Well, now that I've spent just about a week here in Maryville I can offer my first-glimpse perspective on things I like and dislike about the area. I'll start with the dislikes. Fortunately, none of them have been "surprises." In fact, all of them have been thoroughly discussed right here on Knoxviews many times. They are:
1) Politics. The place is just too Republican. We all know that and folks here on Knoxviews and elsewhere are trying to change that, bit by bit. But there are some important caveats that I've discovered. First, liberals and Democrats aren't scared to speak up here. There's a dude with a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker on his Camaro just four houses down. And two blocks away, next to a car with a W sticker on it (the only one I've seen here this week except for one in front of Home Depot in Alcoa) is a guy with a huge Peace on Earth bumper sticker. Based on anecdotal evidence, the place is no more Republican than south central Michigan where I used to live. Oh, and Knoxviews is probably the highest profile East Tennessee political blog, and it ain't exactly reactionary:)
2) Religion. There are an unbelievable number of churches down here, most of them deeply conservative denominations (Baptist, Church of Christ, Pentecostal). But again, there's a caveat. Some of the biggest churches here are theologically moderate or liberal, including the Methodist, Presbyterian and even First Baptist, which is a Cooperative Baptist Church (Jimmy Carter's creation) that broke away from the SBC in the 1990s. People speak often about church here, but I've found their motives to be much less conservative than I had originally imagined.
3) Maryville Rebels. The school system is a point of pride for folks here, and justifiably so. That Maryville High School can excel both academically and athletically is something that everybody should celebrate. Unfortunately, the team is stuck with a name that divides the community in half. I've found many people here hate the name precisely because it is so divisive; here again I thought support for the team name would be more widespread but it seems mostly to get support from a minority. Everybody from the school board to the football coach to the school administration despises all the Confederate flag crap surrounding the school. Why don't they just change the name? It'll cause a big stir but so what? In two or three years it will all be history.
1) The people: I've never encountered more friendly, hospitable, helpful, empathetic people in my entire life than the people here in Maryville. This goes for people from all walks of life, from neighbors to store workers, to teachers to just general strangers.
2) The scenery: Stunningly beautiful. I drove the Cherohala Skyway today and was in heaven the whole time. The Smokies are a treasure, of course, but the surrounding forests are just as good and a quarter as crowded.
3) Schools: Flip-side to the "Rebels" issue, Maryville city schools seem to be as good as advertised. The pedagogy at Fort Craig Elementary is the most progressive I've ever seen in any part of the country. That it's free is just amazing.
4) Maryville College: The college is what drew me here in the first place, of course, and I've found that it garners a lot of respect in the community. There seems to be very little town-gown trouble. Quite the opposite, it seems.
5) Music: This morning I got into my car and turned on my radio and heard John Prine, Gillian Welch, Neko Case and Junior Brown in succession. Yes, I'm already a WDVX junkie. The live music scene is just as impressive, and in Maryville it's getting better with the Shed, Brackin's, the future Civic Arts Center, and the Palace.
6) The vibe: It's hard to nail this intangible thing but I just get a very good feeling being here. The things I dislike have already faded into the background and the things I like are front and center all the time. If anything, this area is too good and will become inundated by people moving in from Florida, the Midwest and the Northeast. It reminds me of northern Virginia in the mid-1980s in a way, just before the population exploded. I might be just a bit too up on the place what with all the problems we discuss here on a daily basis. But at the end of the day, Maryville and East Tennessee in general is one of the nicest places you can live.
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