Sometimes, when I say I live in Memphis, I get an admiring and fascinated look. Usually this comes from folks overseas who have an affinity for soul, for Elvis, and for history. For those who live in the States, especially the neighboring southern states, the reaction is entirely different. Memphis has a reputation, admittedly founded in some truth, for being a violent city, a city of unrest, a city of poverty and lots of petty crime. The last time I checked, on the City Data website, the crime rate was as high or higher than almost any other US city. Many are bent on getting out of the city, opting instead for the outer edges which are considered 'safer', such as Collierville, Cordova, and Germantown.
I am not one of those people. Living in Midtown Memphis has spoiled me for those generic outer-edge towns, and I'll admit to being something of a snob about it.
Yes, I have children and some people feel that I am crazy for conscientiously choosing to raise my family in a city like this one. But along with some great vintage photos of my hometown, obtained mostly from the wonderful 'I Love Memphis' blog, I thought I'd give you a few reasons that I love the city where I was born, and to which I returned after years of small-town living in Middle Tennessee.
1. A LOVE FOR HISTORY
In Midtown and Downtown Memphis, history is largely respected and preserved. There is a resurgence in restoring buildings and landmarks to their original splendor and keeping development in its place. Gentrification has its drawbacks, and these are roundly and understandably debated by those who are affected, but when it comes to appreciation of the past, most Memphians (a term that auto-correct is insisting doesn't exist) are in agreement. Midtown is known for it's gorgeous historical district and there are scads of businesses and residences that have remained largely the same since Hector was a Pup, that is, for generations. Street signs are allowed to deteriorate but not fall apart, signage is left in its peeling, faded state...but usually cleaned and maintained. Some of the reflective glass is still visible in the oldest buildings, which still boast intricate Art Deco design. The trees are enormous, and sometimes dangerous in storms, but respected for their age and allowed to grow old gracefully. They stand surrounded by beautiful flowering children in the form of crepe myrtles and lilac trees, some of which barely reach the knees of their stately elders. New construction exists, but must meet strict guidelines that will keep with the flow of the surrounding historical buildings. It gives me such a kick to be able to send my kids to a school that doesn't blend in with the low-lying, windowless cement buildings that are common in the rest of the country. Give me a mossy wall and peeling paint any old day.
2. LEGENDARY MUSIC
I admit to sometimes be puzzled by the lack of attendance at local shows, when it comes to touring acts. But that said, the city is militantly defensive of its own musical history, of its contribution in that regard, and passionate about the local flavor. The summer's yearly concerts at the Shell, in Overton Park, are widely attended and local acts still get the warmest reception. Although I do hope that Memphis goes the way of Nashville and eventually gets its act together when it comes to supporting and promoting traveling bands, I have to concede to the fact that we will always embrace what is our own...sometimes to a fault. Museums for Stax and Sun Studios show only a taste of what we have to our credit. Graceland only skims the surface.
3. FOOD, FOOD, AND BEER:
From the time I walk out my door to the time I come home in the evening, delicious smells fill the air. Generation after generation of local chefs continue to crank out barbecue, greens, fried chicken, and even organic vegan cuisine that rivals the best in the world. And the local smorgasbord is by no means limited to West Tennessee's classics, but also blended with cultures and flavors from all over the globe. Kwik Check deli, a local favorite, serves standard deli fare with a Korean twist. OSHI Burger, downtown's Asian Fusion diner, offers burgers and alcoholic milk shakes that rival anything I've ever tasted. La Michoacana is a Mexan owned and operated ice cream shop, boasting purely unique and fully decadent flavors that keep it bursting with patrons on almost every day of the week.
Local southern cooking is not to be overlooked, however. Payne's and Roxie's Grocery are located in parts of Memphis that most people would feel they need to avoid, but they'd be missing out on some of the best barbecue and burgers in town. Central Barbecue and The Rendezvous are world famous for a reason. The food trucks are becoming legendary as well, one of which specializes only in grilled cheese. Let's just say, there is something to be said for reputations.
Speaking of local favorites, I can't finish this entry without mentioning the breweries of Memphis as well. Memphis Made, Wiseacre, and others have made a name for themselves and rightly so. Some of my favorite beers were brewed here, crafted using local ingredients, contributing to the South with all its heart and soul in one of the best ways possible. But I'll admit to being biased...after all, that Memphis Artesian well water has to have some bearing on the taste.
4. A REGARD FOR CULTURE
In spite of its gritty notoriety, Memphis has held its own when it comes to the arts. Museums, art walks, art schools, centers for the performing arts, festivals dedicated to the creativity of its citizens...these are things that, not only exist, but abound. Coffee shops showcase the art of Memphis on their walls, murals are plentiful and encouraged. Film-Makers and performers don't just stop in our city as they move on to greater things; they call it their home, grow roots, and help it develop. Some of the best productions I've seen have been the local ones, even though Memphis also takes pride in it's grand theater, the Orpheum, and theater touring groups are warmly received.
All in all, I feel very proud to live here and to be exposing my children to what the city of my birth has to offer. They are not shielded from the negatives, and yes, there are negatives that require caution. But I can honestly say that my feelings about Memphis are definitely not simply based on a necessary adaptation to my surroundings. I am happy to help build it up in the minds of those who would tear it down and I will continue to call it my truest 'home'.
Home Sweet Home...and all that jive.