True Grit In Grind City
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this is the hardest blog to find motivation for. It’s a story of triumph over tragedy. The following trip to Memphis would unknown to me then, alter the rest of my life. In the first week of December 2016, I was invited to Memphis TN, to be a contributor in an art show put on by my good friend Johnny. (@JohnnyMeant) Shortly after landing sometime in the evening this guy Eric (@Webraw / pronounced web-raw) was there to pick me up from the airport. This guy Eric in a few short days would go from a stranger, to someone I consider a close friend. Not only that, but Eric’s an instrumental part on ensuring I still got to experience some of the best food around, and most importantly, true Southern Hospitality. (I'll add a list of amazing food spots to check out at the end). There was someone else in the car, another first time meet; Jorden. (@Anomalicious) Jorden is someone that would leave an impact on me in the days and weeks to come. When they pulled up we all shook hands and I threw my bag in the back of the car and we were off to meet up with Johnny.
We arrived at where I would be staying, The Exchange Memphis. Here is where Johnny was starting to print his photos for the show that would be held the following night a few floors above us in the penthouse banquet hall. After awhile Johnny suggested we go on the roof and that I go out with Eric and Jorden. For the rest of the night we went around and made some photos and I was introduced to two of the most amazing bars I’ve ever seen, Paula & Raiford’s Disco, and a disco it was.. The other being Ernestine and Hazels, and my favorite of the two. The structure was built in the late 1900’s and remains very much original to this day. You can’t buy this type of perfect imperfection. In the 1950’s the 2 story building’s lower level was turned into a Jazz club, with a salon upstairs. All the remaining rooms were rented out to ambitious ladies of the evening thanks to the Salon owner. The owners husband had ties with Stax Records which allowed him to book Aretha Franklyn, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, ect at his nearby club. After the show they would all head over to E&H for the afterparty. Last thing I’m going to mention is that it’s said 13 people have died there and it remains haunted to this day.
Arriving back at The Exchange sometime during the darkest hours of the night Johnny was still printing. I told him I would take over so he could get a couple hours of sleep before our drive to visit an abounded mental Hospital. It’s located a couple hours outside Memphis so we had to get an early start. An hour or 2 later I went to wake him up along with my favorite people from Chicago, Tatiana and Steven. (Tat_Ventures) & (Atavisme) A short while later we were in the car.
The hospital was really rad. I’ve visited a similar one back when I lived in Minnesota. This one I was told still had some of the patients luggage and I really was hoping it hadn’t been too disturbed. The hospital began construction in 1885. It’s said that during the 1960s patients were “warehoused” in dormitories with their numbers exceeding 2300. Treatments dolled out here ranged from hydrotherapy and insulin shock therapy to lobotomies and electric shock therapy. Yikes. After a few hours we wrapped it up and headed back to the Exchange to get ready for the show later that night.
The show was great. I got to see the work of, and also meet a lot of the people in the Memphis photo community. While everyone was great, I personally don’t really do crowds so Tatiana, Steven, and I broke away to go get some food down the street. A short while after we got back the party came to a close when some young shit heads decided it was a cool and respectful idea to buck off a fire extinguisher which ended up setting the fire alarms off throughout the entire building. The Exchange is a 21 story building with over 100 units of residential and hotel space. If anyone involved with that is reading this, you need the grow the fuck up and learn some respect.
The following morning we had an awesome breakfast at Blue Plate Cafe right next door from The Exchange. From there we walked over to the tallest building in Memphis. A 37 story fully abandoned office, awaiting renovations to transform the space to a hotel and condos costing an estimated $100 million. As we got closer to the top things became more interesting. Near the 30th floor I came across an office that was full of books with a huge window in which you can see out over downtown Memphis. I composed the frame and had to wait about 15 minutes for the fog to clear enough to see the city. I think this turned out to be one of my favorites from the trip and I’m glad I held out. The fact that it’s an abandoned skyscraper is not that only interesting feature. It also was constructed with a revolving restaurant atop of the main roof named the Tennessee Club then changed to Top of the 100 Club. Within the club was one of the coolest rooms I’ve ever been in. It was this private lounge area in front of the women’s restroom. It was full of mirrors and this crazy red carpet. I think I worked the scene for 10 minutes until arriving at something I liked. Very glad I got to check this place out.
After splitting up with some of the group, we headed towards an old abandoned church. Here we were made on our first attempt in. After driving around for a little while and approaching a little differently we got inside. This place was really cool and what struck me was all the gold trim and the huge stained glass windows. I made this photo right before our exit. This would be the last photo made on the trip for our next outing would end horribly.
