We often do things in our lives and ask why? Why did I make that turn? Why did I get married on that day? Etc! Yesterday, I asked my self why am I at the Walden Club? Who will create a path for me to be there? Although, very cordial and warm reception by all, I don’t think they really wanted us there! I am talking about the 16 County, 3 state regional planners meeting with guest speaker Armando Barnell on November 1st,2011 at the Waldens Club in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee!
My fellow patriot and I, Karen Bracken were casual observers in what will go down as the biggest heist of our personal freedoms we have or will witness in our lifetimes!
Dressed to the nines we gathered in the front lobby of the Bank of America building to strategize just beyond the outstretched hand of a tall pig with an extended serving tray, a display just outside a coffee shop!
633 Guthrie Street! Waldens Club! Always wanted to visit the Waldens Club! Even as a kid I believe I attempted, although unsucessfully, to gain entrance into this “private club.” A place where a very small pocket of elite rack their brains on how to save the world over a Manhattan and a steak! I have finally arrived! A place where very few “normal” citizens, if you concur that I am normal, will attempt to gain entrance into the “planners mecca!”! The normal part is debatable!
We enter the building, meet an old friend Mayor Bob Vincent of Rhea County! A great conversation begins and we, Karen, me and Bob enter the elevator with marble type flooring and very clean windows all around! The door closes and in our semi nervous state, although very determined, we forget to press the button to transport us in to the arena of planners and land of socialistic idea! So we sit, unaware that the elevator was not moving! We chuckled and acknowledged that we must push the button first! We had gathered beforehand that the meeting was indeed on the 21 st floor! Didn’t make that number up and was it ever appropriate that an agenda 21 meeting be conducted on the 21 st floor! I notice things like that!
WC was neatly tucked above the number 20 on the elevator display board! With my infinite wisdom and Karens intellect we reduced all ability to make a mistake here and chose WC as our destination!
The door opens and we gather with other Mayors who converged from a bevy of other elevators adjacent to ours!
Dimly lit, granite floors polished to a heavy shine, even felt warm under your feet. Neat little cascades of fresh vases of flowers scattered around with a back splash of a dark fuscia wall. Pictures on the wall, I’m sure from the original artist! We come to a halt by a professionally dressed hostess directing the traffic as we made our way to her podium! Are you here for the meeting and meal of 6 or are you here for a meeting! A meeting of 6? Yes she obliged, “a meeting before the meeting?” Uh huh! Ok, I am here for the planning meeting and a meal, the less benign of the two and surely a safer bet. I like to eat, and I wanted to make sure the meeting and the meal was well understood! Oh yes come right this way and the covey of Mayors and me and Karen follow the leaders. We are well on our way to the meeting of planners and the elite of a 3 state, 16 county coalition, uninvited!
I walk into a beige white room, a conference room of sorts, older drapes hanging, perhaps a piece of the 70s that were left there and discovered once again to be vogue. A few chairs and a big camera for which I assume was for pictures after the meal! Who was I going to get in the picture with! Mayor Davis, Littlefield? Armando Barnell? I was pumped!
As I’m advancing with little resistance at this point, I get a sudden urge to pee. Not good timing! Karen had advanced ahead of me already engaging the elite, me, I’m scanning for a bathroom. Yes, at the most inopportune time my bladder chooses to spasm in front of everyone! A full bladder and a 3 hour meeting, lots of tea, a nervous tummy, not gonna lead to a dry outcome, if not squelched! Ignoring my natural tendency to unzip it, square up against a tree and let her fly, I forge on!
Hello, hello, the handshakes and greetings were abundant, very cordial, and you could see the sudden smile turn to concern as the couple now entering our venue were not of their species, a stranger at best, God forbid, a “concerned citizen.”
After a short greeting and a how do you do, we enter the banquet room, several round white tables neatly dressed with white linen and a magnificent view of Lookout mountain was displayed like a picture, as I noticed floor to ceiling windows, 21 floors in the air, beautiful the display before me, feeling like I had just boarded a plane and I was beginning my ascent into the sky!
