Returning Home

Trips to Columbus, Ohio are always confusing to me. I never know which direction should be referred to as “going home.” I once wrote that home is where your bed is. By that criteria, I guess Chattanooga is our home destination. However, having spent nearly 40 years living in Columbus, the paltry 3 we’ve lived in Chattanooga have not been enough to erase the feeling of returning home when we head North on 75.

This last trip North ended the longest stretch I’ve gone to date between trips to Columbus. It’s been long enough that I can’t actually remember when my last trip up was, but I know it wasn’t in this calendar year. With my remaining family all living elsewhere these days and many of my friends having moved away as well, it sometimes catches me off guard how much Columbus still feels like home. When I think about what makes it feel homey, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. I know how to get to every place I want to go without using GPS. If one route has traffic, I know another route, also without GPS.
  2. I can come up with restaurants I want to eat at based on style of food, quality of adult beverages, particular favorite dishes, or outdoor ambience. (I confess, I did have to check with several restaurants on whether they allow dogs on their patio or not–Tisen came along on this trip.)
  3. I know where the “bad” parts of town are.
  4. I know where the best camera shops in town are and which ones carry Canon gear.
  5. I have a doctor and a dentist there.
  6. I know where to go for a safe pedicure without an appointment.
  7. Graeter’s Ice Cream is available just about everywhere–even Costco.
  8. The biggest problem is trying to fit everyone we want to see into a few days and realizing we’re not going to be able to get to see many of the people we’d love to catch up with.
  9. We have a place to stay where there is a room just for us and our dog is welcome (and offers from several other friends to stay with them)–I guess we do have a bed in Columbus.

This trip was timed around the Columbus Guitar Show. It was my first time working a show (although I’ve attended a couple before). Manning the booth and giving away T-shirts to people who participated in my marketing campaign turned out to be both fun and exhausting.

One of the best things about our timing was that we were in Chattanooga for the beginning and end of the Riverbend Festival, but missed the middle of the 9-day event. This means we didn’t get tired of the extra people and traffic in the downtown area. And, we were home in time for the fireworks–out of all the fireworks in Chattanooga, the Riverbend fireworks are by far the best and longest display.


Ringing in the New Year


For 41 years, I lived in one place.  Even when I went other places for weeks or months at a time, it was always temporary and I knew I would be returning home to Columbus.  There are certain things that happen when you always return to the same place for 41 years.

First, you make friends.  This happens through the natural course of life, although most of my current friends are people I met through work or a networking effect of those I met through work.  Over 41 years, I ended up with an eclectic group of friends who honor me by at least acting like they enjoy our company.

A second thing that happens is a place becomes familiar.  You hear about an event one year and think “Oh, we should try that next year.”

Between learning about the annual events and having friends who invite us to do things and/or have parties, we never really had to put much thought into New Year’s Eve.  We stumbled across something we wanted to do as a couple, were invited to do something with other couples, or were invited to someone’s party.

Now, as a couple with no dogs, no children, activities that mainly take us out of town, and home offices, it’s suddenly very difficult to meet friends.

The strangeness of being without geographically close friends stuck home when we found ourselves with no plans for New Year’s Eve.  I realize in retrospect that I have simply gotten lazy when it comes to planning New Year’s Eve.  I have taken it for granted that something will fall into our laps without considering how that could possibly happen in a new place.

Figuring that New Year’s would take care of itself, I didn’t bother to make any definitive plans.  Then, New Year’s was upon us.  Interestingly, it did take care of itself.  We decided to walk across the bridge to downtown and return to a restaurant we hadn’t been to since a visit to Chattanooga before we moved here, back in March.  I was skeptical that they would have any tables open, but it turns out that they had several tables for two available.  Apparently going out as a twosome is not that popular on New Year’s Eve.

We had an amazing dinner and shared a great bottle of wine.  After talking and laughing our way through four courses, we walked out feeling reconnected and ready to face a new year together.  However, it was only 9:00PM.

So, we went to the new Sherlock Holmes movie to keep us up until midnight.  It turns out I’m much older than I thought–I was nodding off in the first 10 minutes.

After the movie, we walked to the center of the Market St bridge by midnight.  We stood on the bridge and kissed at midnight and watched fireworks in at least 5 different directions as we made our way home.  So what if we were home by 12:15AM?

Wandering and Belonging

Sunday morning, we take our time leaving Columbus.  We have all day to get home and nothing on our calendar.  We decide to stop at the Wildflower Cafe for breakfast before heading out of town.  We’re surprised by their almost empty parking lot at 10AM–there used to always be a line by this time.  I wonder if the fact that they’re now open for dinner has diluted their breakfast and lunch crowd.

