Even from our first phone call after buying tickets, Melody gets Southern in her hospitality. She won’t hear of me booking my own shuttle from Atlanta to Chattanooga, even though she’s in the middle of running for public office, she insists on taking care of it. And she tells me not to rent a car, as long as I’m insured I can use (and she uses the royal “we”) “one of ours.” It’s clear, just from this call, that I’ll be treated like family.
Melody is waiting for me when I arrive in the shuttle in a white car with a Vote Melody Shekari sticker on the side. One of the young women in the car says, “is that Melody Shekari? I went to High School with her!” Small world.
I clamber into the SUV and we’re off, Melody giving me a micro-tour of the town by district, income bracket, and population demographics - whereas my shuttlemates as we’d crossed the border from Georgia had talked answered all my questions about places with reference to historical battles. “Why is it called ‘The Volunteer State?’ I ask my middle-aged bus companion, only to be answered by a twangy young man sitting behind me - “War of 1812” he says, as if that clears everything up.
But now we're in Chattanooga, and this is Melody's home turf.