Saturday, March 18, 2017

It does what it's supposed to do

There's an art installation waving high above the Edge District in Memphis, which, if you're not familiar, includes the infamous Sun Studio. You know... Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, the whole gang. What I did not know was that Marshall Avenue, running along the studio toward downtown, was once known as Automobile Row long before the Million Dollar Quartet taught America how to rock.

Picture it: Memphis. 1911: Ford Motor Company opens up shop amid more than half a dozen other dealerships hawking cars you've never heard of. (Shady Pines, Ma!)

But roll off the lots, they did! And by the time Thunderbirds and Pink Cadillacs roared onto the scene in the 1950s, colorful streamers flapping in the wind (like the ones on display ) were the popular soundtrack to customers signing on the dotted line (when they weren't listening to That's All Right or High School Confidential).

Today, the breeze had those pennants playing that old plastic tune up and down Marshall Avenue, shimmering in the sun as the final hours of winter wound down. They even look sort of like piano keys.

Artist Cat Pena is lady behind the banners. Her installation is called "There's More To Be Proud Of", which is a fitting considering the Edge District is literally on the edge of revitalization. And current business owners are happy to give a wink and a nudge to the past.

If I close my eyes, I can almost smell them, that tell-tale plastic scent. Even if my memories of retailers flying those colors proudly only reach back to the 80s, this high-flying piece of nostalgia does what it's supposed to do. It makes me remember. It makes me think about what I recall: a time when more than just car lots were looking for ways to make customers feel like they were stepping into something special... When something akin to a grass skirt was the grandfather of that obnoxious inflatable tube man dancing outside every cell phone store.

And if you walk down Marshall Avenue, you're definitely strolling through something special... an important part of Memphis, and, arguably, American history.