To this alliterative list could also be added: beer, barbeque and Beale Street-but I figured I’d keep things short and sweet. Yesterday was the 4th of July here in Memphis, as it indeed was in the rest of the world. What makes the mention of Memphis special is that it was the first time in this century that I had spent Independence Day back in the Mid-South. Somehow every time the 4th rolls around, I seem to be anywhere but Memphis, but this year I was right here and ready to enjoy a down-home celebration that would give me a dose of southern spirit to make up for all of those years of absence. My hometown did not disappoint.
Last year was the first time I had even been in the US for the 4th in many years, and although I remember having a great time with my family, I do not recall doing anything particularly American that day. Perhaps for this reason I was not expecting much from America’s birthday besides a few drinks with my friend, John. When I called him yesterday to ask what he had in mind, though, it became clear that he had thought ahead. The Memphis Redbirds, our minor league baseball team, was having a game last night, to be followed by a fireworks display. I could not and still cannot remember the last time I was at a baseball game, and to my mind there didn’t seem to be anything as quintessentially American as celebrating with our national pastime.
Now I remembered that sporting events were expensive and that eating and drinking inside the stadium were best left to billionaire media moguls and their ilk. Nevertheless, I found myself cringing at the $5 PBRs, a price that could bring a genuine tear to a hipster’s eye. This fun discovery at least prepared me for the food prices. Deciding just to have a snack at the game and grab a more satisfying dinner later, John and I settled on one of the many Rendezvous barbeque stands that tempt the hungry spectator. It is my sincere belief that, regardless of any need or desire to consume food at the given time, the smell of Rendezvous barbeque will make a meat-eater swoon. Even I, as tightfisted with my money as they come, found myself helpless before its power, and I soon succumbed to the allure of that wafting pulled pork aroma and joined the zombie ranks being led by the nose to the nearest Rendezvous booth.
My senses returned to me somewhat when I saw the prices, and John and I opted to split something. The best deal looked to be the barbeque nachos for $9.50, but I found myself asking just what those were. John laughed and told me I’d been out of the South too long. No doubt this was true because I had never seen pulled pork-laden tortilla chips drenched in nacho cheese and barbeque sauce. The verdict: incredibly delicious, if somewhat difficult to wrap my mind around. It was not long before the nachos had been thoroughly destroyed, the orange-brown pools in the plastic tray the only evidence that they had ever been, and the hole in my wallet looming all the larger. The beer, I can tell you, was properly nursed.
We had arrived about halfway into the game, the Redbirds trailing 6-2 behind the Nashville Sound. Not that ‘Redbirds’ is a particularly awe-inspiring name, but what is it that possessed my neighbours to the east to dub their team ‘The Sound’? What exactly is the sound that they represent? Is it the mighty, quakin’-in-your-boots-inducing call of the Kraken? Or is it the ever-annoying fingernails on the chalkboard? The voice of Justin Bieber, perhaps? Had they even considered being the Nashville Noise? Whatever sound it was, it seemed to be doing a good job of intimidating these redbirds Memphis appears so fond of. The board had us behind in both ‘H’s and ‘R’s, and my sports-adept brain immediately surmised that these were ‘Hits’ and ‘Runs’ (thank you, that’s why they pay me the big bucks). We did seem to be up in ‘E’s, however, which made me smile. ‘What are ‘E’s?’ I asked John. ‘Errors,’ he replied. Ah, yes. So they had us there, too. We did see one good hit that brought two players home sometime in the eighth inning, and this gave us hope that there might be a chance for our side to rally. Nope.
But hey, win or lose there were fireworks, and those were spectacular. We moved down from the cheap (a relative term) seats to fill in some of the holes apparently left by people who don’t like fireworks. I don’t want to judge them, so I will assume that they all received word of simultaneous family emergencies which required leaving immediately and missing the show. There’s really no other excuse for walking out on fireworks. And these were not your daddy’s fireworks. We’re talking total sensory overload, complete with explosions of ear-numbing intensity that led me to wonder if that was the sound that Nashville was talking about.
We watched as fire shotgunned into the sky and burned itself out, making way for other torches to follow. Then the blasts intensified, and instead of the earlier signal flares, these latest sentinels had transformed themselves into fragmenting sparks of colour. Crackling and sparkling their way earthward, the reds, oranges and whites took their bows for a job well done, but we in the audience were far too engrossed in the continuing display to think to clap. Even when I thought that it was over, it was only a short delay to prepare us for the awe-inspiring finale. My eyes rebelled and my ears pounded, but all I could do was watch and listen, convinced in that moment that I was witnessing something great. Our species was mighty. It could hurl fire into the sky and force it to do our bidding. Fading colours and dissipating smoke returned me to reality, however, and I recognized how primitive such a display was. Hairless apes, fascinated by pretty lights and desperate to show the world what we could do. All in all, an intensely beautiful experience, and one I greatly enjoyed, but nevertheless something that reminded me how high we are on ourselves.
John and I wandered our way out of the stadium, joining the great exodus that led into the streets of downtown Memphis. For one reason or another we decided to hit up Beale Street, perhaps the most famous thing the town has to offer after Graceland. Neither of these are places that locals are particularly apt to go, and yet we went anyway. It is, after all, a novelty to be able to walk down the street in the US while drinking a beer and enjoying the sounds of good music escaping the endless bars and blues halls. Beale Street has changed quite a bit since I was living in Memphis. Numerous chains have made their way there, including Coyote Ugly and Hard Rock Café. Thankfully, with t-shirts that included such messages as, ‘No More Silly-Assness’ and a rendering of the Coca-Cola logo to read, ‘I Enjoy Vagina’, I can report that downtown Memphis is still classy.
We ended our night at Dyer’s, one of the most famous burger joints in Memphis (Huey’s, I haven’t forgotten you). The epitome of the greasy spoon, Dyer’s has been cooking with the same grease (regularly strained and diluted with additional oil, of course) for around 100 years. The thought might make you cringe, but these are very tasty burgers. If the price of barbeque nachos left my pockets lighter than I would have liked, Dyer’s put the spring back in my step. At around $5 for a double-meat, double-cheese burger, I was finally able to fill my stomach on more than malt and hops, and I even had a Dr. Pepper to boot.
John and I had begun our celebrations that night by discussing independence movements in Eastern Europe and what some of the world’s youngest countries thought of their status and the West. We had talked about travel and politics, laughed about crazy stuff one or the other of us had done and speculated as to what life would be like in the future. As things wore on and the night grew old, however, we soon found that we had fallen back on simpler topics until finally we both had to admit that tired had caught up with us. I dropped John off at his building and headed home. It had been a great night, but it was time for bed. I got back to my parents’ place at around 1:30 in the morning and shook my head. The 4th of July had surrendered after all, giving way to the 5th and the beginning of another year of independence. I only hope that we use the year wisely.