Saturday, August 28, 2010
My first impressions of Memphis were driving over the Mississippi river from Arkansas into downtown at dusk. I'd heard tales of the blight of Memphis, and the rampant poverty, but I'm not sure I was quite prepared for what I actually saw when I arrived. Blocks upon blocks of crumbling or boarded up buildings; sheds that were actually liquor stores with bars on all the windows and doors; homes with the ceilings or porches caving in, but people clearly still living in them; roaming packs of dogs; burned out cars; and empty, desolate fields and lots, some of them full of garbage. I won't lie: my heart sank, and I nearly panicked at what I had got myself into.
As we drove on, and neighborhoods began to look only marginally better, we got stopped by a train trying to get over the track that runs only 3 houses down from our house. As we waited, and waited, and waited (at one point, the train simply stopped and sat there for awhile), 3 teenage boys were running down the street with 2 unleashed pit bulls. If I'd had a paper bag at that point, I would have started breathing into it.
Eventually, however, we made it to our new home, where our landlord was waiting for us ( and he is SO nice). The house is beautiful (pictures to follow), and I really like our neighborhood, but yeah, Memphis is a change. It's a city that is hemorraghing population, the cost of living is dirt cheap (our relatively large house is putting us back $700 a month; in Austin, our house would be no less than $1,200, or probably more), and at least according to Wikipedia, it's the most dangerous city in America. The dog at the house next door to us either spends all day on a 3-foot long chain, or simply runs around unchained, and likes to come up on our porch and try to follow us into the house. A house across the street has 2 pit bull puppies that also sometimes run around. Last week, apparently, 2 unleashed pit bulls attacked an old man somewhere in the city and he died.
Grocery shopping here has also been a bit of a challenge, or "uninspiring," according to a friend of mine here (yes, I've already made a new friend). But we're managing, and adjusting to any new place requires flexibility and a change in routine. I'll get by. It's a city I'm really looking forward to exploring culturally (with the rich music history, and the wealth of civil rights history, there's a lot going on in that regard) and socially. Honestly, at this point, my biggest complaint is the sprawl and how you have to drive 10 minutes to get anywhere. I guess I got really spoiled in Portland, because Austin is that way too, and while I didn't like it there (but expected it, and didn't really know much better), it's making me crazy, and kind of depressed, here in Memphis. Another adjustment, I suppose.
I assume I'll be blogging a bit more regularly here, since in Portland I just never felt inspired to blog. Here, I anticipate feeling more inspired. Already good things are happening, which I will also write about. I think, once I get past the shock of actually living in an impoverished southern city of extremely dubious distinction, I'll settle in and start making it my own. A lot of people love living here. Hopefully soon enough I'll understand why. And since we have a guest bedroom now, maybe lots and lots of people will come visit! Memphis has its own special kind of beauty, much like the rusty, dilapidated industry of the Pacific Northwest, which I think is beautiful.