We politely make our way to the nearest window, we were there, we were in the belly of the beast, we had arrived. I creep over to the window and slowly feel my head starting to spin, walk away darn it before you fall. My fear of heights only rivals my mother when she would scold me as a child, my bladder spasms and I turn toward the crowd of Mayors and commissioners and mayor Littlefield and Mayor Coppinger have their hands extended, nice to meet you, and your name, a fake name at this point would not be wise, just in case I got kicked out, I thought the truth shall prevail! I am Donny Harwood and this is my Administrative Assistant Karen Bracken, yes, we did plan the introduction that way and Karen was reluctant but if it would get us in the meeting, she would take one for the team!
“We are here representing the citizens of Bradley County and the commissioner and city council who represent the citizens, did not get invited here today!” “Oh, ok, that is nice!” “Yes, we definitely need to get the word out to the citizens of all 16 counties within this coalition” , as they continued to work the room, layers of people continued to casually interrogate us to create an identity with strangers in the room. “I didn’t catch your name, my first instinct was to say, because I didn’t give it to you, but I restrained and remembered my mothers lessons to me to treat others as you want to be treated and you can attract more bees with honey came to mind. I delivered my introduction once again and he said do you mind writing that down on a peice of paper for me or do you have a card? Of course I left my cards in the car, never the less, they now have me in the system and that exchange was satisfactory, a face with a name now!
As we sit, you begin to hear a hum of conversation begin to permeate the room and a blanket of a familiar word would pop out of conversations around the room. Tea Party and Kool aid drinkers would assimilate throughout the clanking of forks on dinner plates as the tone shifted from casual to now we have intruders! Red alert……..but alert casual, politically correct and cordial! We had been officially outed.
The heat in the room was searing, my monkey suit damp, beads of sweat forming on my brow, my leg shaking and I had to pee! I am guessing Mayor Davis was looking at me, perhaps wondering when I was gonna blow! A young gentleman quickly skirted over to the thermostat and said “anybody hot?” Interjecting without consensus in the room I shout “yes” , a partial reprieve, just in time as my backside was feeling the midday sun.
Beth Jones, from Southeast Tennessee Economic Development Council announces, shall we eat? “Yes, I shouted again as if I was begging for a treat, I just wanted to pee!
As the crowd of mayors advances on a multi layered buffet, I divert to the bathroom and relieve my spasming bladder and advance to the buffet!
Up first, a fruit display, complete with salad and dressing. I select a deceivingly heavy dish, perhaps fine china? I resisted all urges to lift the plate above my head and look at the bottom and I’m sure it was a word I couldn’t pronounce. On to the end of the table, I scoop up some garlic potatoes, early peas tender yet crispy, and the meat. A cut of meat amply sliced and savory lying on a bed of flat noodles covered in juices from the primal carcass. This is worth the whole visit!
Karen, a vegetarian, decides to not partake of the meat of the gods and decided on a salad and a cup of coffee. We sachet back to the table, still not completely satisfied that we were gonna be permanent guests or escorted out by police. The thought still lingered, were we staying or were they going to ask us to leave. My knee shaking Karen directs me to stop, the room much cooler now and my heart rate now under 150 beats per minute and we are settling in.
The mayor next to me passes me the butter and then the rolls. I pass it around to Karen, then Mayor Davis. I start thinking, what if they make me pay for this, it becomes clear to me I dont have a credit card on me or enough cash to cover the meal. I scoop up a spoon full of peas, not using the appropriate utensil I’m sure, I chew then start to swallow. “May we get this meeting started and as the Mayors around the room are called on to introduce themselves, we wondered what we are going to call ourselves, I realize I have created a major malfunction in my swallow!
I have now realized I have partially aspirated a pea and its got to come out! A green pea in your windpipe has got to have a quick exit!
I am bearing down to resist the urge to forcibly spit green peas and mashed potatoes onto mayor Littlefields grey suit totally disrupting the meeting. Karen is engaged in intelligent conversation with other mayors totally unaware of my dismal situation.
I further resist the urge to puke as my peas shift slightly to stimulate my epiglottal opening, definitely going in the right direction, out of my lung and into my stomach, at least that was the plan.
