I've never met Paul Ryburn, but I feel like I know him. That's because I regularly read his blog about life in downtown Memphis (paulryburn.com/blog). Most of the time it's a fun read, and it's a good way to get a feel for life among Memphis' downtown social set.
I learn things, too. Like the fact that a pigeon is not able to lay eggs unless it can see another pigeon and that a new restaurant called Dawgie Style is getting ready to open on Madison. I find out which team won at trivia at the Flying Saucer and what happened at the Peabody rooftop party -- and that June is Tube-Top Month. (At least, Ryburn has declared it to be such, and I applaud this kind of civic-mindedness.)
But in the past week or so, Ryburn's journal has taken on a more serious tone. Something's been bothering the blogger and his downtown friends, and that something is crime: muggings and robberies. Restaurant workers are being robbed on the way to their cars after hours. A couple of Ryburn's friends were mugged while walking home. They see cars full of young men backing into parking spots, as if to ensure a quick getaway. They see security guards with metal detectors checking IDs before allowing people on Beale Street on the weekends.
"I'm frustrated. I'm angry," he wrote last week. "A lot of other people are too. I feel like the neighborhood I love is being taken away from me. I think downtown is still pretty safe overall, but I also think we're approaching a tipping point, where if we don't fight back now, the criminals will take over for good by the end of the summer."
Scary stuff. But this is where the story gets better. Ryburn and his friends and readers started organizing. They contacted the City Council and police at the downtown precinct. They created an e-mail address to report and discuss crime downtown [firstname.lastname@example.org]. They met with officials of the Memphis Police Department and came up with a citizen/police plan.
They haven't solved the downtown crime problem yet, but they've made a start. And they've demonstrated how the Internet can make things better in the real world, not just in cyberspace. Ryburn has even resumed his regular cheerful blogging. (And though I've never met him, I'm sure he would want me to remind you that June is Tube-Top Month.)
Bruce VanWyngarden, Editor