Friday, October 11, 2002


Morristown Inspiration

On the night of my birthday, Kati, Dust and I turned our heads upwards to the warm mountain sky - and for the first time in three years, I saw the stars in all their glory, all of them without interference from civilizing electric light, an uninterrupted blanket of infinite possibilities unconceivable distances from the parking lot where I stood with my friends.

Dust hummed an old cartoon song, We're all tiny little specks, about the size of Mickey Rooney…and Kati chuckled. When we parked the car at Panther Creek State Park, we had been surrounded by wild deer; a heard was off in the field just near us, and one straggler was not much more than a hundred yards from the car.

We were in Morristown.

I had just spent four weeks in Nashville. After one week in Nashville, I'm ready to leave. After two weeks in Nashville, I have trouble sleeping. After three weeks on this trip, I had dropped 15 pounds. After four weeks, I was little better than a feral child, and so, for once, I was eager to run with my friends into the mountains, far away from the kind of urban environment I love best. I spent my birthday - my whole birthday, from midnight on Friday until the next mindnight doing whatever the hell I damn well pleased without regards to the consequences. Of course there have been repercussions for that. But while it lasted, it was pretty fabulous. I'll be cleaning up the mess I made for a while - apologizing to Alestar for knocking on Tennessee too much, for instance - but on that day, for some reason, I had absolutely no impulse control.

Every once in a while, I suppose it has to happen.

After Kati, Dust and I were shoo'ed out of the state park with all those stars, Dust took us on a car tour of Morristown. We saw both High Schools, and the Rose Center where they celebrate the heritage of the area, and then I asked to see the spot where Dust almost died as a teen LARP'ing. He pulled a fake gun on a cop. Ask him about it sometime.

The place where Dust almost died is downtown Morristown, and it's beautiful and eerie and empty on the first Saturday night in October. I fell in love with the place, hard, which is sad because I don't know if I'll ever see it again. It's a main drag like lots of others built in Mountain towns back when trains still carried people. A wide avenue opens up into lots of brick storefronts, some with facades, a couple with turrets. Glass fronts are on some buildings, and all have upper floors where the shopkeepers once lived. Victorian brick structures here been restored, and lack the crumbling look and cracked paint of their sister towns nearer to Chattanooga, or in the forgotten pockets of West Virginia. Old fronts once kept up by 5 and dimes and stores that sold fedoras are now occupied by lawyers, who are proud to have such big fine offices. As much as I dislike lawyers, I was glad to see these nice old spaces still in use.

But the best thing about Morristown is the elevated walkways.

They have sidewalks not only along the ground (as proper main streets always do) but also one story up. Dust said it was an idea to encourage more shops - old Victorian buildings with their second stories vacant were unattractive, and the city thought that with the double decker sidewalks they could encourage double decker businesses. It was a hip idea, and made the place look pretty damn cool. I fantasized about street festivals with people dancing on the upper walkways.

But the upper deck was full of nothing but ghost stores, deadly empty, as Kati and I saw them that night.

I wanted to buy all the old storefronts, and I became rabidly envious of Devon and Dust for getting to grow up in this place. The night was warm, and a lonely musician beat drums wildly outside a restaurant calling to customers who never came. It was just the three of us, the drummer, and the warm night wind on the streets of Morristown. The place reminded me of an empty movie lot. Kati thought it would be an awesome place to shoot a pic she and Michael had been talking about. Dust reminded her that Sam Rami shot "The Evil Dead" in Morristown, and told us that pictures of all the cast were in a local restaurant. Because downtown Morristown is small, he was able to point to the place as he told us.

Kati and I fantasized about winning the lottery and setting up a publishing house in one vacant building, and a Powell's style bookstore in another, and here would be our coffee house, and here our kick butt toy store, and right next to that an awesome non-profit community action center…

We took one final look down to center of town on an upper railing before we left the main drag to go eat at Waffle House. And during that one last look - which certainly couldn't have lasted more than a minute - a hundred different story ideas flashed through my mind. Thousands of alternate lives, alternate endings, tens of people I made up on the spot came to me. I nearly fell off the railing smiling. There's something in Morristown. The spirit of muse. Or maybe, after four weeks in Nashville, I was cracking up from all the stress. Or maybe, since this was my first full night of escape, my creativity switches were getting flipped back on.

Who knows? Morristown. Morristown. Under the moon, under the stars, on my birthday. I never thought I could like someplace so small. Only maturity kept me from stripping, running naked through it, and howling at the moon. Maybe it's a good thing I was never a child there, after all.

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