I think about having a small, healthy breakfast.  Something my body would much appreciate after nearly a week of a “see-food” diet.  However, I have a hard time resisting the eggs benedict on their Sunday brunch menu.  And while I’m at it, I might as well have their potatoes, which are sliced thin and pan-fried to a nice crisp brown on the edges.  I tell myself I’ll start eating healthy again tomorrow.  I laugh at my optimism–seems like I’ve been telling myself that for many months now.

After stuffing ourselves and trying not to drink so much coffee that I have to stop every 15 minutes, we take turns using the restroom before getting on the road.  I don’t feel like a visitor today even though we’re about to leave–the owner recognized us when we came in and the restaurant is just so familiar.  It feels like there’s been a time warp and we never really went anywhere.  But, as we head out the door, the prospect of a long drive looms before us and I feel like a visitor again.

Pat drives and I write.  But I am not feeling prolific today.  I suddenly realize that we will have only 3 days at home before we’ll be packing again for our Thanksgiving weekend trip to the Smokies.  We’ve decided to spend the long weekend at a lodge we discovered on the way home from Great Smoky Mountain National Park over Labor Day weekend.  Originally, Pat’s family was going to come down to see us for Thanksgiving.  Then, Pat’s sister was going to join, so the date changed to when she could be gone from the store she manages (which is not Thanksgiving weekend).  Unfortunately, she couldn’t travel on a date when we didn’t have a commitment, so she went to Youngstown instead and the rest of the family decided not to come for Thanksgiving.

It occurs to me that while Thanksgiving has been the holiday we spent with my husband’s family vs my own for many years, this will be the first time in my life I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving without getting together with any family members.

I stop musing and start talking to Pat about our upcoming plans.  We are both looking forward to the mountain lodge–a mere two hour drive instead of an 11 hour drive to Pat’s family’s house.  I find myself wondering if we should have stayed in Columbus a few more days and then driven up to Youngstown for Thanksgiving, though.  We need to think more about how to get together with Pat’s family now that the drive is so much further.  It’s hard for us to stay in Columbus that many days, but it’s easier than trying to work from Youngstown.

In any case, this coming weekend, we will be in the Smokies enjoying the mountains and relaxing.  I am looking forward to the relaxing part as we haven’t really done a lot of that lately.  To ensure I can really relax while we’re there, I am working on writing blog entries ahead of time.  That way, I can have all my blog posts scheduled to run without me and I don’t have to worry about keeping up on my blog in case there is no internet access from there.

The drive flies by for me.  Between writing and napping and talking with Pat about his plans for his business, we seem to arrive in no time.  Pat, however, is stiff and sore having driven the entire way himself.  I feel guilty that I didn’t do any of the driving, but it did allow me to use the time productively.

We pull up in front of the entry to our building and unload the ridiculous amount of stuff from the van.  Even though I reduced my load by a couple of bags on the way out, Pat picked up a bunch of guitars while we were there, so our load looks vaguely reminiscent of moving day.

A neighbor comes in while we’re unloading and gives us a nasty look.  I’m not sure why, but it’s the same one that was irritated the day we were moving in because we had an elevator blocked.  Apparently she didn’t realize she could push the button and the other elevator would come and she stomped off with a big “huff” to the stairwell.  Another neighbor comes along with a friendly dog who I greet while Pat is parking the van.  When he returns, we load our stuff into the elevator and head upstairs.  I think to myself that we really ought to just invest in a cart if we’re gong to continue to do this on a regular basis.

We get unpacked and then head out to grab dinner.  We end up at Taco Mamacito’s because it’s close and decision-free.  We talk about our trip to Columbus and how much more enjoyable this trip was.  Besides having a get together with friends we haven’t seen in a year who came in from Seattle, we also enjoyed the pace of a Saturday vs a trip where it’s all weekday time.

I contemplate the impact of not having an assigned office at work anymore.  There is something freeing about it–like not having a door with your name next to it implies that no one is waiting for you to show up.  It feels, finally, like we really have moved and when we go to Columbus, we really are just visiting.  As we sit in this restaurant where at least half the wait staff recognizes us contemplating sleeping in our own bed tonight, we feel the sense of having returned home in a way that we haven’t felt here in Chattanooga before.  I find myself wondering how important wandering is compared to having a sense of belonging somewhere.


A funny thing happens to me after the time change.  I don’t know when to stop working anymore.  I was doing pretty well at getting to a stopping place and wrapping up my work day at a reasonable hour for a while there.  But now, the sun sets while I’m still in the thick of my work day and is no longer a good clue that it’s time to start winding down.

