A few minutes after 10 a.m. Tuesday, Tim McGraw -- wearing a light-red T-shirt, dark shorts and a ball cap with a big orange "E" (betcha it's the logo for Ensworth Academy, the Nashville school his daughter attends) -- stepped out of what had to be the world's longest tour bus and walked 100 yards or so down the rusted U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry property.
He was looking at trucks, lined up like some motor pool cotillion: Fords, Chevys, a Dodge, all shiny clean. Tires taller than fourth-graders. Low riders so low you couldn't fit a Sunday paper underneath.
McGraw -- perhaps the biggest country star today -- would stop, look and point, his assistants swirling around him like human moons, while he selected one truck and then another. It could mean only one thing.
On Tuesday, country music came to Chattanooga as McGraw arrived in town to film a music video for -- reportedly -- his new song, "Truck Yeah."
Ten days ago, according to a source heavily involved in Tuesday's event, property owners of the Wheland Foundry site got a call from McGraw's management. At some point while traveling the interstate through Chattanooga, McGraw or someone near him noticed the Wheland site.
Unlike so many of us -- who cringe at the industrial entrance to our city -- McGraw saw potential. While owners of the site have impressive plans on how to develop the area, McGraw wanted it as is.
So Tuesday, the entire ecosystem necessary to create a music video arrived. Security, folks carrying clipboards and walkie-talkies, a buffet lunch for the "extras" (so thin they looked like they never ate lunch), wardrobes of clothes, even a Miller Lite truck that arrived a little after noon (Can you really shoot a country music video about trucks without having a beer truck there? Come on).
I had made it onto the site around 9-ish. Not really a country music fan, I do know that McGraw's cooler than the other side of your pillow, having sold more than a gazillion albums, is hugely involved in charity, and he and his wife Sandra Bullock adopted that kid off the Memphis streets, the one who later became a pro football star. Or something like that.
Mid-morning, I knew I didn't belong there. I needed someone who would really appreciate his presence.
"Obsessed," said Katelyn Youngblood, who has memorized all his lyrics and knows that his wife is actually country superstar Faith Hill.
Youngblood, who turns 19 in September, loves country music, especially Mr. McGraw. This November, she'll be in the crowd in Nashville for the Country Music Awards. That's a hard ticket to come by, right?
It was her Make-a-Wish wish.
Last summer, Youngblood was diagnosed with leukemia. A patient at Erlanger's Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, Youngblood was in the elevator going to a routine blood count checkup Tuesday when she got word I wanted to sneak her onto the Wheland set.
"I freaked out," she said.
She showed up with her mom, Kathy, and dad, Rick. Wearing a camo Bass Pro Shops hat, orange Auburn T-shirt, shorts and a yellow Livestrong bracelet, Youngblood's smile should have been in the music video.
One of the property owners generously opened the door for Youngblood. She saw the tour bus. Way off in the distance, we think we saw McGraw driving a big red truck.
"It was fun," she said, walking out. "Just seeing the trucks made me happy."
Youngblood's leukemia is in remission. She's headed to Brigham Young University. She and her parents love life, taking each day at a time, grateful beyond words for what they have.
You think cancer's got her beat?
Somebody oughta write a song.
David Cook is the metro 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. A graduate of Red Bank High, Cook holds a Master's Degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English literature degree from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. For the last twelve years, Cook has been a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...
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