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Primal Attraction

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I've heard that the way to truly enjoy living in Memphis is to get out of the city for a few days each month.

I can't say it doesn't sound tempting, but for those of us on a budget, maybe the answer to truly enjoy living here is to get in to the city once a month.

The Metro Memphis Attractions Association (MMAA) has begun a gentle push to get locals more interested in all the things to see and do in the Bluff City.

"There's so much out there that people aren't going to see," says Eric Roux, current president of the organization and the associate managing director of Playhouse on the Square and Circuit Playhouse. "People say, 'I drive by Sun Studio all the time.' But do they ever go in and have a milkshake?"

A Michigan native, Roux spent years in professional theater, traveling the world and living out of a duffel bag.

"Whenever I got to a new city and I'd have a couple of hours, I'd go and explore," he says. "When I got to Memphis, every other week I'd try to find something new to do. I'd meet more and more locals, and they'd say, 'You went where?I've lived here all these years and I've never gone there.' And maybe you should."

I feel a little sheepish admitting this, but after living here for five years, I've started to look on Memphis' to-do list as just so-so. Only it may be that I'm not taking full advantage of the city's wild game.

I've never been to Libertyland. I haven't gone to see the pandas. I have safaried to the Jungle Room but it was under duress.

And I know I'm not the only one who has ignored what the city has to offer. The managers of Libertyland, facing middling attendance and more than a million dollars in losses, have hired a public relations firm to elevate the attraction's profile and -- they hope -- bring hides to its rides.

MMAA, which started in the early 1980s, is also trying to change the public's perception of local attractions.

"Graceland's opening really did put Memphis on the map as far as a destination tourism city," says Twyla Dixon, MMAA secretary and founding member and the marketing director for Wonders.

But if locals don't always make it out of their dens, they're not alone.

"It's not just in Memphis," says Dixon. "Most residents in New York have never seen the Statue of Liberty or gone up in the Empire State Building. It's not a situation that's peculiar to Memphis, especially when you're talking about an attraction -- like Graceland -- that's going to be here from now on."

She says residents are more likely to come out for something that is only going to be around for a short time.

"Wonders has been here ever since 1987. Even though we have a different show every time, it gets to the point where it's met with a ho-hum attitude," she says. "It's sort of taken for granted. It's like, 'It'll be there' or 'I've been there.' It takes a lot to impress people."

So maybe it's time to plan a little mini-break, Memphis-style. Take a gander at The Peabody ducks or waddle onto the DUKW bus-boats when they arrive in April. Catch the Redbirds or the Grizzlies or the Tigers. Horse around downtown. Prowl the Brooks or the Dixon or hog all the fried food at Libertyland.

Just try not to burrow in at home.

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