(Warning, long, but with lots of photos. Most images can be enlarged by clicking on them.)
This headline in the Memphis Flyer, a weekly alternative newspaper, caught my eye: "Make it Snappy."
For Saturday, Aug. 16, the Brooks Museum was asking the citizens of Memphis to pick up their cameras and start shooting. Their goal was to capture "A Day in the Life" sort of thing -- images of Memphis 2008. The photos are to be divided by age group and amateur/professional and judged by a panel. Winning images will be displayed both online and at the Museum in an exhibition simply titled: Memphis 8.16.08.
Hmm, I thought. Let's go for it, why not? Surely they have a category for amateur old guys like me!
Memphis has many things to be proud of, but three of them I dismissed. The NBA basketball Memphis Grizzlies, FedEx, a world-class company that has its headquarters here, and a world-class zoo that includes a panda exhibit. The zoo is worth a trip of its own (and I wanted to explore as much of Memphis as I could), so I ruled it out. FedEx, meh, what can you take a photo of that would mean anything? A jet taking off or the FedEx campus? No thanks.
I have a fancy Tilt cell phone and one of the features is a GPS. I wasn't sure about the directions to some of the places that I wanted to go, so I fired up my toy and began my adventure.
When you want cute photos, shoot kids
I began my adventure at CMOM. These initials stand for the Children's Museum of Memphis. It didn't work out as well as I had hoped. The kids were with their parents and running around in a zillion different directions, as kids will do. Most of the photos I got were fuzzy.
A collage from the Children's Museum of Memphis.
Plants sit still, but . . .
My journey continued to the Memphis Botanic Garden. I took some cool shots, but these aren't the type that will win any contest. Contest-worthy photos usually have people or animals in them and they are doing something. Plants usually just sit there and look pretty.
Away from the hustle and bustle, Mother Nature speaks.
When you want cute photos, don't shoot kids, shoot dogs!
Ok, in baseball you get three strikes, I already had two. My next stop was Overton Park. I approached a person with a great-looking dog. She had a frisbee-looking thing in her hand. No, I mean the woman, not the dog -- come on! I asked her (the lady, not the dog) if I could take a photo of her dog catching the frisbee. She abruptly said, "No," but then quickly added, "Cash can't catch it, but let's go to the water -- he can retrieve it." That's how I found out the dog's name was Cash -- interesting name.
The fetch thing worked for me. I never got a shot of Cash jumping into the water; he was too fast. I did get some cool shots of him swimming. When he got out of the water, he would shiver. I guess that's an example of what they call "cold cash."
It's the dog day of summer. Overton Park, Memphis 8.16.08.
Let's go down to the river
After the dog adventure, my next stop was Mud Island -- more specifically Harbor Town. It's actually a small peninsula, they just call it an island to confuse you.
I had good luck there. I saw the Mississippi River, runners, people with dogs, sightseers and riverboats. If running is fun, shouldn't it be amazingly better when you do so along one of the most spectacular rivers on our planet? The Mississippi is about one mile wide at Memphis, and it's as deep as 50 feet in the spring.
The Mississippi river on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Let's stay on the river
Tom Lee Park was my next destination. It is a 30-acre, one and one-half mile park that is also on the river, just below the bluffs. The Mississippi has a nasty habit of flooding in the Spring. The U.S. Corps of Army Engineers has built an extensive system of levies that now protect most cities. There are bluffs where Memphis was founded; they acted as a natural levy. The residences on the bluff offer a majestic view of the Mississippi River, but are expensive. Cybill Shepherd had a house there (she's a native Memphian) for many years, but I believe she sold it.
Tom Lee Park is an oasis in the middle of a bustling city.
Feel the vibe
It was time for serious exploration of downtown Memphis. Downtown in many cities is a slum -- a place most people won't go after dark if they can help it. Memphis is different. It is safe; families can walk along at night without fear. It has energy. It is also the place where many affluent Memphians want to live. Builders have turned warehouses into upscale condos. Parking is sometimes a problem, but the city planners have built a trolley system that is inexpensive. The trolleys are charming and a good way to sightsee. If you are a tourist, I recommend an all-day pass. The Memphis Redbirds AAA baseball team (farm club of my beloved St. Louis Cardinals) plays at Autozone Park, a model for a successful urban minor-league stadium. The Memphis Grizzlies play at the FedEx Forum and it is one block from Beale Street.
