A Mixed Drink In Memphis

July 5th, 2019

Hebe 4

(as published in the Daily Memphian)

I joined a friend for a drink at the brand-new diner/bar at the brand-new Hotel Indigo the other afternoon, at once retro and completely fresh. Late afternoon sun streamed through the big windows and bounced off the slick and shiny surfaces of the reimagined space, bringing that space back to life again, and taking the corner in a new direction. Once an innovation – an old-school highway Holiday Inn complete with rooms opening onto outside walkways over a courtyard pool, stacked on top of a parking garage in an urban setting – the concept first became tired, and then abandoned, and then forgotten in a forgotten block, and now remembered in ways cool enough for this and the next generation.

And on another corner of the same block is the Sterick Building, once the tallest building in the South, once full of the promise of a region, now and long empty of any promise at all.

Different corners, same block, same city.

When I left the Indigo and walked west on Court, I was struck by the sight of the Hebe Fountain in Court Square, framed by trees in a bright halo of light. The same late afternoon sun that had bathed our table and lit the contents of our glasses roared though the water pouring over the top of the fountain, backlighting the whole of the flow, and at the same time, illuminating a thousand individual drops dancing through the fall.

And yet only one side of the fountain worked, the working shining side seemingly laughing at the hapless other, one celebrating, the other left to watch.

Different sides, same thing, same city.

I spent a recent morning in Crosstown Concourse writing, seven floors up in a sun-filled atrium, the sounds of bustle rising from the lobby below as the diverse purposes of this place go about their business in creative concert. Up here, a young man three chairs down the balcony was working in his journal, a young woman over there in her sketch book, and another behind me beneath a window had drifted off, both she and her laptop sleeping for the moment. A peaceful moment. A hopeful moment.

And there I was in this giant testimony to vision and innovation because I had no power in my office at home for the second day and I needed a place to plug in and work, my city council unwilling to invest in utility upgrades and infrastructure. And there I was writing the column that ran last week about senseless loss and deadly violence that so challenges our spirit and troubles our soul.

Different experiences, same people, same city.

All of that is Memphis, and none of that is all we are. The Hotel Indigo is one example among many lately of the promise so many see in us that we don’t see ourselves, and the willingness outside investors have to bet on us. While the Sterick Building stands as one reminder among still too many of what doing nothing looks like, Crosstown Concourse stands as a reborn fortress of Memphis imagination, and it’s far from alone. We all share the pain of crime and violence, poverty and neglect. To get better, to be better, we must also share the nascent prosperity that seems headed our way.

And as for the Hebe Fountain and the larger metaphor, while only half of it works, I’m hopeful that the whole of it is now drawing our daily attention.

I’m a Memphian, and here’s to tomorrow.


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