Dinner on the Bluff

My sister-in-law, Megan, is staying with us only briefly–she has been traveling for the past three weeks between work and delivering my nephew to college, so we feel especially honored that she has driven out of her way to spend the weekend with us on her way back to Indianapolis from New Orleans. A special visit requires a special dinner, so we decide to try out the “most romantic restaurant in Chattanooga” (all right, so romantic may not quite be what we’re looking for, but the restaurant is up in the Bluffview Art District, which has a great view of the river). The Back Inn Cafe sits on the Chattanooga Riverwalk and caught my attention several times as a place I’d like to eat when I went by on my bike purely because I’m a sucker for a view.

After spending a busy day sight-seeing and relaxing with an afternoon nap, we decide tonight is the right occasion to give it a try. Pat, my husband, Megan and I head out on foot towards the Walnut Street Bridge. The sun is low in the sky, creating the orangey glow on the bridge that always makes everything look magical. Arriving at the bridge, we find crowds of people making their way towards their evening destinations as well as groups for whom the bridge is their destination. The former weave their way around the latter, moving at a faster pace. We have allowed an hour for our 10-minute walk, our dinner reservation not being until 8PM, so we move slowly and stop often. With the sun low and the breeze kicking up, the temperature has dropped and encourages us to linger.

A couple below is out on the river on paddle boards. We watch for a while as they stand on over-sized surf boards, paddling themselves along the river. It appears this is their first time–they move awkwardly across the river and turn suddenly away from an oncoming boat moving rapidly across the far side of the river as if they are afraid the wake will capsize them. The boat is far enough away that they rock only gently when the wake finally reaches them.

We make our way to the other side, arriving at the glass bridge. Megan takes the bridge in stride, but comments on the strangeness of walking over a highway on glass. I smile and recount my own first experience crossing this bridge, feeling proud that it’s now become a familiar experience. We linger some more around the Hunter Museum, enjoying the view from its patio, which juts precariously over the ledge. Then we walk towards the outdoor sculpture garden just outside the Back Inn Cafe. The sculpture garden surprises us with a melding of setting and sculpture. It nestles into the side of the cliff, providing a fascinating combination of scenery and art. Not being much of an art buff, I don’t know if art aficionados would appreciate the sculptures or not, but I enjoy the sense of place created by the garden. Each corner provides a new view while the sculptures elicit a sense of time standing still. A father and son are captured there, eternally caught in the intense embrace of parental passion. A school of fish are frozen in time as they struggle against a small waterfall. There is something about sculpture that makes me sad. The thought that one moment is all there ever is and all there ever will be for its subjects disturbs me. The paradox of being in one moment across all moments gives me the sense of being on to a profound realization that remains just outside my reach.

Returning to the practicality of life, we check the time and make our way to the restaurant. We sit at a large, round table for 6 out on the patio. We group together along one side so that we all have a view. The view from our table is not as good as the view from the sculpture garden, but the patio is lovely and the sun has now dropped below the buildings behind us, placing us in a cool shadow. We try things from their menu like peach caprese and fried green tomatoes served with goat cheese (I can never get enough goat cheese). The peach caprese is interesting, but I have to say I prefer tomatoes with mozzarella. We order a bottle of wine after checking to see if they will re-cork it since only Megan and I are having wine. However, since I order a stuffed filet, I find myself enjoying the complex red zin a little too much with the entree. By the end of dinner, there is only half a glass left, which hardly seems worth carrying home. I forget that 2 glasses is my limit (which I probably passed half a glass ago, but who’s counting?) and polish off the wine.

As we make our way back over the bridge after dinner, a cop on a Segway rolls up. We smile and wave and he stops to chat. We learn that this 3-wheeled contraption is not actually a Segway, which puffs up Pat a bit since we’d had an argument about this on the way over. We also learn that the cops patrolling on these funny vehicles are actually off-duty police paid to patrol Chattanooga pedestrian areas by a federal grant received due to gang activity. We are shocked to learn that even here there is violence. He assures us that the patrols have been effective and problem areas are now contained to places we make a mental note not to wonder into. He let’s me stand on his vehicle for a photo op before we move on.

Returning to our apartment, we take turns in the bathroom getting ready for bed–I realize this is the first time I’ve lived in a place with only 1 bathroom since I was in college. The extra glass of wine is hitting home and my stomach reminds me why I don’t drink more than 2 glasses. As I sit on the couch and close my eyes, the room begins to spin slowly. I open my eyes and curse myself for making myself feel sick on what was otherwise a perfect day. Next time, we will order wine by the glass.

All three of us fit on our oversized, ugly couch. We sit and doze as we watch a little TV, tired but happy. After each of us has nodded off several times, we decide it’s time for bed. Pat and I step around the air mattress in the middle of the living room, which Megan has insisted on sleeping on even though we insisted she should sleep in our bed. I am reminded that it’s been 15 years since I didn’t have a guest room with a regular bed in it to offer guests. The downside of downsizing. But Megan assures us she is perfectly comfortable as we turn off the lights and call it a night.


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