John Shearer: Random Thoughts About Hixson Hardee’s Closing, East Lake Center, Lady Vols and Baylor Wrestling

  • Saturday, January 28, 2023
  • John Shearer
Amid all the bad news in the country – from police brutality in Memphis to violent acts elsewhere from those ranging in age from 6 to 72 – I went about my humdrum routine Saturday morning of heading to the Hixson Hardee’s.

While I have been to this one faithfully on most Saturdays since we moved back to Chattanooga near Northgate Mall in 2017, my Hardee’s Saturday morning tradition dates to about 2005, when we had moved to Knoxville from Cleveland. I was teaching at Karns High and enjoyed the Saturday morning opportunity to eat a leisurely breakfast after a busy week trying to get kids to learn something or just behave.

I initially ate at one in Rocky Hill there about 10 minutes from our West Hills home, but one soon opened on Kingston Pike only a couple of minutes away, so I started going there and continued for the next 11 or so years.

That is, despite the fact I was told my services at Karns were no longer needed, although I gratefully was able to land on my feet doing some freelance journalism work and eventually teaching some adjunct classes at UT after initially tutoring Vol athletes.

Yes, despite all those changes, I never changed my Saturday Hardee’s routine.

I had outlasted the Hardee’s cinnamon raisin biscuit, which was replaced by the cinnamon roll, and even the two Knoxville stores, the latter of which was closed about the time we moved to Chattanooga. I certainly hope my moving and its drop in business as a result were not the reasons for the closing!

And now I have learned my third Hardee’s I frequent has closed as well. I drove out there Saturday about 6:45 a.m. to the Hixson one and noticed it had no lights on. I am used to such bad news, as the Bojangles on Hixson Pike had the same look of being abandoned a few months back before I learned it had closed.

I hoped, however, that maybe this one was just opening a little later due to the lack of available help. But then when I pulled around to the drive-through ordering spot knowing something was obviously up, the menu items were not there.

But on the speaker was a paper sign that said, “We apologize for the inconvenience, but we have decided not to renew our franchise agreement and permanently close our Hixson location. We appreciate your business all through the years.”

The sign also said to visit the other locations on Highway 58, Shallowford Road and Soddy-Daisy, so apparently the Hardee’s franchises are owned by multiple groups, since one also operates in Red Bank off Morrison Springs Road.

Shocked, but never surprised when it comes to restaurants, I thought about my fate for that morning, but also about this restaurant. Like the location of Bojangles farther south on Hixson Pike, the street had gotten so busy that making a turn against the traffic to pull out was getting more challenging.

Whether that was the reason, or that the elusive goal of trying to find enough help was an issue, or if it was just not profitable, I do not know. I am not playing reporter here.

The business had started closing around mid-afternoon in recent months, and the dining room still had more limited hours since the pandemic had begun to wane. I am mostly just a breakfast eater at Hardee’s, as apparently are a lot of people, so the latter was no big deal.

The Hixson Hardee’s had also been run by a nice woman, Cindy, I think was her name, who got to know the customers a little. My father, Dr. Wayne Shearer, had also frequented there, and she even kindly gave him a ride home once when his car would not restart after going inside.

She was the one who always wore a Texas shirt on college football Saturdays, perhaps an ode to her former home state.

So, on this Saturday, I decided to wait and pick up something from Bread & Butter in Red Bank, some 10 minutes on the other side of my house. As a result, I went home, turned on my computer and TV, and waited until about 7:20. It opens about 7, but since it is a small operation that seems to do a great job with tasty homemade items, not everything is ready at 7, I have learned.

Mr, Sweet and Savory here likes the unique sweet rolls and ham and cheese croissants, and the croissants were just being put on trays in the display area by a nice young woman when I walked in, so my timing was perfect after the disappointment of the Hardee’s closing. Rather than go to the nearby Hardee’s in Red Bank, I decided to really treat myself.

