BLOWN AWAY BY 2003 

A look back at the newsmakers of the area and at education, health, business, politics, art, music, and film.

Like Weeds

Many new businesses sprouted in 2003.

By Bianca Phillips

Olympic hopefuls can no longer hone their skills at the Mall of Memphis' ice rink. Elvis Presley's Memphis on Beale and its gooey fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches are history. Obscure metal bands don't perform in the basement of the Map Room anymore, and the booty-shakin' (or gunshots) at Denim & Diamonds is over. Even the world's longest-running T.G.I. Friday's is now R.I.P.

But don't worry because the whole "Circle of Life" thing is true for businesses too. While a number of longtime Memphis staples closed their doors in 2003, a healthy number of promising businesses opened as well -- from eaterys and clothiers to nightspots and gift shops.

™ The "New" Blue Monkey (529 S. Front St.) -- We waited and waited and waited for this Midtown favorite to open its downtown location. Workers began to convert the old building at the corner of South Main and G.E. Patterson back in September 2001, and by the latter part of 2002, rumors were flying regarding the bar's opening date. It finally did open in June, complete with a handcrafted bar made to look like a trolley, wine-label-covered tables, and some of the best Bloody Marys in town.

™ The Caravan (1337 Madison Ave.) -- If you've driven down Madison on a weekend night and seen a group of freaky-looking punk-rock kids hauling music equipment into a little building across the street from the Circle K, you've seen the Caravan. The tiny, DIY punk/metal/hardcore club fills a void in Midtown by catering to the city's burgeoning underground hardcore scene, hosting such bands as Hopes Like the Hindenburg and the Uninvited.

™ The Glass Onion Bar & Grill (903 S. Cooper St.) -- With the motto "Where the Other Half Lives," the Glass Onion fits right into the artsy Cooper-Young neighborhood. It's a trendy restaurant by day, serving up a menu of 22-year-old Chef Zach Miller's gourmet treats such as curried chicken Thai sticks and peanut-butter pork chops. By night, it's a hip bar serving up local rock and more of the best Bloody Marys in town.

™ Hound Cake (247 S. Cooper St.) -- A sign on the door of this Midtown dog bakery reads "Pets Welcome, People Allowed," letting pet owners know that this is an establishment that puts pooches first. Serving up a variety of healthy, freshly baked treats, such as Peanut Barkers and Cinna-barks, and specializing in dog birthday cakes, Hound Cake gives man's best friends a place to indulge in their favorite tastes while socializing with their fellow four-legged friends.

™ Muse (517 S. Main St.) -- If you fancy yourself a fashion diva, this is probably where you should be shopping. The stylish South Main boutique carries a variety of designer garments and looks more like your best friend's bedroom than a clothing store. Clothes hang in wardrobes or on racks. Some lay spread out on tables alongside matching accessories. But beware: With items marked as high as $400, Muse is not for the faint-of-wallet.

™ One Love Organic Juice Bar & Soulful Vegetarian Cafe (2158 Central Ave.) -- If the South has made one culinary contribution to the world, it's soul food. But for many Southern vegetarians, soul food -- being heavy on the lard and light on the soy -- has been off-limits. Now the cafe adjoining the Midtown Food Co-op offers collard greens and black-eyed peas sans the ham hocks, as well as a number of smoothies and vegetable fusions made from organically grown produce.

™ Paradiso Theater (584 S. Mendenhall) -- The Malco company has really outdone itself on this one. Besides its 14 screens, the Paradiso has an Internet cafe, a large-format screen, a video arcade, and a bar/cafe that serves fried ravioli, cheesesticks, tiramisu, cheesecake, beer, and wine. Italian motifs and a giant fountain in the lobby make the place look more like a courtyard in Europe than a movie theater, and according to Malco reps, the place was designed with the village from the film Cinema Paradiso in mind.

™ SmartMart (5133 Park Ave.) -- Space-age technology meets convenience-store fare at a fully automated store in East Memphis. Busy drivers don't even have to leave their cars to pick up a can of green beans and a six-pack of beer for dinner. They simply pull up to a computer screen, press a button, and voilÖ -- their purchase appears. The brainchild of Memphian Mike Rivalto, SmartMart distributes products through a system of conveyor belts and dumps them into a shopping port, sort of like a giant, high-tech vending machine. ™

To Your Health

A "breakout" year for health, hospitals.

