Sunday, August 02, 2009

Fear and Loving in Memphis

We had a Memphis weekend. This last weekend before Kristy goes back to work from her summer break and GK begins a brand new daycare with all its Pandora’s toy box of fun, fear and insecurity, we hit some local hot spots.

Today we went to the 32nd birthday party for Pinocchio’s: The Children's Bookplace. This is the tiny cottage on Brookhaven Circle in East Memphis that is built of books. I remember my mother taking us there as children and wanted to share the magic with my own kids. It’s a book store just for children with all the imagination, mystery and Seuss you’d want.

After Pinocchio’s, we made an impromptu visit to the Pink Palace where the kids loved running wild with the dinosaur robots, the tiny circus and various skeletons. The Pink Palace exhibits are like an ancient museum exhibit in their own right as I recognized many bones and interactive contraptions that I’d seen the first time as a child on field trips with my school.

Yesterday we schlepped to the Memphis Botanic Garden for the opening of My Big Backyard, an area of the gardens just for children. All I can say about this is that it is amazing. We don’t currently have a membership to the Botanic Gardens, but this exhibit by itself made me want to get one for the family. There are different areas with various themes, fountains, small houses, a big tree house and stations for learning about what grows here and how. This is an asset to Memphis and especially to the children (and parents) of our city.

And speaking of our city, I have to talk about Friday night. SAM had friends in town from out California way and we all went downtown for dinner and drinks with them. There was no real plan, no itinerary, so we ended up taking them to Beale Street.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Beale on a weekend night, I’m local here so there’s no reason to go. I guess I knew they check identification now, but I wasn’t prepared to have to walk through a security gauntlet as well with someone passing a metal-detecting wand over me and making me empty my pockets. How sad for this city. How completely humiliating and embarrassing for a Memphian taking guests from out of town.

Beale Street is one of the largest tourist attractions in the state, if not the largest, yet to get onto this street one has to be checked for weapons. I stood, arms spread wide while some mutant spoke inaudibly to me, practically whispering when he asked what was in my pockets. I had to keep asking what he was saying as he mumbled, not bothering to even make eye contact with me.

Once on the street, which is so far below someplace like the French Quarter in both excitement and history, there was a police presence as though we were in a militarized zone. Forget a red light district where you’re allowed to carry an overpriced beer outdoors for two blocks, this is the blue light district where there is one cop for every two patrons. Why? Because it’s Memphis and it’s a damn jungle.

It was the last time I'll take visitors from out of town to Beale Street. It’s certainly the last time I go to Rum Boogie CafĂ© where we were charged a $5 cover to go in and eat (thanks, Matt!) and then sat next to half a dozen empty tables.

I sat through dinner watching the security checkpoint through the windows at Beale and Third Streets where families, obviously just having left the Redbirds game with their jerseys and ball gloves, were sent single file through the gauntlet of ID and weapon checks. I don’t know why anyone would take their kids to Beale Street on a Friday night and it was sad to watch the little kids who were confused as they watched their dads (only the men were getting checked here) get stopped and checked for weapons.

I believe the next time guests come in, I’ll take them to a quaint bookstore, the Botanic Gardens or even the Pink Palace where they can see a tiny circus, original Piggly Wiggly or animated dinosaur.