Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer A Week at Home

By Paul Gerald

OCTOBER 13, 1997:  The first thing I noticed, during a long airplane turn above McKellar Lake, was that since I drove off to Oregon a year ago the countryside around Memphis got flatter and the buildings downtown got smaller. I hear these things happen when you come back home after a while.

I came to town to see my parents and as many friends as I could, and when I left I felt like I hadn't spent enough time with any of them. I did spend enough time in various restaurants and watering holes to now be considering the next notch in my belt. I still maintain that a perfect way to spend an afternoon and evening is to meet friends at Zinnie's, eat an order and a half of ribs at the Rendezvous, have a drink at The Peabody, throw down on Beale Street, grab some 1 a.m. hot wings at the Bayou, then retire to the P&H until dawn.

Two things that didn't change while I was gone were the humidity and the frequency of Elvis sightings in the paper -- two things which hit me in the face right outside the airport doors. The two mayors seemed to be pissing on each other again (what are these "toy towns"?), and what I read and heard about John Ford was just too weird to deal with.

A couple of times I wondered if I had grabbed a year-old newspaper. I see the riverbluff walkway is being planned, Judge Potter is insisting someone fix the Rhodes-Jennings Building, the Tigers football team has no offense and few fans, and they're wondering if maybe they should get rid of that rebel flag down at Ole Miss.

(For the record, Flyer editor Dennis Freeland almost certainly just won a bet on my mentioning his favorite building, about which I wrote so much while a staffer.)

Amazing how a week at home can be not nearly enough time and far too much, all at the same time. I only managed to sample two dishes at the now-Harryless On Teur, for example, and ate only one Exline's pizza, but I read more than enough about this twisted Oilers thing. Never in my life have I seen a city in such a universal pout, nor the character of an organization so thoroughly exposed. Did you think the NFL operates out of love for the fans?

On an optimistic note, I sure can't wait to come back and take that scenic trolley ride down Tennessee Street by the Flyer office.

How many trillions of dollars are being spent downtown these days, anyway? Peabody Place is utterly out of control; I'm still not sure what to make of reports that there's a 24-theater movie complex going in behind The Peabody. Are four of the screens going to show Elvis movies all the time?

The appearance of microbreweries in town is an extremely positive development, though I wish the trend towards martinis and cigars would be resisted. That's just the lughead in me talking, I guess.

Glad to see they're still doing development the mom-and-pop way on South Main, rather than the big-bucks extravaganzas that dominate the mall. I used to write stories quoting city leaders jabbering about how Central Station will revitalize South Main, and I now believe even more firmly that South Main will be rocking along beautifully long before the city gets through with the station.

Impossible to miss, along with Elvis and the humidity, is tension between the races. I assure you I haven't heard the word "niggra" since I left Memphis, nor can I think of another place where every member of a particular race on a County Commission boycotted the thing because they said it was racist. Some friends of mine seemed concerned for my safety when I said I was driving down Lamar to the river or playing golf in in South Memphis; I had managed to forget about such concerns while away. I also noticed an odd habit that white folks have of pointing out that somebody is black when it means nothing at all: "I saw this real funny black comedian on TV," or "She's a real cute black girl." You never hear that Peyton Manning is a "fine white quarterback."

I was happy to see that the Arcade made it but quite disappointed to find nothing's being done with the shell in Overton Park. That thing is a jewel and ought to shine every night in the summer.

Pine Hill Golf Course sure got a facelift, apparently the result of a visit from the ubiquitous Tiger Woods. I will never miss any of the branches that were removed, just as I rarely missed them before. Pine Hill is now the best municipal course in town by an even wider margin than before, at least until they spend some serious money at Crockett out in Frayser.

I miss the Southern accent and was glad for a chance to refreshen mine. People all over this country do love to hear a Southerner talk.

It's inevitable that, like at a high school reunion, you judge yourself by comparing notes with old friends. I am certainly not above this weakness. Several people told me they admired the fact that I moved across the country on my own and am now earning a living (well, mostly) from my chosen profession. I thought it odd that leaving town and being a poor freelance writer would impress people, but I'm not picky about the praise I receive.

On the other hand, I found myself envying my Memphis friends for their stability, their steady relationships, and their close circle of friends. A travel addict such as myself trades those things in for nights on a Greyhound, the promise of a new place tomorrow, and friends you see a couple of days per year.

So even though my job here is to point out some places you ought to go to, I'll skip that this time and tell you that you live in a mighty cool place, a place that's getting cooler all the time, and that you should explore it a little more, get to know your neighbors. On every American street there are cool people and amazing stories.


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