So my 7-year-old son and I were eating ice cream together last Monday night when he steered the conversation to his favorite subject: Caribbean cruises.
I have the only boy child in America who hates football but is deeply into travel logistics, i.e., how many miles there are between places such as Chattanooga and Port Canaveral, Fla., (where cruise ships dock) and what sort of minivan would be an appropriate rental for our family, a Dodge or a Honda, for the land leg of such a journey.
I told him that Dodge invented the minivan but that Honda has a new model with a built-in vacuum cleaner. This information has thrown him into a quandary.
He tells me that one of his second-grade buddies takes a cruise to Mexico every single year with his grandparents. Hint-hint.
"Wow," I said, "they must be loaded."
"They are," he said matter-of-factly, scraping ice cream from the bottom of a cup. "I think they work at Amazon, or something."
"Right," I said, "I'll bet that's it."
Why do I get the idea that this son will fly the coop as soon as he turns 18?
My two sons -- the oldest is 12 -- both have several years left at home. But I've already started thinking about one day having an empty nest. Part of me hopes they will settle back here as adults -- maybe raise a family, make me some grandkids. I'd make a swell granddad if I could return them after 24 hours like Redbox movies.
Perhaps, I thought hopefully, Chattanooga's emergence as a hip city is leading more native-born children to return here as young adults. So, like any energetic reporter looking for empirical evidence of a trend, I immediately interviewed the people standing around my desk.
"Hey, do you guys think young people are moving back to Chattanooga?" I asked two people chatting in my vicinity.
"Maybe," said an editor.
"Yes, I do," said a writer.
And there you have it, irrefutable expert testimony.
Sniffing a big story, I turned to the Internet. I searched for "moving to Chattanooga" and immediately uncovered a stunning post. The letter was signed by some lady named Veronica 41283. (I have changed one digit to protect Miss 41283 from identity thieves.)
So -- I kid you not -- here is her post, condensed, with my thoughts in parenthesis.
"To whom it may concern:
"I would like to say that if you are thinking of moving to Chattanooga, I would think twice before doing so. The area is far from good and needs a serious overhaul before becoming attractive to out-of-towners. There are a few issues I have with this area, and I will tackle them one by one."
(Please, Veronica 41283, go right ahead.)
"First of all, the homes here are very overpriced and very hideous. Some people are trying to make 265 percent profit on a home that needs to be seriously gutted from the inside."
(First, this is a gross exaggeration. We rarely try to make over 250 percent profit on a house unless it's in North Chattanooga, and we prefer to gut our houses from the outside in, also known as "skinning," and what we do to "very hideous" strangers who talk bad about our city.)
"If you plan on looking at homes in the million-dollar range, forget about any appliances such as Sub-Zeros or a Wolf stove placed in these homes. If you're from states such as Florida, Louisiana, or Texas forget about finding a home built on a slab because almost everything is built on a crawlspace foundation and air vents are in the floor, much like in a double-wide trailer."
(OK, sister. Call us greedy, if you will. Disparage our Kenmore appliances if you must. But if you insist on insulting people who live in pre-manufactured homes, then you're asking for trouble. And yes, the only things we build here on slabs are barbecue pork ribs. Got a problem with that?)
"As for the job market, there are terrible prospects for you. If you're a foreigner or do not speak with a Southern twang, you can forget about finding a job. I am from Louisiana."
(Whoa, whoa, whoa. Time out, Veronica 41283. You're from Louisiana, and you think we talk funny. You might want to get hooked on phonics, girl.)
"They were very insulting towards me and discriminated against me to hire the locals around here despite having a master's degree with a 3.7 GPA who was willing to work for a $15/hour internship."
(OK, back up, Veronica 41283. Anyone who is looking for $15-an-hour internships and million-dollar homes at the same time needs a new Realtor, and it doesn't take a master's degree to figure that out.)
"Lastly, there is not much of choice when it come to supermarkets. Bi-Lo reigns supreme here despite the fact that locals insist on paying premium prices for sub-standard products. Your only bet for a good supermarket is Whole Foods, Walmart and the Publix."
(Walmart? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.)
"I will say the only three bright spots in this town are Baylor School, McCallie School, and GPA."
(It's GPS, Veronica 41283, not GPA. Although I'm told the school's founders did at one point consider naming it The Grade Point Average School because it would look good on a resume.)
I still hope more smart young people decide to move to Chattanooga in the future. But after reading Veronica 41283's little love letter, I think we might need to set up a screening committee.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.
Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...