Workin’ on my Memphis blues

was sitting in a tiny coffee house on the corner of Poplar and Perkins Extended in Memphis when the drugs failed to kick in.

Second cup, no buzz yet, although my leg is jiggling a bit. This High Point Coffee just doesn’t have something that Starbucks has. (As Mike Myers would say in a thick brogue, "an addictive chemical that makes you crrrave it fortnightly," or in my case, daily.)

But the shop itself has something Starbucks does not have — free broadband wireless. Nice little joint. Friendly. I’ve been here three times, and I’ve seen one of the guys who was in here earlier all three times. In fact, I’ve heard him tell people at nearby tables about his recent trip to Jekyll Island three times as well. That’s OK; I’ve tuned him out after the first time — when he answered someone who asked whether that was in the Outer Banks by saying, "well, maybe, I think I heard somebody refer to it as that," at which point I had to butt in and tell them where the Outer Banks were.

Second time, I got into a discussion with a guy named Roosevelt who works at FedEx (you know, like Tom Hanks in "Castaway;" Hollywood thinks everybody in Memphis works for ol’ Fred), vacations at Myrtle Beach, and is orginally from Cherry Point. We talked about our kids and college. He is also a blues musician on the side (the other thing Hollywood thinks everybody in Memphis does, and not without cause). He promised to visit the blog, so if you’re there, Hi. Don’t forget to leave a comment.

It’s been very, very hot here all week, although we did get a slight break last night. I think it touched three digits the one day I played golf. We had a good time, even though I just barely stayed in two digits, so never mind the score. I’ve got my racket, but no tennis. Living in Columbia, I sort of snorted when I got here and they complained about how hot it’s been. I’m not snorting now.

Speaking of hot, the local and state primaries were Thursday, and … I just caught one of those phrases that puts me off track; some girl over at another table just said, …"that’s 2 a.m. in Ireland…" Sometimes life, for those of us with ADD, is like one of those avant-garde recordings such as Revolution No. 9, with snatches of conversation coming from God knows where that make no sense out of context. I looked up to see who was speaking, and there are these two similar-looking girls (from this angle, anyway — sisters, perhaps) over against the window. Walking past them, outside, inexplicably walking the wrong way up the drive-through lane, is a beautiful young woman with short black hair, wearing shades, looks like a model, turning right to look directly at me, although I know all she sees is the bright-sun reflection of Poplar Avenue. She’s just there for a second when she disappears around the corner. Approaching the door is a largish guy in a Nirvana T-shirt, curly, thinning hair freshly slept-in at 2 p.m., carrying a stack of pamphlets or newsletters. He dutifully deposits them on the counter (Memflix, a six-page movie review sheet, mostly writtenMemflix by one Jesse W. Morrison), then steps over to the two girls talking about Ireland. And they all leave. Everybody here seems to know each other, but the folks behind the counter don’t know the Memflix guy. They’ve noticed the flyers before, but didn’t know where they came from. We briefly discuss movies. I’m the only customer now. I get another cup so I can keep blogging. The Memflix guy just reappeared, walking the same path as the model, slurping on a smoothie and carrying a placard of some kind in his other hand, and also disappears around the corner.

Oh, yeah… Thursday they had the biggest ballot in history here in Memphis. Some places in the state, it was the first time with electronic machines, and there were delays. Right here in East Memphis, my sister-in-law-in-law (my wife’s brother’s wife) took two-and-a-half hours to vote. Of course, at the school where she voted, some genius had decided to hold registration the same day. A madhouse.

Results? Well, Harold Ford’s kid won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. I understand he’s made a pretty good name for himself in Washington, much more of a reasonable moderate sort of guy than you would expect a Ford to be. I don’t know him, but I knew his Daddy, long ago. At a dinner one night in 1978 with him, Jim Sasser and Jake Butcher, I learned a lot about how the Ford machine works. Harold had been to the dentist that afternoon, and the painkillers with the couple of drinks he had made his tongue pretty loose, and he was very eager to persuade Butcher he was going to deliver Memphis to him — the 9th District part, anyway. Sasser and Butcher were nervous and tried to shush him in my presence, but he waved it off, and said, "This is off the record, right?" I shrugged noncomittally and said, "I’m just eating here." I was traveling with the Butcher campaign, and I had to eat somewhere. It was all very interesting, but not incriminating. I don’t think I could have provided any testimony that would have kept him from beating that federal rap later.

Steve Cohen, a name it seems I’ve heard forever (his Daddy, as I recall, used to run the state mental hospital at Bolivar) picked up the Democratic nomination for young Harold’s seat. That was a nasty, multiple-candidate race that under South Carolina rules would have meant a runoff. There were accusations of anti-Semitic tactics used against Cohen a la Max Heller. But Cohen made it through, and is now the first white Democratic nominee for this seat in 32 years. Harold pere won the seat from my father-in-law’s former business partner, Republican Dan Kuykendall, in 1974. I remember hearing him speak over at Memphis State when my wife and I were students there, and being impressed — more impressed than I would later be by his performance.

