Sunday, February 7, 2010

Walkin' in Memphis - is a dangerous thing to do

In January, I visited the family in my hometown of Memphis, TN. It was the first time I'd been "home" in 3 years, and I was amazed how much the city has changed over the last decade...and not for the better.

My younger brother informed me that the Hickory Ridge Mall had closed after a tornado devastated it in 2008 (2 years ago this month). It was our favorite hang-out when we were younger. We didn't do the kind of social hang-out with groups of teens like you normally see at malls. It was usually just to get out of the house and girl-watch. We also watched a lot of movies at that mall, and I used to go there after work regularly to watch one before going home for the night.

A lot of purchases were made at that mall for my collection of TV/movie cartoon memorabilia. And it seems like I bought my very first DVD at that mall too. Good times. And just to give you a sense of the history I had with that mall, I remember when Weird Al's "UHF" and "Transformers: The Movie" were showing at the theater there.

And then today, my friend and Memphian Dave Lambert (of fame) tells me that The Mall of Memphis was bulldozed several years ago. Holy crap. Guess my family failed to mention that, but the mall seemed doomed anyway due to weekly gang fights which led to ever-dwindling mall traffic.

I have so many great memories of that mall. Going there with my family was an event that I always looked forward to, especially during the holidays because it was guaranteed that my parents were going to buy a gift for me there. I would visit my favorite stores with my Christmas wish list and mom would have me show her the top items on my list. Then dad would take us to the food court for ice cream while mom bought our gifts.

I also became a movie fan there. I watched my first theatrical Ernest movie there. I remember my grandmother taking me to see "The Great Muppet Caper" there for my birthday, which she fell asleep during but I loved going with her nevertheless. And when I finally turned 18, I watched my first R-rated movie there too (it was "Total Recall").

I think I even bought my first Transformer there, a hobby I've had ever since.

My family used to go there nearly every Saturday night and eat in the food court and watch the ice skaters, but we stopped going when it seemed like every weekend there were cops chasing kids and shoplifters through the mall and far too many cop cars patrolling the dark areas of the parking lot.

I don't know where Memphis ranks currently in top crime cities in the U.S., but it's bound to be in the top 5. Seems like every time my wife and I watch "COPS" or "The First 48" they're filming in Memphis.

In 2004, when my wife and I were dating, her dad who was also a trucker offered to take me with him for a quick run to Memphis so I could visit my family. We stopped at a popular truck stop just inside the Memphis city limits and a "lot lizard" (that's trucker-speak for "prostitute") knocked on the window and asked if we "needed any company." three o'clock in the afternoon.

And the downtown area has deteriorated over time too, largely from rampant crime and afternoon hookers. My family who still lives in the Memphis area and other Memphis natives tell me they leave downtown to the tourists.

I guess that's why I find Marc Cohn's 1991 radio hit "Walkin' In Memphis" so woefully ironic. To begin with...well, Cohn is from Cleveland, but that's another topic. What makes the song so ironic is that if you follow the course of a walking tour as Cohn describes in the song, it will take you the greater part of a week to accomplish on foot.

...and that's only if you survive the experience. Walking anywhere around the iconic Memphis tourist attractions Cohn mentions in the song can be hazardous to your health. People have been beat up, stabbed or shot by gang members and petty crooks in those places, and also many wallets and purses have been snatched and many cars stolen and/or broken into as well.

It's sad to see the home of my childhood and so many good memories now tainted by the current conditions of the city. I love my family, but I wish all the safety and happiness in the world to them and friends who still live in the Memphis area. The cliche "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there" is replaced with simply "It's a nice place to leave."


  1. We visited Memphis in 2003 for 2 days of our vacation and I enjoyed what I saw but it was pouring down rain so maybe the thieves did not want to get wet!! We went to Graceland, of course, and I was surprised that it was a pretty ordinary home (although 70's tacky decorated) in the middle of the city. I do think they have done an amazing job of preserving 'the king' and am very glad I went even though i am not a fanatic.

    The other thing I thought was fun was the ducks at the Peabody.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog!! I'm following you, unless you object. I like reviews of older movies and your t shirt finds are way amusing.

  2. Thanks, Craig. Nice stroll down memory lane. Lary