Monday, September 6, 2010

Transition to the Tennessee Valley: A List of Pros and Cons, in No Particular Order

Pro: Mountains
Every day, when I walk or drive around the corner to Main Street, the first thing I see is Raccoon Mountain on the horizon. If I cross Main and continue down one of the side streets, I see Lookout Mountain. I've never had this experience in my everyday life before. The mountains around here are so cute and funny, too, popping up from the relatively flat land surrounding them, like the way little kids draw hills.

Con: August Weather
Apparently, we moved here at the worst possible time. It was about 100 degrees outside every day for two weeks straight. I guess it was worse than usual, but "usual" is still around 90 degrees, and I hate that, too.

Pro: Living in a Place Where People Look Forward to Fall and Winter
People around here talk about fall the way Michigan people talk about spring, as in, "I can't wait 'til fall comes and I can start biking to work, again." I'm hardwired to associate fall with school, increasing darkness and inevitable winter. All of these things still happen here in Chattanooga, except it doesn't get quite as dark and winter doesn't mean staying indoors 90% of the time. Also, I don't care what anyone says, I would much rather deal with extreme heat than extreme cold. Layering is so cumbersome and I really like seeing my bare feet outside of the shower without risking pneumonia.

Con: Everyone Assumes You're Christian
This is not new to me, but I can totally feel my Jewish friend J's* frustration when she said, "Maybe I don't want to have a 'blessed' day." That happened to me all the time when I was living in Detroit, so as culture shock goes, it doesn't register quite as high as other Chattanoogan idiosyncrasies. Plus, being (very) white makes it easy for this atheist to pass. I'm sure it sucks a lot harder if you wear a hijab or a turban, but of course I don't see that so much around here.

Pro: Butterflies
And lots of 'em! Not just Monarchs! Will work on getting photos.

Con: Almost Everyone is a Republican
Obviously, moving from Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County to a place where the primary election seals the Republican winners is a drastic change. But here's the thing - as much as I got used to living in a so-called bastion of liberalism, Michigan is a swing state and even Ann Arbor isn't as thoroughly liberal as this region is conservative. Ann Arbor is a very wealthy town, which means it has its share of Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate, Rick Snyder. And for those Ann Arborites who are aware of the rest of Michigan (granted, not many), they know that you cannot assume a person's political persuasion, which may change from election to election. Not so in these parts. I don't know what I'm going to do this election day. I mean, I know my vote will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture, but I would still feel really yucky bestowing it upon this guy.

Pro: A Tight Network of Local Businesses
I thought that the "buy local" movement wouldn't be as big here as it is in Michigan, if only because the economic situation in Chattanooga isn't as desperate ("If I can just get this upstart tea cozy business moving then maybe I won't lose my home! Oh, and I have such a passion for knitting tea cozies.") Most of the Chatt businesses I've shopped have been restaurants, but I've noticed that just about all of them use products from local vendors, including breads and buns from the bakery where I work, pork products from the sausage-maker next door, and greens from the guy who sold me a $2 bag of spring mix at the farmer's market. In fact, just about every vendor I've encountered at the market does some wholesale business within this region. And it's nice for a change to hear these vendors complain about overwork and exhaustion instead of lost revenue and foreclosure.

Con: New York Prices for Food Snobs
Dan put it well, "Being poor is cheap here but being middle class is really expensive." The most common grocery stores in Chattanooga are Bi-Lo (the name really says it all) and Food Lion, which some clever online person referred to as "The Shitty Kitty".
These stores are sucky and gross, but cheap. Then there are a couple Publix, which is touted as some great option, but it's really just a Kroger with a superiority complex. Their meat is conventionally weird and questionable, but also expensive. Organic options are few and very pricey. They don't offer many local options, either. And then, there's Greenlife. Greenlife is the place where you can buy anything organic and some (but not many) things local... if you're okay with never owning property or having children. In all of Ann Arbor, there is no grocery store as expensive as Greenlife. And get this - Whole Foods recently purchased Greenlife, which means that some of their prices will actually be lowered. Excuse me?! This is insanity. When we were nearly charged $14 for five heirloom tomatoes, Dan and I made a pact that we will never shop for produce at Greenlife again. Fortunately, there are some great farmer's markets and a pretty good Mexican grocery store nearby. I'm trying to narrow our grocery shopping to two or three locations but it's going to take a lot of strategy and research to make it work year round.

Pro: Simple Social Skills Abound
When you make eye contact with a passing driver, they wave. If you see someone walking toward you on the sidewalk, they smile and maybe say, "Hello". People start conversations with, "How are you, today?" and end with, "Have a nice day." I like these little niceties. It helps a shy person like me get acclimated to a strange new place. The thing I miss most about Michigan is talking with my friends. Granted, most of these everyday interactions I've had in Chattanooga pass without any real discussion, but it's still nice to have those social moments. They're sort of likes conversational appetizers, and sometimes those lead to a main course.

