Looking for Memphis
Not every quest leads to something -- or to anything at all
By Paul Gerald
JULY 26, 1999: Late one night I was surfing the Internet, looking into a road trip to Miami, and I came across a Web site called "How far is it?" The address is indo.com/distance; indo.com is also known as Bali Online, and though I never did understand why Bali has such a thing on its site (much less how I came upon it), it's neat. You punch in where you want to go, and it tells you how far it is, then offers driving directions.
I said I wanted to drive from Memphis to Miami, and it hit me with an odd question: Which Memphis? Lo and behold, it listed 11! Apparently there are Memphises in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, two in Alabama, and one in Mississippi.
How there could be two Memphises in Alabama I could not imagine -- perhaps neither is aware of the other's existence -- but it was the one in Mississippi that intrigued me. According to the Web site, it's only 12 miles from Elvis' Memphis and has a population of 70. So I had to wonder: How is it that I don't know about this Memphis?
I figured I had no choice in this matter: I must visit (and write about) all the Memphises, and I must start with the one in Mississippi. So I asked my editor to join me, put film in the camera, grabbed my notebook, and started out.
Down 61 we went, keeping an eye on the odometer, until it appeared we must be getting close. The Internet map had shown Memphis, Mississippi, east of 61, north of Glover, and south of state Highway 301, so after we crossed 301 I was intensely on the lookout. Problem was, I knew from past experience that there is no town on that stretch of road. I was beginning to wonder if maybe the Internet map was off a bit when I caught a glimpse of a sign: "Memphis, Miss. Corp. Limit."
We spotted some buildings off to the right, so we headed in that direction. I pulled out my notebook, ready to interview some Mississippi Memphians. Why did they name their town Memphis? Didn't it confuse their friends? Is there a town nearby called Nashville that they can't stand? But the sign on a church said we were actually in Walls. The sign on another building not far away said we were actually in Lake Cormorant. I was beginning to wonder if maybe people in Mississippi were a little confused about the nature of towns and corp. limits.
My editor suggested we stop at a gas station and ask for directions, but I am a male and therefore genetically disinclined to ask directions. Specifically, even though I've been known to make a fool of myself and be laughed at by strangers, I wasn't ready to walk into a gas station just over the state line in Mississippi and ask, "Where exactly is Memphis?"
So we decided to make a loop around this alleged Memphis. We turned east on 301, headed for Horn Lake, and looked for more signs. It was election season, though, so all we saw were signs for what appeared to be a heated race for constable. There was also a race for sheriff, though I can't imagine a crime rate high enough in DeSoto County to keep a sheriff and a constable both busy.
Route 301 turned south, and it was clear that whatever and wherever this Memphis was, we had passed it by now. So I swallowed my pride and we pulled into a One-Stop, where a woman behind the counter was smoking and two guys sitting at the counter were sipping coffee. Their conversation ended when I walked in.
"Um, excuse me, I'm trying to find the town of Memphis" -- the three exchange glances -- "Mississippi."
Coffee drinker No. 1 said, "Why?"
"Well, see, I was looking around on the Internet and noticed that there is such a place, and since we live up in Memphis, Tennessee, we thought it'd be neat to actually go there."
Again the coffee drinker: "Why?"
Now the cigarette smoker jumped in. "Well, you know, there ain't nothin' there."
"That's okay, I just want to "
She puffed her last puff and said to coffee drinker No. 2 (No. 1 was still staring at me like I was the idiot I was beginning to look like), "Can you tell this man how to get to Memphis, Mississippi?"
"Well, I s'pose. You go back up here to Star Landing road, take a left, and head on out, past old Jake's barn. When you get up on top of the bluff, you'll be in Memphis, Mississippi -- and you'll be the only ones there."
I thanked them and fled their scorn. We followed their directions past houses, farms, and fields. We almost ran over a turtle, but we saw no people. We got to the top of the bluff, looked around, dropped down to 61, and said in unison, "I guess that was it."
And I guess that was it. I'm hoping the other nine Memphises will be more interesting, or at least exist. Meanwhile, the one thing I can say about Memphis, Mississippi: It won't slow you down on the way to the casinos.
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