(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes) — e. e. cummings
I have a friend who told me years ago about the "perfect day" in Memphis. It happens in the spring, she said — usually in mid-April. It's the morning when you realize every leaf has filled out on every tree, bright and lush and newly green. The sky is clear; the winter is gone, summer is born again. The air is luminous.
Twenty-two years ago, I came to Memphis in late April to visit a friend. Pittsburgh was cold and gray and muddy. Memphis was warm and green and sunny. The azaleas were in bloom. I sat on my friend's porch in Cooper-Young and watched a mockingbird singing in a magnolia tree, the most Southern thing ever.
I want to live here, I thought, and I managed to make that happen. I've never regretted it, and I still love this town. Especially in the spring.
Perfect Day 2015 was last Saturday. My daughter, who moved here from Austin last year, was hosting a friend for the weekend. She, too, was from Austin, an ad agency exec who works in digital marketing, millenial, smart as a whip. Over the course of three days, she got the full Memphis monte: Cooper-Young restaurants, walks in Overton Park, the Rec Room, the Wiseacre Taproom, Broad Avenue, the Brewery Revival, Harbor Town, Beale Street, Raiford's.
Saturday afternoon, I met the young ladies for beers on the Slider Inn deck, where we were served by a smart-alecky waitress named Elizabeth, who should be getting paid a stipend by the CVB for her charm.
My daughter's friend had a job interview scheduled in Seattle. As we sat on the deck, she said, half seriously, "I think I want to move here, instead."
"Great idea. Austin is played out," I joked. "Memphis is what Austin used to be. Besides, it's cloudy in Seattle 259 days a year." (I may have made up that number, but I don't think I'm far off.)
By Monday, my daughter's friend really was ready to move to Memphis, and was not saying it frivolously. "Send me your resume," I said. "I know some folks in the advertising business."
I wasn't blowing smoke about Memphis, and it was obvious to our visitor — as it is to anyone living in Midtown or downtown. The difference is palpable, visible. The city is undergoing a sea-change; something is shifting. In Memphis, as in cities all across the country, young people are moving into urban cores, reinventing old commercial spaces, taking advantage of under-valued housing stock, reclaiming the urban turf abandoned by their grandparents and parents. Businesses — grocery stores, restaurants, retail outlets, and jobs — are following suit.
The best and brightest of this next generation — white, black, brown, gay, and straight — are rejecting mall culture and suburban life. They don't fear diversity; they fear a life of commutes and boredom.
Yes, Memphis has deep issues — poverty still holds back too many of us — but reclaiming the center city is how the turn-around starts. And we need young people to help get us there.
We're not perfect. Perfect is still a process, even in April.