Memphis…lively, tired, new, old, and very Southern.
The mighty Mississippi flows past the reality of development and replaces it with Huck Finn fantasies.
The University of Memphis journalism faculty honored me with the “Outstanding Graduate Student Award for 2014.”
And I danced on Beale Street
But one of the best parts of my 24-hour visit to the blues city that sings, rocks, and smiles was meeting Frank, the cab driver.
“Taxi.” I called and waved at the first car I saw in front of the airport. The driver, looking very much like Chuck Berry with his wavy coiffure, opened the back door, put my small bag on the seat, and said, “Get in quick — the other drivers are gonna get mad at me. We’re not supposed to pick up on this level.”
He jumped into the driver’s seat with the nimbleness of a mountain goat and took off like we just robbed a bank. “But just let them try to catch us. We’re out of here now, miss. Where to?”
“Downtown — the Madison. You know where it is?”
“Do I know where it is? Everybody that’s anybody knows where the Madison is — I hope you have a reservation,’cause downtown is poppin’ today. It’s Friday and folks are here to have a good time.”
For the next seven miles, Frank told me about how his family moved to Memphis from New Jersey longer ago than he could remember…about how he would never buy another house in the city because”neighbors ain’t nothing but trouble.”
When we pulled up in front of the hotel, he rolled down the window and yelled for one of the doormen. “Clinton…help this lady.”
“Will you be driving in the morning, Frank?” I asked.
“I drive everyday,” he said. “What time is your flight?”
“10:45.” I answered.
“Here’s my card,” he said. “You call me around eight — I’ll be here at nine. Now you go out tonight and have yourself some fun.” And I did…have some fun, that is.
The next morning I dialed the number on his card at 8 a.m.
“Good morning, miss. I’ll be there in an hour.”
And he was.
We drove down Madison Street and stopped at the red light on Main.
“Downtown Memphis used to be jumpin’ on a Saturday morning. See that store right over there…Murray’s? Man, you could go there on a Saturday, give ol’ man Murray $15, and he’d fix you up with a brand new suit, shirt, tie, and belt. He’d let you pay a little every week for those clothes. I’d be lookin’ good and everybody wanted to look good for Saturday night. But you better not get caught in the rain wearin’ one of Murray’s suits.”
“Why was that,” I asked.
“The britches would draw up to your ankles or higher and the coat sleeves up to your elbows. But while it lasted, you looked good.
“And I like to look good. I like to be able to show my enemies I’m doing well…that’s the best way to get back at somebody who has done you wrong. You don’t have to fight them or argue with them — just outdo them.
“But you got to take care of things while you at it. As for me, I talk to my money when I spend it. I tell it that I know it will come back to me soon. I don’t fold it. I don’t wrinkle it. I keep it neat and I value it. That’s how I bought my own taxi cab. You gotta believe and you gotta work hard. That is how I’ve made it. You don’t know this, but I’m the taxi cab driver that was stabbed 23 times and lived to talk about it. I told myself after it happened that I was not going to die — that I was gonna live. And here I am today.
“Now you have a nice trip back to Atlanta and hang onto that card. I’ll be looking for you next time you head to Memphis.”
And I’ll be ringing you up, Frank.