Roy Exum: Why We Must Read

Sunday, August 25, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

One of the greatest scenes in all of moviedom is at that moment in the movie “Patton” where only George C. Scott could provide the harsh cackle. Starring in the role of the famed World War II general, Scott stands in the turret of his command vehicle and yells in the wind, “Rommel, you magnificent bastard … I read your book!”

What too few of those who caused the 1970 film to be awarded seven Academy Awards, including “Best Picture of the Year,” know is that – in truth – there was such a book: ‘Infanterie greift an’ …. translated, that means “Infantry Tactics.” German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel wrote it for young officers in the 1930s.

The best part about ”that book” was Patton went into a mournful shock when he learned Rommel was actually on medical leave and not present for the actual fight between the American tanks and Rommel’s German-Italian Panzer Army in north Africa.

Patton was such a competitor and his grief great that he hadn’t beaten his nemesis … that is, until one of Patton’s top aides dared whisper, “If you've defeated Rommel's plan, you've defeated Rommel."

In just a couple of days now passed, the ‘War of Chattanooga’ has become most unsettling. While I will agree the Field Marshal’s ‘Infanterie  greift an’ is a stretch, it may not hurt in this, the largest Tennessee county where there is no public library, where reportedly over half of our children that are now in public schools cannot read at grade level, and where, just a day or so ago, yet another downtown restaurant announced it is shuttering up.

Apparently, some negligent people in key positions of our city haven’t read any books on urban success in a long time. We’ve been stuck in neutral by a cowardly fear of using a strongly fisted “infantry” since transmissions were invented. Given our current circumstance, is it any wonder the City Council has openly perpetuated a downtown graveyard when that ain’t what “we the people want” but, because of fear, are scared to say?

No one has the taste for such costly failure because any study of “why” is equally embarrassing and damning. To not address “why” assures the life expectancy of a restaurant or small business between MLK and the southern bank of the Tennessee River is short-lived.

A tense political struggle over a senseless downtown Business Improvement Development shows a clear disconnect with reality because its instigators have proven to be much like the emboldened rash of panhandlers, drug pushers, and absolute lowlife who defecate in street planters in broad daylight. It is out-of-control.

Josh Patton, the owner of the soon-to-be shuttered Chicken Salad Chick, at Seventh and Market, tried to stay within the boundaries of the politically correct when he explained his decision to radically downsize was due to a lack of parking and too little foot traffic of potential customers.

Anyone who can read knows those excuses are ‘a bunch of bunk’ when numerous news outlets, including the Chattanoogan, reported that on July 2 three plate glass windows at this restaurant were damaged by gunfire. One of those windows had a replacement cost of over $10,000 and the other two more than $1,000.  Who on the City Council is Josh supposed to see? I’ll bet you half of any quarter-horse you can find that not a one of the city’s top leaders hangs out in our Business Improvement District because of a lack of parking.

Far more absurd, the Business Development District (BID) is a direct admission of why the city of Chattanooga is the fourth worst-run city in America, this according to a battery of national statistics. Blend in a healthy dose of FBI findings that Chattanooga is among the Top Ten Most Dangerous Cities in the entire United States and – bingo! – you can understand why our leftist Mayor Andy Berke has become so incompetent it will take years for the far more focused to correct his failures and shortcomings.

The BID is totally unnecessary. It is the brainchild of an equally-inept Kim White of River City, who hurriedly left last week’s County Commission meeting in a pout. When the Commission shied away from the BID after first accepting the idea, the wise among those on the dais realized, “When in doubt, do without.”

And the biggest question: Why should business owners and residents alike foot the bill for what the city of Chattanooga refuses to do for the taxpayers? I have never understood what River City does, who pays their way, or who among the “liberal elite” hatches such dizzy schemes but when downtown businesses are forced to do what city government was designed to do, it is achingly-clear RiverCity’s day is done. Let’s face it, fix it, and play by everybody else’s rules. Neither our city nor county has a separate room for these elitists.

Watch what I tell you: Soon we’ll have a Main Street BID, a Northshore BID, a St. Elmo BID, a Midtown BID, and such a tangled clump of spaghetti with no end that only those with master's degrees and cab-mounted laptops will be able to negotiate between “ours-and-theiren.” The best way to avoid a mess is to never create one. You’ll see.

Losing a restaurant, or a condo couple, or even a parking spot because people have finally “had enough” of a 14-year-old shooting two 11-year-olds at 10 p.m. on city streets is blatant neglect by our city and county leaders. Further, I believe when our police chief is hand-cuffed by some loopy “police review committee,” the stage is being set for continued disaster and more shuttered storefronts.

Stagnant city leadership, in “the ivory tower” and in the council’s chambers, have made for a terrible black-vs-white divide. I can lay blame at the feet of either ‘race’ (because that is where it really is) and until all nine council members come down hard together on discipline, sending the pods of roving teenagers scrambling, and until our judges sentence the louts who use our sidewalks as rest rooms-without-walls to two weeks of restroom duties behind jail bars, any creation of any controversial BID is folly.

One day it may dawn on our ‘deep downtown’ that the mandatory bike lanes might work in Seattle or Connecticut but in Chattanooga – honestly – they have bludgeoned our downtown’s economy, made parking every bit as ridiculous as the public lots now charge, and – in truth – have caused problems every single day since their inception. We know that’s true. The City Council knows it's true but … well, we’d rather be scared because we have neither a man nor a woman who will confront the downtown problems other than suggest a BID that only adds to the circus.

Instead, work has begun on renovating Patten Parkway “with a new tree-lined canopy, elevated sidewalks and new public art, walkways and street fairs to serve as a gathering space for pedestrians and vehicles.” So help me … study up on Emperor Nero’s fiddle concertos.

Has it ever seemed to you, as Chicken Salad Chick's windows shatter, that with the horrible parade of problems our police claim they are ordered not to reveal in the Aquarium District, our tourism dollars may seem to be counterfeit?

* * *

“Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t say it; and the other half those who have nothing to say but keep on saying it.” – Robert Frost.

* * *

“If a flower isn’t blooming, don’t try to fix the flower but fix its surroundings.”

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