If it's September, it must be time for the Flyer's annual Best of Memphis extravaganza. It's our biggest issue of the year, the edition that brings smiles to the faces of our bean counters and joy to our account reps, thanks to the zillions of ads packed into its pages. For our staff, it means lots of extra hours editing, building ads, counting ballots, and putting together a massive party.
The Best of Memphis has become an institution, a chance to celebrate what's good about our city. We've come a long way from the early days, when interns spent countless hours counting ballots by hand and tabulating the results on yellow legal pads. Now, voting is electronic and the turnout rivals some city council elections.
There are the always predictable results in some categories. If Joe Birch didn't win Best News Anchor or Huey's didn't get Best Burger, we would be beyond surprised. Their election victories are as preordained as Vladimir Putin's. But there are also surprises every year. Zach Randolph won Best Local Athlete. Las Delicias won Best Mexican Restaurant. YoLo has taken the Best Frozen Yogurt category by storm.
And consider the three winners for Best Memphian: Mayor A C Wharton, FedEx CEO Fred Smith, and Tigers basketball coach Josh Pastner, representing politics, business, and sports, respectively.
The Best of Memphis results are a bit like a barometer for the community, a measure of who we are and what we like about ourselves. Too often, we get mired in political and racial squabbles and forget that we are bonded by geography and culture.
My stepson is in the marching band at White Station High. A couple weeks ago, my wife and I attended the football game between White Station and CBHS. It was a great game, decided by one point. But more interesting to me was the parade of kids from both schools walking around the field and grandstands throughout the game. They were in bands of three, four, six — all colors and ethnicities and socioeconomic groups, yakking it up, checking each other out, having fun.
They are Memphis' future, and they're moving past the old divisions that have held us back. We'd do well as a community to do the same. The real best of Memphis is yet to come, if only we let it.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...