Certain folks have been giving me a hard time for mentioning in a recent column in the Knoxville Mercury that I haven’t taken a vacation in three years. 

But that’s a little bit of a lie. I work downtown, and every time I walk to the library, or the post office, or Pete’s for lunch, I take a little bit of a vacation. 

All over downtown are people walking funny dogs, hippies playing bongos, grandmothers wearing shorts, kids playing in the fountains, policemen on bicycles, teenagers on skateboards, middle-aged couples at cafe tables drinking wine, young women reading paperbacks in the park. And of course everybody taking pictures. People are doing pretty much exactly what they would be doing at the beach.

And then there’s the wonderful Farmers’ Market, every Wednesday and Saturday, and the free concerts on the square on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. You can’t help but notice there are more tourists downtown, perhaps, than every before in history. Today, I encountered a whole bus tour of people walking around Market Square, and a small group of Scandinavians, taking pictures of our architectural oddities. 

It was not like this when I started working downtown, 37 years ago. 

The other Sunday I was walking out to do some work at the McClung Collection, which is open from 1 until 5 on Sundays, and on Market Square, under the shade of the oak trees, a brass quintet was playing old favorites. A brass band on the town square, an urban idyll from a century ago. They seemed to hypnotize a small crowd of 50 or 60, but I think most of the couple hundred people on the square, sitting at cafes or walking dogs, were enjoying it at least a little. It was a scene from that classic Twilight Zone episode, “A Stop at Willoughby,” about the ideal town that doesn’t really exist.

Some folks take a whole week off for vacation, and come to a place like Knoxville, then have to go back to the old grind. Some luckier folks never take a whole week off, but get to take a little vacation every day.