A skeptic takes on the Apocalypse
The Way the Future Was
What did Knoxvillians at the last turn of the century predict for 2001?
Our intern's guide to Y2K web insanity
Take your pick of Y2K bug millennial disasters
Heed the words of the radio star prophets
What does life hold for Knoxvillians in the next millennium? We put our best minds (well, our only minds) on the task of divining the near future of Knoxville (and no, unfortunately, it does not involve an armed uprising of intelligent apes). Here, then, are the marvels we should expect to see!
A federal judge will rule that the billboard at Interstate 40 and the Pellissippi Parkway is illegal, since the parkway was a scenic highway. Judge Axle Malonea great, great grandson of former city mayor and Tennessee governor, Carlene Malonedeclares that city development director Susan Brown improperly granted the billboard permit in 1998. The ruling ends a century old controversy over the sign, which now advertises the city's newest tourism slogan: "Knoxville! No, Really!"
Global warming will cause the Plaza Tower on Gay Street to melt, flooding downtown. Ogle's Water Park will buy the whole thing and turn it into the world's largest aquatic amusement center. "I always knew the waterfront was the future of downtown," a smug Victor Ashe will comment from his retirement home in Thailand.
With the coming U.N. takeover of all civilian and governmental operations, Neyland Stadium will become a holding pen for dissidents, skateboarders, and publishers of alternative newspapers. Season ticket holders will get first priority in seating and will be the last ones executed.
Historical preservationists will begin a campaign to save the brick apartment complex where Knoxville's favorite sonthe late poet laureate Rus Harper, who won (but refused) the Nobel Prizeonce slept on the floor. The building is mentioned in one of his early poems, "Fort Life/Spring '94." Preservationists will contend that other historic structures of the periodsuch as the Taco Bell, the Walgreen's drug store, and a parking garage of the old Fort Sanders Hospitalhave been demolished, and there are virtually no buildings left to mark the Fort's late 20th century architecture.
Tennessee governor, 2002: Phil Fulmer. First initiatives: trading the Tennessee Legislature to Georgia for 12 state senators to be named later; declaring war on the state of Florida.
The Y2K bug will actually make TVA disappear entirely. Its debt, however, will linger another 75 years.
In 2017, a Swedish travel writer will declare Knoxville "the best sex resort town in America," prompting riots in the streets and a flood of European and Japanese tourists. A few enterprising types at the Chamber Partnership will paint the Sunsphere pink. Order will be restored only after the writer confesses he was just trying to get a date with the septuagenarian Dolly Parton.
The University of Tennessee will tear down Hodges Library and the Taylor Law Center in order to provide hovercraft parking for students closer to their classrooms. The law departmentmoved to a converted shed on the agricultural campusbecame doomed after it slipped below the top 50 law schools, and the University began emphasizing its newest programs, the College of Suburban Sprawl and the Graduate School of Physical Education.
Thirty years from now, an architect with a plan to "modernize" downtown will cover the Miller's Building with mirrored glass. His plans will be applauded, despite the cries of the people who actually have to look at the silly thing. They will be labeled Luddites who simply want to stand in the way of progress.
Smithsonian will release a six QSS disc (the latest in music technology) box set spanning the career of the legendary Todd Steed, who after his death in 2045 (when, pushing 90, he had a stroke while leaping off the stage at the Longbranch playing "Wipe Butt") came to be considered to be a visionary and virtuoso of Appalachian folk music. The set contains field recordings, demos, and live footage from his numerous projects (including the legendary Women's Prison gig). Also included are photos and writings on Steed and his impact, most notably a 10,000 word essay by New Yorker critic Manual Smells on the Steed tune, "Six Meat Buffet" (the set includes a frenzied 5-hour, 37-minute, 19-second-long live recording of the tune, in which Steed seems both liberated and tormented by his inability to end the song).
School officials will discover Hank Williams alive and well and working as a custodian in the Andrew Johnson Building, where he purportedly died. "I was sick of it," he'll explain. "They kept wanting to hear that sad 'n' lonesome music. I wanted to play happy stuffyou know, 'How Much is that Doggie in the Window?'"
In an effort to draw more customers, the Old City will change its name to West Town Mall. Knoxville Center will change its name to West Knoxville Center. West Town Mall, meanwhile, will go with West West Town Mall West.
Also, the Old City will pair with Ty Inc. to introduce a new line of Beanie Babies, which, of course, can only be purchased around the intersections of Jackson and Central. There will be Java Bear, sold by JFG and 195, a Beer-Swilling Leprechaun at Patrick Sullivan's, and the Blank Badger, whose name tag will magically change every time The Underground/Egypt decides to "revamp" its image.
All of downtown will be razed to make way for the new KnoxScape, an interactive "experience" of a city-center, complete with a tidy and refurbished Market Square, metal detectors at every entrance, and a six-screen stadium seating theater that only shows animated, G-rated features.
Chapman Highway from the Henley Street Bridge to Sevierville will become the world's longest antique mall/T-shirt shop/Kountry Kraft emporium.
Cormac McCarthy will return home to write one last novel about a homeless man named Suttrelius Corntree who leaves the mission to move into a houseboat in Concord and hangs out with a colorful assortment of alcoholics, deviants, and assorted underworld characters at Cherokee Country Club.
2019: After several more hill-shaving development projects, Knoxville will be an asphalt prairie. Bearden Hill and Deane Hill will be known as Bearden Flats and Deane Bottoms. The increasing windspeed allowed by the vanishing hills is a blessing to previously frustrated kite fliers and sailors. All the developers who came up with these ideas will be enjoying retirement in charming old-fashioned, well-preserved towns like Chattanooga and Savannah and Asheville. They made a lot of money in Knoxvillebut, after all, now that they've got money, why would they want to actually live in a place this ugly? You can't blame them for that, can you? Can you?
Global warming will melt the polar ice cap and raise the level of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico over 700 feet. The Smokies are the Smokies Archipelago and the new Florida, populated principally by retired people from New York. The water level approaches Knoxville, too; subdivision names like Mariners Crossing and Admiral's Pointe finally make sense, except for those extra E's at the end.
In 2000, the computers will think it's really 1900, and they'll be right. The Y2K bug will actually return us to 1900. Without cars, we'll all suffer bruises trying to ride those giant bicycles to work. We'll have to get used to the much-higher murder rate. Our kids will go straight from the soccer fields to the coal mines. Old timers who remember the late 20th century will complain about this early 20th century: "Why, in my day, our parents drove us to school!"
Knoxville discovers the true nature of urban interstate highwayswhich, after all, cause far more injury and property damage than mere violent crimeand dynamite them.
2001: The News-Sentinel, looking for a more modern name in its new century, changes to the East Tennessee Developer Times and Vol Report.
The real fossil-fuel crisis will hit, and the dire predictions we once heard about 1975 will come true in 2075. The poor will be relocated into the abandoned giant-box subdivisions out west, where they'll become subsistence farmers, while the wealthy get on waiting lists to buy condos in the more-convenient Projects.
2013: Bob Deck will get his show back.