Annual Manual 2001

Ten Things You Need to Know About Knoxville

One: We've never, ever been known as "Knashville." I don't know where people come up with these wacky pronunciations, but Knoxvillians get especially disgruntled about that one.

Speaking of appropriate word usage, out-of-towners tend to refer to Kingston Pike as "Kingston." What newcomers may not know is that Kingston is actually a whole town, with a big courthouse and everything, about 40 miles to the west. Kingston Pike is just a road that leads to it. Same with Clinton Highway, which leads to an interesting town called Clinton, but is not in itself Clinton. Got it? And if you're going down to Cherokee Boulevard for a game of touch Frisbee and tell a Knoxvillian you're going to "Cherokee," chances are he'll think you're bound for the country club of that name and that he's not welcome to come along. Chapman Highway, though, is sometimes called just Chapman. That's safe enough, because it doesn't lead to any other place called Chapman.

If you're in doubt, use the whole name of the avenue, even if it takes three-fifths of a second that you're not sure you can spare.

Two: Local political leaders aren't really as poorly educated as they seem when they speak on TV. It's understood that in public they mispronounce words and employ random grammar in order to avoid a high-falutin' appearance.

Three: Outsiders' single most frequent misconception is that Knoxville has something to do with the Deep South. If you make a goatees-and-mint-juleps joke to a Knoxvillian, you'll get neither laughter nor indignation, but only a puzzled silence. You won't heah a lot of dropped ah's heah. Our per-capita grits consumption probably isn't much greater than it is in Gettysburg, Penn. And Farragut, Harriman, Bearden, Fort Sanders, Fort Dickerson, Rule High, etc., are all named after Union officers in the Civil War who, at one time or another, shot guns at real Deep Southerners waving the rebel flag.

Four: A further note of warning about accents. Some Knoxvillians don't have any discernible accent at all, even though their families have lived here since Governor Blount hosted that big treaty-signing party in 1791. Those people are no more remarkable than people who grow up in Boston without a Boston accent.

But then again, some people who grew up in Minnesota start sounding like Gomer after six months here. You just never can tell. Be careful, hear?

Five: If somebody tells you to meet them "right out there on Ball Camp," ask for further instructions, preferably instructions with no reference to any road called Ball Camp. It is (or, we should say, they are) the most puzzling of many pikes in the northern half of Knox County that look as if they were dumped on a map like so many pieces of spaghetti, cooked al dente. Most Knox County roads don't lead anywhere in particular. Least of all to downtown Knoxville.

Six: Despite appearances, the Tennessee Vols don't have a strong connection to any particular college or university, and the people who cheer them on are no more likely to be students or alumni than the people you find at the Mini Mart at 4 a.m. The Vols are more or less Knoxville's city team, sort of like the Chicago Bears. Or, to a lesser degree, our state team, though they're not nearly as popular in Nashville and Memphis as they are here.

Seven: Don't assume, if you see anything that smacks of cutting-edge technology, that it's new to us. Okay, so we were a few years behind the rest of the country in getting a television station. Knoxville had one of the first radio stations in the country, and folks in the area were messing with atoms a couple of years before Hiroshima. And, of course, a guy in Morristown invented the airplane, back in 1877. But that's another story.

Eight: Knoxvillians are deeply suspicious of anything Knoxvillian. If you ask a Knoxvillian for a good restaurant, he's likely to send you to the latest chain-franchise fern bar, proud of the fact it was already proven safe in Atlanta or Nashville long before it arrived here. There are lots of good local restaurants in Knoxville, too; if you want to find one, ask a New Yorker.

If you want to compliment a Knoxvillian, the surest way is to say, "Knoxville is very much like a great many other cities, isn't it?" The local who hears that will beam with pride at what is, of course, an absurd lie.

Nine: Be careful about what you say to strangers; people around here aren't used to being insulted or yelled at. To East Tennesseans of both genders, criticism from a stranger is an astounding thing, a shade more serious than a punch in the face. What might have passed as a hearty, good-natured insulting match on Flatbush Avenue might quickly turn into assault and battery with bodily injury if the remarks were transferred to Cumberland Avenue.

Ten: In rural East Tennessee, car and trucks always have the right of way, regardless of any token state laws. And the larger the car or truck, the more rights its driver has. That ethic survives in a slightly modified form even in downtown Knoxville, where pedestrians crossing with the walk light are often honked at by turning motorists who seem astonished at pedestrian arrogance. ("What's the matter? I've got a car here! Didn't you see my car?")

However, the impulse is even more pronounced in the country. We once overheard a group of Greene County good ol' boys discussing Knoxville, a distant city one of them had visited. "I'll tell you about Knoxville, boys," he said. "In Knoxville, people walk right out in front of your car!" There was general incredulity all around, from fellows who were sure their old buddy was lying again.