VOL. 128 | NO. 229 | Friday, November 22, 2013
Our Kind of Street
By Dan Conaway
A DIFFERENT KIND OF ADDRESS. The sticker on the door of Elwood’s Shack – sort of on Summer and sort of in Lowe’s parking lot – said “Summer Ave. is my Poplar.”
When I was about 3, the very first one in the world opened. And changed the way the world traveled. The very first one had a phone and a TV in every room when others had one or the other or neither. It had a swimming pool. It had a restaurant. It had a name inspired by a Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby movie and a flashy, flashing arrow of a sign out front inspired by a neon nightmare. And kids like me, and millions and millions since, stayed for free.
The first Holiday Inn in the world was on Summer.
When I was about nine, Sally Metcalf and I sat out in front of the very first one in Memphis. We had a very cool box in our laps that had separate compartments for our hamburgers, our chocolate shakes and for the best French fries in the world, hand-cut in the basement of the brand-new building behind us – a building that had a hamburger man on it winking at us, just like he did from the side of that box and on the wrapping of that hamburger.
The first McDonald’s in Memphis was on Summer.
When I was about 15, Pete Bale and I snuck into the original Summer Drive-In in the trunk of Steve Boswell’s 1949 vomit green Oldsmobile and had to dive into the ditch surrounding the place to avoid capture by the thugs employed to catch miscreants like us. When I was 17, I got carded at the new Summer Twin Drive-In trying to get in to see “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” My college girl date thought I was 18. Seriously busted.
The firsts that occurred in those drive-ins, some unforgettable and others best forgotten, we won’t go into now, but suffice it to say, they, like Summer itself, have marked my passage here.
From Hollywood and the Angel Food Ice Cream bar and Schwinn Bicycle Shop of my youth to the Mexican magic ice cream of today’s La Michoacana just past Graham. Over the overpass by the scowling Mrs. Pat of Pat’s Pizza of my college years, out past the mirrored windows and biscuits of Ferguson’s, past Leahy’s Tourist Court and Monte’s Drive-In – which would become Monte’s catering further east which would, I swear, become a funeral – on past all-night bowling at Imperial Lanes and all-night God-knows-what at the Palomino Motel.
Then and now, the sort of seamy, steamy soil of Summer Avenue – a little respectability here and there and a whole lot of quirky shtick everywhere – seems to be fertile ground to grow the different and the interesting.
If Poplar is where we’re supposed to go to see what we’re supposed to see, Summer is the back of the house where we see how it’s done.
I’m a Memphian, and there’s a lot of Memphis on Summer.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.