Missing Memphis: How to Explore Your Own Backyard

Posted on July 1, 2014

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By Katie Butler

photo_for_websiteAfter packing up my bags and leaving Texas to study abroad in Oxford, England, I left my home with an idealized version of what my travels would look like. I imagined exploring new places, learning about the rich history of Great Britain, reading scholarly articles on literature and music, and learning a little bit about myself along the way. A week into my study abroad program, however, I realized something; I did not need to go all the way to Europe for motivation to explore, learn, and grow. Instead, I realized, simply, that I could do all of these things while in school in Memphis. I just had to take the time to look.

I am not saying at all that my study abroad experience is anything of a letdown. Quite the contrary, I am learning more, experiencing more, and having more fun in Oxford than I ever could have imagined. However, as my studies began, I slowly began to realize that Oxford mirrored my school in Memphis (Rhodes College) in a lot of ways. In addition, the city of Oxford and the surrounding areas have much to offer, as does Memphis. Therefore, while I came to Great Britain looking for adventure, I realized that while at school, I never had the courage to see what was right in front of my face. I find myself missing Memphis, even thousands of miles away. Let me explain.

The history: Upon traveling to Oxford, I was thrilled to begin to acquire knowledge about the great tales of Knights and the Round Table, Stonehenge, different cathedrals and kings. Imagining standing where kings stood, looking at the resting places of great English leaders, visiting the cites and living in the tales, I felt I would become a part of history. However, upon visiting these extravagant and rich historical cites, I wondered to myself about the history of Memphis. Why had I never willingly gone to the National Civil Rights Museum and stood where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood? Why have I never visited Graceland and explored the place where beautiful music was made? Why had I chosen to remain within the walls of my school when there was history being made in Memphis that I could have been a part of? I realized, then, that I didn’t need to fly over an ocean to find such historical adventure; it had been right under my nose all along.

The restaurants: I won’t lie; the first thing that we college kids went looking for in Oxford was some good ol’ English pub food. We wanted the “British” ambiance, the dark wooden walls with wooden chairs, and coats of arms on the walls, low ceilings, and cozy corners to eat our food in. More than that, we searched for the best fish and chips, the most outlandish English breakfasts, and the most soothing teas. Never before have I spent so much time on the process of eating, enjoying three course meals in the dining hall, being served slowly, and having coffee after every meal while talking amongst friends. I wondered, then, why we don’t take so much care with our food in the states. Why don’t I go out of my way to find the most scrumptious, local food in Memphis and instead limit myself to chain restaurants? Can I not step outside my comfort zone and dare order something different, something new? Why do we speed through our meals, unable to enjoy the art of conversation and drink good coffee with friends, recognizing the value of the combination of quality food and quality time? Due to initiatives like Project Green Fork, along with the multiple small business-oriented restaurants throughout Memphis, not to mention our BBQ staples such as Central BBQ, amongst many wonderful others, you would think that this would be easy an easy task. I recognize now that food in Memphis is special, so we might as well learn to enjoy.

The ability to explore on my own: I never understood the value of being able to do things on my own before coming to Oxford. The ability to eat a meal alone, walk the streets alone, meet people alone, see a show on your own, and sit and read alone are precious moments, ones that should not be taken for granted. So what am I going to do when I get back to Memphis? Take the time to appreciate my city all by myself. I will go to Overton Park alone, sit on a bench, and read while enjoying the sunlight, the surroundings, and the people. I will be unafraid to eat a meal by myself at Café Eclectic, drinking coffee, taking my time at the pace of which I please. I will go to the Orpheum to see my favorite musical, able to concentrate on the art taking place in front of me, and I will walk down the streets of downtown and Mud Island, becoming a part of the city itself and recognizing the beauty that lies there without distraction. England is not the only place that offers treasures to be found; you just have to take the time to explore, not only a city, but yourself, to find the wonders of Memphis that aren’t as hidden as one might think.

So, take some time to explore your own backyard in Memphis. See a show at the Levitt Shell or explore the Brooks Museum. Try that new restaurant that seems like a hole in the wall, or take a few friends down Beale Street. Watch the Peabody ducks, or take that dangerous looking ally down to Rendezvous because you know it’s secretly worth it. Go to the Zoo because you want to see the animals, and on Tuesdays, it’s free, so you have no excuse. Lastly, don’t be afraid to explore in solitude. It is a lot cheaper than therapy or having to travel thousands of miles to find what you already have right on your fingertips; a city that allows you to find adventure, exploration, community, and a sense of self.

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Posted in: Lifestyle