As I was leaving my neighborhood Walmart yesterday morning a total stranger stopped in front of me and announced, “The Biden family is living off millions while the rest of us are poor!” He just stood there waiting for my response. I smiled sweetly and said “ You mean poor Trump – forced to live at that Mar-a-Lago place and living off all those contributions folks send him because he’s such a nice man.” I continued my sweet smile and the gentleman, confused, finally walked away and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was disturbing to have a perfect stranger approach me like this. I worry that given the wild ride of this 2024 presidential election, I need to prepare myself for a tidal wave of such strangeness.
I was surprised to see the photos of Ron DeSantis’ motorcade multi-car pile up on I-75 near Brainerd Road. Frankly I’m skeptical about the rumors saying that a dog had caused the accident. In the more than 20 years I’ve traveled that road, I’ve never seen a dog cross that road. I wonder if his cars got entangled in some of the orange traffic cones along the way. Or maybe they got caught in heavy traffic on that section of the highway when folks careen across lanes.
It wouldn’t have been surprising if either had happened. Whatever the cause, we may never know. DeSantis was using state government vehicles and a new law was just passed shielding his travel records from public view. But we do know about our challenging roads and we’re learning more.
First lesson: Note this quote from Patrick Rothfuss, “Safe roads are the bones of civilization.” Key for keeping those bones safe is how people drive on them. Alas, what were once civilized and polite driving has given way to the equivalent of the pushing and shoving by kids in school hallways. I am forever grateful for those drivers who let you onto the highway in front of them. And for those who don’t speed up to cut you off as they cross lanes. They have a slightly saintly aura.
Second lesson: Construction is the new normal. I wonder if DeSantis’ team had driven around East Ridge and the Brainerd area. The drive can be mind-numbing. Ringgold road is continually under construction with orange traffic cones everywhere. Digging equipment have decorated various sides of the road for longer than I can remember. Main roads are blocked. Some ramps on and off to the highway are gone. My favorite mess is the circular path now made by metal shafts that lead cars on Terrace in a circle around closed I-24 ramps. A driver unused to the area had gotten on the circle by mistake and just sat there in his car, mystified at the traffic coming coming at him. Yeah, buddy…I feel your pain.
We all know that Chattanooga is growing by leaps and bounds. You only have to look at the number of grey and white apartment buildings going up all over town, transforming once distinctive areas into lookalikes. Water mains and sewer systems are being updated, often leaving raised planks and covers that click loudly driven over into the night.
As we grow and roads get more congested, the modernization process that widens and adds highway lanes can be confusing. For example, if you don’t know that the extra lanes on the highway will quickly merge and disappear, being mystified is the least of your worries.
Governor Bill Lee has responded with a statewide campaign to promote his $3 billion Transportation Modernization Act. He recently gave a speech at Alison Pike site that’s part of a larger project to widen Apison Pike from Interstate 75 to East Brainerd Road and more safely connect Ooltewah, Collegedale and Apison to Chattanooga’s urban core. An admirable goal…except for one thing. The Act explores public-private partnerships for “Choice Lanes”. That’s a divert-and-deflect euphemism for toll roads. Supposedly this will decrease congestion, save taxpayer dollars and make road projects more efficient.
The urban planner in me wants to know exactly how toll booths would be a plus for transportation. And who would own these Choice Lanes, and could sell them to whom. I hear echoes of that old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. If you hear that, too, ask questions. Lots of pointed questions. And don’t settle for divert-and-deflect answers.
As I enter our downtown library I’m reminded of a famous quote by science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, “Libraries raised me.” Growing up in Bermuda, the one small public library was a treasure and my grandmother donated the Encyclopedia Britannica to it. When we came to America as a kid, we lived in several different communities before settling in Long Island, New York. Lacking any sense of direction I often got ridiculously lost, but agree with Albert Einstein who said, “The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”
The July 4th fireworks wonderful! We drove around the neighborhood to check out what’s happening. Folks down the street have been doing a family light-up every night over the weekend. And then was there’s Camp Winnie, one of my all-time favorites. Best of all, was watching the sky explode over the Tennessee River. Of course, we’re sad for everyone living near Canada where smoke from across the border forced some cities to cancel July 4 fireworks. I was grateful not to have their pollution levels – until I coughed and wheezed driving by a house surrounding us all in smoke from fireworks lit up in the driveway. Mother Earth whispered that our gratitude should come with a grain of salt, or saltpeter.
I hesitated going into the banquet room at the Chattanooga Convention Center for the 2023 Diversify Conference hosted by our Chamber of Commerce and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBSTN). The last time I attended this conference was before the pandemic when I delivered an inclusive invocation. My friend and colleague, Ron Harris of BCBSTN, demonstrated unconscious bias by asking us if we thought he could slam dunk a basketball. We all laughed since Ron is definitely “vertically challenged”. Our biases were immediately visible.
Over the weekend, Trump assured us that he had illegally leaked information that he’d be arrested on Tuesday by Manhattan’s Attorney General regarding hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. He wasn’t. A team spokesperson agreed that no such information was received, but rushed to justify Trump’s announcement, saying it was “rightfully highlighting his innocence”. As usual, truth wasn’t the point. The past Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele explains, “former President Donald Trump used a well-worn page from his playbook to punk everyone over his expected indictment.”
I’m transfixed as the Fox News circus unfolds with the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit by voting machine maker Dominion against ringmaster, Rupert Murdoch, and his son, Lachlan Murdoch. We’re now told that the Murdochs and their carnival acts like Tucker Carlson all knew that claims of a stolen 2020 election were fraudulent. Yet they spread the lies that led to the violence of Jan. 6, with Carlson now perpetuating that date’s bunch-of-tourists theory. And we Americans are stuck with the divisive mess. Maybe if we’d paid more attention to the Murdochs’ history, we’d have halted the Fox circus before it fueled our culture wars.
I rather liked the 80 degree weather in our winter, but not fond of the storm warnings last week. I’m delighted that Chattanooga dodged any tornadoes and really sorry for the folks who didn’t, including those in New Jersey a few weeks ago. New Jersey? Not exactly part of tornado alley! But then, weird weather is becoming the new norm. Cars floating in a river through a city’s downtown and icicles on Southern California palm trees. Oy! What’s going on here?
Have we time-traveled back a century when child labor was a thing? That’s what I first thought when I heard that a food sanitation company was being sued for illegally employing over 100 children ages 13 – 17. The kids cleaned razor-sharp saws with caustic chemicals while working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states including Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas.
Honoring Black History Month often comes with events that tell African American history through arts and culture, which resonate across cultural boundaries. For example: the National Center for Civil and Human Rights will display jazz music that “inspires movements, evokes revolution, and lightens troubled spirits.”
Corporate celebrations may elevate Black artists, creators, entrepreneurs through storytelling, content and products. But as memorable as these celebrations are, they may be considered once-a-year, check-the-box events.