Sunday, September 03, 2017

bend and ear and listen to my version / of a really solid Tennessee excursion

Ever since I moved to Atlanta (good God, nine years ago), people have been expressing, or at least feigning utter surprise, that I have never been to Chattanooga. "YOU'VE NEVER BEEN?" everyone always says, aghast, like I'm some kind of Abnormal, even though, GUESS WHAT, there are lots of places I haven't yet been, and Chattanooga hasn't really exactly numbered on my "must see before I die" list of travel destinations. But I wasn't opposed to the notion of visiting Chattanooga either (truth is I simply knew nothing about it apart from the Glenn Miller song), and so when we had a Labor Day weekend with no plans and neither of us on call, we figured, fuck it, let's just go.

The drive from Atlanta to Chattanooga is just a hair under two hours, and though I usually like to get an earlier start on travel, Cal had a lesson Saturday morning which meant we couldn't hit the road until just about 10:30am. So when we arrived to Chattanooga, the first order of business was finding some lunch. We ate at the Maple Street Biscuit Company in the downtown area, conveniently located near the area's largest attractions.

So the thing about Chattanooga, like many cities of its ilk, is that if you're visiting here you should expect to eat a lot of Southern food. This place was no exception, and they did it well. Breakfast all day, specialty biscuits, dishes served with a side order of heparin and a statin to garnish. Joe happens to be something of a healthier eater, leading quite often to a phenomenon that occurs in restaurants where we eat together; when they bring our food, they reflexively put his order in front of me. I guess they always assume The Salad is for The Lady, whereas in reality, I usually am the one ordering the atheroma on a platter. I appreciated the presentation of the salad, but it's just not one of those things that I will usually eat on purpose. Salad should, in my opinion, be consumed purely incidentally. No, YOU shut up.

I do a fair amount of research before we travel (lodging, attractions, dining, mapping out the relative distances between each on Google Maps and creating elaborate itineraries with drive times and walkability indices) and the reason I had picked this particular restaurant beforehand was because it was within walking distance of our first destination, which was the Creative Discovery Museum. Atlanta's own children museum is, in my opinion, barely a museum (I think at the bare minimum a museum should expend a little effort to teach you something--I would have no objection to them calling the Children's Museum of Atlanta an indoor play space, for instance, and yes I know kids learn by playing, but the word museum needs to mean something) but I'd heard good things about the children's museum in Chattanooga, and per Trip Advisor it looked extensive and worth a visit.

I've discussed in the past that when you have a pretty big age spread in your kids (to recap, my oldest son in 12 and in the 8th grade, my youngest kid is 5 and in kindergarten--I also believe that there is a middle kid somewhere in there) often times the activities you pick are not ideally suited for one or the other bookend kids, simply based on age. This was one such experience. Absolutely not a complaint at all--this was a great museum, and I would go again--but it's ideally for kids under the age of 10. (That's the party line of the museum, though personally I think 8 is kind of the max cutoff for solidly buying into the experience.) Anyway, there were still a few things Cal got a kick out of--for example, there was an exhibit where you could design your own roller coaster (employing the principles of potential and kinetic energy, angular momentum and that sort of thing)--and as the oldest he's generally game to just sort of get dragged along in any number of activities that are pitched somewhat too young for him. But I only put this footnote in to warn people that, if you have a family of older elementary or middle schoolers, this might not be the destination squarely suited for your party.

(Chattanooga also has quite a large aquarium--this is just down the street from the Creative Discovery Museum and almost certainly the bigger attraction--but the reason we didn't go there is because we live in Atlanta, where we have quite a good aquarium ourselves. So I didn't much see the point of driving two hours to go to another, different aquarium, particularly since we only planned to be in town for 36 hours. However, the aquarium might be a better option for kids with the age spread we have, and if we ever return to Chattanooga we may check it out.)

After the Creative Discovery Museum, we checked into our Air BnB, which is always somehow thrilling for my kids, though of course we engaged in the standard squabble over bedding options. This particular place we're renting has a master bedroom with a king (which was, as we'd determined beforehand, for the grown ups--though we did let Nina in bed with us so she could be the hellish kicking crossbar of the "H" all night), one full-sized bed (which my boys determined was NOT BIG ENOUGH for the two of them to share) and a full-sized pullout couch in the living room. There was a bit of a fuss over who would take the less choice sleeping arrangements (determined originally to be the sleeper sofa--I told them they'd have to take turns), followed by a whiplash-inducing flip-flop after I made up the pull-out reeeeeeal nice that the sofa was now, in fact, the prized bed, with the full-sized real mattress downgraded to Utter Bullshit. There is, by the way, quite literally nothing my kids aren't able to argue about. It's truly a gift. (She said modestly.)

After a little rest and a change of wardrobe (the printmaking exhibit at the museum did a number on our clothes by way of inkpad application gone horribly wrong), we headed out for some dinner and recreation at Southside Social, which was about a 10 minute walk from our apartment. Southside Social is...well, they're a self-described "family-friendly boutique bowling alley," but I think what would be more accurate is that it's a family-friendly bar and restaurant with lots of activities on site.

In addition to a 10-lane bowling alley, they also have ping pong, skee ball, pool, shuffle board, an outdoor courtyard with corn hole and horseshoes and firepits, that kind of thing. Basically it's place you can park yourself for a few hours and let you kids play while you have a beer. There is no cost to do any of the activities outside of bowling (though you do have to let them hold on to your ID to check out ping pong paddles or pool balls or corn hole beanbags or what have you), and the food, while not sensational, was solid and well-priced. Just your typical bar fare. Burgers and pizza and shrimp tacos and Ceasar salad (ordered by...not me). The fish and chips were solid.

Southside Social allows kids on site until 9:00pm (at which point they bring out the strippers and start playing Platoon on all the flat screen TVs, I guess?) but we left just shy of 8:00 because Joe pointed out that the Florida State-Alabama game was starting up soon, at which time the place would rapidly become "intolerable." (His words. I love sports, as you know. The Nye Mets are my favorite squadron.) So we took a short walk over to the Hot Chocolatier down by the main Southside drag. This is sort of a boutique chocolate shop that also serves drinks and desserts, and since it was the only place nearby that even approximated an ice cream shop, I'm sure they do some good business. The boys each had a gelato, and Nina and I each had a "frozen hot chocolate," which is nowhere near as good as the ones they serve at Serendipity 3 in New York, but it was very sweet, so...that's fine too.

One more quick note about this neighborhood. I think it has a lot of character. I think there is the chance that some people walking around might feel that it looks kind of dodgy--and in some cases, smell kind of dodgy, as there's a chicken processing plant down the street that lends a particular and not-so pleasant aroma to the air (to the point that neighbors directing us to Southside Social gave us walking instructions that bypassed that block entirely). But I kind of like the grittiness of the environs. It's not glossy or pretty for the most part, but it feels real, and I like seeing the crumbling facades and bygone signage and architecture of an old city before it gets replaced by the new.

Judging from the types of restaurants in this neighborhood, this may be in the process of slow change. But having a chance to peek under the rapidly spreading patina of homogenization is, I think, quite charming, and I've been enjoying it.

Tomorrow, Day 2 of 2. (Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer, than to have your ham 'n' eggs in Carolina.)