Ruby Falls – Anti-anti tourist spot!

We were on Hwy 24 outside of Chattanooga, home of the Yellow Deli, when we saw the millionth sign declaring Ruby Falls to be the 8th wonder of the world, that an underground waterfall of this size was something wonderful and terrible to behold, a sight to see, and pictures of which you’d be showing your grandchildren in the years to come.

I debated whether to write this piece. I doubted its suitability for TheAntiTourist. There’s nothing really specifically antitouristy about a tourist trap that costs too much to get in ($17 each), that uses the tried and true National Enquirer-esque billboards, declaring in the same insane hyperbole the majesty and wonder of the place, in large numbers on the surrounding highways. Still though. A fucking underground waterfall? That’s cool as hell. How many of these can there be?

Ok well I just googled it and it looks like there’s a lot. And according to the website, there are about 400,000 visitors to the falls each year, which makes this decidedly pro-, rather than anti-,touristy. But it’s still pretty awesome, I thought. There’s a light show and “badass” music while you look, besides.  Indulge me.

After descending into the cave, there’s a short hike back to the falls. Along the way, the elderly tour guide quips and jokes and gives a slight history, supplemented by an in-cave video about the background and history of the place. (There are huge plasma TVs down in there for this purpose.) In a nutshell, back in 1928 a guy named Leo Lambert wanted to make a tourist attraction out of nearby Lookout Mountain Caverns, and while gaining access to it he stumbled upon this cave, which ultimately led to the falls. Charmingly, he named them after his wife, Ruby. In the coming years, the cave has become a large tourist trap which has ensnared many people driving on by, including a couple of well known Anti Tourists (the first two on that list, if you clicked that link), who have created this short piece about it. Enjoy!

This is what it looks like to be behind an underground waterfall when other people are taking pictures.
By: Ben Britz

Photos by: Elizabeth Seward

The Yellow Deli People – Great Deli, Controversial Religious Practices

After Bonnaroo, we were tired, footsore, and hungry. Chugging around in Chattanooga, Tennessee, late afternoon, right after we checked out Ruby Falls, we just wanted something relatively healthy to eat. I was sick of our makeshift peanut butter on dry rolls and banana chips, supplemented with my one or two Bonnaroo food stand foods I allowed myself each day. I just wanted something fresh, tasty, organic, if possible, and unaffiliated with any cult. Is that too much to ask?

“Go by the university, where the yuppies and foodies are,” offered my companion. Signs pointed uphill. I made a right and a left and another few rights and then an attractive building flashed by and a sign, The Yellow Deli. It seemed like the kind of place you’d find near a university, with branded organic foods and teas on the shelves, track lighting, varnished wooden tables, a hand-drawn menu covered in soy products. We walked upstairs to the mezzanine and were seated at a table near a tastefully lit lounge section with couches, lamps and a fireplace. I joked with Elizabeth about some spelling mistakes on the menu, trying to impress her with my overly pedantic sense of humor, but the waitress overheard me say “‘jalapeño’ is j-a-l-a, not j-a-l-e”.

“Oh, sorry” she laughed nervously. “There might be some typos in there.” I felt guilty about returning their politeness with criticism. Elizabeth said good-naturedly “You can ignore him, he’s an editor.” Everyone laughed politely. I felt like some pretentious New York asshole, sensitive to things like grammar but I couldn’t help but mutter “you can’t make ‘typos’ in something handwritten” to Elizabeth, who rolled her eyes. I turned my eyes to the pamphlet they pushed on me as I walked in the door, unnoticed till now. It was some editorial missive on the hippie, organic lifestyle, a similar agenda as many food coops and organic cafes.

We had chili and a salad, and while we ate we studied the elaborate wall mural. There was a kind of Christ figure or an Elijah, some prophet, leading a group of people. Written over the mural was the story and philosophical declaration of the flower children of the ’60s, and about their disillusionment with our vain earthly pursuit of peace. There was some more stuff about Timothy Leary, which is to be expected, but there was a distinctly Christian-ish bent. We began to feel slightly disquieted; usually the organic movement and the flower children are maligned by the religious as fanciful hippies, dedicated liberals who embrace lives of promiscuity. This oil/water mixture shouldn’t be allowed, I thought. And what’s this? Scripture on the check…I started reading the pamphlet they gave us upon walking in, skipping past the friendly, familiar hippy declarations at the beginning and getting to the part about some version of Christ and some leader we all should follow. Still, it was decent food and it’s tough to feel alarmed by those who feed you. To me, people take on a definite maternal quality as soon as they hand me a plate, which is as a proffered breast to my trusting, infantile eyes. And they were all so nice.

Each step on the varnished staircase was inscribed with the name of a tribe of Israel, written in transliterated Hebrew or Aramaic or something. “Maybe this is some kind of Jewish place,” I conjectured aloud to Elizabeth. A woman at the counter smiled.

Back in the car we did our research. It turns out The Yellow Deli People, or The Twelve Tribes, is a fundamentalist religious group with arcane practices and rigid, draconian rules—and a great deli. They also proselytize and compel each of their converts to give up their possessions to the community, including their children, who are raised communally and according to their strict religious practices. In other words, a cult!

“Oh my god we ate at a cult!” screamed Elizabeth, and we made the usual jokes about suicide kool-aid and sexual initiation rites, tantalizing to our overactive, alarmist imaginations.  She read an article about a former Yellow Deli member who escaped, and we loved the creepiness and the chills down our spines. You might too? For a good time, eat at the Yellow Deli in Chattanooga! The food is good, don’t drink the kool-aid, skip the pamphlets, enjoy the feeling of being stared at.

By: Ben Britz

Photos by: Ben Britz and Elizabeth Seward

Read about how one of our writers came to stay with them for a while!