After thinking about eating the baked items in my car by the small Red Bank tennis court/park complex, I just took them back home, while eating a bite or two of the cinnamon roll in the car. I don’t text and drive, but I do chomp and drive quite well – and hopefully safely.

Although it was nearly an hour later than I had planned on eating, creating great torture for this person focused often on eating, the morning worked out well. But I am still saddened I will have to travel farther from home to find a Hardee’s, this chain that I first enjoyed way back in the 1970s as a teenager, when I would drive to the original local one by Highway 58 to enjoy a Huskee Jr. cheeseburger in the evenings.

One place that has been around longer than Hardee’s is the East Lake community and recreation center complex. Located off Dodds Avenue a little west of East Lake Park, the facility is to have a public open house Sunday, Jan. 29, from 2 to 4 p.m. to rededicate and reopen the expanded East Lake Community Center.

The complex, which had been closed since early 2021, now features 16,000 square feet of space and should be a boon to an area of town that a quick drive through shows is mostly a modest area for median incomes. It should also go well with the other few amenities, including the neat East Lake Park and some great architecture of old – like 100-plus years ago -- among some of the homes.

As a lover of old architecture, though, I was a little saddened after a drive past the center Friday, when I saw that the Tudor- and cottage-style recreation center attached to a newer gym-like facility has been apparently torn down to make way for the new wing.

I am not sure of the condition of the building, but I would have loved seeing it somehow revamped and still incorporated into the facility while building any needed newer sections a few feet away, if the cost would not have been too different and it would have been feasible.

I could not find much historical information on the now-gone older part, but I would guess from its style that it had been built around the 1920s or ‘30s. It has a look like some of the cottage-style homes built in Brainerd just east of Missionary Ridge about that same time, and I have accompanied some pictures of it from 2021 with this story.

The community center at East Chattanooga Park has a similar style and was likely designed by the same architect and constructed at probably the same time.

But it will certainly be time to celebrate instead of mourn for those gathering to open the nice-looking new facility that will hopefully help the East Lake area.

The Tennessee Lady Vols women’s basketball game against UConn Thursday night, a time that many in orange and light blue thought would also be a time to celebrate, ended up being a time of temporary sadness knowing the Lady Vols are not quite back to their Pat Summitt days.

I am happily getting the opportunity to teach some adjunct journalism classes up at UT this semester, so I made plans to go to the game Thursday night afterward. This was to be the fourth time UT and Connecticut had met since the rivalry was renewed after being halted after 2007 by coach Summitt over some issues regarding how future Connecticut star Maya Moore was recruited, and I really thought this was going to be UT’s year.

If for no other reason, I thought they might win simply because I would be there. (Ha Ha!). But, the way it turned out, maybe I needed a lucky sweater or sweatshirt as well.

My class in the Communications Building had ended a little before 4, so I went over to the spacious Student Union and graded some papers, looked in the massive bookstore – which is like a superstore for UT clothing – and, yes, also ate a Chick-fil-A sandwich.

I had thought long and hard planning my eating for this night, so I was going to eat the sandwich and have room for a box of popcorn, a hot dog and a Coke at Thompson-Boling Arena later.

After I figured out how to use the kiosk when realizing the ordering system had changed there post-pandemic, and one no longer orders in front of a cash register manned by a human, I got my sandwich and enjoyed it.

It was a bitterly cold day outside, but about 6:15, I headed over to Thompson-Boling, which was opening somewhat early because ESPN was doing a College GameDay telecast from there beginning at 7 before the 8 p.m. game.

While I once enjoyed watching a football GameDay broadcast in Circle Park outside Neyland Stadium about 2012, this was not the same, as hearing the commentators was sometimes hard. But I did see down below me well-known sideline reporter Holly Rowe and observed how she works.

I also found myself sitting next to a friendly couple from Weakley County, Tennessee, and I totally enjoyed their small-town mannerisms. I told them I used to live in West Hills in Knoxville, and, although I thought they would say they were from Knoxville, they said they lived a little west of West Hills – in West Tennessee, although they also have a Fairfield Glade home.

