Thursday, June 9, 2011

Scenes from a Hot Day in Memphis

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2011 at 8:21 PM

I was driving to work this morning when I stopped at a red light at the corner of Poplar and Danny Thomas. On the west side of the street, a man in a wheelchair was getting ready to cross toward the Exxon station. As he turned his chair around, I could see that he had only one leg which he used, in tandem with his arms, to push his non-motorized wheelchair. In other words, he was crossing Danny Thomas at rush hour, against the light, backwards in a wheelchair, powered by one leg. And we think we have it tough. As he started across, a MATA bus made a right turn right in front of him. I was certain he would be hit, but the bus just missed him. Then he navigated his way to the middle of the street, where cars and trucks rushed past hm in both directions. I felt helpless and wished that some motorist would stop traffic for him but no one did. Finally, he made it almost to the Exxon and another MATA bus stopped so he could cross the rest of the way. He gave the driver a little wave, turned his chair around, and went on his way.

The city swimming pools open Saturday. There are a total of 17 of them, both indoors and outdoors, and they are free to children who sign up with their parents Thursday or Friday or have a pass and ID from last year. I visited the Ed Rice Community Center in Frayser, where the pool was being filled this afternoon. There are some slides and a large wading area but no diving boards. The pool supervisor told me they've been gone since 2008. The pool and community center survived this round of budget trimming, meaning that hundreds of kids will be able to play basketball in the gym and swim in the pool this summer until school starts again. Good news, good choices.

The tennis courts next to the Ed Rice Community Center used to be one of my haunts when my friend Don Miller ran the pro shop. That was 20 years ago, and when Don moved to East Memphis the center slowly went downhill. City schools still use the courts for tournaments, but there doesn't seem to be much free play on weekends and during the summer, even though the courts are open and in decent but not great shape. Steve Lang, the tennis pro who has given the last 15 years of his career to public tennis in Memphis, was at the council budget hearings Tuesday making a last-ditch appeal to keep the centers at Whitehaven and Bellevue open. He failed, and Lang said the centers and their indoor courts will have to close. That will leave Leftwich and Wolbrecht tennis centers. I think tennis play is down everywhere, from private clubs to public courts. I can't say I'm surprised. I learned the game on public courts with metal nets in Michigan 50 years ago, played regularly in the tennis boom of the 1970s and 1980s (the subject of a new book about John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg called "High Strung" by Stephen Tignor) and still play a little today at Rhodes College and the Racquet Club. My theory is that tennis is pretty hard to play without someone better bringing you along, and the most promising players gravitate to the schools and centers that have the other good players. Anyway, the two summer pasttimes of my youth, tennis and baseball, are having a hard go of it in Memphis these days. And Jim Northrup, who hit a ball out of Tiger Stadium and a memorable triple off of Bob Gibson in the 1968 World Series and never took steroids, is dead. Don't feel so good myself.

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