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This must be the place: Can’t you feel the whole world’s a-turnin’? We are real and we are a-burnin’

Old City, Knoxville. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Old City, Knoxville. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

It was the sound of a fire truck roaring through downtown Knoxville Monday morning that woke me up. The window curtains were somewhat open. It was cloudy outside, signaling that the sunshine enjoyed yesterday had now moved on.

The Shamrock Suite above Clancy’s Tavern, next door to the Tennessee Theater. Monday morning with a slew of memories flooding forth from the past weekend. It had been just about one full year since I last stayed at this AirBNB. So much has changed in that time, and yet so much has remained the same.

Put on some shoes and head out the back stairwell of the suite. Pop out on Clinch Avenue. Walking by the large windows of the bar in the Hyatt Place hotel across the street. The large TV behind the bar has the news on, media commentators talking back and forth about Russia, of what may or may not happen. 

A year ago, I walked by the same large windows. At the time, the large TV behind the bar was blaring news about the pandemic and the promising vaccines that were currently being rolled out. Though I don’t see much about COVID in the news broadcasts nowadays, I’m reminded of it when I see the masks on the workers at Starbucks in the lobby of the Hyatt. 

Order a large iced coffee and a breakfast sandwich. Oh, and add in a large cup of water, for hydration is needed after last night’s dehydration shenanigans. With items in hand, back around the corner to Clinch Avenue and the suite stairwell, but not before noticing a historical marker on the side of the Hyatt building: “Headquarters of Major General Ambrose Burnside, U.S.A.”

Though I’ve heard and read about that name/person before, curiosity gets the best of me. A Union general during The Civil War (1861-1865), he was victorious in campaigns led through North Carolina and East Tennessee. 

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Following the war, he was governor of Rhode Island (1866-1869), a U.S. Senator (1875-1881, his death) and was the first president of the National Rifle Association (1871). That, and his signature style of facial hair was named after him, “sideburns” as we know it today.

I sip my coffee while crossing the street and wonder what Burnside would think of downtown Knoxville today. What would he make of Starbucks and large TVs behind a bar counter speaking of global conflict with Russia? What about just automobiles drifting by and all the new fashions/attitudes meandering along the sidewalks? 

Sitting at the large dining room table in the suite, I gaze down onto the city. It’s late Monday morning and most of the metropolis is either at work or still slowly emerging into the day that already moving in real time, and has been do so for several hours already. 

Check my emails and assignment schedule. Recheck places to be and things to do for the next 24 to 48 hours. Interviews. Writing. Wandering. Pondering. Send in this column to my publisher. Keep tabs on the email inbox every couple of hours to ensure everything is running smoothly for getting this week’s newspaper to the printer by Tuesday afternoon. 

And make sure to set a reminder about the Zoom meeting on Wednesday with the students from a nearby community college, where I’ll be talking at-length about being a journalist, whatever that means or could mean to someone. Heck, I’m just a dude with a mind that never stops thinking and putting those thoughts down on paper through the written word. 

Put in the earbuds and click on the Spotify shuffle for Goose, the band I’ll be seeing later today at The Mill & Mine. A sold-out gig. One of the hottest rock acts on the scene today. A group somewhat unknown before the shutdown of the music industry in 2020, only to emerge from the return of concerts last year as one of the biggest things rolling through your town or “Anytown America.”

Looking again out the window at Knoxville, there’s a slight drizzle overtaking the city at the moment, the state and national flags across the way flapping wildly in the wind. Soon, I’ll be lacing up my running shoes and throw on an extra layer to keep warm on the usual jogging route through downtown. Head down to the Gay Street Bridge and over the Tennessee River, return via the Henley Street Bridge and across Summit Hill Drive back to the suite. 

It had been just about one full year since I last stayed at this AirBNB. So much has changed in that time, and yet so much has remained the same.

A year ago, I remember feeling a little sad and bummed out about this girl I really liked, something that didn’t come across as reciprocated, at least not at that particular juncture of our lives — two ships simply passing in the night. And, right now, I can’t even really remember what she looks like anymore. But, here I am today, still shaking off the last of the bummer feelings from another girl I liked, where we made it to Thanksgiving, but had fallen apart by Christmas. 

Another year has come and gone in a blink of the eye, as it always seems to do the older you get. The elusive idea of a lifelong companion still lingers just outside of my reach, but I’m always game to keep trying, for what else is there in the grand scheme of things, eh? 

Same goes for long-held dreams and unknown tomorrows I’ll continue to chase after with a reckless abandon, these vast horizons I run towards for all of eternity — happily, and out of pure curiosity for the sake of cosmic discovery.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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