Coal. Ice. And Coca-Cola.

August 18th, 2011

If we consider the present to be a permanent condition, we’ll be wrong tomorrow. If the past is our measure of success, we’ll be history.

Whether we choose to move backward or forward, the power is ours.

Photo: My Great Uncle, Frank Rudisell (left), and my Father, Frank Conaway, on Main Street, ca. 1940

As published in The Daily News, August 19, 2011, and in The Memphis News, August 20-26, 2011

DadYankca 1940


Many families have a story about opportunities missed, fortunes lost.

My great uncle was in the retail coal and ice business in Memphis. Around 1907, our story goes, a woman owed him about $7,500 – a piece of change then. She couldn’t repay him according to the terms set, so she offered something she owned instead to cover the debt. He turned her down but gave her new terms and she eventually paid off the loan. When asked to justify his decision (and he was asked a lot), he infamously replied, “What she had was a passing fancy, a temporary infatuation no one really needs. People will always need coal and ice.”

What she had, what he turned down, was the Coca-Cola franchise for this part of the world. The telling of that story often requires a stiff drink, and it’s not Coca-Cola.

This city, famous for inventing so many things, for giving the world a beat to dance to, should never be content to sit on the stoop while the world goes by, waiting for the ice man to drop a block off from his wagon or listening for the rattle of the coal going down the basement chute.

We need to get our assets moving forward.

Power, for instance.

Right out there in Hickory Hill, Sharp is making solar panels. Right now. Right here. The question isn’t whether or not the world wants solar panels – they’re hotter than Halle Berry – it’s why in the world we don’t see them allover Memphis rooftops, allover anything facing south in inventive, creative applications to show viability and versatility.

Right in front of us, this country’s greatest river rolls by, deep and free-flowing, at a steady clip of seven or eight miles per hour. 24/7/365, 366 in a leap year. Turbines, either riverbed mounted or suspended from barges, can turn that river current into electrical current. The question isn’t how – that’s known – the question is why the hell we aren’t on this like hot on August, doing whatever is necessary – and I mean whatever – to make sure those turbines spin right here, are made right here.

Creative power from Memphis. Green and sustainable. Green like money. No dead dinosaurs required. No offshore drilling. No price per barrel. No Mideast wars.

If the city, Sharp and Bass Pro Shop would bait the south side of The Pyramid with solar panels, all three would haul more business and positive publicity into our collective boat than Bill Dance on steroids. And all of us would feel the power.

All we have to do is let the sun shine on new ideas.

If we spin our incentives and cover the river bottom with turbines, the electricity we generate could shock the country. And all of us would find new energy.

All we have to do is go with the flow.

Or we can stick with coal and ice.

I’m a Memphian, and it’s time to get fired up and plugged in.


Brad Tomlinson: Dan, my ex-wife Jill lives in Lynchburg, VA, and she gets her electricity from hydroelectric power. I asked her what she paid for electricity each month, and she was almost too embarrassed to answer. She pays around $25 per month from a renewable resource. That does not mean what you suggest would be cheap, but it certainly is the way to go. Is anyone in Memphis looking in doing what you suggest?

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