published Friday, August 5th, 2011

Leber: Dear Chattanooga, It's OK if you stink

After publishing a column ostensibly about the new Volkswagen Passat -- but really about how Chattanooga is unbearably hot and smells really, really bad -- Automobile Magazine columnist Jamie Kitman might have made himself a few enemies in the Scenic City.

"His tone seems kind of hostile," my editor observed, before asking me if I wanted to read the column in the magazine's September edition through my New Yorker lens.

Sure thing.

"... [You] start wondering where you might find a nice, heavy torque bar to smash in your face on account of the ungodly humidity ..." Kitman writes about Chattanooga, and all I could do was laugh and nod in agreement. Yes, yes, I know where he's coming from. I've all but tried to climb into my freezer during summers in Chattanooga.

But while his commentary on this area was biting, and there will be some who will take offense, I just found it sharply amusing.

I think a relationship one has with a place is pretty similar to the ones we have with a person. There are some who remain in a perpetual honeymoon phase: Your lover is perfect, beyond reproach, and can do no wrong. She is Aphrodite on a mountain top.

Others have a less romanticized view. She is lovely, for sure, but flawed. And there are even, perhaps, days when you wonder whether you might fare better alone, or with someone else. You love her, but are you really, truly in love with her?

In the time I've lived here, I've observed a good deal of the former type of relationship between place and person. Chattanoogans are loyal to their town. The times when I've said anything remotely against Chattanooga, most likely related to the stifling heat and humidity, there have been readers who have been affronted.

When I quoted a doctor who said she did not find the South to be especially progressive, our executive editor received a letter reading "just send her (me) back North."

Like I said, loyal. And while it's very sweet and even humbling, like being visually assaulted by adoring, canoodling lovers, it can also be exasperating and stomach turning.

I like Chattanooga very much. It's not where I'll die, but "it's really a pretty great place," I've told friends who have gaped in incredulity upon learning I am living here, or who have balked at invitations to come visit, perhaps terrified to set foot south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But I've become very fond of this city. Even if I, too, am incredulous at times.

Yes, the summers are too long and humid for me. Yes, I am dismayed when I've seen mac and cheese listed on a restaurant menu under "vegetables." Yes, a piece of my soul dies every time I hear a person refer to something he or she "done did" or "might could do." And yes, I've encountered unintelligent, closed-minded bigoted people here, but I also encountered those in New York. And Saratoga Springs. And DC. And Chicago. And Brussels. (And anywhere else I've been in my life and understood the language.)

And as one who has grown to love Chattanooga, but for whom the city is no Venus, I take no issue with Mr. Kitman describing the odor of his room at the Chattanoogan Hotel as being akin to "a world class pong such as would have attended the first-runner-up in the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest had he just vacated my bathroom after a postcompetition pit stop." I applaud him for the sheer color of his observation.

If it helps, though, I don't think Chattanooga is all that malodorous.

Then again, I have almost no sense of smell. So, maybe he's right.

Even if he is, though, it's OK, Chattanooga. I still adore you.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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