State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Natalia

Chattanooga is a cool city. Too bad we can never go back.

The city was allegedly the dirtiest in America in the seventies, but it cleaned up nicely. There is a new waterfront complete with two wading fountains, pedestrian bridge, art district peppered with outdoor sculptures. They also have mountain park overlooking the city and many other attractions, which we didn’t have time to sample, like underground waterfalls in a cavern, inclined railway and mountain bike path.

Lonely Planet guidebook presents it as an outdoor heaven but to me it looks more like an urban paradise. We have lunch in a microbrewery tasting three different kinds of beer. You can see the vats they were brewed in. Apparently it is urban local as opposed to rural local, which in Alabama meant beer from Atlanta, Georgia. After a short walk among renovated buildings, gazing at the sculptures, we stop at a coffee house that serves pastries which would hold their own in Vienna. By that time we are so impressed with the city that we check out the open house and contemplate real estate prices (half of what one pays in Boston in a comparable location).

But we cannot buy anything. We cannot even go back: we are fugitives here. All because of a simple misunderstanding of parking arrangements. We parked in front of the Chattanooga Visitor Center and tried to pay in one of this confusing enter the place number and swipe you card machines, when a parking attendant told us we didn’t need to. We had our doubts, but assumed we parked in the space already paid for by someone else. He claimed he was just saving us some money. And who would want to discuss with a big guy carrying some electronic gizmo. After returning to the car we found a bill with $10 penalty on top of the maximum fee. Looks like the local parking company found a way of boosting their revenue. Or one parking attendant decided to make his job more rewarding.


There is very little moralizing going on in Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Just cold facts. I walk through the exposition. Read city ordinances implementing Jim Crow laws. Browse newspapers from the 50s and 60s. Watch documentaries and interviews. It’s all there: separate movie house entrances, bus boycott, integrating schools and universities, restaurants sit-ins, voting registration, marches, police actions. From tragic events in Selma to grotesque banning of a kid book on the grounds it presented white and black bunnies playing together. And yet it’s so hard to imagine this was happening. So recently. So near. I should not be surprised. I’ve read about it. I watched Spike Lee movies. But somehow all these photographs, newspapers and recording make it very real and very moving.


I am dirty and wet. I am lying in a puddle of cold dark water and trying to catch my breath. I am exhausted. My body hurts. I cannot really see what’s going on. Our guide’s boots are in front of my face. Natalia and the rest of the group follows but in some places I cannot even look back. I cannot stand up - there is 300 feet of rock above me. My submerged knees are in a damp slick mud and they keep sliding. There is no turning back. I can only keep crawling. Pull my protesting body forward using my fingers and my toes. I start laughing: I actually paid to have it done to me. I find a relatively dry spot. Get a short rest and press on. I am in a passage called Cheese Grater. During Wild Cave Tour. In Mammoth Cave National Park.