Wednesday, August 26, 1998

Chattanooga, TN

I am writing this in room 128 of the Rivergate Days Inn in lovely downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. I arrived here a little over an hour ago, after a 90 minute drive from the campus of Kennesaw State University in lovely Kennesaw, Georgia.

Have I ever told you how much I love hotels? I love everything about the hotel staying experience: checking in and getting my room assignment; getting the key to my room (and I'm sure I don't have to tell you about the air of wonder and mystery that surrounds THAT minor transaction: What kind of key will I get--a regular metal key, a card key, or will there be some sort of James Bond-like retina scanning device that will not only let me into my room but weigh me and give me my fortune?); unpacking (and yes, I do unpack, hanging my pants and shirts on hangers, putting my socks, underwear, and T-shirts in drawers; I may be here for only a few days, but while I'm here, this place is MINE!); settling in for the first night in an unfamiliar yet comfortable place; going down in the morning for the "deluxe continental breakfast" (and I still don't know what that means here yet, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it includes Cap'N'Crunch and those plastic-wrapped microwaveable cheese Danishes); returning to my room after a day at the Tennessee Aquarium or Rock City or the local mall and finding that, in my absence, the cleaning staff has vacuumed, made my bed, and left me clean towels.

Too, I love the fact that I am limited in dress to only the four pairs of pants and five T-shirts I brought with me, and in reading to the three books or one magazine I brought. I love my home and all my things, but sometimes choosing from the seventeen or so pairs of pants I own, the sixty-something shirts, the one-thousand-plus books, can be awfully draining. Sometimes, the more you confine yourself, the more liberated you feel.

And now I am going to go to bed in this King-size monstrosity that tomorrow someone else will make up, and sleep the sleep of the vacationing.

 August 27, 1998 

I'm happy to report that the free "deluxe continental breakfast" here at the Rivergate Days Inn in lovely downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, includes English muffins, donuts, waffles, mini-bagels, Rice Crispies, Raisin Bran, Froot Loops, coffee, milk, and juice, and the dining area is well stocked with syrup, butter, jelly, cream cheese, sugar, creamer, napkins, Styrofoam plates, and plastic silverware (or silver plasticware, if you prefer), and also contains toasters, toaster ovens, and a microwave. It also afforded me enough privacy--though there were several other people around--that I could read a chapter in my novel while I ate.

After a delightful repast of two English muffins with jelly, three mini-bagels with cream cheese, and two cups of coffee (yes, I did manage to avoid the temptation of the donuts and cereal) I got in my car and set out on my day's adventure.

I drove 70 miles north to Sweetwater, Tennessee, to The Lost Sea, where I took the guided tour through the extensive caverns leading to North America's largest underground lake. The whole thing was great fun, but the best part was riding in the glass-bottom boat across the four-and-a-half-acre subterranean lake. The feeling of being underground on something resembling a sea was vaguely Tolkeinish; I could imagine Gollum across the water, his bulbous eyes glowing in the dark, hissing, "We hates it! Baggins!"

On my way back, I passed through a long stretch of roadwork in Athens, Tennessee. A large orange sign announced, "Workers Present When Flashing." Fortunately, through the whole six miles or so of the work, not a single worker flashed me, though the driver of an 18-wheeler with Texas license plates did stick his tongue out at me when I passed him.

As I neared Chattanooga I saw another sign; this one said "Chattanooga -- 25 mi or 40 km." I thought, Heck, that's a no-brainer: I'll take the 25 miles. 40 kilometers is too far to drive.

 August 28, 1998 

Another great vacation day. I arose promptly at the crack of noon, brushed my teeth, brushed my hair, put on my clothes, and went back to bed. I awoke again at 1:30, just in time to have what I thought to be a tastefully phrased proposition rejected by the young woman in the crisp blue uniform who had awakened me by bringing in fresh towels.

She suggested that I attempt the proposed activity as a solo affair. You can't get good help anymore.

* * * * *

Actually, the truth is that I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. I watched some TV (Animal Planet shows both Flipper and Lassie in the middle of the night, by the way), read, watched some more TV, wrote some e-mail, and finally gave up on going back to sleep around 6:00, which is when the deluxe continental breakfast starts.

Today's breakfast was nearly identical to yesterday's breakfast except that I had a bowl of Bran Flakes (not Raisin Bran, as I mistakenly identified it yesterday) in place of the mini-bagels. I also realized that in my list of breakfast items yesterday I neglected to mention the apples, oranges, and bananas that were only a platter away from the donuts and bagels, but then, anyone who knows me well knows that I get all my fruits from the filling in Pop Tarts, so you can probably understand the oversight. If they ever start making broccoli or string bean or carrot Pop Tarts, maybe I'll start getting some vegetables in my diet, too.

After breakfast I walked up to a used bookstore called All Books, which is on Broad Street a few blocks up from my hotel, and bought a couple of things. Then I came back and had breakfast again. When I went in for my second breakfast (one more English muffin with jelly and two more cups of coffee), I saw a middle aged man who wasn't any more overweight than I am (I dare any of you to touch that!) put BUTTER on a GLAZED KRISPY KREME donut! In fact, he buttered TWO donuts, microwaved them for about thirty seconds, and ate them with a fork and knife. I felt a strange combination of disgust and envy.

I spent the first half of my day at Rock City, always a delightful adventure, then I came back, rested a bit, and went to the Tennessee Aquarium, also always a delightful adventure. I spent half an hour in the Delta Country exhibit, possibly the single most humid 50 square feet on the planet. My glasses fogged up the moment I walked in, and within 10 minutes I was starting to evolve gills. But I just can't get enough of those ducks and turtles (not to mention the alligator!), so I stuck it out until I was nearly soaked.

Near the end of the aquarium tour I was looking at a huge ugly fish (an Arapaima, as it turns out, which is indigenous to the Amazon Basin and grows up to fifteen feet long) when a young boy, probably about four, came up to me, cupped his hands around his mouth and whispered confidentially, "Turtur," and pointed. I looked at the large swimming sea turtle and nodded. He pointed at a passing carp and whispered, "Fish." I nodded seriously, understanding the importance of knowing the Names of Things, especially large things that live in the sea, and of being four and curious.

 August 30, 1998 

In a few minutes I will check out of my hotel room and return to my boring life in Lawrenceville, GA. Before I go, I'd like to leave you with these closing thoughts:

Life should be like a Days Inn. In life:

* you should know how long you're staying.

* somebody else should change your sheets and give you fresh towels everyday.

* there should be a free, deluxe continental breakfast every morning from 6:00 until 10:00.

* HBO should be free.

* you should be able to choose your checkout time.

* when you leave, you should be able to take all your stuff with you.

That's my new philosophy.

(This message was sent as an e-mail message to many of my friends at ExecuTrain, where I worked back then. I added it to the blog on October 10, 2017--almost twenty years later.)

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