See how Tennessee is just as pervaded by interlocking personal relationships as South Carolina (where our favorite question to ask candidates is, "Who’s your Daddy?" — a question to which we already knew the answer with two of the four GOP candidates for state Treasurer this year, and one Gov Lite candidate)? I would tell you about the Republican candidates for the Senate and congressional seats, but I don’t know their Daddys, so what could I tell you by S.C. standards?

That 1978 dinner with the nervous politicos took place at the Pete & Sam’s out by the airport, which is long gone now. (Butcher paid, which ticked me off, and I had to grab one of his aides’ arms and force a bill into his hand to reimburse him. I definitely didn’t want to be indebted to that schmoe, even if free meals hadn’t been against my paper’s rules.)

PetesamsThe original Pete & Sam’s is still there on Park, by the way, thank God. The highlight of my week was a family dinner there Monday night. It’s the realest Italian restaurant in the world. Unlike the ill-fated airport location, and another failed effort way out East, this one still doesn’t have liquor by the drink. You can order beer, but you have to bring your own wine or whatever. Fortunately, one of my brothers-in-law is a rep for a distributor, so we never go lacking in that department.

I even got Mr. Sam (Pete passed away long ago, I believe) to pose at the register in front of some of his signed celebrity photos (everybody from Elvis to Ed McMahon). See below. He also posed with my father-in-law, whom he has long known and always speaks to with great respect and solicitude. His wife visited our table, too. It’s that kind of joint — dark, homey, with a to-hell-with-decor atmosphere. Not exactly the sort of place you’d see in "Goodfellas" — more like the kind of place that the more-honest relatives of the wise guys would choose to eat at. Extremely real. Tourists can talk about the Rendezvous or Corky’s, and they’re very fine, but I’ll take Pete & Sam’s as my first choice whenever I’m in Memphis.

My father-in-law paid this time, and I had no objections.


10 thoughts on “Workin’ on my Memphis blues

  1. Brad Warthen

    DANG! I had just put a bunch of links into this when Mozilla shut down without warning and I lost them all. Oh, well. I’ll go back to the house and add the trimmings later via dialup. Dang.

  2. Dave

    I had read where Ford Jr. had moved his girlfriend into his home while his wife was still living there. A family values guy of the Bill Clinton mold for sure. From my visits and what I know of Memphis, Lee is correct.

  3. Ready to Hurl

    Yep, those Repubs are sure paragons of family values.
    Of course, a Repub would never be a serial philanderer with staff members. Nor would a Repub serve his wife divorce papers while she lay in the hospital undergoing cancer treatments. Well, at least he got divorced before marrying his office bimbo.
    Republican Newt Gingrich, architect of the Republican “Contract on America,” former Republican house majority leader and current Republican presidential candidate, did all of the above.
    Thank goodness for the “family values party.”

  4. Capital A

    Don’t forget our current president’s very own cocaine-nuked nasal passageways. I smell something amiss with Republican reasoning on this matter.
    Did Bushbaby ever slip up and call Karl Rove “my li’l speedball” rather than the established “my li’l turdball”?

  5. Lee

    The source of that cocaine smear on Bush was an Al Gore operative, who long ago admitted he lied, lost his writing job, and had is book recalled by the publisher.
    Clinton, on the other hand, still has 16 witnesses to have sworn to seeing him use drugs, in addition to the White House physician who resigned over Clinton injecting himself with some substance which had been delivered from Arkansas.

  6. Dave

    Slickmeister Willie never did release his medical records as all other presidents have. That can only mean one of these things: Drugs, STDs, or Psychological problems. Or all three!

    And on the Newt thing, if he was estranged from his wife, how would he know she was in a hospital? Talk about stretching it to condemn a guy. He would make a great president. I think we can all forgive him for the divorce. After all, he didn’t remarry a man. HHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaa

  7. David

    I remember going to Pete & Sam’s with my parents whnever we would go back to Memphis to visit grandparents and cousins. They don’t have many places like that around anymore. It is a shame that more Memphians don’t do more to revitalize their town. The rely on tourist to do a little in the name of blues preservation while the locals move out to the suburbs and leave the rest of the city to decay. It makes Columbia look a little more progressive when compared to Memphis, Birmingham and Jackson.

  8. Lee

    Downtown Memphis, Birmingham and Jackson are stark monuments to 1960 liberal social programs destruction of the black family and community.

  9. Joyce Pennington

    Memphis and Jackson are now national monuments for what a black run community will look like in one generation!!
    Pete and Sams I love that place! Italian spinach at its finest. Ravoli..the BEST!!
    My favorite is the salad dressing..I could just drink it.
    Its a crying shame that it is surrounded by run down, peeling paint houses, ghetto Memphis in ruins since I left only 10 years ago…that was about the time that Willie Herrington became mayor and Memphis which once was one of the nations prettiest communities has been trashed out. Oh yeah..power to ya! Jackson? when a car backfires during a parade..all the white folks – dare they attend – are the only ones left standing…the people of color hit the pavement screaming. crying shame!


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