I didn't know the Delta Queen was ugly.
Chicken factories? Yes. Old industrial sites? Yep. Parts of Rossville Boulevard? Baby, it's uglier than a bag of armpits.
But the Queen? Our Lady of the River? She has this cracked and subtle beauty about her, like Susan Boyle or a torn Besty Ross flag. Sure, the old girl is not the shiniest or slickest, but she's got soul in a way that no corporate downtown hotel will ever, ever have.
Yet City Hall, now in its new role as Enforcer of Appearance, has decreed the Delta Queen too unseemly for our pristine waterfront. Last week, Mayor Andy Berke and City Attorney Wade Hinton handed down a temporary berthing agreement, telling the Queen owners to vamoose.
"No later than September 30, 2013," it reads.
Strange news, really. The kind of news that makes you immediately U-turn your head and spew your drink. Say what?
Since when is the city in the business of determining what is sightly and what is not?
This is not post-modern poetry, open to multiple interpretations and perspectives. Is the Delta Queen breaking codes in a blatant and consistent way? No. Is the Queen a public safety hazard? No.
Then she gets to stay.
But like the idea of urban chickens, having the Queen here apparently despoils our city's image. Dusty things, those chickens. Paltry ship, that Queen.
"We have received complaints," said the mayor's office.
From whom? How many complaints?
"I would say, easily, you know, more than a dozen. Less than 50," said Travis McDonough, the mayor's chief of staff.
If citizen complaints now form the impetus for City Hall action, then I can flat guarantee you there are plenty more citizens complaining about plenty-bigger issues than this (Look no farther than the attempt from the Westside Community Association to create a meaningful policy on affordable housing in the urban core.).
"This vessel is 100 years old. It is an extensive boat to maintain and whoever is responsible for maintaining this going forward needs to make sure they have a business plan in place that allows them to perform maintenance so we don't have another eyesore like the [Casey] barge on the riverfront," McDonough said.
But the Delta Queen is not the Casey barge, and the city shouldn't project its anger onto her just because the Casey barge won't budge. The city has claimed the Queen's owners are behind on rent -- three years' worth -- yet that's disputed.
"Shocked," reads a statement from Leah Ann Ingram, one of the Delta Queen owners. "You would think the City would have contacted us if we owed rent from 2010 as they allege."
"What we're trying to do is continue to ensure that our downtown riverfront remains beautiful," McDonough said.
Unmooring the Queen is a cultural version of social Darwinism, where we cull out lesser downtown attractions in favor of the best and brightest. Wild wings and big-screen televisions? You can stay.A big box grocery store? You're welcome here, too.
But a boat that has more history on board than some ZIP codes? You're evicting that?
People get married on the Delta Queen. Halfway through your whiskey sour, a ghost might appear. There is polished brass. Sure, the Queen lists to one side, but so do the elderly and that tower in Pisa.
According to Ingram, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will soon name the vessel a National Treasure (making Berke the last mayor I can remember to want to evict a national treasure) and Congress may pass legislation that lets the Queen travel the river again as a hotel with Chattanooga as its home port. Doing so would bring in an estimated $1 million a year.
But City Hall wants to get rid of it? How can we call ourselves a river city without this river boat?
So let's do this.
If City Hall says it acted after receiving more-than-a-dozen-but-less-than-50 citizen complaints, then let's triple the citizen input to keep the ship here. Want the Delta Queen to stay? Email Berke -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- and copy me on the email (mine is listed below), so I can keep a tally alongside City Hall's.
If City Hall can evoke the name of the people to get rid of the Delta Queen, then maybe the people can keep her as well.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
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 ...