By Janel Davis

For some in the health-care industry or those touched by illnesses in 2003, Dick Clark's countdown can't come fast enough. A new year brings new hopes of cures -- for diseases and for the industry's financial woes. There were accomplishments but also significant failures.

In health care, the decisions of a few determine the outcomes for many. Politicians, drug companies, and even hospital administrators influence which medicines we take, where it comes from, how much it costs, and what each person pays for adequate care.

On the national level, legislators voted to make sweeping changes in Medicare. The plan is estimated to cost $400 billion over 10 years, with its most significant portion a prescription-drug benefit plan for seniors. While administrators of AARP supported the changes, AARP members and Democratic legislators predicted an eventual privatization of the program, ultimately increasing costs.

Locally, prescription drugs were also the source of controversy. TennCare, the state's health-care program for uninsured children and adults, developed a preferred drug list to decrease prescription costs of $1.8 billion by $150 million. While this savings is necessary to provide supplemental care for the 1.3 million Tennesseans TennCare serves, it could have been done much sooner, especially as costs have increased steadily since the program's inception in 1994. An independent study projected costs to run TennCare will reach $12.2 billion in five years.

The year began with Americans flooding hospitals and health departments seeking smallpox vaccinations. As the war in Iraq neared so did apprehensions about possible biological attacks on American soil. Shelby County instituted its own plan, administering the smallpox vaccine to a team of 45 public-health nurses and almost 1,000 hospital employees. While no case was reported in the area, a mass-inoculation plan is in effect for volunteers to administer the vaccine throughout the state in case of emergency.

As the year progressed, focus shifted to the respiratory disease RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which affects babies and toddlers. Within a little more than a month, 51 cases were diagnosed at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center. Although doctors assured the community that the illness was more nuisance than dangerous, parents were still warned to remove high-risk children from day-care and unhealthy settings.

Influenza was another threat. In November, 24 states were designated as suffering widespread outbreaks, and Tennessee was one of them. Experts predicted the worst flu season ever. By year end, the flu had claimed more than three dozen people in the U.S. and affected more than 600 Shelby County residents. Hospitals and clinics ran out of the vaccine, and Shelby County's health department administered more than 15,000 injections.

The year also brought big changes for Shelby County's three largest hospitals. Methodist Healthcare terminated delivery services at its downtown location, leaving the Regional Medical Center (The Med) to shoulder that responsibility for metropolitan residents. Methodist expanded its south campus, implemented a new record-keeping system, and unveiled its most notable accomplishment, HeartSTAT, for early diagnosis and treatment of heart attacks.

Baptist Memorial Hospital celebrated its 200th heart transplant, opened its Comprehensive Breast Center at its Women's hospital, and became the first hospital in the region to use the da Vinci robot during surgery.

But neither Methodist nor Baptist faced the challenges of The Med. The financial burden on the city's public hospital increased as people who were dropped from TennCare rolls sought medical care at The Med. While facing impending budget cuts and possible closing, the hospital made headlines again when its nurses protested a decision by hospital administrators to deny union representation to more than 500 nurses. That battle continues, but meanwhile The Med opened a rehab hospital, participated in various national studies, and further prepared for national emergencies.

And then there were the medical stories that captured our hearts, or at least our attention, such as the two sets of young, conjoined twins (from Egypt and the Philippines) who underwent separation operations in American hospitals. While both sets survived, 29-year-old Iranian females undergoing similar surgery in Singapore did not.

Obesity also became more of a health-care concern: 59 percent of Tennesseans were determined to be overweight and 23 percent obese.

On the Horizon

™ TennCare reform, which may include, at its most extreme, a reduction of its client rolls.

™ With rising prescription-drug costs, state-sponsored insurance programs may look to Canada and other countries for cheaper drugs, following the lead of New Hampshire.

™ The HIV/AIDS epidemic across the world will continue to be on the forefront as the number of people infected steadily increases among Africans, African-Americans, and young adults.

™ A push to stem the shortage of nurses and health-care professionals in the city through programs like the newly opened Memphis Academy of Health Sciences.

