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The Art of a Downtown Knoxville Walk

Kool-Aid Man!

Kool-Aid Man now comes in new Graffiti Punch flavor! OH, YEAH!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Earlier in October Anne and I drove down through Kentucky and down to Knoxville, Tennessee, to meet a few fabulous folks at Fanboy Expo’s Totally Awesome Weekend, a convention we’d never done before. After we’d had another round of geek fun, we capped off our weekend with quite a bit of sightseeing (including but not limited to a giant dragon)…

After the convention and an elevator ride into the Sunsphere, lunch was an immediate necessity. Other than a restaurant choice pegged through the magic of Google Maps, we didn’t have complicated plans for our downtown wandering — head from point A to B; eat food; marvel at incidental sights along the way. The area in general and one alley in particular caught our eyes and brightened our day.

Even before we set foot on the streets, images were already bombarding us inside the parking garage. Downtown Knoxville has a limited number of free garages and a handy online map that points them out. We docked in the one closest to the Knoxville Convention Center and found ourselves greeted by this sight from across the street.

B+W Mural!

Historic Knoxville, before recent renovations and art upgrades.

On the way to food, we stumbled into the middle of a Saturday farmers’ market. Dozens of residents wandered up and down their Market Square, shopping at booths for handicraft, foodstuffs, and other assorted goods. In the center of it all was Krutch Park, an oasis of nature amid the happy crowd.

mini-waterfall!

Idyllic mini-waterway. Not the last waterfall we’d see on this trip.

Bird Sculpture!

Every sculpture I see like this now reminds me of the American Visionary Art Museum.

William T. Sergeant.

Statue honoring William T. Sergeant, who was Chairman Emeritus of Rotary International’s PolioPlus Committee, one of the organizations that continues to lead the battle against polio in other countries where it’s still lingering today.

Our lunchtime destination was a farm-to-table gastropub called the Stock & Barrel. They’re really proud of their extensive bourbon collection. Anne and I aren’t drinkers, but the sandwich selection lured us in, along with the phrase “duck confit fries”.

Stock & Barrel!

My choice was named simply the Bison, but it wasn’t topped simply crimini, shiitake, and button mushrooms; a glob of Boursin cheese; fried onions and garlic aioli.

The Dude!

The Stock & Barrel has its own art aesthetics. Our section was decorated with paintings of scenes from The Big Lebowski.

After lunch we walked over to the Knoxville Visitors Center, which has its own giant-sized mural letting you know you’re almost there.

Knoxville mural!

In addition to its music scene, Knoxville is less than an hour north of the Great Smoky Mountains. Alas, if only we’d had an extra day to detour a little farther…

We were hoping for brochures, but had no idea their Visitors Center doubles as a free stage on weekends. Local public radio station WDVX hosts musicians of diverse genres for free afternoon performances. We walked in just as one Luke Elliot was wrapping up his set.

Luke Elliot!

I’d never heard of him and wasn’t expecting him. I’m now reading that his influences include Bob Dylan, PJ Harvey, and the Cramps. In hindsight I’m sorry we missed out.

Travel brochures were of course on hand, as well as a fair selection of Knoxville souvenirs for discerning travelers of all ages.

My Friend the Sunsphere!

Hey, kids! To learn more about the Sunsphere, be sure to visit your local library!

My favorite part, like nearly everything posted above, was a complete surprise — a hidden, half-block-long, mural-covered niche called either Strong Alley, Armstrong Alley, or Graffiti Alley depending on who you’re asking. Normally when we walk around a strange city and see an alley between buildings, we assume that way lies crime and bodily harm, and we keep right on going. This time, scintillating colors and familiar images beckoned to us and demanded our attention, kind of like a flat Pennywise minus the demonic murdering.

Anne was hesitant at first and held back while I charged in, camera a-snappin’. Once I’d gone a few minutes without the Jets or the Sharks knifing me to bits, she joined me in admiring what local artists have done to create a brilliant safe space.

water hand?

Much of what we saw was the work of two artists., including Shane Berg.

Mario!

Mario and a Koopa shell are the work of the other prevalent artist-in-residence, Cody Swaggerty.

Samurai!

Pensive samurai in a blood-red forest.

Follow Your Bliss!

For the meditative viewers out there.

Waldo!

WE DID IT! We won “Where’s Waldo: Knoxville Edition”! Someone owes us a cash prize.

popcorn oven?

I…don’t get this one. My best guess is there’s a local punk band called Amish Popcorn Moonshine.

Not Kansas!

If the good citizens of Knoxville someday decide the alley needs a new name, “Not Kansas” would be an apt replacement.

TMNT!

How I knew we were into something good: a repro of the cover of Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. Gotta love a town that loves comics.

* * * * *

Previous chapters in this special MCC miniseries:

* Pedestrians Among the Not-So-Pedestrian
* Our Fanboy Expo Totally Awesome Weekend 2017 Photos
* Scales of Danger!
* Journey to the Heart of the Sunsphere

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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