We ended up back at the Exchange where we chilled for awhile and cleaned the gallery space. I guess at some point there was talk of hitting the 3rd tallest building in Memphis which was also abandoned. I don’t remember much leading up to this happening, or even the climb itself. The next thing I remember I was in a hospital bed. Fuck.
I’m going to back up for just a second and explain what exactly the climb was, because I know there’s different stories going around. It was roughly a 1.5 inch wide pipe snugged against the bricks going up maybe 10-12ft. The first problem is that you can’t wrap your fingers around the pipe because of the wall, so it’s almost a pinch hand hold while walking your feet up the wall. Then there is a transfer to these really thick wires covered in rubber, climb up up those while walking your feet up and transfer into a window roughly 18-20-ish feet above the ground. This wouldn’t have been the exit once we were inside.
I only remember 2 things from this, and in order they are: thinking “wow this is sketchy” and secondly, transferring over to the covered wires. Jorden and Eric retold me everything that happened afterwards. After the fall and hitting my head it left me unconscious for 3-4 minutes until “coming to”. I instructed them to help me up and into the car. Against my refusal of "being fine” they rushed me to Regional One Hospital where I was brought to the E.R then I.C.U. I would go on to talk and answer questions for over an hour before actually 'coming to” only to realize I was in a hospital bed. Fuck.
Honestly thinking back I don’t remember what first went through my head, confusion most likely.. Johnny and Eric were in the E.R waiting for me to return from an MRI (This was the moment I finally came to). They explained to me that I had fallen and began to fill me in on the details. I remember freaking the fuck out briefly because I couldn’t move my legs and I thought I was paralyzed. They reassured me nothing was done to my spinal cord. It was around this time that Johnny told me he spoke with my girlfriend Samantha and that he had already purchased her a plane ticket to Memphis. I can’t express to him how thankful I am that Sam was there for the nights following my skull, and double knee replacement surgery. Easily the worst of my life. To Sam, for having the courage and strength to never leave my side even though I know it broke your heart to see me like that. I love you. Thank you.
Sam had followed up with my mother Mary and being the amazing women she is, dropped what she was doing to drive from Phoenix AZ. Over the next few weeks I received a flood of support online but more surprisingly from the people of Memphis. This is in large part due to Eric creating a group chat including some local photographers. Here he updated them and let them know how to visit. Eric wanted to make sure that since I was a long ways from home that I always had company and access to anything I needed.
One of the first to come by was a guy named Micheal. (@One901Photography) We had never met until this point and I could tell he was kind of nervous but stepping out of his comfort zone. We ended up laughing and spoke for hours like old friends. He came back the next day bringing me a rad Memphis beanie to cover up the not so sweet haircut they gave me before skull surgery. The following day he brought a mini Christmas tree that I would eventually bring home to Denver and use right in time.
Almost 2 weeks went on and I was finally brought in a pair of high quality leg braces and was told I had the option to start walking. The first day I actually declined because my body didn’t feel ready. A few days later he came back and this time I went for it. Using a walker and mostly arm strength I managed to make it 9ft. He said it was good we didn’t push it a few days earlier… No shit.
A another week went by and I was released from the hospital. During this time I stayed back at The Exchange in large part thanks to Sardor and Johnny. Here I have to extend a huge thank you to Sardor for all the hospitality he showed to my Mother and I, and for letting me use his ink for my prints. Five days later I returned to Regional One where 50 staples and 3 stitches were removed from my head and I was cleared to leave Memphis for the 1050 mile drive in the backseat of my moms car. One small fact I forgot to mention was that my legs were locked straight in braces from Dec 5th to sometime in mid January.
Lastly, I want to send more thank yours to everyone that came to visit me, Ally (@allyperkins) for waiting in the hospital for hours even though we didn’t get to meet. I still have your blanket, in fact I’m actually using it as I type this. To Karen (@KarenGolightly) for the most amazing mushroom soup, (I’d still love the recipe). To Aleks (@aleksworks) for stepping out of his comfort zone to meet me and introduce himself. Thanks to Jorden for driving all the way back to Memphis to visit me before finishing his road trip home in TX. Thank you Johnny for everything you continue to do, and for not leaving my side. Thank you Amber Henson (@amber_henson) for the notebook and for keeping me company multiple times. Thank you JordAn for the delicious cupcakes. Thank you to Josh and Kayla (@SavageArtist and @kaylaabug6) for spending some time, and for the smoke session on my last night. Shout outs to my mom for never leaving my side and driving me back to Denver when this was all said and done, and spending Christmas with me. Sorry to my father Greg for making him be alone over the holidays.. And finally THANK YOU all for your support and positive vibes. I couldn’t have done this as smoothly without you.
Here's the list of food spots I mentioned above.
Holiday Deli & Ham Co.
Gus's Fried Chicken
Earnestine & Hazel's
Blue Plate Cafe