Moving from one part of the south to another really shouldn't be too earthshaking an experience. A move from Huntsville to Charlottesville probably requires an additional pair of long johns and that's about it. However, moving from Naples, Florida back to Chattanooga, Tennessee is not moving from one part of the south to another. Naples has little in common with Chattanooga. Naples is more like a different country altogether.
My wife and I moved from Chattanooga where we met, married and completed undergraduate degrees to Naples in 1986. We started our family there and have many warm memories. After 16 years in the sub-tropics, Becky was offered a position at our alma mater, Covenant College, located just outside of Chattanooga on top of scenic Lookout Mountain. With the prospects of her dream job dangled in front of her, we had little choice but to take the bait and move.
In 2002, Naples was becoming a traffic clogged resort city with little of the homey, fishing village appeal that we'd grown to love. Things moved fast, people moved fast and cars in the left lane moved very, very slowly. A trip to the store was met with an unaccustomed rudeness. A trip to the beach was fraught with all sorts of rules and regulations and officers on ATVs to enforce every one of those rules. Personal freedom gave way to home owner associations, municipal parking rules, beach restrictions and more.
Upon setting up residence just south of Chattanooga, in Walker County, Georgia - Chattanooga borders the Georgia State Line - we found the pendulum had swung far in the other direction. In the process of unpacking boxes, I needed to run to the ‘handy store' at the foot of the hill from our subdivision. I think we had not unpacked our coffee pot and Becky and I were in serious need of coffee or unpacking was in danger of turning into world war three. I poured premium roast into two 20 ounce cups and stirred in a quantity of cream and sugar and headed for what, I assumed, would be a quick and uneventful check out. Little did I know that the clerk, who knew everyone and everything about the area, had just returned from having gall bladder surgery and, having been out of her workplace for three days, was in the process of catching up on the ‘news' with the two people directly ahead of me. She gave a detailed account of day surgery and offered to show the three of us the scars - well all accept for the one near her privates. Fortunately, the group of us declined a viewing even though we were assured that ‘a little ole' band aid would ‘a covered all of ‘em.'
Enter the Chattanooga area and you enter the region of people. People, not things, are important here. In many refreshing ways, the area is geared toward relationships. Now this can be irritating when you are in a hurry to buy a cup of coffee or get the address of the power company. I still have North Georgia Electric as ‘it's next to the Wal-Mart on route 2'. The receptionist truly didn't know the address. But with a landmark like Wal-Mart, well, how could you go wrong?
The city of Chattanooga itself is reasonably cosmopolitan. There are numerous parks, coffee bars, restaurants and shopping all clustered along the Tennessee River. In the springtime, college students from University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, UTC bike, jog and play Frisbee in Coolidge Park at the foot of Walnut Street Bridge. In the summer, children come from all around to play in the fountain or ride the carousel there. On July 4th, we celebrate that holiest of holidays, Independence Day, with a concert and fireworks over the river. Bring your fried chicken and a blanket early, though, or you'll wind up sitting behind a big oak tree where the view of the fireworks is reduced to the little trail of sparks just above the mortar [been there, done that].
While Hamilton County, Tennessee has had construction codes in place for more than 20 years, some of the surrounding counties have yet to require county construction code inspections and often work is done by people who have had little or no formal training and instruction in the trade. Formal licensing of general contractors is a non-issue in much of North Georgia and Tennessee contractors' laws are quite weak by Florida standards. Electrical fires, virtually unheard of in Southwest Florida, are relatively common in this area. In gearing up to continue my real estate business here, the lack of adherence to best practice in construction coupled with homes that routinely span 100 years in age were the two elements that took the most getting used to.
In Naples, a house built prior to 1960 was usually staring at a bulldozer shortly after closing. In Chattanooga, a house built in 1920 is a house with character and architectural appeal. Never mind that the floor joists were set on 24" centers and walking across the floor will cause picture frames to bounce on the walls; galvanized plumbing is so rusted out that water pressure is reduced to a trickle and knob and tube electrical circuits still power the range. Part of the fun of showing and selling these older homes is discovering the prevalent construction issues and deciding if the risk of repair outweighs the resulting cozy home place.
It took a couple of years before I finally resolved to relax and enjoy the pace of life in Chattanooga. There's always time, tomorrow, for the work that didn't get completed today. A short business phone call is five minutes of family talk coupled with thirty seconds of interest rates and file status updates. ‘How are you doing' is considered real interest in another person's well being and not just a precursor to formally open the conversation. In short, moving to Chattanooga was a move back to treating people like human beings caught in the same crazy whirl of conditions and circumstances that I'm in and not as means to some predetermined, self-serving end.
In time, you are going to love Chattanooga.
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