Wheels Up, Wheelin' Down




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I've been thinking about our city

a lot lately.

Duh, you're probably thinking. That's your job.

Well, yeah. But I've been thinking about what the city looks like through other people's eyes, and why I call it home after all these years. Maybe it was the thousands of folks who arrived last month to celebrate the life of Elvis, or all those who came later to mourn the loss of Isaac. Maybe it's that I had out-of-town company for a weekend or that I went to both New York and Mississippi in the last month that's made me a bit reflective. I'm not sure.

In New York, I walked the streets, admiring the architecture and the pace and the languages intermingling around me. The enormity of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the boxy tiny-ness of fellow media-types' apartments. The lushness of Central Park and the surprising cleanliness of the streets. The sheer speed of the city with its screeching taxis and subways barreling below the city's surface and the beautiful faces that walked its streets. The movement and the energy and the action and the lights that never so much as flicker.

I came home worn out. Charmed and inspired, but utterly exhausted. Could I ever call that city home?

I don't imagine New York is a relaxing place to live. I walked and ran and got lost and paid a lot for things I'm not used to paying a lot for, and was questioned about my Southern accent.

The people I hung out with there seemed shocked at some of my Memphis stories, from the government scandals and FBI stings to what passes for normal around here. Our characters — William Eggleston and Jim Dickinson and Jerry Lee and Cybill and Mongo and Jerry Lawler and Craig Brewer and Hizzoner — and tales from our bar and music scene shocked them. My lack of shock when they took me to the "diviest" place they knew shocked them. It seemed like a regular hangout to me.

Could this possibly be? Could my Bluff City be grittier, more insane, more novel-worthy, than their Big Apple?

I shot a couple of them an email asking this very question last week. The general consensus: Yes, the city you live in is nuts. We can't wait to visit, but we wouldn't want to live there!

A week after my return from NYC, I packed my car and headed south to Greenwood, Mississippi, then on to Clarksdale (as long as I was in the area . . . ).

The two weekends couldn't have been more different. Greenwood's Alluvian was plush, not unlike my Manhattan hotel stay, but the area around the hotel wasn't exactly bursting with life. In Clarksdale, I spent the night in a hotel with communal bathrooms owned by a man named Rat, got lost on back roads surrounded by cornfields, heard amazing stories about the town's past, ate a five-star dinner at Madidi, and was questioned about my Yankee accent. It was all quite charming.

The Mississippi weekend was far more relaxing than my weekend in NYC, to be certain, but would I get bored in small-town USA after a few days? Would the enticing simplicity of this kind of life lose its luster and feel suffocating if made permanent?

Big city, meet small town.

Is one necessarily better than the other? For now, I'm not sure. I'm just pondering my lack of an accent, and enjoying home.