When I found out 2019 was Memphis' bicentennial year, I expected a nonstop party. But here we are, almost halfway through January and I have not been invited to a single birthday function. Nor have I seen photos from a birthday function I wasn't invited to. People don't even know. You'd think it was just some regular year, not the dawn of the Third Century of the Bluff City.
The bicentennial has barely garnered a mention since the state legislature tried to punish us for removing those Confederate statues by taking our birthday party money away.
- Susan Ellis
- Calvin Farrar
You only turn 200 once. Plenty of haters — the yellow fever, for one — didn't think we would make it this far. This is no time to be bashful. Sure, the "big day" is still four months away, and I know we're not the type of city that likes to make everything about us. But if anyone's saying "Ugh, we get it, it's your birthday year" by then, do we really need that kind of negativity in our lives?
Maybe, like me on my 30th, Memphis doesn't feel like it's accomplished as much as it had hoped. In that case, I can empathize with the desire to keep things low-key. But listen, Memphis: 200 isn't the end. We are going to take every lesson learned in the first 200 years and use them as the foundation for our Best Century Yet. We're not going to dwell too much on the past and somehow make this another Elvis thing. I'm taking it upon myself to get the party started with some shoutouts to a few present-day Memphians I admire, because the people make the place. Also, the water. But mostly the people. I could probably list 200, but in the interest of word-counts I'll start with three who, like the city itself, are unsung, underrated, and understated.
Gary Crain is the pastor at the New Testament Christian Church at the corner of Quince and Mount Moriah. I don't attend his church, and I've never heard his sermons. But he has been a part of my mornings for as long as I can remember. No matter the weather, he's standing out front, smiling and waving to commuters most weekdays. Sometimes cars pull over to stop and chat, and other drivers quietly go around them. It amazes me that an act as small as a wave can bring so much joy to a person's day. Multiply that by thousands of drivers and passengers: It's a movement. It makes me want to be more neighborly. I plan my commute around that wave.
You may not know his name, but if you've seen painted windows in Midtown and Downtown, or shopped at Cash Saver or the Superlo on Southern, you definitely know Calvin Farrar's work. For years he's brightened the windows at Silky's, Huey's, the Bar-B-Q Shop, and dozens of other businesses with those colorful and imaginative murals. Griz dunks on Santa Claus, Pouncer devours Huey burgers, all in the most perfectly old-school, quintessentially Memphis style. Parking Can Be Fun is only fun because there is usually a Farrar painting nearby. Nobody does what he does. He is an institution, and watching him work is a treat.
Memphis basketball fans love local players who stay home. Maybe I'm overanalyzing, but I think the appreciation transcends your standard-issue hometown-hero worship. They represent the belief that you don't have to choose between the city and your dreams. That is a lot to put on a kid, which explains why many still choose to leave and others stay and fail.
It's early, but Alex Lomax is a teammate. I've watched him flex after assisting on a layup and chest-bump a teammate after drawing a foul — no victory is too small to celebrate. He doesn't score a ton of points (yet?), but he leads in other ways. A 5'10" point guard, he had eight rebounds against Wichita State. And what he lacks in size, he makes up for in hustle. If that's not Memphis as hell, I don't know what is. He is easy to root for, just like his coach, and his coach's coach before him. Nearly 200 years in, is Memphis perfect? No way. Is it even close to perfect? Also no. Is it full of fantastically kind, brilliant, talented, and creative people? Yes, we do have that going for us. Let's celebrate them all year and beyond. Jen Clarke is an unapologetic Memphian and digital marketing strategist.