I recently met someone here in Philadelphia who had, surprisingly, actually been to Memphis (trust me, it doesn’t happen often), and she said Memphis was one of two cities she had ever traveled to for a former job that had wildly surpassed her [admittedly low] expectations for it. (The other was Louisville.) It was a pretty accurate judgment about the city.
I’ll be honest: I did not have high expectations for Memphis either. My reasons for selecting it (and Nashville, as my top choices) had been superficial, and picking regional preferences was probably the biggest least-researched decision I’ve ever made in my short life. I read its Wikipedia page. I saw the cost of living. Sold. I remember visiting the city for the first time after I had been accepted to teach there and thinking it was just ordinary. It hadn’t dazzled me by any means, and I was fully prepared to have a plain, fine existence in Memphis for two years.
What I actually found there wildly surpassed my expectations. I met nice strangers from the get-go, from the landlord who chatted with my friend for an hour in a coffeeshop when they met for her to sign her lease, to the people at the very liberal church in my neighborhood. (Come on, who expects a very liberal church in the Deep South?!) I found a city of incredible food (Gus’s, Central BBQ, The Beauty Shop, and that was just in my first month or so!), hidden gems (who am I kidding, these are all restaurants too!), and manageable size.
I found a city of inspiring children, scores of whom hold a place in my heart because of their heart, and inspiring teachers, who taught me not just about being an adult but about being someone good. I found a diverse community of friends – teachers and others, natives and others – that I desperately needed, being completely new to the city and to life as an adult. They were (are) friends who had my back: when my car was totaled, I got rides from school or to a car rental company, and when our house was broken into, they gave us gift cards to help us recover. But it wasn’t just in those small crisis situations; I knew I could count on them for seemingly simple things that were actually incredible gifts. Like the birthday I celebrated just hanging out around a backyard fire pit, the countless trivia nights and the last night we spent all the winnings, the couches I have since crashed on when I visited.
I realize that entire last paragraph could have been about any city. Incredible friendships are not exclusive to Memphis, obviously, but maybe there’s something to be said about the kind of people Memphis draws to her. It’s not a flashy or glamorous city – not for nothing, grit ‘n’ grind is a catchphrase – nor is it particularly easy to get to. People don’t just stumble upon Memphis or move there because it’s “cool” or “trendy.” No, they choose 901 purposefully, and I like to think that Memphis attracts people with a little adventure in them, a little YoLo, if you will.
My mom worries that I’ll move back to Memphis for good. I’m already hoping to return for another year or two after I graduate in 2015, if I can get a clerkship there. On days like this, writing posts like this, I admit that I wonder about life in Memphis permanently. For now, Mom doesn’t need to worry, but who knows what the next years will bring?