Being away from home so much as of late has really inspired a new love of my home here in Tri-Cities. It’s funny how most of the time to truly appreciate something, you have to lose it in some capacity. I never acknowledge how wonderful it is to taste food until I get sick and lose my palate to a stuffy nose. And I never thought twice about my vehicle until I wrecked it last week and realized how much I rely on transportation and just how screwed I would be without the rental car policy on my insurance. In the same respect, after a lifetime in the Tri-Cities, I have grown accustomed to the natural beauties and small-town treasures that abound in the area and realized just how much I’ve taken it for granted.
Upon returning from one of my 4-day stints in Nashville, I actually took in the scenery as I drove up 19E to my house. The mountains ahead loomed larger than I remembered, and the late afternoon sun cast a golden glow, making the trees even more lush and green than normal. I rolled down the window and took in the sticky sweet air as I drove past the drive-in movie theatre, where people were already lined up to take in the evening show. This is such a great place to get outside and wander. The fact that an 8-minute drive is all that separates me from Watauga Lake and I never go enjoy it says everything about how jaded I’d become with this place. At any time of the day or week a person can hop right on the Appalachian Trail and explore beautiful woods and waterfalls. Or if you’re in the mood for a bike ride, you could even take a ride on the Tweetsie from Elizabethton and enjoy a Cardinals game when you arrive at the trail head in Johnson City.
Even if you’re not in the mood to be outdoors, the Tri-Cities offers tons of things to do. We have some of the best selections for antique shopping in the nation. Just take a stroll down any of the city’s Main Streets and you can spend the better part of an entire day falling in and out of interesting shops, boutiques and eateries. Downtown Johnson City has really grown their Main Street and surrounding areas by leaps and bounds in the last 15 years. When I first started hanging out downtown, no one wanted to go there. The area was considered a bit unsafe and the only place to go was Numan’s, Gatsby’s (now Capones), the Mecca (now roughly where Korean Taco and Red Meze reside) and Halo (now Holy Taco.) The only people wandering up and down the streets at night were vagrants and you can forget about food options. To see the downtown economy now thriving with eclectic restaurants and bars, the beautiful green space at Founder’s and King Common, as well as the farmer’s market and multiple festivals and events, it makes my heart glow with pride.
We have terrific museums and state parks if you’re interested in getting to know the area a little more intimately. The Gray Fossil Site, Birthplace of Country Music, Sycamore Shoals, Bays Mountain and Warriors Path are just a handful to get you started and can be fun for all ages. Barter Theatre runs terrific productions year-round, as does the Jonesborough Reparatory Theatre. If you enjoy a liquid libation, the Tri-Cities is home to dozens of breweries, distilleries and vineyards where you can not only drink like a local, but also take a guided tour of the entire process from grain to glass.
When I began this article I didn’t intend on making it read like a brochure advertising the cultural delights of the area. I genuinely wanted to remind people just how lucky we are to be able to call this place home, because I myself had forgotten. After awhile anyone can fall into the “same old, same old” rut and feel like there’s nothing to do, when in fact there is so much right in our own backyard, we just have to take a step back to be able to see the forest through the trees. While I’m enjoying exploring my new life in a big city, it is a relief to be able to come back and slow down. To take a stroll downtown without being bombarded by homelessness, non-stop sirens and skyrise construction. Not to mention the convenience of free parking! The world is such a big place, and I cannot encourage people to travel and get outside their comfort zone enough. However, it’s always good to come home. So whether it’s people or places in your life, take stock of all the good things around you and don’t take them for granted. In an instant you could lose them and you just don’t ever realize what you’ve really got til it’s gone.