*Yes, we made friends! We're very excited.


  1. I found your blog while looking up info about moving from Austin to Chattanooga. Our plan is to check out the area this winter and assuming we like things, come back in the summer for a visit without our 3 year old and really explore.

    Here's what we are trying to figure out:
    1. Will we be able to still predominately bike/walk around for our
    daily needs if we live in the right areas? Central Austin is awesome
    for this and we are spoiled.
    2. Austin is a pretty liberal area in a conservative state and
    although I realize Tennessee as a whole is quite conservative, we
    would prefer to not move into a place that felt extremely
    3. From looking around online, the crime rates in Chattanooga are
    higher than other areas of similar size. The crime appears centered
    in specific areas of town, but I want to see how safe we feel. I
    realize all places have crime etc. and am okay with that, but I want
    to feel relatively safe when out, particularly in the evening/night.
    4. I'm prepared for more limited restaurant choices than we currently have, but from looking online, it seems Chattanooga has a fair variety of choices. We are vegetarians and are curious how this will work out.

    We've lived in Austin for over ten years and are ready to move on
    for a variety of reasons. We will be visiting the first week of December so any additional insight you could give now that you've been there would be helpful.


    1. Hey Eric,

      Wow, I'd totally forgotten about this blog post! Fascinating to read this now that I've been here a couple years...

      Part of me wants to scream "Don't do it!" because I love Austin, but I know all about the greener grass of a distant place, and of course I don't know you at all. I'll try to be as helpful as I can.

      1) My husband bikes to work frequently. He rates Chatt pretty bike friendly. The riverfront parks, which stretch several miles through downtown, have awesome bike paths. Bike lanes are fairly abundant around downtown. He feels like drivers may not be very experienced with sharing the road, but aren't especially aggressive. I'm guessing it would be a big step down from Austin, but doable if you live/work in the city. I'm a huge walkability fan and find it difficult to handle practical stuff on foot. Some neighborhoods are better than others.

      2 Chattanooga is liberal for Tennessee, but it is still very conservative. Keep in mind that it is also the largest city within 100 miles (population 170,000, I believe). It's very segregated. There is a gay community, but it's pretty hidden. I've met some very cool, progressive people here, but I encounter a whole lot of xenophobia. It's the worst thing about living here.

      3 Crime rates are high here, but it's in concentrated areas. I haven't worried much about it. Some of Chattanooga's coolest neighborhoods are experiencing gentrification (it's complicated and I have a lot of feelings about that, but they do happen to be the neighborhoods I prefer, esp. the Southside and St. Elmo). Some of the long time locals will tell you that these places are still scary. I disagree. Yes, theft can be an issue, but violent crime is not an issue. I think a lot of the fear is tied up with racism. I like that these neighborhoods are, for now, diverse.

      4) Veggie restaurant offerings are relatively slim, but getting better. The food culture here is really cool - lots of local, organic offerings, great farmers' markets, a superb bakery (Niedlov's) and other great local foodie businesses. Again, not to be compared to Austin, but impressive for a town this size. Foreign food selection is not so great, but again, it's getting better.

      If you happen to be into outdoors activities, Chattanooga is a mecca -climbing, hiking, white water rafting - these aren't my interests but I'm glad that this region draws so many enthusiasts. There's also a spirit of creativity and green-focused urban development that is really cool. Aside from the xenophobia, the other major drawback is the public school situation, which is mostly terrible except for a small pocket on the north side where property costs are sky high. Anyway, I hope this is helpful! Best of luck to you and let me know if you any other questions.

  2. Thanks for the info... We really like Austin and there are certainly awesome aspects to our life here.

    That being said, we have been here for a long time (20 years) and are ready for something new.

    The outdoor activities are definitely a large part of the appeal of the area for us. In addition, it seems as though there are some aspects of an Austin-like environment going on there.

    Our child is 3 so schools are obviously important (an aspect we didn't consider at all before buying a house in Austin). We want to rent so the Normal Park school area is what I was considering. Is this the area you are referring to in your school comments? The area we live in here is awesome, but feeds into a bad elementary school and an even worse elementary school. Is the North Shore area that "suburban?"

    Austin is changing and has been for some time with a much more Dallas like mentality creeping in, if you are familiar with the region. The xenophobia you mention is a huge concern for us, but in a naive way, I can't help but think that it can change.

    We will be there soon (first week of December) to look around so if you wouldn't mind, I might have more questions for you after that. In addition, if there are recommendations for neighborhoods we should check out, I would appreciate it. My email is if you think of other things you would like to share.