Memphis Life and Lore

Learn the ins and outs of Memphis's local lingo and culture with this insider guide.
By: Alyson McNutt English
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GETTING AROUND

Tunica 
Down in Mississippi less than an hour from Memphis sits Tunica, the “Las Vegas of the South.” You’ll think you’re driving to the middle of nowhere until you turn onto Casino Row and see the gigantic glittering, flashing buildings rising out of the Mississippi countryside.

Malfunction Junction 
As Desoto County has swelled into one of the largest areas in the Memphis metro area, so have the problems with the exit from I-55 to Memphis’ I-240 loop. Locals who have to traverse the messy one-lane double-merger and tight curve have dubbed the traffic engineering disaster as “Malfunction Junction.”

KEY TERMS AND TRADITIONS

Are you Downtown, Midtown, East Memphis, Germantown? 
No matter where you actually live, Memphians will be able to categorize your personality and aesthetic into one of its neighborhood groupings. Downtowners are hip young professionals and trendy empty nesters, and they tend to populate the old downtown factories that have been reborn as modern condos and townhomes. Midtown people are funky and artsy and love the old style houses that dot neighborhoods like the Central Gardens, Cooper-Young and Evergreen. East Memphis is the high-income, often “old money” part of town, and Germantown is yuppie suburbia, with tons of families, luxury SUVs and shopping and eateries galore.

The Pyramid 
This towering glass structure (it’s larger than the Statue of Liberty or the Taj Mahal) looms large over the downtown Memphis skyline. But the Pyramid has been empty since 2004, when the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and the University of Memphis Tigers basketball teams left its confines for the new FedEx Forum facilities. Many tenants have been proposed, from a shopping mall to a casino to a “Mid-American” branch of the Smithsonian Institute. Rumor has it the structure may ultimately become a Bass Pro Shop, but Memphis residents have taken an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude to the future of the building that once defined Memphis’ downtown.

Downtown Farmer’s Market: 
Each spring as the flowers begin to bloom and the first cucumbers and scallions emerge from the earth, the Downtown Farmer’s Market bursts on the scene again. Housed in downtown’s Historic South Main District at Central Station (S. Front St. at GE Patterson) the market is in full swing from May until October, featuring local and regional produce, meats, flowers, crafts, herbs, desserts and pretty much anything else you can imagine, from granola bars to goat’s milk lotion. Swing by and enjoy the goods and music provided by local talents. Be sure to bring your reusable bag, too, because the Downtown Farmer’s Market’s green vibe encourages not only eating and buying local, but also remembering to reduce, reuse and recycle.

GEOGRAPHY

New Madrid Fault Zone 
Although California gets the most attention for earthquakes in the U.S., locals know that Memphis sits atop the New Madrid Fault. This fault caused several large earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, which registered as high as an 8.1 on the Richter Scale and caused the Mississippi river to look like it was flowing backwards for a short time. There hasn’t been a significant shift in the plates in more than 100 years but geologists warn there’s likely to be another major quake in the next 50 years and it could be catastrophic. If you buy a home in the Memphis area, your homeowners insurance will not automatically cover earthquakes; you’ll have to pay extra for the coverage, but it’s well worth it.

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