™ More public-private partnerships within the industry as hospitals work to maintain services while combatting declining budgets.

E-mail: jdavis@memphisflyer.com


Everybody's Problem

Education is not just about the children.

by Mary Cashiola

If there's one phrase I hate, it has to be "it's all about the children." Most often uttered by politicians to defend their positions, these few irksome words show up in almost every open discussion on public education.

It's all about the children.

I say: bullshit.

Besides the fact that politicians use these words to show how warm and caring they are, the phrase is also something of a dangerous fallacy.

Yes, public education most directly serves children by, ideally, teaching them how to think for themselves and the facts and figures that they will need to do such thinking. But public education also serves those students' parents, the community at large, and future employers. Education can keep kids from becoming criminals, while providing a knowledgeable workforce.

And if you think education isn't a big business, consider this: The city school system is one of the largest employers in the county. Construction contracts for schools have multimillion-dollar price tags. Then there's computer equipment, textbooks, and desks.

Local education affects everybody in town whether they know it or not.

I'm supposed to be writing about the past year in education, but I don't want to. It's not that there weren't changes; there were. The city schools hired Dr. Carol Johnson to replace outgoing Superintendent Johnnie Watson. Just last month, Johnson proposed an administrative overhaul to streamline operations at the district level.

The county schools finally got funding for a new high school in Arlington to ease overcrowding. Twenty-two city schools moved one step closer to state-takeover, while county schools made the underperforming list for the first time ever. And the Tennessee lottery will begin in February, hopefully reaping funds for education.

But I've covered education for more than three years now for the Flyer, and each year makes me sadder and more disheartened. It's not that there hasn't been any good news; there's just been so much more not-good news. The deck has always seemed stacked against the city schools, and in light of the higher standards of the national No Child Left Behind act, it's almost as if they've been written off entirely.

The kids are, in general, poorer; their home lives are less stable. Early-childhood education seems almost nonexistent. Johnson recently said that she thought many children in the special-education program shouldn't be there. But because these children were so far behind when they entered school, they tested as if they needed special-education classes.

Scary, huh?

I've spent the last few years listening to the problems and the possible solutions, the hardships, the test scores, the pleas for funding. And to be honest, I feel even more lost than I did when I started. Is the problem the school system itself: shoddy teachers, clueless administrators? Is it uninvolved parents? And are they uninvolved because they don't care or because they have to work and can't make parent-teacher night and PTA meetings? Is it the kids themselves? Are they too stupid to learn? Or are they too preoccupied with sports and music to think about math?

I've found that there isn't one right or wrong answer, just a tangled mess of a school system. However, I'm at a point in my life where I know a lot of young couples either just having children or thinking about it. And I've never heard anyone say, "I'm going to send my child to our neighborhood city school." Instead, they say they're going to move outside the city lines before their children reach kindergarten. If they can afford it, they'll try private or home schooling; or at the very least, they'll shoot for an optional program.

They would like the city school system to be better, but, with all the other options out there, they don't necessarily see it as their problem.

But I see it as a problem for me, them, and the whole community.

For instance, I'm a city girl by nature. I love the energy and the personality of a city, and were I -- hypothetically -- to have children, I would like them to grow up in a city. It doesn't have to be in a field of high-rises, but I want them (my hypothetical children) exposed to culture, diversity, architecture, and art. But if urban schools are sub-par, it doesn't matter how much art or culture they consume at home. I'd want to take them somewhere else.

So, in self-interest I believe the city schools are my problem.

I want to live in a place that is vibrant and creative; that has a prosperous economic base, jobs, and a bustling market economy (to feed my need for good shopping). Memphis needs more businesses. So either those businesses have to be homegrown or we have to lure them here. In the interest of economics, the city schools are my problem.

I also want to live in a place that is relatively safe, where I don't have to worry about getting mugged in broad daylight or having someone shoot me for my car or my shoes or my jacket. Violence is everywhere, but highly educated populations are also highly mobile. The opposite is true of lower-educated populations, meaning: If today's students don't learn, they won't leave. And if they're uneducated, they're at greater risk of committing crimes. There's a reason why the cost of education is so often compared with the cost of prison.

City schools. My problem. Our problem.

It's not only about the children. It's about the future of a community.

E-mail: cashiola@memphisflyer.com

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