importance, including public transportation. Y’all are aware of that fail; I’m writing this post from within its ginormous walls. The silver lining is that the house came through splendidly during the peak of the pandemic, especially with both fledglings back home to roost temporarily.
The necessities of Trader Joes and Whole Foods are here; and there’s a good sprinkling of international grocers to keep me from a tantrum when I am in the mood for Chittagong Masala Murgh and absolutely must have green chilis or the DISH WILL BE RUINED. There is also a butcher (with hipster prices, but I’ll take it) and farmer’s markets, too. Of course I must drive to each of these places, but nevertheless in this personal mark of a civilized society category the score is +1.
In another near-and-dear category, the restaurant scene is impressive. Knoxville is long on the indistinguishable casual dining chains that we ignore, and we have yet to meet a Barbeque or Fried Chicken place that we do not adore. But much to our epicurean elation, we’ve also got Slow Food; a real Chinese place; Farm-to-Table; a breakfast diner serving my beloved Corned Beef Hash (we are deep in Biscuits and Gravy Land, remember); Falafel and Kebab that almost rival our favorite haunts in the Brunnenmarkt; Ethiopian and Latin American; a source for live Blue Crabs 😋; and a handful of Scots-Irish taverns (to be expected with all the influence here). And yes, EVEN SCHNITZEL.
We were spoiled to this point with respect to public transportation, most certainly. Outside of the UT campus area Knoxville’s Walk Score has to be in the single digits. I spied two passengers on the KAT bus the other day and was shocked. With proper timing in Vienna I could catch the 40A to the Spar two stops down, run in for whatever I had forgotten and catch the return bus inside of 15 minutes. Just not on a Sunday or Federal holiday, naturally.
Here? It takes 5 minutes just to drive out of the neighborhood. But I can make that drive on a Sunday or Federal holiday because America is open. Tradeoffs.
Speaking of Sundays, they are a teensy bit Vienna-like here, to my surprise. Just a teensy bit. In Austria one could not purchase certain items on Sundays at the handful of open grocers, a topic that will forever stymie me, but alcohol was most definitely not one of them. In Tennessee, antiquated “Blue Laws” prohibit the sale of wine and spirits on some holidays entirely or before 1000 on Sundays in certain counties. But one can purchase a PBR six-pack anytime. Other counties in the state are entirely dry, including the tiny county that is home to the Jack Daniels Distillery. I am not sure how that works. You can make the hooch but have to cross the county line to drink it?
On another amusing note, can you just imagine the outrage of the normally reserved Wienerin, if they did the walk of shame to the Prater Billa for an emergency Veltliner on Sunday morning and were told they had to wait until 1000…
We were informed by Tony’s soon-to-be colleagues and our real estate agent that the pace of life is slower here. These good people failed to mention that this Southern tradition does not apply to the driving pace. Tennessee drivers do not speak tempo limits. We are routinely stalked while driving in and out of our neighborhood at the posted tempo, by our own neighbors. Being flashed for driving 5 over in a work zone? Vehicles whipping through school zones 10-15 over the posted 25 or on the Interstate? Just another day ending in “y” here. They tailgate, too, and not just on Vols Saturdays in the fall. I am going to need an intervention, and soon, because I am one or two tailgaters away from slamming my brakes and confronting the Asshat (there’s a blast phrase from the past, no?) in a not-so-Southern-ladylike manner.
I have driven (or have been a passenger) on the roads (sometimes “roads”) in Islamabad, Moscow, Marrakesh and Slovenia (if you’ve driven in Slovenia you know what I’m talking about) among the many other places we have lived and traveled. Visible and predictable swarms of speeding traffic did not ever terrify me quite the way driving in Tennessee does. It’s going to be a long tenure here is all that I can write.
The variable message sign on I-40, the NASCAR Speedway-esque lifeline that runs through Knoxville displayed this statistic one day early in the week.
702 in 2019
741 in 2020 to date
Ahem. Moving along.
This is the least “green” homestead we have resided in, surprisingly. With the Smokies in our backyard, and the numerous lakes and natural sites I expected Tennesseans to full on give a hoot.
Not so much so. I make a concerted effort to memorize where I park the wagon when I am out shopping, as there is a statistically significant chance my vehicle will be hidden in the shadow of a Super Duty V-8 XL Quad 4×4 when I exit the store. Seriously. Tennesseans love, love, love their oversized totems to transportation. (There are homes in our ‘hood with FOUR-CAR garages.) The love for monster vehicles notwithstanding, I am more interested in why the drivers leave the vehicle running when unoccupied! With the south heating up now that it is summer, I have needed two hands to count the number of empty vehicle running while their drivers were in the grocery. The “science is settled” on how hydrocarbons heat the planet, folks.
Hydrocarbon release be damned, this phenomenon is not restricted to the grocery lot, oh no. During the master bath renovation the shower glass guy left his XL sized truck running in our drive while he took measurements. I only noticed this when I walked with him out of the house or I would have called him on it.
One morning a couple of weeks ago I returned from errands to see the pest control truck in our drive (quarterly service because, Palmetto bugs). THE TRUCK WAS IDLING! I asked the technician if the truck was a “clean idle” and he replied that it was not. HE WAS RUNNING THE TRUCK TO CHARGE HIS PHONE! Because portable chargers have so not been invented.
Changing topics. Sort of.
Tennessee is one of those states where trash and recycling services are paid for by the homeowner and contracted with some number of companies. All I can write about this is that I see way more trash bins than I see recycling bins; and often the cardboard is stacked adjacent to the trash bin on Trash Day, with not a recycling bin in sight. These are the same neighbors who have laundry pickup and landscapers on retainer but would seem to be too miserly to pony up for recycling.
Knoxville City proper may be a “Green City,” but out here in West Knox the “green” is reserved for the massive lawns. That get watered religiously. (And ChemLawned, too.) There is a neighbor who waters their lawn (and sidewalk) so frequently that I’m thinking TVA may have to divert part of the Tennessee River to these folks.
This is the first time I have lived in a city without an international airport. Ever. McGhee Tyson is cute (love the rocking chairs in the departure hall) and easy to transit through, but connections are required to go to so many of the places I want to visit. We’re all sort of grounded at the moment anyway, but that will change.
Knoxville is also the least-populated city I have ever lived in (!), too, so we have to cast a wider net for weekend fun. Translation: we drive. I actually passed on two weekend hikes this summer (sending Tony and Anna Grace) because I was simply not in the mood for the driving. Unlike in the EU, trucks are permitted on American Interstates all day, every day, so there is never a break from a screaming big rig roaring past, while exceeding the posted tempo. Kein Fahrvergnügen.
Circling back, when asked, “Where y’all from?” I respond, “We currently live in Knoxville.” That inevitably leads to, “How do y’all like it?”