City Showdown: Memphis vs. Nashville

Memphis has traditionally held the title of “Tennessee’s Largest City,” ever since westward expansion post-Civil War brought settlers across the Mississippi River. But that honor changed hands not long ago. Nashville, the state capital, is now 25,000 people greater than Memphis in population. In fact, Memphis actually has fewer residents than it did in 2000!

Mud Island 42

What is going on here? How can a city decline in population? And which city is the better one, really? Over the next several paragraphs, I’ll give my $0.02 on which city reigns supreme in categories of location, food, museums, parks and gardens, sports, nightlife, and – most important of all – overall livability.

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The Mountain Culture of Tennessee

Museum of Appalachia 9

Tennessee is gorgeous in the fall. The eastern third of the state, which sees the Smoky Mountains rise to heights of almost 7,000 feet, is stunning. The fall colors peaked just last week, and as you remark about the crisp weather and the fallen leaves, don’t be surprised when you discover that fall’s harvest season carries with it a sense of community and, in rural parts of the state, a throw-back to simpler times.

I have spent the last two weekends taking in a sampling of this culture firsthand, albeit in somewhat of a staged environment. Mountain Makins’ is an annual fall festival of music, arts and crafts, and food. The Museum of Appalachia, meanwhile, is an open-air museum of highland culture that ranks as one of the best folk museums in the world.

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Southern Food

maters

These are fried green tomatoes. Intrigued? They are exactly what their name implies, and are a perfectly healthy-yet-not-healthy appetizer. The dip you see in the picture above is a tangy mayonnaise that isn’t spicy persay, but has just that right amount of zip to really make the meal.

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A Potpourri of Updates

Mesa Rim Trail 13

It has been almost three weeks since my last blog post. So much has happened that I’ve barely had a chance to come up for air. But for the next 13 days or so, I’ll have a respite from the usual craziness, and even a chance at my first solo vacation since My (Not Quite) Coast-to-Coast Trip Report of 2014.

Meanwhile, I thought you might appreciate a CliffsNotes-style update on my life, and on things that are of interest to me.  I am still alive and well, Loyal Reader. I promise not to be offline for so long before my next post.

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Tennessee-Born?

Tennessee continues to fascinate me. On the surface, the state appears to be very well run. Its Republican Governor, Bill Haslam, was instrumental in quick disaster response and aid to families affected by The Great Tennessee Snowpocalypse of 2015. Additionally, its roads are in impeccable shape, despite their high traffic content. Take I-40, for example. This east-west interstate highway is the third-longest in the country and passes through eight states. The 455-mile Tennessee stretch of highway receives more vehicle traffic per mile than any of the other seven states, including California. Yet Tennessee’s I-40 is in outstanding shape, its rest stops spotlessly clean.

Look deeper, though, and you find cracks in the veneer. Meth addiction spiraled following the financial crisis of 2008, and it’s not uncommon to encounter one or more toothless, recovering addicts on a daily basis. And while the state’s Appalachian Mountain culture is fabled as a place of folk music and simple living, the reality is closer to the movie Winter’s Bone than one might want to believe. Additionally, the state’s job growth rate is one of the lowest in the nation. Tennessee is a place of $10/hour factory and warehouse jobs; “white collar” jobs are especially hard to find once you leave the “Big Three” of Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville.

Still, a diverse number of companies have chosen Tennessee for their corporate or manufacturing headquarters. Let’s take a look at some of them!

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Finding Bush in Tennessee (It’s Not What You Think)

Tennessee continues to surprise me. I will go several weeks lamenting about the fact that there are no bars, Indian restaurants, or art house cinemas where I live…but then I’ll read about a scenic hiking trail close to home, or drive through a picturesque Civil War-era town, or stumble upon a surprising museum, and feel invigorated again.

It is this last discovery about which I want to write a few paragraphs today.

The Bush Beans Museum and Visitor Center

A few years ago, my parents toured the Bush Visitor Center in Chestnut Hill, TN. I remember their enthusiastic review of the experience, particularly their raves about the on-site restaurant. They suggested a return visit one day last week, and if I wasn’t as excited as they were about the prospect of touring a plant that is most famous for its production of baked beans, I nonetheless agreed to tag along.

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Six Months In: Tennessee Livin’

Happy New Year, Loyal Reader! A new calendar year begins and I am excited to make 2015 a good year. As it happens, I am also coming up on six months as a Tennessee resident. Where does the time go?!

I thought you’d appreciate an update about my life in the Volunteer State. The last time I really wrote about Tennessee was four months ago; you can read that optimistic blog post here.

Because I’ve had several months to take in my surroundings, for this entry I’m going to comment in bullet form about some things I’ve noticed that are unique to the south or unique to the state of Tennessee in particular. Several of these points are generalizations, and much of this is written with tongue firmly in cheek, so I hope I don’t offend. 🙂

Rural Morristown 1

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Two Months In: Tennessee Livin’

Last December, I flew to the U.S. for an extended Christmas break and spent three weeks with my parents at their eastern Tennessee home. The weeks flew by. Flash forward eight months and one permanent relocation later, and I’ve completed another two months of Tennessee living. Somewhat to my surprise, I like it here.

I live in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, 40 minutes east of Knoxville and roughly mid-way, as the crow flies, between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. I am in a regional town that is small enough to be safe and quiet but big enough to serve as a feeder town for the dozens of small farm villages in the area. We have a shopping mall, a cinema, a junior college, the requisite Cracker Barrel, and – yes – a Walmart.

Okay so I’m not wild about the fact that there’s a Wally World in my town. It doesn’t really matter. My point is that as long as I’m here I can enjoy everything that a slower pace of life has to offer, while still being able to get out to enjoy myself, whether it’s to the movies or to the hiking trails.

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Holiday Travels – Part Three

I have been having a case of the blues lately. I love my new apartment and am still enamored with all that Mexico City has to offer. That said, it’s been hard finding work and making friends here. I miss those two-hour telephone gab-a-thons with friends living in the States. I only recently discovered Facebook video calling (very similar to Skype). It helps, but it is also dependent on friends being home in front of their webcams. My parents, who don’t have (and probably don’t need) internet access, are still over 2,000 miles away, and I haven’t spoken with them since the morning before my move from the U.S. to Mexico. My girlfriend and I love each other and see each other often, but she has her own life and I must remember to give her some space.

As someone who’s always marched to the beat of his own drummer, I must confess: for perhaps the first time in my life, I’m lonely.

Fortunately, the holidays are here and I’m leaving Sunday to visit family in both sides of Tennessee. Wee doggies! (Or however you spell that.) American Airlines offered me an Executive Platinum frequent flyer status match, and has upgraded me to First Class for my first flight. (My second, connecting flight is on one of those dreaded, single-class, 40-seater regional jets that, of late, have seemingly overtaken the fleets of both United and American. It seems that these boxy-ass, corrugated metal lightning rods are everywhere.)

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