Say what you will about Hollywood being a bad part of Memphis, I didn’t see anyone in Hollywood doing coke in the bathroom. Which is more than I can say for the Mexican restaurant I ate at in a totally separate part of the city. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing coke in the bathroom of a Mexican restaurant – except for yes, there is everything wrong with that, nevermind – I’m just saying that people’s impressions of things are defined by context.
It makes sense, therefore, that all I heard about Memphis’s Hollywood were horror stories, largely from people who’d never spent any time there. The media’s coverage of the neighborhood is apparently fairly dismal, biased and not terribly keyed into the systemic problems that keep the economically troubled part of town in dire straits.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the few people I spoke to with anything nice to say about Hollywood was Colin, who lived there for eighteen years of his life. He grew up in the northern part of the neighborhood, and said it was a wonderful place to be a kid. He got a lot of “Hey, white boy,” being the only caucasian kid in his elementary school, but said he never felt out of place or like he didn’t belong. This jives with something that came up in my interviews both with the director of the local community center and with Dorothy Cox, a community organizer attempting to turn the neighborhood and its reputation around: Hollywood’s sense of family.
Not community, not some nebulous word meaning “togetherness,” specifically family. It came up with each person I interviewed as something that makes the neighborhood special: the sense of family that exists between people who live there. Doubtless this is at least partly because they feel that they know the truth about their part of town and many other people are misinformed by the media’s portrayal of their home. That truth, as described to me, is that the neighborhood is indeed on a dangerous slide into trouble, but it’s not an unsafe place to be.
Dorothy Cox used to live in Hollywood, and now works on Shasta, directly off of Hollywood Street. She moved away for twenty years but now she’s back, having witnessed the gradual degradation of her old stomping grounds. I’m looking forward to going back through my interview with Dorothy and her coworker Bill to dissect her ideas about the are, including her (controversial) plan for what she called “gentle gentrification.” Living in a part of Brooklyn that’s in the process of less-than-gentle gentrification, I confess I have my own doubts about this plan, but then I haven’t been on Hollywood Street in Memphis for more than six hours.
After leaving Hollywood, I enjoyed some superb ribs at the bar of Rendezvous, and then got to take some pictures of a bunch of fire spinners I met through my couch surfing host, Jason. Most of today’s photos are of art by Jason or his friends. Enjoy!
Also, sorry for the brief pause in posting: I was in New Orleans catching up with friends and not thinking about Hollywood for 36 hours. Now we’re back, just in time for The Long Drive…