published Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

David Cook: Ulysses S. Grant, Ted Nugent and Mary Lee Rice

So tired am I of hostile politics and negativity, which steal our joy and optimism like thieves in the night.

So worn am I of the pop-culture practice of seeing the worst — not the best — in each other.

So at lunchtime on Monday, when I spotted Robert E. Lee about to bite into a chili-slaw dog while a few feet away — barely a bayonet’s distance, so help me God — was Ulysses S. Grant, with his own chili dog and Coke, I took it as a sign.

If they can do it, we can, too.

Yesterday, Grant and Lee — in full regalia — stopped by Good Dog on Frazier Avenue for lunch.

They had docked earlier in the morning as Civil War impersonators aboard the American Queen: the Civil War history cruise complete with impersonators, musicians, historians and $3,000-per-ticket history buffs, traveling river-bound between Chattanooga and Vicksburg, Miss.

“It’s tough being next to this guy in blue,” said Lee — jokingly — of the scoundrel Grant.

Lee’s blue eyes sparkled. His beard and hair, white like a surrender flag. A gentleman who stood up from his meal to talk with a pestering columnist, Lee looked and acted, well, just like Lee. Which is a compliment.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” Al Stone said, when asked what it was like to impersonate Robert E. Lee.

The Grant-Lee lunch reminded me of the power of sharing food together. It’s hard to be enemies while breaking bread together, so useful is meal-making as a reconciling and bonding event.

Seeing them got me thinking. This Tuesday column of mine is only available online, which sounds scarily like a late-night infomercial: “For an extra $15, I’ll throw in a Drew Johnson bobblehead doll!”

The past few weeks, I’ve been mulling over ways to make Tuesday’s online-only column more interactive. I offered up free passes to exhibits at the Hunter Museum of American Art. A few Mondays ago, I publicly challenged the Motor City Madman Ted Nugent — who’s playing at Track 29 tonight — to a duel of sorts.

But seeing Lee and Grant gave me what I was looking for. My idea: Each Tuesday, I’ll write about sharing a meal or drink with someone from Southeast Tennessee or North Georgia.

Today, over veggie and pimento-cheese dogs at Good Dog, I had lunch with Mary Lee Rice.

Four weeks ago, Rice and her husband left Birmingham, Ala., after decades there, tired of a political system as unyielding as steel. They could have moved anywhere, but chose Chattanooga. They had first visited many moons ago, getting the Scenic City itch after enjoying a night downtown.

“Wine over Water,” she recalled.

When she decided to leave the Magic City, folks noticed.

“Hers is the kind of voice we need,” wrote John Archibald in his column in “The Birmingham News.”

“Sadly, hers is a voice that is gone, before most of you even know it.”

The last eight years, Rice — with a background in university, government and administrative work — has served on the Vestavia Hills city council. She loves the arts, politics and the process of making communities better. She wants to volunteer and integrate into the Hamilton County community, so much so she offered up her contact info (

“Chattanooga has an attitude of anything good can happen here,” she said.

Which is why she and her husband moved here. Welcome, Mary Lee.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP

PS: Ted Nugent is chicken.

A few Mondays ago, I publicly challenged the Motor City Madman to a preconcert contest. Best of five arrows, from 50 yards (maybe more like 5 yards for me) at a bull’s-eye target. If I lose, I’ll make a donation to his summer camp for kids. He loses? He’s got to publicly praise President Obama during his concert tonight. Into the microphone. While it’s plugged in. In front of the crowd.

“It does not appear the current schedule is going to permit,” emailed Linda Peterson, Nugent’s assistant, a couple of weeks ago.

I’m secretly relieved. I’m a writer, not an archer. Bow shooter. Whatever.

Probably should have just invited him to lunch anyway.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Hmm, I'm reminded of the Family Guy episode where they had a re-enactment of Lee and Grant meeting.

August 21, 2012 at 7:54 a.m.
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