Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Memphis in May-be

A Southern writer once said that a lucrative career is available in explaining the South to outsiders. Well I'm not able to do that, cause I don't understand the South either. But a lot of interesting things happen around here, and I can write what I see.

Every year since medieval times probably, first weekend in May is the Memphis Music Fest, a massive three day outdoor venue for selling beer to the underaged. Oh yeah, and they have music too. One thing all Memphis area residents agree on about the first weekend in May; it's gonna rain.

Not just a misty, refreshing romantic 'April in Paris' kind of rain either. Southern river towns don't do anything tepidly. It's going to rain buckets, car wash on steroids kind of rain.

I keep forgetting to talk about the music! The lineup is comprised of a few currently hot bands, a lot of not quite there yet bands, and a healthy sprinkling from the 'Is he still alive?' category. Nobody cares much about the music though. They come because it's a big wet tee shirt contest where teens can get a beer or ten.

This year was no different, and it was. The rain started Friday evening, rolling across in hard waves, spaced out every thirty minutes or hour. Saturday was no different. Now Saturday night, it got serious. Yeah, right about here I fold in WW2...

Before radar, Southerners had to look at the sky and use their intuition about seeking shelter. Lots of times that didn't work, because killing storms can arrive without a warmup band, anytime they wish. Then came a terrible war in which untold millions lost their lives, and we got radar.

Radar said it was very likely tornados would be making an unscheduled appearance at the Memphis Music Fest. An unprecedented thing was done; the plug was pulled on the show and all the revellers were ordered to leave immediately.

Hmmm... I wonder where thousands of young folks go when they're too drunk to go home. I'll have to think about that later.

And in a 250 mile radius around the Memphis riverfront, as that drama was taking place, people were losing their homes, businesses and lives. Storms and flash floods killed people in their sleep and killed people trying to escape. Sometimes radar isn't much help at all. So that's a thing I know about the South. Death and destruction can come swiftly; it's always been like that. In some way, that fact informs Southern culture.

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