published Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Challenging Chattanooga ‘stereotypes’

When an online opinion piece called “10 Chattanooga Stereotypes That Are Completely Accurate” arrives in your email box, your suspicion is immediately aroused.

The words “Chattanooga Stereotypes … Completely Accurate,” indeed, seem almost intended to provoke a response.

So, with a little seriousness but perhaps the same type of wheedling humor with which the article is written for a San Mateo, Calif., real estate brokerage by a Tena Moore of Asheville, N.C., here are the stereotypes listed in the email and responses from one lifelong Chattanoogan.

1 “Everyone in Chattanooga would rather live outside …”: No one would say that if they saw some of us trying to set up a tent. However, the Scenic City offers such a plethora of outdoor activities, from rock-climbing to water sports to bicycling, that it might seem that way to outsiders.

2 “… And everyone has an unhealthy attachment to the river”: The Tennessee River is indeed beautiful and offers many activities. And, of course, it’s a vital avenue of transportation for the city. But “unhealthy attachment?” No, a local “unhealthy attachment” belongs to things like old money, good ol’ boy networks and guns in places where they don’t belong.

3 “Chattanoogans think risking their lives is fun”: The author had in mind things like hang gliding and white-water rafting, but most people who do this don’t think they’re risking their lives. Where they do risk their lives, though, is driving on Gunbarrel Road at Christmastime, stopping to collect their thoughts in the midst of a moving Riverbend Festival crowd or staying in a mobile home when a tornado approaches.

4 “Everyone is jumping on the ‘green’ bandwagon”: Even if you don’t think man-made global warming will destroy the Earth in five years, it’s a no-brainer to recycle, save energy and support the creation of low-cost, alternative-energy sources. But the jury is still out on the city’s bike transit system, its LED streetlights and its dreamed-of light rail. Green MoonPies and Little Debbie snack cakes haven’t been tried, though, so not everyone is on the bandwagon.

5 “Chattanoogans can’t wait to move away — until they want to come back”: This is probably true of most towns. It is certainly true of a lot of college freshmen and is likely more true for Chattanooga now than ever before. If you left Chattanooga in the 1960s, you left a manufacturing-heavy, pollution-ridden city without much charisma. If you came back today, you found a beautiful, diverse town which has reinvented itself into a trendy mecca for tourists and hipsters.

6 “Everyone in Chattanooga will drive across the street rather than walk”: This is true to a large extent, though “everyone” is a ridiculous word to use. Walking does go on — witness evenings on the Walnut Street Bridge — but Scenic City residents may be so task-oriented they don’t want to waste the time it would take to walk to the next place they need to be.

7 “Everyone in Chattanooga likes music you’ve never heard of:” This is far more false than true, though it’s changing. Chattanoogans for years had the reputation of only liking music they’d heard before, but more indie music and popular places to hear such music — like Track 29 and JJ’s Bohemia, the author correctly suggests — lend themselves to a more diverse music scene.

8 “People in Chattanooga are a little too into their dogs:” It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Chattanooga or Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., if you’re into your dog, you’re into your dog. But it can be a little daunting to walk, for instance, at Heritage Park when a Great Dane the size of a small horse is on one side on a leash and a squirrel-sized Chihuahua is on the other.

9 “Chattanoogans are divided like the Sharks and the Jets”: Scenic City residents can be divided by money, race or politics but not any more than other cities. The mountains, ridges and valleys serve as natural elements to build in the stereotypes, but this is far less true now than earlier in the city’s history. Now, Vols, Bulldogs or Tide? There’s a divide time cannot cure.

10 “Chattanoogans can’t get over their past”: Who can? Your past makes you what you are, and the fact the city’s past included the Civil War doesn’t mean residents should forget it. They may forget Lotts Prize Sandwiches, the Marbro Drive-In and the Sonic Slide, but they probably won’t forget the Civil War.

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