Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On the verge

When pressed to explain why I love Memphis and refuse to entertain the notion of moving away, I have trouble putting it in words. Those of you who are demographically similar to me may remember what we heard about Seattle in the early 1990' it was this perfect place of coolness and innovation and we should all move there except that would probably ruin it, etc. Memphis has always felt to me like it could be that. It just hasn't gotten there yet. It feels "up and coming". And it's felt that way as long as I've been here (19 years, if anyone's counting) (shut up, I'm not old) (yeah, well you are too).

Maybe one day Memphis will realize her dreams. And I'll be vindicated. But honestly? I like that feeling, the feeling of "look what we can do with this!", the feeling of "this place has potential." Like a fixer-upper house...under the tacky wallpaper and bad carpet, there's beautiful plaster and gleaming hardwood floors. You just have to dig the crap off.

Our neighborhood, too, is on the brink. Not too long ago, it was a pretty scary place. Bleak. Poor. Crime- and rat-infested. Visionary development brought first the wrecking ball, then the construction crews, building new houses where old projects had slumped. And new neighbors, mostly middle-class, young, and white, filled those new houses. And while the houses are shiny and new and lovely, the neighborhood is still flawed. Poverty is still present. Crime is still present. (But I haven't seen any rats...) There's a tension between new homeowners those who live in the existing homes. One of my neighbors has gone into the community, attempting to forge relationships and create genuine change. After learning of a recent crime, a brick thrown through a window, his reaction came from a different place. I'd like to quote him, but his post on our neighborhood message board already got pushed to the archives because of the heavy traffic. But he likened the new settlement of our neighborhood to the early settlers, moving from the east to the west. Some, seeing the Rocky Mountains ahead, chose to stay behind in Nebraska. It was nice there, good soil. But others forged ahead, with visions of California's Elysian fields propelling them. You can guess my neighbor's choice.

He's building bridges the way he knows how. And stepping on a few toes along the way. His motives are good, and I agree with him.

Which is why I decided to start a book club. Yes, it's an Uptown Memphis book club, but you're welcome to read along with us. We're starting out with a book about community, Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community. We're discussing it the last week of October, just a few days before the SECOND annual Uptown Chili Smackdown.

I have a good feeling. Uptown is a fixer-upper, for sure, but those hardwood floors under the carpet? They're gorgeous.


Trenting said...

We stop through Memphis every year while staying at the timeshare.. I wouldn't mind retiring there, my parents think of doing that, but say they would miss us too much, I tell them to go ahead, we'll have a great place to visit and stay for free..

Kelly O said...

Memphis rocks. I love the proximity to the mighty muddy Mississippi, the kitsch, the culture. The last time I was there, I got a drink on Beale street TO GO, just because I could.

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