Jack Daniels on the rocks
Unemployment in Nashville is 6.6 percent (in contrast to 8.1 percent nationally). In Chattanooga, where I also visited last week, it is 6.9 percent. These cities and the state of Tennessee are a refreshment for a public policy wonk who is used to following the job markets of states oppressed by public employee unions, high taxes and regulation (e.g., California and New York). Moreover, construction is booming in Nashville, in particular, as the capital of the state government and the capital of country music adds to already imposing health care and tourism resources.
The contentment is shown in the demeanor of the citizenry, unfailingly friendly and outgoing. The ladies call you "darlin'", apparently without fear of sex discrimination suits, and waiters wish you "a blessed evening" as you leave a restaurant, unintimidated by possible threats from the ACLU. The air is clean, the water tasty, the rolling countryside picturesque. The food's delicious--if you go for Southern cooking, which I do at every opportunity.
Locals are proud that when floods swamped Nashville, the city recovered quickly, unlike New Orleans. The difference? Nashville didn't look to Washington for help. Tennessee is one of the nine states (so far) that have no income tax. It's a good place for business.
The state legislature recently passed a law making sure that science teachers are allowed to present all scientific sides of controversial issues such as Darwinian evolution or global warming. It took some courage as well as a good sense to do this. Yes, the president of Vanderbilt, making $1.9 million a year, meanwhile has done his best to run Christian student organizations off campus and the pliant trustees have gone along. Yes, the major newspapers are just as biased to the left as in the rest of the country and even more out of touch with their communities. And, yes, Al Gore lives in the sumptuous suburb of Belle Meade, from which his private jets fly off with huge contrails to save the world from global warming.
Pucketts Bi-Rite, Leipers Fork, TN
But mostly there is a gentle, common sense peace about Tennessee. Twenty minutes outside Nashville is Franklin, looking like an idealized Disneyland small town, except that there are churches on every corner downtown and a booming Christian music industry. (It also is rising population, as is Murfreesboro, one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.) Up in the countryside nearby is a tiny crossroads, Leipers Fork, with a single supermarket--Puckett's Bi-Rite--that closes at dusk to become a bustling country music venue. Their first rate musical fare can be found, streaming, on the Internet.
Even the tourist sites seem well-done. Rock City on Lookout Mountain, above Chattanooga, provides a tasteful and amusing geological visit, and the mountain's Point Park and the Civil War battlefields there and below (Missionary Ridge) offer careful and provocative educational experiences for all ages. They might hate the description, but "wholesome" might describe the bars downtown, and they certainly can wear out anyone's desire for non-stop live musical tourism. For a refresher course on their provenance, try the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Country Music Hall of Fame
Tennessee's population (6.5 million) is going up faster than that of the nation as a whole, and the eastern part of the state seems especially prosperous and vital. I have a short list of the nation's most under-appreciated states. Pennsylvania would be on the list in the North. Indiana in the Middle West. Utah in the West. Tennessee in the South. I make a deep and courtly bow in its direction.