Go With The Flow

May 5th, 2011

In the next week, we may reach a new high water mark as a city. Literally. On the crest of that, equal parts of fascination and fear float. Plenty of concern and courage, resignation and resolve all ride the water as well.

And, I submit, a healthy and historic dose of awe is in order.

As published in The Daily News, May 6, 2011, and in The Memphis News, May 7-13, 2011 


The last time the Mississippi was lapping at the top of Tom Lee Park I’d been lapping at a number of things for a couple of days myself.

On May 15, 1983, the river crested at 39.2 on the Memphis gauge, and the river and I were both way over flood stage on anybody’s gauge. Very early that morning, I opened my eyes and found myself alone. And on top of the bridge of a towboat, not on the bridge but on the roof, the only thing apparently holding me there was one arm wrapped around the radio antenna, 10 feet above one steel deck, 20 feet above another, legs dangling 30 feet above the rising river.

And with absolutely no clue how I got there.

That’s when I made one of those deals, “Lord, get me off this roof, and I swear I’ll never be on another cooking team.” Although I’m not sure the Lord was concerned with one idiot among thousands that night, even one so spectacularly idiotic, I will say this. I’m still here, and I kept my end of the deal. That was my last night as an official participant in The Memphis In May International Barbecue Cooking Contest.

To protect the guilty – no one on that original team was innocent – and because the name is still in use and there may still be outstanding warrants, I won’t name the team, but we did have an impressive run. In my three years, the team won showmanship twice and placed once in shoulders, no small feat for people all but unconscious during the entire competition.

Lord knows, it was and is a party.

The night before, as we babysat the cooker never far from the cooler, we watched a storm approach from the west, a black wall turning into a massive black blanket that covered us and swept the tent from above us and onto the bluff behind us.

Rather than be intimidated by that storm or the rising water, the whitecaps seemingly at eye level, the people there did what people around here do, they helped each other rise above it and turned the whole thing into a larger event than it was before, shared in the power of the moment. Leisure boats joined the working boats of the river and joined the party, pulling right up to the bank, and you could step right on board from there. Seems I did.

This year, the river is predicted to crest eight or nine feet higher than that, so the cookers are setting sail for the fairgrounds.

As we join hands literally and figuratively in support of all those who have suffered loss and those in harm’s way from our capricious river, we should also remember and respect the force of nature that runs its course right in front of us.

It will always be right there, and Memphis goes with the flow.

I’m a Memphian, and my river and my town are on the rise.

To The Levee In Ark May 2011
Tom Lee Park Memphis May 2011


Reuben: Glad you survived the flood of '83. Wish us Mud Islanders luck in '11. I doubt we will become New Atlantis, but at this rate we could become an island again (and not a peninsula, I guess Mud Peninsula got vetoed ;-)

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