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RSVPhillippi | June 2018

Dennis Phillippi

Welcome to our Slice of Heaven

Last night I met a guy who moved to Memphis about a month ago for a new job.  He was sitting with some friends of mine and I overheard him saying something to the effect of  “Wait, what about an earthquake?”  Turns out he had no idea that Memphis is a little overdue for a massive seismic event.  As he said, “This never came up in the interview process.”  I don’t think anyone was deliberately keeping information about the New Madrid Fault, and how it hasn’t had any real pressure release in something like two centuries, and that the last time it did the river ran backwards and what is now downtown Memphis received what is believed to have been level nine activity on the Richter Scale, it’s just that we don’t think about it.  If you live in a place that had a lot of earthquake activity it’s really high on your list of things to worry about, and, crazy as it sounds, prepare for.  We are not prepared.  We forget that an earthquake isn’t just a possibility, but an inevitability.  No one told him about it because we have a lot of other things to worry about.  He lives on Mud Island and I don’t think he appreciated my crack that if the Big One happens he can wave at Vicksburg as he floats by.

He moved here from Central North Carolina, which, as it happens, also doesn’t have brown recluse spiders, another thing he had not been given a heads up about.  Yes, we have really poisonous spiders, but it’s their stealth that is particularly alarming.  When someone told him that if he plans to put on boots that have been sitting in a closet for a while he needs to make sure and shake them out because there might be a deadly arachnid bedding down in them, he looked like he was about ready to print out a new batch of resumes.  He said that he assumed no one we knew had ever actually been bitten by a brown recluse and I showed him the scar on my face where one bit me in my sleep, and the woman we were sitting with told the story of someone she knew who, you know, died from a brown recluse bite.  Somehow none of this was reassuring to our new resident.

There probably are things that we don’t necessarily emphasize when recruiting someone to work in Memphis.  I doubt if the headhunter spent much time filling him in on proper driving etiquette here.  We’re not big on using our turn signals to indicate the possibility of a turn or a lane change, we just happen to have it on at random times.  Just because our blinker is on doesn’t mean we’re going to be turning, and just because it’s not on doesn’t mean we won’t be moving over into your lane.  Tailgating isn’t just a fun game day activity; it’s also a part of the fabric of our driving.  A big part of this is most of us think of the “speed limit” as more of a suggestion than an actual law.  To us it’s more of a general guideline really.

Having lived his life in the Piedmont of North Carolina, my new friend also hadn’t been fully informed about the weather he is about to experience.  He had been outside on an unusually hot May day, a little over 90 degrees, and was under the impression that this was somehow preparing him for the days ahead.  This was, as you can imagine, met with a hearty round of laughter.  Ninety, we explained, was oddly hot for early May, but the fact that it would soon be the normal daily temperature was clearly something he had not considered.  The humidity in the Charlotte area isn’t something that makes much of an impression.  Their humidity compared to our humidity is roughly the difference between standing in front of a tricycle and standing in front of a moving train.

Oh, and another thing they don’t get in central North Carolina?  Tornadoes.  They might occasionally be grazed by the effect of a hurricane on the coast, but generally speaking they’re pretty isolated from what we refer to as “severe weather.”  To them “severe weather” is a couple of days of snow.  To us “severe weather” is also called “summer.”  Maybe the reason we don’t think much about earthquakes is because we have tornado sirens on top of our firehouses and schools.  Now, mind you, Memphians don’t actively worry about tornadoes because tornadoes are just a part of reality here, like hummingbird sized mosquitoes and our newest arrivals, other than my new buddy, alligators.  Yep, in recent years, due to whatever is happening with the climate, alligators have decided to swim upriver and take up residence in the Midsouth, something one wildlife official referred to as; “Not a huge threat to humans.”  That’s right, with the potential earthquake, deadly spiders, frequent tornado watches, and blistering heat, alligators are relegated to “not a huge threat.”  They’re a threat all right, just not a huge one.  When you run across a seven-foot prehistoric killing machine you are probably going to think of the event as “huge.”

The last thing I want to do is discourage anyone from moving to our great city, or to encourage my new acquaintance to see if he can get out of his lease.  I love this town with all its faults.  We have so many great things here, from the sports, to the people, to the music, to the food.  Memphis is a city where you actually get to know your neighbors.  Memphis is a city where you can navigate using compass points because we have the Mississippi River, one of this country’s natural treasures. Please live here, just make sure and buy a couple of flashlights and bottles of water.