Bending forward in my seat, at this time I am garnering a little attention from Leigh from the Economic Council and a terribly sweet lady from the Benwood corporation, who provide the meal. Quick glances my direction and a reassuring strained grin was enough to assure them I was stable, at least I was not laid out and blue on the floor which is where I knew I would be if I didn’t correct or alter the direction of the pea. If only I could exert a clearing cough. Being a nurse, I deducted that I had about 3 minutes without a good breath and statistically I was out, on the floor and an ambulance ride to the hospital would be my grand exit!
My urgency for breath overcame my desire to be politically correct and throwing up on the back of the mayors back, where I found my self positioned to hide my intense look now etched on my face. I have got to expel this pea and it has to be now! The mayor in front of me was not prepared for the burst of air that hit him about his waist line as a single half chewed pea lands beneath him and bounces under his chair. He jumps in his chair, gezundheit he says! To him it was only a sneeze to me it was a life saving technique necessary for my survival!
As I straighten the collar on my shirt and adjust my jacket I finish my meal with what I am sure was blood shot eyes and a damp forehead! The creaminess of the key lime pie, one of my favorites made all my recent angst not seem so bad, being very careful with my next swallow!
It was our moment to be recognized at the table, just as one of the moderators from the room cleared her throat and offered, ok now let’s see, alright, only the mayors from that table please. I guess that takes care of that! I shut my binder where I had managed to write a make shift short speech! I know, I know everyone is probably saying you should have spoke up, should have “gone tea party” on them! My deduction in this formal setting and with such a collection of dignitaries from 3 states, I am safe to say a vocal attempt to control the room would not be well accepted. Not the place to be disruptive or be obnoxious, I was there to get information to disseminate to the public and an outburst would have prevented that.
The meeting continued and a covert/overt recording of the meeting ensued as the guest speaker of the evening was announced, Armando Barnell, from Harvard, was touted as a planning guru delivered his speech for 30 minutes or so, not alot of detail or actual planning announced but more a meeting of solidarity or consensus, a meeting to tell everyone was on the same sheet of paper, but what was on the paper was all left out! He had plenty of stories and adventures in planning but the overwhelming missing tone in the room is what is it? What are we doing?
I asked many times around the room as I met different people in the room, do you know what this is? I really dont know, but I know it involves grant money! There was a real sense of we don’t really know anything about it, but there is grant money for my town, that’s really all I know!
The simple fact that no information on specifics were delivered was foremost on our minds! This would have been a great time to deliver the plan or what was going to be happening in their counties. Nothing really of any substance. I don’t think they witheld info because we were there, but specifics were not flowing like the cherry syrup off my key lime pie!
How did every Mayor in the room get vested in this project and not really know what it means? How do you buy into something, sign a grant form for millions and not know what it is you are implementing in your town. I think you know the answer and it’s grant money! 16 mayors have been blinded by money and have absolutely no idea what they have signed on to!
It is so sad to me that our leaders are making poor decisions only for the love of money! You know I didn’t one time hear why this would be good for the citizens or how we would pay for it! On one occasion the guest speaker mentioned as if he had forgotten to say it while reaching for his paper and strained to say, “oh yeah and we are concerned about your property rights!” He just threw the strangers in the room a token to pacify and to cover a subject he knew we were concerned about.
Our exit was much easier than our entrance! We walked away with not much more information than what we came in with. I know the mayors in attendance left that afternoon not knowing what this was all about and will return to their respective counties and tell what few constiuency they still influence and tell them it is about federal grant money and jobs, after all wasnt that what we were elected to do?
On the drive home I realized we witnessed an appearence of “consensus”, 16 mayors from 3 states just showed the media they were in agreement and a collaborative effort was personified in Chattanooga and “all are in agreement.” I came to realize they were only in the room to show solidarity to a plan they know nothing about! What a tragedy! What a maneuver by the planners in the room! The plan is well on its way! I am tired as I enter my own domain, I have been to the mecca of planners and it wasnt so surprising!
Have a great day and for goodness sake chew your food before you swallow!
Part two of this blog will soon surface, I am reviewing audio and video now and will attempt what few descriptors there were in the meeting!
Next meeting November 17th, 530 pm at the Chattanoogan in Chattanooga! If you can make it there, it would be a great time to tell them how you feel about this Regioanl Plan that is going to change your life forever!