Friday, July 23, 2010

Memphis and First Impressions

Posted By on Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 11:08 AM

I stumbled on to this travel and arts blog via a "Memphis" Google alert. Though the writer didn't leave the Memphis airport, his impressions of the local people he ran into (and the local alt-weekly) were quite favorable. And I quote:

I picked up the alternative newspaper "Memphis Flyer," and was struck by how professional and serious it was compared with our similar products in Atlanta. I almost bought a Memphis Commercial Appeal, but decided not to, since it seemed to have the exact same news as the Jackson Clarion-Ledger I'd perused back at the hotel. I couldn't take another account of Mississippi State's quarterback prospects, from a report on the SEC's media days. I was also impressed by the fall lineup of Memphis' theater company, with plays like "Superior Donuts" and "August, Osage County" and others. Again, Atlanta seemed curiously short in comparison: The Memphis company's lineup seemed more inviting than what I'd seen for Atlanta's Alliance Theater, which seems adrift ...

CourtSquare.jpg

First impressions of Memphis have been on my mind for the past couple of days. My wife and I hosted a visiting business-writer/journalist from Agence-France Press. While the Memphis Council for International Visitors did the heavy lifting, getting him to meetings with local businesspeople and the Chamber of Commerce, I squired him around a little as well. We had coffee and scones at Miss Cordelia's Thursday morning and he was impressed with the lively scene — joggers, businesspeople, mothers with strollers, all passing by our sidewalk table. He'd been in the states for a couple of weeks, traveling from city to city. "Most cities I've seen don't have any kind of life or community like this downtown," he said. He was impressed. He also enjoyed the Civil Rights Museum and the "old buildings" that make up our skyline. We took him out to dinner at Cafe 1912, and I think he felt at home. As I shook his hand this morning on his departure, he said he was impressed with Memphis, and I think he meant it.

There were two other visitors here this week, a female professor and her interpreter from Thailand, also under the auspices of International Visitors. Their first impression wasn't so good, or so I was told by the CIV representative who dined with us last night. They were put up at the Sleep Inn downtown, and when they attempted to walk through Court Square toward the Peabody, they became so frightened by the aggressive panhandlers who accosted them that they retreated to their hotel and wouldn't leave without accompaniment. Needless to say, these two won't be writing lovely blog-odes to Memphis. Just the opposite, I suspect.

No city can be everything to all people, but this disparity of impressions garnered by our visitors says something about us. We're friendly, progressive in many ways. Lots of people like us, they really do. But as long as we allow aggressive street-bums to freely intimidate and frighten visitors on our downtown streets, lots of people will also not like us so much. This week, when it came to international visitors, we went "one for three."

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