The world’s biggest small town.



I am a letter writer. Throughout my young adulthood and adolescence, whenever one of my close friends or siblings have made a major life transition, I’ve sent them an intimate word of exhortation. This week I made the decision to leave Knoxville, the place I call home, to pursue my career down I-40 in Nashville. Naturally, I decided to write such a letter, only this time, to my hometown.

A person only gets one hometown. For 24 years mine has been a sleepy little city at the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains. I’ve lived all over the city, from Cypresswood Lane in Hardin Valley to Eddington Dr. in South Knox. It’s not the biggest nor the smallest. Other cities have better night life, eateries, and sports teams. There is no category or quantity in which Knoxville stands apart from the field, but there is a visceral draw to this place that one can’t put his finger on. Knoxville is the proverbial girl next door.

As a college student, and later as a Burchett staffer, I came to appreciate Knoxville’s great local dives. Chandler’s, Moe’s Deli, The Vol Market #3 and of course Aubrey’s are just a few. Each of these places have their own stories and personalities, complete with the requisite casts of characters. Knoxville is an extra scoop of Ms. Chandler’s sweet potato casserole and a glass of Stormin’ Norman with Alan and Ritchie.

Knoxville is where as a young boy I met my first love, the game of football. On that field, under the tutelage of some great men, a shy rule-bound preteen came into his own and learned some self-confidence, and had a great deal of fun.

Unfortunately, I’ve not had quite as much fun spectating football as I have playing it. The local Volunteers have caused me more heartache than all the women I’ve ever known rolled into one. That being said, when they are winning, there’s nothing like it. I firmly and honestly believe the people of Knoxville are more in love with their team than any other fanbase in all of sports. I’ve never taken a drug, but I can’t imagine any drug could compare to the chill that goes down a Vol fan’s back when he hears the audio of the great John Ward declaring, “The National Champion is clad in BIG-ORANGE.”

One of my favorite places in all of Knoxville is a little cigar shop off N. Peters Road called Blue Smoke. An entire comedy series could be written about Blue Smoke and the comings and goings of its members. It is our eclectic Island of Misfit Toys. There’s Baby Jake the savvy insurance agent wise beyond his years, Deano our 70 year old teenager equally quick with a joke and a pearl of wisdom, Rickopedia who always has the answer (and a one-liner), Jimbo, the reserved professional philanthropist who occasionally comes out with a joke that gets the biggest laugh of the month, Drew Pickles Duisen, who earned his nickname by violently vomiting after chugging a jar of spicy pickle juice on a dare, and so many more. Every week is like another episode of a comedy special. For years now we have gathered every Monday night to play poker, ages 20-70, bonding over the tenets of manhood that stand outside of time. Namely cigars and mean jokes. I will miss these gatherings immensely when I move.

There are countless other memories, places, people I will miss: watching Lost and eating homemade chocolate chip cookies with Mom, seeking Dad’s counsel while watching TV in the living room, ice cream and hot fudge and grandma’s house as a boy, illegally frog gigging in Knoxville’s wealthiest neighborhood at night, and winning my first race as a campaign manager are just a few.

Knoxville will never be the newest, hippest city out there. It is usually a year or two behind the trend. But I don’t love it because it is the hippest or the shiniest city. Knoxville’s energy comes from within, from its history. Most of its inhabitants have deep roots here. Our parents, and our parents’ parents grew up shopping at Cas Walker’s Store. They’ve stood by our Volunteers from the Dewey “Swamp Rat” Warren years (a regular at Vol Market #3), to the Jarret Guarantano saga. I am reminded of a poem by JRR Tolkien which captures the spirit of Knoxville, the world’s biggest small town.

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.


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