Monday, April 28, 2008

Fed Up

I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown Memphis in 1970. In my lifetime, I’ve lived in Midtown, East and Southeast Memphis, and for most of that time I listened as my father put this city down day in and day out. It was with this attitude that I grew up, not even knowing what other cities might have to offer over ours, just as he didn’t.

Kristy and I had the opportunity to move away for a bit just after we were married 14 years ago, and when we moved back it was with a new outlook. My time away made me realize what I liked and missed about Memphis. I was positive, forward-looking and ready to begin the next phase of our life. We had a son, bought a house and a business, and were willing to show our kids the good side of their hometown.

But I’m finished with all of that now.

The Quartet has seen the river and they’ve heard the blues. I’ve driven them down Belvedere in the spring and then again in the fall. We’ve been to the zoo and Soulsville and eaten barbecue until our bellies hurt. I can point out where I lived as a child or went to elementary school. I can tell them of their history here, about International Harvester where their great-grandfather worked for so long, or the butcher shop on Main St. owned by their great-great-grandfather in the 1940s and ‘50s.

But what I can’t tell them about is how, just over a year ago, a man walked into our good friend’s shop, threatened her with a gun, and took her money. Or how only eight months later a man walked into that same shop in Cooper-Young and forced her partner to the register, with her baby in her arms, for all of their money. Just two months ago that store was broken into, the door kicked in and the front counter ransacked.

I certainly can’t tell The Quartet that last month a man met their uncle on his front porch with a gun to take his wallet and watch, and that my sister was there to see it all happen. I’ve even tried to hide from them the five times my own store has been burglarized over the last nine years.

It’s all just too much. This city has broken my heart.

We’ve chosen the Midtown-area of Memphis to live because of its sense of community. But increasingly the only sense of community is felt when the college basketball team advances in the NCAA Tournament, and on garbage collection day when neighbors wave to each other at the curb while performing their civic duty.

What can we do? How can we save a city that, it seems, has nothing to count among its assets other than a good pulled pork sandwich, a handful of dead recording artists and the home base of an international shipping company which can’t be that great a company to work for after all if they force their upper echelon of executives to relocate and raise their families in this shithole.

We can vote. You can vote for the mayor, city council or school board member who you think can turn all of this around. And your vote will be counted along with all the other poor, uneducated voters who continue to elect legislators willing to sell their city, and its people, for a few thousand dollars; a mayor who has lost all focus and, apparently, any grip on reality; and a city council and school board that can’t see their civic responsibility past their own egos.

But first, I think, you have to decide that this city is worth saving. And I did. For a long time, I did. But I’m not sure how much longer I can go on wondering when – not if – another friend or loved one, or one of my very own children, will become a victim.

Kristy gets off work every day, picks up the kids and takes them home. If my phone rings at any point after that, my heart stops a little bit with fear. And I don’t believe that fear is at all unfounded.

There are no definite plans in place for how I, or my family, will deal with all of this. There is a lot of talk going on, a lot of best-case scenarios being bandied about. I’ll let you know whatever decisions are made right here when the time is nigh.

Until then, though, we’ll continue to peek out the door before leaving the house, we’ll stay aware of our surroundings before exiting the car and we’ll try to assure The Quartet that there are friendly and safe(r) places out there.