It was one of those magical evenings in the city. I love our friends in the suburbs and I understand that some of them can’t comprehend why we would live in the city, but this night – a Wednesday night – is an example of the enchantment that can happen only in the city.
Had I been at my suburban home and Urban Woman and I felt lazy, we would likely have driven through a fast-food restaurant, taken the food home and have eaten on the back deck in solitude. That’s cheaper than the city and much less healthy, but we enjoyed many pleasurable evenings just that way.
Urban living is different. It’s more a community affair. After work, Urban Woman informed me we would not be dining in. Fair enough: I don’t cook, so what could I say? I told her I needed to take a long walk to secure some photographs for today’s blog post. I didn’t get far before I ran into friends and invited them to join us after I finished my photographic task.
After walking past the 100 block to Magnolia and back through the Old City and up Central and State to Church, I turned west to Locust and then ended my walk at Coffee and Chocolate on Clinch. For those of you who don’t know the downtown streets, suffice to say I walked a long way and ended up about three blocks from Market Square. Once at the predetermined destination (not to say predestination, though that was a topic at the table, later), I placed the calls to Urban Woman and friends that I had our table on the deck.
What I expected was a nice evening on the deck people-watching, enjoying a bottle of wine and good food. I expected quite, private conversation with the hum of ceiling fans above us, their efforts slicing through the late-August air to make us more comfortable. Perhaps a friend passing by would nod an acknowledgement. I got those things. But that was only the start.
First I saw Kim Henry who introduced me to Allyn Schwartz with whom I’ve been Facebook friends for a while, but not personal friends. Now we are. At an adjacent table sat someone whose face I recognize from being all around downtown, but with whom I’d never talked. We introduced ourselves and now Rob is a friend. He operates Borderland, offering t-shirts and – this is how you know him – bike billboards. You may have met him at Boyd’s or you may have seen him pedaling his bike around the city. Often he wears a kilt. If you’ve ever wondered what (if anything) guys wear under their kilts, Rob, being on a bicycle, might offer you your best chance to find out as he tools around town.
He introduced me to his friend Travis who is the University Account Manager for Zipcar. Rob was telling him various things about the city and the three of us fell into easy conversation. Travis travels quite a bit and by the time the evening was over he pointed out that the kind of relaxed conversation among strangers and casual acquaintances that we all enjoyed on the deck would be very unlikely in the cities he frequents. That’s our style, though, isn’t it?
By this time Urban Woman and our friends had arrived, Katelyn delivered our food and we fell into a discussion of theology and philosophy and our amateur opinions on each, interspersed with large amounts of laughter. It was an evening for waxing philosophical – until we noticed the Maserati in the parking lot across the street. Seemingly circling the parking lot to announce its arrival, the driver finally settled into a parking spot, got out and proceeded to wrap an orange (of course) ribbon around it side to side and front to back, finally securing it with a bow on the top.
Word spread that a doctor and his wife live in a condo just above the adjacent building to Coffee and Chocolate and that this would be his sixtieth birthday present. Soon, his wife arrived and took her place in the passenger’s seat just before her husband was led out onto the street. He repeated several times that he didn’t even know how to open the door, before climbing in, kissing his wife and preparing to drive away, smiling like a man living a dream.
He couldn’t get away, however, before several of us took photographs and, led by Katelyn, the entire porch full of customers broke into a heart-felt if not precisely melodic version of “Happy Birthday.” Sure, we stumbled a bit when we got to his name, which none of us knew, but we sang enthusiastically out of appreciation for a moment his wife had planned and which serendipity had served up to our street-side cafe.
Nice cap for a Wednesday evening, right? Not so fast. Just after extending the birthday wishes, the gentleman seated behind me, who had quietly smoked his pipe until this moment, turned and asked if his smoke bothered us. I told him it didn’t, but it was kind of him to ask which, of course, led to another round of introductions during which we learned that J is an empathic psychic examiner. Blessed with an ability to sense the presence of spirits, he leads paranormal investigations and tours throughout the city. His business is called Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours.
Calling Knoxville a “very active” city for such things, he pointed out that he offers four different tours downtown highlighting various spots with intense paranormal activity. He noted that he is unaware of any other city offering that many paranormal tours and that a person, family or group could make a good weekend in the city centered around the various tours.
By the time we’d left, he’d offered me a spot on one of the tours, which resume in September, about which I will write for you guys to enjoy. Urban Woman, believing we have a little paranormal activity in our own home, bartered a bowl of her awesome gumbo in exchange for a bit of an investigation on our home front.
It could be there are evenings like this in the suburbs or that bigger cities offer this sort of thing every hour. But I don’t think so. Only a city yields this kind of random gathering on a Wednesday evening. Only a city with warmth and a strong sense of community would produce the interactions that followed. It could be that while we worry a bit about Knoxville finding its unique spot among the various urban areas, we needn’t be concerned. This is who we are. And it’s a pretty good thing, if you ask me.