Day 281

This weekend, I discovered UT tailgating and it was pretty unreal. As someone who lived off-campus during his college career, this is something completely new to me. But, wow did I have an absolute blast. I’m not sure if every school has a pre-game event of similar scale, but I couldn’t help but stand in awe of how many blocks it spanned. There were even sponsored tents from the likes of Monster Energy, Southern Comfort and Bud Lite. If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it. I mean... free booze, beads and BBQ? Count me in for next weekend’s festivities.

Anyway, a week in and I’m already getting the sense that things operate a lot differently down here in Austin. While I still have a ways to go in figuring out why, I have come to notice a few things that make this place one of a kind. First off, the city itself contains different elements that remind me of many of the other stops I’ve already hit. The atmosphere is a lot like Memphis; the architecture, a little New Orleans; the nighttime weather feels like Charlotte; and the bar-lined 6th Street harkens back to the likes of Bourbon and Beale Street.

It’s more than that though. Even the more casual things I’ve become used to are different down here. Take food trucks for instance. Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to checking Twitter for my favorite mobile eateries’ daily locations. However, here in Austin, the food trucks have taken up permanent residence in the abandoned corners and parking lots of the area. They never relocate and instead they build up their spaces with tents, lights, benches and a slew of decorations in an attempt to grab attention. And these truck-sized restaurants aren’t regulated to certain parts of the city either. You can find them almost anywhere, usually filled with small crowds or long lines depending on the time of day. 

Aside from the aesthetics, the people here seem to operate on a much differently wave length as well. While they maintain the charm and hospitality you’d expect in the south, they also have a more carefree air about them. Things move a bit slower. People breathe a little easier. Everyone seemingly wants to have a good time and they don’t let labels get in the way of that. Where in other cities, you’d know certain places as ‘the college bar’ or the ‘local joint,’ establishments here seem to welcome people from all walks of life. Yet, in the end, every place still maintains this ‘rough around the edges’ sort of feel, regardless of their patrons. Really, the only two categories they seem to have are ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

With four weeks to go, I’m really excited to uncover even more ways Austin is different. Although, I will say, I was absolutely right about the weather. I’m not a fan of the heat and as expected, I’ve already developed a love/hate relationship with this city as a result. 

-Steve- 

Day 169

Well, there you have it. I know last Monday’s blog was a bit gloomy, but as I said, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I found it by way of Midtown Memphis. For everything downtown Memphis currently lacks, the midtown area picks up the ball and scores a three before you can even bat an eyelash. From record stores and brunch-friendly eateries to the Memphis Zoo and shops like Sweet Noshings, the area is teeming with life and exuberance.

Much like Charlotte’s NoLa, Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Cleveland’s Ohio City, it takes but a glance to realize this is where the creative twenty-somethings and young professionals have taken up residency. In fact, I’ve come to find that most of my Red Deluxe co-workers already live there. So, I’ll be the first to admit that just when I thought I'd seen all that Memphis has to offer, it continues to surprise and delight me in brand new ways.

The two areas of midtown I ventured to were Overton Square and Cooper Young. Both offer a variety of locally owned shops, restaurants and bars in addition to great entertainment options. In fact, Overton Square even has a weekly concert series called "Thursdays Squared". However, above all else, there was one thing that really caught my eye—Cowork Memphis—a modern building designed to accommodate freelancers, entrepreneurs and independent contractors. Needless to say, I believe every city would benefit from a place like this, because it encourages collaboration and connectivity—two things #TGAA is all about. Even though I came across it on a weekend, you could still see that it was teeming with life.  

After several hours of walking, I decided to stop into Boscos, where I struck up a conversation with a few locals who told me all about the city’s theaters and concert venues—from the Orpheum and Minglewood Hall to the Playhouse on the Square and Hattiloo Theatre. Each of which offers it’s own unique style and flair. They told me great stories of their past and how these venues are all apart of the growing diversity that is the Memphis creative scene. You might not notice it at first—I know I didn’t—but as I’ve said before, the people here are more than happy to tell you why this city is so great.

All in all, these new discoveries make a tad jealous, because most nights I see nary a soul outside of my apartment window. Sure, Beale Street is nearby and always full of energy, but much like Bourbon Street, it’s home to the city’s tourist population. I think that once Midtown’s energy begins stretching west toward the downtown area, this is going to be one city all creatives will want to keep on your radar.

I also found time to attend the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest over the weekend too. It's another awesome Memphis in May event and the place to go if you love delicious BBQ. I even learned about the stories behind the ceiling toothpicks at Huey’s and the ducks in the Peabody Hotel. I'd tell you all about them, but I don't want to spoil the excitement. 

-Steve-

Day 162

Over the weekend, I was trying to think of how to best describe downtown Memphis. Every time I came up with a new adjective, another one would pop in my head and completely negate the first. What I came to find is that it’s extremely difficult to encapsulate the vibe of a city that has so much to offer, yet so far to go.

So, what can I tell you about downtown Memphis? Well, I’d argue that if you randomly woke up here, you’d be hard pressed to know what decade you landed in. A lot of the architecture blends designs from the 50s and 60s, while the newer buildings exude over-the-top 80s style with neon lights and oddly placed waterfalls. There’s also the staggering number of empty lots that harken back to the lowest points of the 1930s.

That’s not to say all is lost though. Yes, as a whole, downtown lacks that certain youthful exuberance I found in parts of Cleveland, Philly and Charlotte. But there are several pockets starting to build things back up. From the neighborhoods that surround the visible music college and AutoZone Park to new hotspots like Tamp & Tap and Local, there are glimpses of a turnaround everywhere you look. The city is even in the process of building a Centre for Performing Arts next to the Orpheum Theatre, which is sure to help boost another section of the downtown area.

Is the lack of modern aesthetics a bad thing? It all depends on how you look at it. I’ve heard this city’s history from several people over the past week and while I won’t bore you with the details, I do have a firm understanding of why the city is the way it is. Yet, despite it all, the people here are extremely passionate about the place they call home and will happily tell you about the wonders of Memphis. They know that for every down the city has seen, there’s always an up to counter it. As the Grizzlies' “growl towels” stated at their last home playoff games—We Don’t Bluff.

From Graceland and Stax to Sun Records and Beale Street, this is a city that knows what it’s made of and won’t back down from anyone. Hell, this is also a lifelong wrestling city—home of Cleveland Indians fan and WWE Hall of Famer, Jerry the King Lawler—who’ll happily send a personalized chair shot to anyone who talks ill of his salt-of-the-earth, nitty-gritty, for better or worse city of Memphis, Tennessee.  

Over the next three weeks, I hope to expose some of the city's bright spots—from the awesome theater system and “must-see” museums to the hip midtown area and the various Memphis in May festivities. I’m excited to share what I find, but first I need to grab some more of this city’s incredible BBQ. As they say, if you want to win the heart of the masses, always start with their stomachs.

-Steve-