There's two, two trains running,
Well, they ain't never going my way.
One runs at midnight and the other one
Running just 'fore day. — Muddy Waters
I was sitting in my favorite little neighborhood bar the other night and fell into a conversation with a couple of realtors. They were bemoaning how Midtown was changing. "All we do these days," one of them said, "is show houses to people from out east — Germantown and Collierville." The realtors were happy to be selling homes but afraid that the invaders from the east would change the character of Midtown.
"They drive more aggressively. They tear down hedges and put up big security lights," she said. "Midtown's a special place, and we don't want it to become just another 'burb neighborhood." But to be honest, for Memphis, that's a pretty good "problem" to have. And that conversation feeds one of the two central narratives that are driving Memphis these days.
Here's one: The city is changing for the better. The reinvestment and reinvigoration of Overton Square, Cooper-Young, Broad Avenue, Sears Crosstown; the downtown and Bass Pro Shops boom; the greenlines, bike lanes, the big trees and old houses of the central city, all are luring people back and fueling a renaissance.
Lots of people believe this to be true. I'm one of them. So are those realtors.
But there's another narrative that also has a lot of adherents. It's a simple credo, comprised of just one word: Crime. That's Crime with a capital C. Crime is the most important thing ever, they say. We have to fix crime, or nobody will ever want to live in this hellhole.
You can point out to the Crime People that crime rates have been falling for eight years. They will respond by telling you that the statistics are rigged. They will tell you that five people got shot last weekend and ask, "How can crime be going down?" They will cite local television news, which will give you all the crime you can handle on a nightly basis. Telling someone whose car has been stolen that crime is going down is like trying to explain to someone who's freezing that global warming is a problem. It doesn't matter.
So we have two trains running. Two ways of looking at our city. Two trains that both carry some truth. Crime in Memphis is a big problem, as it is in lots of cities. We need to keep trying to fix it — by improving our education system, by working to bring in more jobs, by using smarter policing. But to focus on crime to the exclusion of the other narrative is wrong and does a disservice to all of us living here and working to keep Memphis vibrant.
I've lived here 23 years, and I've seen a transformation, especially over the past few years. There is a momentum that's real right now. We need to keep that train running.
And derail the other one.
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 ...
I'm writing this from the restroom facility at Big Hill Pond State Park in southern McNairy County. On Monday, I commandeered the building, which contains the men's and women's restrooms, some racks of pamphlets, and two vending machines. There's no one here right now, but I plan to stay as long as necessary to protest the fact that the state of Tennessee is run by oppressive know-nothings who wouldn't know small government — or freedom, for that matter — if it bit them on their considerable backsides ...