The Low-Down at Chandler’s: Our First Mercury Meetup

In Editor's Notes by Coury Turczynleave a COMMENT

IMG_0725Chandler’s Deli on Magnolia Avenue in East Knoxville is the sort of restaurant that creates its own atmosphere without much calculation or concern for mainstream appeal. It is what it is: a soul-food diner in an old Taco Bell. That’s also what makes it great. The food may be its main draw, but it’s the people who dine there who create its ambience. Crowded into its minute dining room on any given day is a colorful collection of disparate sorts, ranging from preternaturally tanned sorority girls to crusty old neighborhood hands.

In an economically depressed area, Chandler’s is one of the few iconic places that brings in diners from all parts of Knoxville, and beyond. Which made it the perfect place for our first community meet and greet.

First, a quick note on what our monthly Mercury Meetups are not about: speeches, roundtables, surveys, or town-hall forums. (That stuff might come later, when we get our act together.) Rather, these informal meetups are a chance for us to get out of the office and into Knoxville’s many different communities to chat about stuff. Really, we’re just there to talk about anything people want to talk about: the paper, the city, the neighborhood,

IMG_0730Last Wednesday’s two-hour meetup at Chandler’s gathered between 30 to 40 people, and if there was a consensus opinion of the night, it was this: East Knoxville is a good place to live. And quickly following that was the thought: Could you tell people about that? As Rick Staples noted, the community here often feels ignored by the rest of Knoxville, as if they’re on their own. And when they do get media attention, it’s for the wrong reasons, mostly to do with crime. But those are far from the only stories happening here. There are all sorts of complicated underlying issues behind this, from racism to economics to politics, which our previous publication addressed over the years—and our new one will again.

IMG_0727Some people arrived at the meetup with ideas to present, such as longtime community activist Jeff Talman, who came bearing maps and artist renderings for the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum. This hidden East-side jewel should be on the must-see list for every Knoxvillian, though some may think it difficult to locate without a voice-equipped GPS. But Talman presented some encouraging plans on overcoming that obstacle: first, a bike route sketched out by Brian Hann of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club that shows a path from the Old City to the botanical garden; and second, drawings for a new welcome center that may provide a spectacular entry point to the arboretum’s grounds.

IMG_0731Other people were here at the meetup by happenstance—like Hubert Smith, the WUTK talk-radio host and public-transit leader—and jumped right in. Smith had a lively discussion with new Knoxville resident Dan Zimmerman about the legalities and ethics of the Uber business model. Zimmerman, meanwhile, pitched some ideas for us, including a podcast. (We know, we’re way behind.)

Meanwhile, we had several auspicious guests grace our klatch because they’re the sort of people who just like doing these sorts of things. Julie Webb, cofounder of Webb School and leader of the Friends of the Library, was there. So was a contingent of the University of Tennessee’s finest, including Bob Kronick of the psychology department; Ernie Freeberg, head of the history department, who lives in Cas Walker’s old house in North Knoxville (and is chairman of the Knoxville History Project board); and film director Paul Harrill.

It was a lively salon for a rib joint, even one as convivial as Chandler’s.

We’ll be announcing our June Mercury Meetup next week. I hope to see you there.

Editor Coury Turczyn guided Knoxville's alt weekly, Metro Pulse, through two eras, first as managing editor (and later executive editor) from 1992 to 2000, then as editor-in-chief from 2007 to 2014. He's also worked as a Web editor at CNET, the erstwhile G4 cable network, and HGTV.

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