Ties that bind, and limit

March 11th, 2022


(published in The Daily Memphian, March 4, 2022)

It has always been about access, connection, and discovery.

Originally, our reason for being came by river. Paddled in by canoe. Poled in by keelboat. Steamed in by riverboat.

Then what came in by river attracted road and rail. Built bridges. Created crossroads. Made connections. Made music. Made history.

Then what came in by river, road and rail attracted runways. Landed overnight innovation. Changed the way the world did business.

Then what came in by river, road, rail, and runway – access, connection, and discovery – again attracted what’s next. The company that invented the assembly line, that made America – even the world – mobile and made that mobility affordable and available will attempt to change the way the world travels again. The effort will be monumental, even unprecedented for Ford.


Yet in a presentation about the size, scope, and potential of Ford’s Blue Oval City I attended recently, the conversation pretty quickly turned to sewage. You might say it flowed downhill. But more about that in a minute.

On advertising photo shoots, the overhead shots we took looking straight down were often referred to as God-shots. Close your eyes and visualize looking straight down at where we are, and you’ll see why there’s a city here.

Close to the center of the country, north to south, east to west, bordered by the country’s greatest river, the river that literally defines the division of east and west. You can see the major highways that meet and cross here, the rail lines, the runways. You can see an urban island in an agrarian sea.

You’ll see why no matter what we do, good or bad, there will always be a city here. What kind of a city we are has and will always be up to us.

What you can’t see are borders.

You can’t see any difference between, say, Memphis and Germantown, or Germantown and Collierville. Or Orange Mound and Chickasaw Gardens. In fact, you can’t see any difference between Tennessee and Mississippi. Or Frayser and Hernando.

You can see how close we are to, say, Arkansas, just there to the west. You can see the city of Jackson just there to the east, and how close it really is, and how close everything is between. Between the bridges here and the bridge at Dyersburg just north. Between barbecue here and barbecue in Brownsville. Between opportunity in south Memphis and opportunity in Covington.

Between the forests and the open land. Between the towns and cities. Between yesterday and tomorrow.

You can see, without much imagination at all, what a short ride it is between all those things, connecting all those things. A short ride in an all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning with enough room in the bed in the back for dreams.

We need only to see.

Now, back to sewage.

The presentation I mentioned earlier was at a lunch hosted by the Bank of Bartlett and brothers Bob and Harold Byrd, Chairman and President respectively of the bank. The subject was Blue Oval City, and the presentation was made by Mark Herbison who’s coordinating the recruiting efforts of Haywood, Tipton, and Lauderdale Counties.

Actually, my apologies to the Byrds and Mr. Herbison. The idea, lunch, and presentation were fine. The sewage followed.

After a litany of facts and figures about what Ford is about to do in Haywood County, the thing that seemed to draw the most interest was the 30-plus mile sewer line being built from the site to the Mississippi River.

Not the immense size of the site – six miles by six miles. Not the largest plant Ford has ever built worldwide. Not some 30,000 new jobs and people at the plant and related suppliers and support facilities. Not some 8,000 construction workers building a cutting-edge complex from scratch. Not the new technology, the new science, the new everything necessary to build a bazillion all-electric trucks and get them to the world from tiny Stanton, Tennessee. Not the fact that nothing between here and Jackson – nothing – will ever be as we’ve known it again.


The questions from the crowd seemed to be dominated by developers and real estate people who seemed to want to know if they could tap into that sewer line, and when told no, they wanted to know why not.

What are you going to do for me, not what can I do for all of us. How do I get ahead of everybody and leave them behind, not how can I work with everybody to move us all ahead. Do you know who I am, instead of do you know what something of this magnitude can do.

Even after all these years and all the meetings I’ve attended, all the projects I’ve worked on, it still amazes me how fast an opportunity to bring us together can turn to sewage.

Figuratively, of course.

This one is too important – singularly important – for the same old border wars, the same old provincial attitudes and prejudices, the same old people at the table dividing the pie, the same old plantation mentality by a few of us about what’s good for the rest of us, the same old tired cynicism from the same old tired sources.

All of that – public, private, elected, appointed, anointed, behind the scenes or just making a scene – should be run over by a truck and left on the side of the road.

Literally, of course.

In a town known for coming up with things that have changed everything, this could change everything.

We need only to see.

I’m a Memphian, and let’s get in this truck. Together.


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