My Kind Of Crazy
July 2nd, 2015
Ten times during his canoe trip down the length of the Mississippi, he threw his paddle down on some buggy sandbar somewhere along the thousands of miles and told his only companion – his dog – that he’d had enough. This was crazy.
At least that many times in his long journey to awaken our most historic piece of bluff, to bring us back to where we began, he’s thrown that proverbial paddle down and told the ceiling he was staring at – the dog wasn’t listening anymore – that he’d had enough. This was crazy.
Lauren Crews finished that first trip, and it looks like he might just finish this one. He might be crazy, but he doesn’t give up.
As published in The Daily News, July 3, 2015, and in The Memphis News, July 4-10, 2015
CRAZY LIKE CHISCA.
Lauren Crews told me that people think he’s crazy.
After all, he paddled a canoe from the Twin Cities to New Orleans – just him and his dog. He rode a bike to New Orleans, too, all the way down Highway 61 in the summer, the heat driving him dizzy into ditches.
After all, for more than a decade he’s been trying to develop property you can’t get to from here, to resuscitate a once vibrant community now haunted by its ghosts. His original partners bailed long ago, banks won’t even lend him an ear, and he’s spent so much time wandering the labyrinths of city and state bureaucracy that he may qualify for a civil service pension. The neighbors want to keep their almost secret neighborhood a secret and centuries of life here can barely get a pulse.
Lauren – an experienced and accomplished developer – made the emotional commitment his father warned him about, what my father called “buying your own deal,” but we’ll all share the payoff as a city.
We first talked about all this as we sipped whiskey at sunset on the bluff behind the Ornamental Metal Museum, gazing out on the river’s big, bold bend south of the Harahan, the most dramatic view of the river in Memphis, dramatic enough to accommodate big, bold vision.
If Lauren’s crazy to be crazy about this property, he’s not alone. Native Americans built mounds and honored their dead here. Chief Chisca, named for an extinct tribe and chief of one so long ago we’re not sure of its name, made his capital here. De Soto first saw the Mississippi here or very near here. The Spanish, the French and the Americans had forts here. Before future president Andrew Jackson founded Memphis, future president Zachary Taylor commanded Fort Pickering here, and the Union Army would later command the Mississippi from here during the Civil War, their battery mounted on one of those ancient mounds. For almost a century the Marine Hospital cared for those broken by the river here. These days, the museum is the only bright, shiny piece left in a graying landscape.
Even in the quiet, you can hear the centuries. Even in the empty buildings of French Fort, you are never alone.
If Lauren is crazy, then so are all those who came before. Then so am I.
It was Lauren who came up with the idea of a roundabout to access what bad planning cut off 50 years ago, allowing interstate traffic direct access to the bridge without slowing, allowing the south of Downtown smooth ingress and egress out of a mess.
Now comes the morning sickness as the city wakes up to a nine-month closure of the Harahan Bridge making all this possible, to the complaints of our Arkansas relatives about the inconvenience of it all, but this is going to be one beautiful baby.
No one has a richer history or a brighter future.
I’m a Memphian, and we’d be crazy not to do this.
If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you.
The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.