|Not Zachary Taylor’s House|
Mike California sits on the curb at Beale and Third next to a handmade sign reading, "Maps." Occasionally, if a tourist passes by he'll ask them if they are interested in buying a map, but he lacks enthusiasm.
"Why'd they wanna go and do this to me?" he asks, holding up a copy of the September 3rd Commercial Appeal. On page one, above the fold, there is a story titled "Chateau Ringo," about a palatial Germantown home where, allegedly, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr does not live.
"I don't know for a fact he don't live there," California says. "I didn't see any expert opinion voiced anywhere. Just because some people claiming to be the owners of the place say Ringo doesn't live there don't mean he doesn't. What's Ringo gonna do, take out a full-page ad saying, 'Hey everybody, lookey where I live now'?"
For years, California has made a modest living selling maps to homes where celebrities don't live in Memphis. He has a theory: When tourists go to Los Angeles they want to see the stars. When they come to Memphis they are looking for a more down-to-earth experience. California believes people are comforted by the fact that there are many homes around the world where celebrities do not live. He sees the CA's story as a deliberate attempt to put him out of business.
|Not Cybill’s house|
"It used to be people just wanted to see houses where Elvis didn't grow up," California says, "but since George Harrison died there's been a renewed interest in the Beatles. Especially among the young folk." And then he breaks down. "I'm just a little fella trying to get by the only way I can," he sobs.
But California isn't giving up. "I kinda saw this as a wakeup call," he says. "People want the kind of personal touch you just can't get from a newspaper. That's why I plan to start customizing my tours to suit my clients' needs. If they want to see where that guy who played Snyder on One Day at a Time doesn't live, I can show them. They want to see where that irrepressible Italian clown, Roberto Benigni, doesn't live? Well hey, I'm versatile. The fact is, there are a lot of homes -- and I mean a lot of homes-- in just the downtown area where celebrities don't live."
California, currently in negotiations with potential investors, has yet to launch his new business venture. He did, however, agree to share with the Flyer some of the Bluff City's finest examples of celebrity-free housing. His only request was that we not publish the actual addresses.
Zachary Taylor: "This is kind of a special side trip I'll make for clients who are big history buffs," says California, pointing to a brightly colored home in the Uptown area, which he claims was never occupied by Zachary Taylor, the 12th president of the United States. Taylor was a career soldier who never voted in his life and served fewer than 500 days in office. According to California, he never so much as slept in this house.
"Nope," California says, "This house wasn't built until the 1870s and ol' Zach died in 1850, or something like that. He never even dreamed this house existed.
|Not Lil’ Bow Wow’s House|
Cybill Shepherd: "This one gets people every time," California says of a quaint Midtown dwelling. "They know Cybill actually keeps a home here in Memphis so they are surprised when they discover that this one isn't hers."
Lil' Bow Wow: "You're seeing more and more fans of the hip-hop coming through town these days," California says, beaming with pride over his new discovery in Central Gardens' Historic District. "And when it comes to the hip-hop there is no name bigger and no star brighter than Lil' Bow Wow." And just how does California know that the diminutive rapper doesn't live here?
"Dude," California says, "Lil' Bow Wow is a man of taste. This place is a pit."