It Wasn’t Like This
May 17th, 2012
Around here, we’ve always known how to throw a party, privately and publicly. We’ve always known how to buy a round and raise a holler, legally and illegally. And, God knows, we’ve always known how to strike a chord that moves people and shakes things up.
We have festivals named for streets, crustaceans, cuisines, art, craft, countries, heritage, towns, sounds, neighborhoods, cities and months.
Lately, it occurred to me – while screaming at a spectacularly bad call – that all of that can no longer be contained by weekends – that what’s going on here is too compelling for too many to keep us home on school nights or nailed to a keyboard by day.
Right smack dab in the middle of the week, Memphis has game.
As published in The Daily News, May 18, 2012, and in The Memphis News, May 19-25, 2012
AROUND HERE, 24 HOURS AREN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE.
A day in Memphis wasn’t like this.
When Andy Jackson stood on the Chickasaw Bluffs and said to Winchester and Overton, “Boys, we can sell some lots here,” it wasn’t like this.
When Memphis made its name as a boisterous, bawdy river town serving a thick, brown, steaming stew of muddy water and Delta soil, bars and brothels, cotton and hardwood, brand new money and old Europe immigrants, mules and mosquitoes, flatboats, keelboats, steamboats and slaves, it wasn’t like this.
When churches outnumbered gas stations, when the city took a long and peaceful nap while Mr. Crump babysat us and the only sound you could hear at night was Atlanta and Nashville roaring past us, it wasn’t like this.
When the other Memphis, the one down there on Beale Street and out there in Orange Mound and up there in New Chicago and back there behind the grand houses, started to make soulful sounds everybody else wanted to hear, it wasn’t like this.
Even when I was a kid and everything in the world was Downtown, even when Holiday Inns booked the world from here, Elvis shook it up, and FedEx started delivering it overnight, it wasn’t like this.
On this night, I was at an NBA playoff game in an arena as glitzy as any in the world and packed with 18,000 fellow grit-and-grinders – black, white and Beale Street blue. We squealed as one with every shoe squeak on the floor, howled and growled at every make and miss, and every bump, block-out and blockhead call. We won and poured out onto Beale, filling the night with a big time buzz, just as beer poured from taps up and down Downtown, as music and laughter poured from doors and windows, from balconies backlit by bright living spaces unseen by day, from patios turned into parties, from a city in celebration of itself. Our music. Our laughter.
The next afternoon, I sat along the third base line in the country’s only major league, minor league ballpark shelling peanuts and dealing with both a hot dog and a little hair of the dog. My friend Michael commented that in all the games he’d seen, he’d never caught a foul ball, just as the accommodating batter swung hard and early and sent a line drive into the seats behind us. Michael deftly fielded it on the hop, spilling his beer and spreading a smile across his face as big as the one he’d see when he brought that ball home to his young son. It was magic. Tied in the bottom of the ninth with two down and two strikes, the 0-for-four batter slammed a single between the diving first and second basemen and drove in the Redbirds’ winning run. It was magic. Our magic.
Just another Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon in today’s Memphis. Our Memphis.
No, it wasn’t like this before, and if you keep looking back, you’ll miss…like…everything.
I’m a Memphian, and there’s a lot to like about us.