In Search of the Heart of Memphis

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Millennial Visitor Comes To Memphis

We have a special guest coming in from out of town this weekend.

A dear family friend of ours is coming out from yep, California, to visit us. She’s been dying to see us in our new Memphis home, for we “Memphians to show me around your town” as she so nicely put it. And I’ve been counting down the days until her arrival, thinking about all the things we want to show her during her short visit. We will have her undivided attention for a little over four days. 

Memphis will have her undivided attention for those hundred-plus hours. 

First her vitals:  She fits neatly into the later Millennial demographic, late-twenties to early thirties. She is single, attractive, smart. 

She brightly represents the many qualities that I admire in this generation. Most of them are passionate, energetic, and who value ideas and the chance to do something important and different. They seem unafraid to face challenges.

I have a Millennial coming to town. And she just so happens to be just the type of person we Memphians - no secret here - are trying to overtly recruit. She also represents the generation, again not breaking news, who is perfect for Memphis and for the future of our city. A good part of Mr. John Carroll’s Choose901.com is built on this very idea. 

Do I treat her visit as a recruiting opportunity? Hell no! I wouldn’t do that to her. (Besides, my wife would kill me.) But it certainly is an exciting chance to showcase this great city that I now call home. 

The question is, Am I qualified yet to be a tour guide for Memphis? For that matter, am I even qualified yet to call myself a Memphian?

In New York, when asked “when am I a New Yorker?” many people tell you flat out “Not born here, you’ll never be a New Yorker, not nevah, now get outta here before I kick ya out.” 

Or you may get this answer: You’re a New Yorker after both a) you’ve fallen in love with the city, and b) when you’ve had your heart broken, truly broken, as in you can’t-won’t ever get over it when a favorite neighborhood institution is ripped away from you. When a favorite diner is demolished to break ground for a 40-story condo, when a beloved tavern is dismantled and rebuilt as… another condo, or when they tear down the ballpark you and your son and your father and grandfather and great grandfather watched ballgames in is torn down in favor of a colossal imposter next door (Yankee Stadium). “That,” they say, “is when you become a New Yorker.”

I guess that informally qualifies me. But what about a Memphian? What test do I have to pass to become a Memphian? 

I myself have been so bold as to call myself a Memphian already. It’s even in my profile. But the real passing of the test, I think, is when a born ‘n raised Memphian calls me a Memphian. And I have to ask you readers, What qualifies someone as a Memphian? Please comment! And I’ll put it on my Instagram as well, but complete this sentence: You’re a Memphian when … 

My Instagram post Wednesday, April 13

(I went to an event last night on South Main and the same question came up. And a gentleman, formerly from Michigan, who has lived here in Midtown for over twenty-five years, raised his kids here, told me that his wife has said to him “You’ll never be a Memphian because you weren’t born here.”  Hmm.  Again, would love to hear your thoughts.)

Because I’ve been thinking about our dear friend’s visit, whether I meet the qualifications enough to provide a tour of the city. For me in comes down to a fundamental question, in fact the root of my own search, and that is What is the Memphis narrative? The heart of Memphis may very well be found within the story of Memphis. For our visitor, I thought I'd forgo the Crump years and the cotton industry and yellow fever, and focus instead on the last fifty-plus years. 

So that means two obvious narratives: The Kings. Elvis and MLK. 

That means The Must that is the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but any meaningful visit to Memphis would be incomplete without a good 4-5-6 hours at what I called a miracle.

The Lorraine on the left, Sun on the right
Elvis means a visit to Graceland… or Sun Studios? And if you were giving a Memphis tour to a new visitor, if you had to pick between the two, which do you think is more important to Memphis history? Sun or Graceland? Or… Stax? I’ve been to all three. But I’ll let you decide.

But after my modest six months here, I feel qualified just enough to mention our personal must’s:

Live music. Probably Lafayette’s. Being a midtowner I’ve been liking me some Lafayette’s quite a lot.

Barbecue. I know Top's and Central and the G’Town Commissary, but I haven’t been to Rendezvous. Haven’t been to Corky’s or The BBQ Shop on Madison either for that matter.

Fried chicken. For me this starts and ends with Gus’s. And downtown Gus’s. My sister-in-law said it best when she said “Gus’s chicken is like crack.” She’s right. Already I gotta have my Gus’s fix about once a week.



And then other must’s on our list. The one and only Arcade and Cafe Eclectic on McLean for breakfast. A burger at Babalu in Overton Square. Fried catfish at Second Line. The Beauty Shop in Cooper-Young. Hog n Hominy in Brookhaven Circle. Must check out that new place Loflin Yard down on South Bluffs. A soul burger in Earnestine and Hazels! A drink at the new and improved Newbys or the old and classic Peabody.

I haven’t even gotten started with everything else. Visit Overton Park go see the Redbirds walk down South Main drive around the streets of Central Gardens browse at Burke’s Books shop at Goner Records drink on Beale skip the Zoo until they get off the lawn. 

But I don’t want to ignore the other things. Crime blight poverty budgets de-annexation potholes school cuts polite racism. Do I tell her about all that as well? Or is that TMI?

Maybe I’m not a Memphian yet. Or never will be. But I am overflowing with pride in calling Memphis my home. And I want to share my pride with everyone, especially our special guest. 

I think the Millennial in her can handle it.



Please share your thoughts.

(Author's note: In a rush to post, I misspelled a few things. It's Corky's, not Porky's. Its Babalu, not 'lo.' It's Tops with one 'p' not two. I have since made the corrections. Thanks dear!)

1 comment: