Everyone who lives in Memphis, and maybe even everyone who passes through, has at least one. Youve all seen them, the utterly random people that create a constantly changing series of human landmarks about town every day. Like traffic lights and strip malls in other cities, its hard to break these city limits without finding them.
Yes, Im a voyeur at heart. I admit it. But when you cant leave the house without tripping over a scene, a person unique, bizarre or inspiring, its really not your fault. You can find me staring slack-jawed rather often, but its too expensive to get it wired shut, so I deal with it.
I was raised in another of Americas tri-state areas, along the Jersey shore. As a Jersey-ite, the city always meant New York, where theres a whole lot of pride in cultural richness, and an assumption of ascendancy to a certain extent. Its taken for granted.
Having been away from that part of the country for two years now, Im starting to see things differently. To me, a city like New York is the perfect place to go if you want to find the melodies that carry the songs of world culture. To really get inside, however, or to find the complete arrangement, you might do well to look elsewhere. In Memphis, Im learning that this can be an encounter both multiple and cohesive in nature.
My strange and random encounter of this past week was certainly an eyeful. I was stopped at the traffic light at Union and McLean one evening, and a black sports coupe pulled into the left-turn lane alongside of me. Being the self-proclaimed take a peek girl that I am, I of course looked over to see who might be there. I found quite an unexpected display.
On the dashboard of this particular vehicle, the driver had affixed a TV monitor. Neat, I thought, then whoa as I was met with the sight of a woman onscreen that was, shall I say, returning her garments to their appropriate location. The moral? You never know when you might be pulling up to the porn-mobile, so keep your eyes open if youre into that sort of thing. It could bring rubbernecking to a whole new level.
When I first got to town, I wondered if it was just me or if this type of thing happened to everybody. Was there some giggling deity hovering over The Pyramid throwing baffling encounters my way for kicks? I waited for the hidden camera and the benevolent laughter at my expense. Ive searched, however, and havent come up with any proof for either of these possibilities, so Im guessing that its something bigger than a giant hoax at my expense.
The one thing Ive learned about the Memphis landscape is that theres no scarcity of character. Though it doesnt wear as elaborate a necklace of skyscrapers as some other cities, it is a bonafide city of people, kind of like a huge collective of smaller independent elements. This is the only description I can think of that captures the unpredictability of the things one can see here.
Last week I was fortunate enough to have met a couple named Gigi and Bernie, traveling musicians on a self-financed tour from Salt Lake City. When I asked them about their impressions of the city, Bernie remarked that in some way he couldnt quite put his finger on, it seems to have more culture. That got me thinking and it occurred to me that you can see Memphis on any budget by people-watching. Just go outside and look around. Youre bound to find something.