After I witnessed what was possibly the worst example of ‘car enthusiasm’ at Ocean City last weekend, Chattanooga Tennessee’s Riverside Fall 2020 was as wonderful an experience as it always has been for me and an opposite experience to H2Oi. Riverside is my hometown show. It started in 2014 and has been a staple in my annual event attendance since. Even after moving here in 2017, I have still managed to go back home for 2018, 2019, 2020’s spring event, and most recently, the 2020 ‘redux’ to make up for the official event’s cancelation earlier this year. I’ve written extensively about Riverside and the relaxed atmosphere it has, the focus on quality, and dedication to entertaining the people who attend. This weekend was both somewhat the same and slightly different. It was certainly still enjoyable, thanks in part to the people who make it a mandatory event for me, but it had a unique experience to offer despite being so familiar to me.
On Thursday night, my girlfriend Lili and I jumped in my Subaru for the drive. After spending the last weekend driving long-distance in my E30, I needed a break from the teeth-rattling, uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing ride that is the BMW. I love my E30, but I didn’t know if I would be able to make it to Riverside this fall, so I didn’t register it for the show. With no obligation to bring it, I decided to take my more comfortable (and spacious) WRX.
We drove through the night, arrived around 2 am, and were greeted by an exhausted Karey Houck, our regular host in Chattanooga. Unfortunately, Karey and his sister Katie had to work for the weekend, so we didn’t have many opportunities to spend the quality time I look forward to in Chattanooga, but that didn’t prevent us from having a lovely time in my hometown. Lili had never been there, so I made it my mission to convince her of the superiorities the sleepy mountain town exhibits when compared to northeast Ohio. I would do this through the lens of cars, another sore subject with her.
Friday morning, we enjoyed breakfast by the water downtown before we met up with my long-time friend Kellen, who joined us for the day exploring Chattanooga. We took the WRX up Signal Mountain, a beautiful, winding, exhilarating drive, to see the house where I was raised and reminisce about our childhood. We drove past our elementary school, took the brow road to overlook the city, and meandered casually to one of my favorite hiking trails that ends with a breathtaking overlook called Falling Water.
The laid-back, tranquil, serenity of the mountain seemed to easily convince Lili that I had a childhood worthy of jealousy. Kellen meditated on the edge of the cliffs while I walked around with Lili and enjoyed stepping over rocks, streams, roots, and other unchanged features of the trail that flooded my memories with fond events of my past.
It had been nearly a decade since I had been there, yet everything was still exactly as I remembered it. While Chattanooga has changed and grown over the years, the comforting consistency of Signal Mountain was a welcomed relief. It pairs well with the Riverside event, which is always held at the First Tennessee Pavilion and somehow blends easily year over year into nearly the same show, full of the same people, only different in the evolution of the cars that attend. I think that is what I like so much about Riverside. It is my tether to the car scene I grew to love and to what I compare all other events. It is nearly always the same, but that isn’t a bad thing.
This year, though, the event took place in the fall. Normally, Riverside is one of the first shows of the season. With quarantine canceling the original date, this Fall Riverside has become my favorite version of an otherwise unchanging show. The weather was pleasant, still warm enough for short sleeves, but not overbearing as the Tennessee summer sun can be.
Saturday, the day of the event, we parked in the spectator lot shortly before the show began and waited for several of our friends to arrive. The balmy weather helped me to convince Lili that staying at the show would be worth it, though I could tell minutes after we arrived that she was already glazing over in preparation for nothing but nerding out over rare and well-built examples of the southern car scene. Riverside, though, I think would change her mindset toward my passion for cars.
As the lot filled, we joined with new and old friends to explore the show. Normally, I spend Riverside partying with my friends in the lot, just enjoying a place filled with enthusiasts in a town I love dearly. This year, I acted as the guide to Lili and some new friends who had never experienced it. We walked around spotting cars I knew, cars I didn’t, and chatting with some of the local vendors who I only see once a year. The show is always so relaxed, it’s almost easy to forget that it is a car show and not just a stroll through the park.
The crowning moment came, though, when Lili began to express interest in certain cars. She asked me about fitment, different terms she had heard, and even spotted some cars I had pointed out in the past as interesting. Seeing her engage and take notice of things that I care so deeply about made me realize the power that Chattanooga and the Riverside car show hold. It is somewhere that time stands still, to a degree, and becomes the backdrop for new interests.
The town itself has this special hold over anyone there. It is still clearly a southern town, but it is unlike anywhere else in the world. You find yourself comparing it to the northwest coast, only to then modify it to a small European village, but still not feel as though it fits anywhere. It is a town that doesn’t quite mesh with the surrounding area, but wouldn’t be homologous anywhere else in the world. It doesn’t make sense next to the rest of the southeast, but it also doesn’t make sense to be anywhere but the southeast. It has this magical realism aspect where you almost expect to see a fairy or some mythical creature casually wandering around the city.
This aspect is what, I think, allowed so many people like myself to have such an odd collection of interests and personality traits. We are incredibly interested in the outdoors, hiking, kayaking, climbing, and environmentalism, but also drawn towards an urban lifestyle and the progress that the atmosphere generates. We want our surroundings to remain unchanged in attitude but perfected in appearance. Chattanooga is not somewhere that has a fabricated ‘look,’ as so many other towns do. It is the direct product of generations of residents who are Chattanooga, and the town reflects that.
So too does the car community there. It’s calm, yet quirky. It’s unchanging, yet somehow always original. The owners are approachable, the community inviting, and the surrounding restaurants, bars, and attractions carry that same vibe. It could not be more different than H2Oi. In every sense, I feel that Riverside is, and always will be, the picture-perfect example of a weekend that revolves around car enthusiasts. It blends so perfectly the cars are almost a secondary part of the show, which I think makes it wonderful. Anyone, even my girlfriend, can enjoy it, simply because of the people, the atmosphere, and the city itself. The Riverside motto is ‘Come for the Cars, Stay for the People.’ I stand by that description as perfection.
We thoroughly enjoyed yet another wonderful Riverside experience, this time, one I could share with my significant other and finally see her take an interest in my hobby. Chattanooga, and Riverside, have that effect on people. It is an eye-opening world there, both secluded and somehow inclusive, of everything good in the world. It feels outside of time, like nothing beyond the mountains that encase the city exists. You forget about life, about worry, and stress in the scenic city. Here’s to the relaxing weekend I think we all needed. Now, all that’s left is to look forward to next year’s Riverside 2021.