Lexington vs. Memphis: A Tale of Two Cities 

There's this guy, John Calipari or something, who has recently chosen to move away from from Memphis to live in Lexington, Kentucky. You might've heard about it.

Was Lexington over Memphis the right choice? Well, I'll let every armchair sports expert argue between the two towns on purely basketball grounds, but, as far as everything else goes -- quality of life, amenities, culture -- Lexington versus Memphis bears some closer examination.

A tiny bit of background: I've lived in and loved both towns. Am I biased? Though I always have and always will consider Memphis my hometown, I've got good vibes flowing to each town. So, Memphis versus Lexington. Let the debate begin:

Regional Roots Music

Memphis: The Blues

Lexington: Bluegrass

Analysis: Live, great bluegrass bands are dynamite, as the interconnectivity of the many instruments and the interplay between the musicians overwhelm the senses, giving it the edge over live blues. But, all in all, there's a democratic universality to the blues that leaves no one out -- and that includes non-musicians. In my life, sometimes I get the blues. I never get the bluegrass.

Advantage: Memphis


Memphis: Hot, humid, and aggravating. And that’s in the temperate months.

Lexington: Four true seasons

Analysis: With appropriately long stretches of verdant springtimes and gorgeous autumns -- and with summers that aren’t deal-breakers and winters that actually have snow, it's no contest.

Advantage: Lexington

Driving Conditions

Analysis: As bad as I-240 between the Bill Morris Parkway and I-40 gets every day during rush hour, Memphians should thank their rearview-mirror dice they don't have to deal with New Circle Road -- a loop around Lexington, like 240 except that half of it has red lights every block and strip malls alongside. Imagine Union Avenue encircling the city. I'll take having to dodge crazy drivers in Memphis so long as it means there's a logical way to get from here to there.

Advantage: Memphis

Local Government

Memphis: Separate Memphis City and Shelby County governments

Lexington: Consolidated Lexington and Fayette County government

Analysis: Aaah, hear how quiet it is as a local government goes about business with relative efficiency and unity of message? That’s consolidated government.

Advantage: Lexington

The Corporate Community

Analysis: Based on Fortune 500 headquarters alone, Memphis has FedEx, AutoZone, and International Paper. Lexington has Lexmark.

Advantage: Memphis

Predominant Physical Feature

Memphis: Mississippi River

Lexington: Horse farms

Analysis: As powerful an anchor to Memphis as the Mississippi is, if you're not right on top of it, it's easy to forget it's there. In Lexington, the white-fenced horse farms are everywhere, even just barely outside the city core. The horse farms are a constant visual reminder of what a great world this is to live in.

Advantage: Lexington

Signature Food

Memphis: Barbecue

Lexington: Hot Brown

Analysis: Hot Brown recipes vary, but it's an open-faced sandwich with a slice of toast stacked with turkey, covered in Mornay or other cheese sauce, and topped with some combination of bacon, tomato, and more cheese -- as yummy as starchy foods get. It was born in Louisville, but in Lexington, there's maybe no finer Hot Brown than the one at Ramsey's. I sometimes dream of easy access to a Hot Brown. But, c'mon, barbecue and Memphis are synonymous. And the diversity of Memphis barbecues available cannot be understated: The Cozy Corner and The Bar-B-Q Shop are as different as Picasso and Pollock. Same medium, different results. On sheer artistry alone, this is an easy race to call.

Advantage: Memphis

Intrastate Rivalry

Analysis: Lexington has Louisville like Memphis has Nashville. The hated foe. You can never say anything good about them. Except in Lexington's case, the detestable metropolis is only 70 miles away and they have a college sports rival every bit as good as the home team. Say what you will about how terrible Nashville is, but don’t forget the best they can do to compare to the Memphis Tigers is Vanderbilt. Ha!

Advantage: Lexington


Analysis: Lexington is one of the most lily-white towns you’ll ever go to. According to 2000 U.S. Census figures, it’s 81 percent white, 13.5 percent black, and 3.3 percent Hispanic. Memphis, meanwhile (also in 2000), is 34.4 percent white, 61.4 percent black, and 3 percent Hispanic. Is it important to you to live in a place where you can look around and encounter people different from you?

Advantage: Memphis

For the Cinephile

Analysis: Memphis has no art-house theater. Even though Malco regularly brings in high-profile indies, Lexington has the Kentucky Theatre, a gorgeous rehabbed theater dating back to the 1920s, which plays indie and foreign films exclusively. The Kentucky regularly has cult classic midnight shows and revival film festivals, such as an upcoming Samurai movie series. Memphis has The Orpheum's summer film series and several excellent film festivals, but for the 365-day-a-year cinephile, Lexington's the place to be.

Advantage: Lexington


Analysis: I'm apparently allergic to the planet earth, as no matter where I live, I'm bedeviled by armies of microscopic particles. But never have I had as bad a seasonal allergic reaction as my spring in Lexington. A reaction to bluegrass? The state flower Goldenrod? Whatever it was, never again. A pollen-drenched Bluff City still wins.

Advantage: Memphis

Basketball Venue

Memphis: FedExForum

Lexington: Rupp Arena

Analysis: Forget the kids who run around on the floor and the fans in the seats, how' the actual facility as a basketball venue? The Memphis Tigers have FedExForum, by all accounts a high-water-mark in athletics facilities in the U.S. It's pretty on the outside, pretty on the inside, and still has the new-car smell. The University of Kentucky's Rupp Arena is … boxy. And has that '70s-car smell.

Advantage: Memphis

Non-Collegiate Sports Scene

Analysis: Memphis has the only major professional franchise in the two cities (the Grizzlies), the best minor-league baseball club in America (the Redbirds), high-profile football annuals (the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and the Southern Heritage Classic), professional sports tournaments in tennis (the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and Cellular South Cup) and golf (the St. Jude Championship). Lexington has … the Class A baseball club the Lexington Legends. No contest, right? Except for twice a year, when Keeneland horse track becomes the center of the horse-racing world. It’s the best four weeks in either city.

Advantage: Four weeks a year: Lexington. 48 Weeks a year: Memphis

Hometown Celebrity

Memphis: Justin Timberlake

Lexington: Ashley Judd

Analysis: Judd's around her town more frequently than Timberlake is, and she's prettier (in my opinion). But Justin brought sexy back. Thanks, JT!

Advantage: Draw

--Greg Akers

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