Our First Visitor

Once again, I am on the balcony when I receive a call from my sister-in-law, Megan. She is somewhere nearby but trying to follow my directions instead of her GPS got her slightly lost. She tells me the street names of the intersection she’s at and I don’t recognize them. I am startled by the realization that I have never driven in Chattanooga and, therefore, I haven’t learned the names of more than 3 streets. She and both start googling, trying to figure out where she is relative to where she wants to be. fortunately, she figures it out–she is only a block or two away. I walk down to the street corner and flag her down as she approaches our building, catching her just before she makes a wrong turn and directing her to our parking lot. Note to self: drive the next time we go somewhere so I can at least tell people how to get to my own home!

The next morning, we run through the list of place we’ve been for breakfast and the list of places we haven’t tried yet. Megan chooses the creperie near Coolidge park. The three of us walk the long way, down along the riverfront. We point out the wetland, the civil war remnants, the aquarium across the river, the pedestrian bridge, all the sights that have become so familiar to us shared with our first visitor. Now we feel like we really live here.

We reach the creperie and it is open (the last time we tried to eat there, the neon “open” sign glowed brightly, but a bolted door sent us elsewhere). The guy working there sits at one of the booths, moves slowly to get up as we enter. We take the booth he was sitting in. He slowly moves to get us menus, then goes behind the counter and starts doing something, still slowly. He seems to have forgotten that we’re there, even though it is a tiny space and we are in his immediate view. We decide what we want to eat and what questions we have and make all of the gestures indicating we need him, but he doesn’t see us. Eventually, we think maybe we’re supposed to walk up to the counter to order; we catch his attention and ask. He looks slightly startled to have his attention drawn from his slow task and comes back around to our table. We ask our questions. I am especially curious about the specials on the chalk board with names like “Diesel.” He describes half of the specials when a family arrives. He says, “We’ll talk about the rest later” and moves away to give them menus. He turns as if to return to the counter and is startled once more when we stop him and remind him he was in the middle of describing the specials. Once we get through the ordering process, which includes coffees, he goes off and starts making coffee. I wonder what he was doing sitting at a booth when we arrived with no coffee made–we are the first customers of the day.

He brings our coffee eventually and we sit and talk, making it through an entire cup with no sign of food. Our waiter/chef seems to get distracted each time someone new arrives and it’s become obvious that he had done no prep for the Saturday morning crowd before we got there. He notices that we are out of coffee and asks if we want more on one of his passes. I hand him my cup and he turns, sets it on the counter, and then goes back to cooking. Another waiter arrives then. He checks on us and we point out the empty cup still sitting, forgotten on the counter. He brings me coffee and our food arrives about 10 minutes later. Now that there are 2, things seem to move along a little faster, but we cannot help but wonder if the first guy is high.

The food is hot and good, although Pat says his mushroom crepe is greasy. Megan and I are both pleased with our crepes that wrap around combinations of eggs, meat, and cheese. We finish up and head out, walking down to the park and continuing our tour of the North Shore waterfront, ending up on the Walnut St bridge and walking over to the South side. We pause often along the way, enjoying the view, the breeze, and the mass of people out on a beautiful Saturday morning. On the other side, we debate where to go–the Hunter Museum or the aquarium. Megan opts for the aquarium and we head downhill.

The Tennessee aquarium rivals the biggest aquariums in the US with a building for ocean exhibits and another for rivers, plus a butterfly exhibit and a huge atrium with otters playing in a simulated river below and many native birds flying freely overhead (although there is so much space, you need binoculars and patience to see them). I love aquariums. Today, I have the new experience of hand-feeding a shrimp to a sting-ray. It’s fascinating to watch the rays in a shallow pool where you can pet them, but feeding one causes it to come up out of the water to position its mouth high enough to grasp the shrimp. It’s my turn to be startled when I feel its teeth graze the backs of my fingers. I wonder how life would be different if our mouths were positioned where our belly buttons are.

We move through the exhibits slowly, not remembering many of them from our last visit, we are fascinated by the diversity of life captured behind glass. The penguins put on a good show for us. Watching them shoot out of the water, popping up several feet in the air to land on the rock ledge above the water with impossible grace, makes me marvel at the specialities represented by other species. Their feet are what really catch my attention, though. Thick and strong when they’re on the rock, but flipped back like tiny paddles when in the water, I cannot comprehend how feet can transform so dramatically in an instant.

We enter the butterfly exhibit and hunt for the species of butterflies fluttering around us. A woman with a toddler on a leash walks around us. As she tries to point out butterflies to her young son, he spots a “caution, wet floor” sign painted with butterflies, smiles and giggles and runs up to it, fascinated by the pictures at eye level. The woman jerks slightly on the leash and says, “No” firmly as he grabs the sign with both hands. She looks disgruntled and maybe embarrassed as she sees me smiling at him and says, “Of all the things for you to look at!” I am slightly disturbed when I witness parents who lack the insight to recognize that the world looks different to a child. I would have liked to have seen her get excited that he recognized the butterflies, even though they were drawings, and used that excitement to draw him into to recognizing the real thing if an opportunity arose, but not all parents are teachers. I turn away wondering if I could have or should have helped with that situation, but involving oneself with strangers’ children is always tricky.

We enjoy the rest of the aquarium, wrapping up our visit mesmerized by the jelly fish displays. Why is it that jellies floating calmly through gentle currents are so hypnotic? Returning to the bright sunlight outdoors, we decide to take Megan to our favorite Mexican place, Taco Mamacitos, for lunch. The waiter gives Megan the full introduction to the menu and sells us both on trying their most popular taco, which I’ve not had before. It is a hard shell wrapped in a soft taco filled with goodness. It’s the first time I’ve ever eaten a hard shell taco without half of the shell crumbling all over my plate. Finishing up our margaritas, we decide a nap is in order. We return to home base for an afternoon siesta and I think, “What a perfect Saturday.”