The sights of Memphis: (Clockwise) FedEx Forum (home of the Memphis Grizzlie and the Memphis Tigers and the venue for various rock concerts such as the Rolling Stones and Elton John), the Gibsun guitar factory, the Hollywood Disco and the Rock and Soul Museum.
Memphis 8.16.08: The afternoon sun reflects off the Pyramid, a trolley moves north on Main Street and a converted warehouse offers upscale condos. Click to enlarge.
A man who changed America
Three blocks north of Beale Street is a place called the Lorraine Motel. If you've forgotten, that's where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while standing outside Room 306. The motel has been converted to the National Civil Rights Museum.
People pay homage at the Lorraine Motel. Click to enlarge.
Notice the guy in the center photo who has bent down to take his photograph. I am white and felt touched by the place, as if I were somewhere sacred. The man is African-American, and it's hard to imagine just how strong the emotions are that he likely feels.
When there is disagreement
People don't always see things the same way, however, and Jacqueline Smith has protested for 20 years. Ms. Smith has a site across the street from the National Civil Rights Museum. She feels that the owners are exploiting the memory of Dr. King. Many journalists have written about Smith and the one I like best can be read here.
When there have been parades on Main Street, I've seen Smith with her posters as she marched alongside. I've never talked to her before, however, but Saturday that changed. I approached and asked her "Do you think this (pointing to the NCRM) is disrespectful to Dr. King?" "She nodded her head, but didn't say anything except, "Read this," and handed me a sheet of paper that had her views on it. The sheet was typed and had a plastic cover over it.
After reading it, I asked her about her web site. I wanted to talk to her and thought that this might break the ice. She told me the address, then handed me a pen and said, "Here, write it down."
I could see that she wasn't that interested in talking, but I didn't blame her. Twenty years is a long time to tell the same story over and over -- wash, rinse, repeat.
I could also see, however, that she felt it was important that I learn about her side of the story. I thanked her and moved on.
Keeping a lonely vigil.
Notice that I have Smith far to the left, almost out of the photo. I composed it that way to try and emphasize her loneliness -- of her against the world. Could you feel that when you looked at the image?
Everybody's at the Peabody
I joined the throng at the Peabody Hotel. It is famous for the ducks that swim in a fountain in the lobby. Guided by the Duckmaster, they march down on a red carpet each morning at 11 a.m. and at 5 p.m. they return to the Duck Palace on the 12th floor. Unfortunately, I only got a few photos and they weren't any good. Two and one-half strikes. I'm the one keeping score and I'll do it my way, thank you.
New York City isn't the only place you can ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Memphis has many of them. Most of the drivers also have a dog that rides along. I'm not sure why this tradition developed -- maybe to outdo NYC? Ha, whatever.
A carriage trip is a fun way to explore downtown Memphis.
Beale: The blues be all night
Well, Memphis is called the home of the blues and that means Beale Street. Guess where I was headed next?
MOJO is ready for Beale Street. Is Beale ready for MOJO?
Heavy is a matter of degree
As I walked around listening to the bands, I saw a sign that said: Louisiana MOJO Queen. What they hey? The name MOJO is mine and you people can't keep stealing it. Do I need to see an attorney or something?
The Louisiana MOJO Queen is Ms. Zeno. Click to enlarge.
The first thing you notice about Ms. MOJO is that she is heavy. Then she begins to sing. And then she smiles. Her stage presence is awesome, and pretty soon you've forgotten about heavy. Why does our culture punish overweight people? I'm just sayin'.
I bought her Live From Europe CD (recorded in Italy). One of my favorite songs on it is titled "Come to Mama." Think Bob Seger, but with attitude and plenty of soul.
There were bands everywhere. Some worked inside the clubs, but many worked right out in the street for tips and to sell their CDs. Here are a few of them:
Bands played Beale Street on Saturday 8.16.08.
A big difference between Beale Street and Bourbon Street in N'awleans is Beale street isn't tawdry. There are no sex shows -- just a lot of beer and music.
Beale Street rocks. Can you feel the pulse? (Memphis 8.16.08. Click to enlarge.)
Look carefully at one more collage (click to enlarge):
MOJO hugs MOJO and other Memphis 8.16.08 stuff.
I got home a little after 9 p.m. It was too late to enter any serious online poker tournaments or to play online bridge, but I didn't mind. My Saturday had been amazing. How was yours?
EDIT: My plans are to submit one photo (not a collage) to the contest. Can anyone guess which one?