Friday, March 13th, was anything but an unlucky Friday for us. While the official Riverside V meet had been axed by the Governor, the car enthusiasts who had descended on Chattanooga were determined to persist with several pop-up meets on a much smaller scale. The weekend was a more disorganized ordeal, with overlapping small gatherings and activities. My Friday began, however, addressing the skid plate issue that had kept my anxiety at peak levels throughout the trip down and around town. Julian and Karey had picked up Ben Battles’ Passat, so I took Karey’s MK7.5 GTI and secured some washers I needed to space everything out temporarily.
I successfully spaced out the skid plate to provide enough clearance to ease my worry before finally giving the E30 its first bath in weeks. Cleaning the filth from my car and unscrupulously polishing my replica wheels brought on the realization that we were there, in Chattanooga, ready to focus exclusively on cars for the weekend. This is a once a year feeling. The season has started and it can only get better from here, right?
As I write this nearly two weeks later, the nation has slowed to a crippling halt amidst concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, the remnants of Riverside might be the only fix for our car event addiction, at least until mid to late Summer. Despite this, we were able to enjoy a calm before the situation had escalated.
Taylor, his friend David, Sinh, and his girlfriend Tasha arrived while we washed the cars. A light sprinkle of rain intermittently kept a thin layer of water everywhere, but didn’t prevent us from staying outdoors as we greeted our friends.
Sinh brought his factory Nissan Z33 350z Nismo edition, while Taylor drove his USDM 240sx, followed by David in his drift-spec Z33. The contrast between the completely factory daily driver and two more function than form track cars were wonderful additions to our otherwise European group. I know this is a blog dedicated to Euro cars, but with roots in Nissan and Subaru, I can’t help but enjoy the Japanese scene as well.
The cars in our driveway were all finally clean, thanks to a group effort and the brief misting of rain. That evening was the first event, so we all excitedly remained around our cars, talking, and waiting.
Sportsman’s Warehouse had agreed to host a small gathering in their back lot and the Chattanooga Police Department had supposedly signed off on the event, which allowed us to attend with confidence that we wouldn’t need to be ready to bail in an instant. That feeling helped to create a relaxed environment that night as we saw our first glimpse of the cars we could expect to spend the weekend ogling in the Chattanooga streets.
A sizable group of us all gathered that night where we were able to relax and enjoy the Riverside vibes. The cloudy, but agreeable, weather set a somber tone for the quiet meet. One aspect of Riverside I always enjoy is how relatively quiet the show is. There is not a loudspeaker blaring music, people are generally well-behaved and courteous, and little more than the occasional loud exhaust is all that can be heard from our event. It truly is about enjoying the cars and friends. Which we did.
The next day, Saturday, was the day of the actual event. Fortunately, the Governor’s Club had organized a small gathering that was set to take place downtown at the Bitter Alibi, behind J.J.’s, in a lot that wouldn’t accommodate more than we were allowed to assemble. This lot is one I remember passing every morning on my way to school and has always sat derelict, but useful. It isn’t easy to enter, even for a normal car, and the spaces are cramped. Still, it provided a somewhat authentic feel to the event. Ordinarily, Riverside takes place in the quite modern First Tennessee pavilion, behind the Chattanooga Mocs stadium. While contemporary, it doesn’t offer the historic feeling that lies at the heart of the city.
Chattanooga was the site of several civil war battles, as well as a commercial hub that rivaled Atlanta and Nashville at the time. It was largely razed to the ground after the ‘Battle Above the Clouds,’ where Union soldiers turned captured Confederate cannons used to defend the city down upon it. Still, much of the old city remains. This lot is a vacant spot from a building that did not survive the years, though some of its former structure is retained, which makes it an eerie lot, even in the daytime. Perfect, though, as a backdrop for the cars that sat parked in it that weekend.
Both the Riverside crew and the Governor’s Club truly pulled together to make this event happen. We had traveled so far, only to be met with the disheartening news of Riversides’ cancellation, but we were excited to learn that some degree of an event would still happen. Born from that adversity was perhaps the most enjoyable Riverside yet.
I simply enjoyed being at home. Nothing felt better to me than the sense of community and friendship, surrounded by our cars, that is only present there in my native city. While we navigated the downtown streets, pop up meets, and took photography, the rest of the nation had already begun to bunker down in these uncertain times. Noting the lack of pedestrian traffic, we could already tell something was about to happen. For that weekend, though, we had no worries. We spent our time with good friends and incredible cars, not knowing it might be the only chance we have this year to do it.
Even though the event was technically canceled, we were still there. We all persisted to do something together. A final hurrah of enthusiast culture that was simultaneously intended to be the signal that our season has begun. Now, we may not have a season, at least not a full one, but we at least have Riverside and the memories of an excellent time.