This lady was sweet and friendly, but when the game began, she was quite the fan, yelling and screaming and rooting on her Lady Vols. Unfortunately, there was not to be much cheering.

UConn went out to a big lead, and while the Lady Vols cut the lead to four at halftime during a run that drew the good-sized crowd – which included a few UConn fans – into a frenzy and reminded coach Kellie Harper of the “good old days,” the Huskies eventually won 84-67.

Although some of their players were hurt, the UConn Huskies had two good guards, both of whom were good outside shooters along with one or two other players. UT had a couple of good athletes, primarily Jordan Horston, but they could not compete with the pure shooting of UConn.

I also noticed UConn’s pregame routine seemed a little different from other teams the way they warmed up running from side to side passing and doing other drills. While well-known UConn assistant coach Chris Dailey was spotted in her high heels talking to players during this time, I did not see coach Geno Auriemma until the game.

He had been taking some time off for health reasons and did appear to be moving more slowly than he looked on TV in previous seasons.

But UConn moved quite well on the court, and I realized that I and all the other Lady Vol fans would have to wait a little longer to see the “echoes awakened” or a landmark win in the post-Summitt era.

After getting back home around midnight and not getting a real good night’s sleep, I went over to my alma mater of Baylor School Friday about 6 p.m. to watch the wrestling match between the Red Raiders and rival McCallie.

While I played several sports at Baylor, including football, I usually avoided wrestling, knowing it is a man’s sport, even though girls are now getting involved and enthusiastically competing against other girls. Another detriment to me regarding wrestling is that you have to stay below your wrestling weight during the season, and that means no hot dogs at games or morning runs to Hardee’s.

I did cover a few wrestling matches and tournaments for the Knoxville News Sentinel in recent years, though, and grew to respect the sport even more.

With all that in mind, I gathered Friday in the packed Duke Arena. Although limited tickets are sold to wrestling matches and basketball games against McCallie there due to the smaller capacity, I was able to go due to the fact friend Steve Smalling had an extra ticket.

While McCallie won the first two matches with pins and received a forfeit after another Baylor wrestler had an emergency appendectomy in recent days, Baylor was able to come back and win, 46-24, to stretch the winning streak to 19 years.

It seems like in most sports except maybe boys’ basketball, one of the schools will win most of the contests a few years in a row, and Baylor has been successful in wrestling.

But Friday’s match still seemed to be quite competitive, and I say hats off to the wrestlers from both schools who worked hard to train and went out there and fought hard for their schools.

I also realized while sitting there that wrestling has maybe changed as little as any other sport at the high school level in the last 50-plus years. It is primarily about conditioning, learning moves and effort – timeless skills. The simplicity of it and how you generally sow what you reap are neat to me.

And the cheering in the gym was as loud as at a basketball game, with both schools wanting a win. I understand that in like the 1950s and ‘60s when Baylor and McCallie were not playing in football, the wrestling match became the contact sport of interest that drew rabid cheering from both schools.

I also enjoyed sitting back in the wooden seats in this gym that was built in the late 1940s and has been little changed over the years.

I for a few minutes thought I was back in the 1970s as a young Baylor student watching a sporting event or other activity there.

And since I had hurriedly eaten only a partial supper before I went to the match Friday, I also imagined stopping by a fast-food restaurant like McDonald’s, Wendy’s or maybe even the Highway 58 Hardee’s for an evening snack and not worrying about the calories. After all, that would have been just like my Baylor days.

But then it dawned on me I am no longer 17 and cannot eat the amount of food I used to without repercussions, so I just went on home and looked forward to what I thought would be a nice breakfast from the Hixson Hardee’s Saturday morning.

As the Hardee’s closing reminded me, though, even if the sport of wrestling doesn’t, time does indeed move on.

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