Oddly, I no longer notice the sun setting even though I face a large set of windows while I work.  Usually, my first realization that the sun has set occurs when I need to use special characters on my keyboard–I look down to find them and realize it’s dark.  This leads to me turning on a light so I can see the keyboard and then all bets are off as to when I will next resurface to notice that it’s getting late.

But tonight, I am determined to do a little shooting.  I’ve been practicing shooting the moon now that it’s the main subject available by the time I’m done working.  I want to get at least a few minutes of shooting in.  When I walk out to the balcony to see if the moon is visible, I see a collection of cop cars about half a block away.  More keep arriving.  I’m surprised I haven’t noticed sooner–usually the screaming sirens catch my attention.

In fact, Pat and I have a joke that Chattanooga is a 3-emergency town.  Every day, sirens go screaming by the apartment at least 3 times.  Usually this happens while I am on a conference call.  Since I use VoIP calling that’s integral to the instant messaging application we use at work, I often lose the window for my call amongst the many things open on my PC and then struggle to locate the right window to mute my phone.  Unfortunately, the built-in mute button on my laptop doesn’t mute my microphone.

Chattanooga also seems to have a 6-cop minimum.  Whenever something happens, you can count the cops that go flying by and usually it’s 6.  Often, they go by silently, thankfully, so the screaming sirens are usually limited to the fire trucks.

As I look at the scene before me tonight, I see a pick-up truck and one man standing outside the truck talking to a cop.  Surrounding the pick up are about 8 cop cars with their lights on, four of which are in the street blocking both lanes of traffic.  Traffic is backing up on Cherokee Blvd, many cars giving up and making U-turns.

After a while, two cops come back and move their cars out of the flow of traffic, clearing one lane.  As I watch the traffic start to flow around the scene again, two more cop cars join the party.  A third drives by, but apparently decides there’s no place to park and keeps going.

I think back to the cops in Columbus.  We had an interesting mix.  There was our neighborhood liaison who was helpful and gave us tips about when to call the police, which number to use, and why we should never hesitate to report suspicious activities in the neighborhood (statistics on calls are used to determine how the police force is staffed–essentially, the squeaky wheel gets oiled.)  But, the actual cops who came to the scene were often surly, annoyed that you expected them to do something, or just observers there to watch.

There was an incident where a car was abandoned in front of our property (fortunately a side lot and not our house) and set on fire.  The exploding gas tank woke me and most the neighborhood.  When the cops arrived, they basically stood around watching the fire fighters do everything.  I don’t even recall them filling in any paperwork.  When the fire was out, there was no search for clues.  There was just waiting for a tow truck to come.  The only investigation that ever happened came from the insurance company.

Similarly, someone crashed a stolen Mustang into a utility pole also on our property.  Within an hour, a second one was crashed into our neighbor’s stone bridge up the road.  When the cops arrived and I told them what little we knew, they stood there and nodded like we were just swapping stories over coffee.  Again, they were just waiting for the tow truck to arrive.  I asked the cops on the scene if anyone was going to dust for prints or collect any evidence to attempt to find the person who stole the car.  They looked at me like I had 8 heads.  Apparently finding car thieves is outside the purview of the Columbus police department.

I suspect that the entire Chattanooga police department would be on you like glue if you committed a crime here.  After all, there are so many surveillance cameras in the city, it sometimes feels like Big Brother.  But if someone crashed a stolen car on our street here, they would be caught on film trying to exit the scene.  As I’ve gotten used to the notion that I’m on camera when I take a walk through the park, I’ve noticed less.  Given that I’m not one to commit crimes, I think I’ll take the tradeoff.  I like the idea that if you commit a crime, there’s a good chance you’ll get caught.

But tonight, I can’t help but wonder what this man has done that caused 11 cops to surround his truck.  Is it that he’s believed to be armed and dangerous?  I see no drawn weapons and all looks calm.  Maybe they are just a highly motivated police force and they all want to be on the scene and ready for action.

I decide to set up my camera and take a few shots of the scene before I start shooting the moon.  As I get my big lens set up and turn on the wireless remote, I have a sudden fear that one of the cops will see my lens or the red dot on my remote and think I’m setting up a high-powered rifle or something.

I take a few quick shots, but then turn my lens to the moon in the hope of avoiding the imagined scene of panicked cops taking cover and ordering me to drop my weapon that unfolds in my mind.  I pack up and go inside after only a few minutes, my imagination getting the best of me.  Perhaps If I were more familiar with what a high-powered rifle actually looked like I would be a little less worried.  But, the humor in worrying about getting shot over getting a shot makes me smile as I call it a night.