Friday, June 19, 2009
GETTING TO KNOW "HOME" ALL OVER AGAIN
You can't go home again.
When Thomas Wolfe penned those words, years ago, referring to his native Asheville, North Carolina, he must have been gone for many, many years. Longer than the eleven years I was absent from Knoxville, which has been my home for as long as I've been celebrating anniversaries of my birthday. In my case, I have come home again, so all I can figure is that you'd have to be away much longer than I was in order for those words to be true.
Knoxville's still my home and it still feels like home. That's probably because I spent most of my life here B.T. (Before Trucking) and my roots were buried so deeply that not even all my traveling could pull them out of the ground. And maybe also because I didn't leave at a young and tender age, being in my mid-to-late forties when I climbed in my first assigned tractor, picked up my first load, and started my recently-ended series of eighteen-wheeled adventures. Not a kid, for sure, but a mature adult, with a strong sense of his roots.
I was never one of the "gypsies" out there on the road -- the ones I always referred to as "Truckstop Drivers," because their homes were seemingly in whatever one of those vital establishments they choose to hang their hat in today. Not for me. When I passed through my town, on the way to somewhere else, I always thought of it as home and that I'd be back, whenever. And I was, through all those years. I had weekends here at the Dawg House (although not for very long, quite often) and I had vacation time every year except my first one.
But it's not the same. Nowhere nearly like living here day in and day out, as I am again now. For all those long years I became a virtual occasional visitor in my own home town, only hanging around long enough to get somewhat reacquainted on two occasions when I was on medical leave for two on-the-job injuries I suffered. During even those times, I still packed my clothes in my duffel bag and lived out of it, not bothering to put my things in the drawers because I knew I'd be moving on again as soon as I was healed up. Now I'm back to stay and my duffle bag is packed away. My clothes are back in the drawers, after some minor rearranging. And in the past month or so, since I got back, I've been all over town at one time or another, getting to know my native city once again.
There have been quite a few changes in those eleven years. Some of them I knew, or was told about, and other things that are brand-new. I've kept up with my own neighborhood and the part of town it's in pretty well, because this is where I live and do most of my shopping, etc. Like the new street, Hall Of Fame Drive, which now makes a direct link between Broadway, in my own area, and downtown, about five miles distant from my house. That street used to be the old North Fifth Avenue, as well as two other streets. Now they've been combined, revamped, widened and improved into a new thoroughfare that will whiz you right into the heart of the city. The old Fourth and Gill neighborhood, home to some beautifully restored Victorian-Era houses, doesn't even look the same now. Those houses are all still there, but the new street cutting through their midst gives everything a different look.
They just reopened the one-mile stretch of I-40 through the downtown area that had been closed for the past 14 months while they rebuilt the old, tired roadway through there and I had (or made) a chance to check it out on that same trip downtown. I made that trip to our City Court, next to the Cop Shop, to take care of a little traffic ticket I got back in March and had forgotten all about. I've had -- uh -- other things on my mind the past month, mostly medical matters, as I've already talked about in past entries, so is it any wonder that fell through the cracks?? Cerebral Data Overflow again. How 'bout that for a fancy way of saying "brain fart?"
Well, I had one, but got the ticket fixed and then kissed and made up with the State Department of Safety. The end result? Now my license ain't in jeopardy anymore and everyone's happy. The City of Knoxville didn't even fine me, saying it was "understandable" how I could forget, what with all the other crap that's been going on in my life lately. Now I feel like I've been welcomed back home, officially.
Anyway, on the way back into town from the Driver's License Station I went through town to scope out the new section of freeway that us local taxpayers spent millions on the past two years. Now the last piece of the old and infamous "Malfuction Junction" is gone for good, replaced by a modern freeway link, complete with a Jersey barrier in the middle. And it gives the downtown area a new look, because it's cut a little differently than the old, elevated stretch it replaced. Three lanes in each direction, all the way through now. No bottlenecking three lanes down into two and backing up traffic at peak hours like a cheap toilet with government-regulated water levels in it. No clusterf*** here anymore!!! It's about time!!!
And, as usual, I hardly even recognized the west end when I went that way yesterday. But that's to be expected in that area and was getting like that even before I began my trucking career. West Knoxville contains the heaviest population in the city (and has all the traffic headaches that go along with that distinction.) It might be a nice place to live and work out there, if they ever get through building it! West Knoxville is kind of like our weather here in East Tennessee -- if you don't like the way things look in the west end, just wait ten minutes -- it'll change! Even the Bearden area, where I used to cruise around back in the 70's and 80's, looks different now. Bearden Hill has grown into a mile-long office complex, seemingly. The old service station where I worked for four years is completely gone now, as in "vacant lot" gone. But by next month, something will probably build on that lot, the way it's going around there. And I've never seen so many banks in one place! Across-the-street competition. I guess they want to keep their friends close and their enemies closer, as the Godfather was fond of saying.
Of course, in just over a month off the road, I haven't had the opportunity to go everywhere in town as yet, but I will, in time, and I'll doubtless discover more changes. Eleven years is a long time to be away and it will take awhile to catch up with everything around here. There may be future reports like this if I spot something interesting.