Speech to the CCC on panhandling

Today I attended the Center City Commission Board of Directors meeting and gave a 5-minute presentation as a “Downtown Stakeholder,” designed to give the board a reality check on what goes on down here. It was a very unique opportunity and I appreciated the invitation. I think the speech was well received and I saw looks of surprise on some of the attendees’ faces when I told them stories of the aggressive, intimidating panhandling that I see every day.

I also learned of a couple of opportunities for Downtowners, one to interact with the CCC yourselves, and another to support a measure to get panhandling cases moved to a special environmental court. More details on those coming soon.

I’ve pasted the approximate text of my speech below. Whew! Glad that’s over. I actually had to put on a dress shirt and nice slacks (no tie, though) on a 100-degree day – not fun, how do people do that every day? I’ve decided to torture myself and keep it on for the rest of the day, too. Luckily, the work I have to do this afternoon is mostly busy work (copy, paste, save, upload) so I’m done thinking for a while. So I’ve decided to visit my waitresses this afternoon and work from the Saucer.

Don’t forget, Crash Kole CD release party at Pearl’s Oyster House tonight, 7:30.


First of all, I want to thank you all for having me here today. My name is Paul Ryburn, and I’ve been a Downtown resident for five and a half years. I’m also lucky enough to be able to work wherever there’s wireless Internet, so I’m out and about a lot, working from restaurants and coffee shops down here. And I have to tell you, based on what I’ve seen, panhandling in Downtown Memphis has never been worse than it is right now, both in terms of the numbers of panhandlers, and their aggressive, intimidating nature. I want to tell you a few quick stories to illustrate.

A few Sundays ago, I was walking up Beale Street between Second and Main. This is a block that’s open to vehicle traffic, with the Elvis statue right there. There were three panhandlers who had taken over this block and were running it like their own private business. One was working the statue itself, chasing down tourists who had come to take a picture and aggressively hitting them up for money. Another was literally stopping moving traffic on Beale, walking up to car windows and panhandling right there. A third was illegally charging to park, both at the metered spaces on Beale – which are free on Sunday – and in the Premier Systems Parking lot at Main and Beale, which was unattended that day. No one was stopping these guys, they had total control of the street. And this was not an isolated incident, either. This kind of thing goes on all the time on that block.

Let me tell you about a particular panhandler down here, named Tommie [note: that’s Sharp Dressed Bum’s real name]. He likes to hang out by the Peabody, the Rendezvous, Second Street, Peabody Place, where there are a lot of tourists. He’ll approach them and act like a “tour guide” – except, at the end of the tour, “gimme some money.” And if you say no, Tommie gets nasty. He’ll follow you down the street and cuss you out. If you’re a woman he’ll make obscene sexual comments. Sometimes he’ll even do this (quick threatening motion) like he’s going to jump you. Very intimidating, and it makes a horrible impression of Downtown Memphis.

CeCe’s Liquors at Main and Madison sells one-shot bottles of cheap booze, and $2-3 bottles of cheap wine. As a result, panhandlers hang out nearby in Court Square, and also in front of the Walgreens at Main and Madison. They’ll beg passersby, saying they’re homeless and need money to get something to eat. What they actually do, though, is gather up enough money and walk over to CeCe’s to buy a bottle. They drink it and then repeat the process, going back out to beg some more… except this time, they’re drunk.

That last story illustrates a point I want to make. Many of these guys you see out here begging month after month, year after year are not homeless. This is a business for them, they’re out here hustling. They make good money and have places to go at night. But what it does do is take money away from legitimate organizations who have programs in place to help those in need.

Not only that, but it takes money away from businesses Downtown. How do I know that? Well, I write a blog about my life in Downtown Memphis. It’s pretty popular, getting about 700 hits a day on weekdays. As a result, people send me e-mail – people from out of town, and from other parts of Memphis. They say things like, “Hey Paul, I visited your neighborhood last weekend. I agree with you, there’s tons of stuff to do Downtown, but every time I went out on the sidewalks these people approached me for money. It was very scary. I’ll be honest, I’m not going to come back.” I’ve also had friends who considered buying condos down here, then changed their minds. They told me, “I don’t want to deal with that [panhandling] every time I walk out my front door.”

Now, there is a group of citizens that is trying to turn the problem around. About a month ago my friend Mike King and I formed Handling-Panhandling, an online Internet forum where citizens discuss the problem. We’ve posted pictures of panhandlers, and in many cases identified them by name and whether they have outstanding warrants. We’ve also identified the hotspot locations Downtown. When we created the forum we expected it to have a limited appeal; we expected about 30-40 members to join. We were wrong. After only a month in existence, we’ve had almost 200 people sign up, many with messages to the effect of, “I’m fed up. If something isn’t done about this, I’m out of here.”

There has been progress. The Memphis Police now monitor the forum, and we’ve seen them applying manpower to the problem hotspots we’ve identified. However, this can’t be a quick fix, where we see cops for a couple of weeks and then things return to business as usual. We need a long-term solution. We need a plan.

In conclusion: I live Downtown. I absolutely love my neighborhood and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I want to see it grow and prosper. When people visit my neighborhood, I want them to leave with a great impression. That’s not happening right now due to the panhandling. Thanks again for your time.

Downtown stakeholder

I’ve been invited to give a 5-minute presentation at the Center City Commission’s board meeting this Thursday. The Center City Commission is the organization that plans and oversees growth Downtown, and every month they schedule time for a few “Downtown Stakeholders” to speak frankly to the board about whatever is on their mind. This is important because many of the board members themselves do not live Downtown, and so the stakeholders act as their eyes and ears in a sense.

So, this month I’m an invited stakeholder. I get a free lunch out of the deal, and although I can speak about any subject I want, you better believe I have a topic in mind: panhandling. In 5 minutes I hope to stress to the board members, as well as representatives of both mayors’ offices who will be there, how out of control panhandling (especially aggressive, illegal panhandling) has become.

I’ve been rehearsing my speech, and I have a good feeling about it – I’m getting that “YEAH! I nailed it!” feeling I got when I was a teacher and gave a really good lecture. These are the points I plan to cover:

  • Brief intro of myself
  • Three stories to illustrate aggressive panhandling Downtown, highlighting problem individuals and locations
  • Discussion of how career street hustlers portray themselves as homeless to get sympathy donations, and how this takes money away from organizations that help the real homeless
  • Evidence that panhandling is costing Downtown money – e-mails I’ve received from tourists who’ll never come back; comments from friends who won’t buy condos Downtown because of panhandling
  • The Handling-Panhandling forum and how Downtowners are working together on this issue

I’ve rehearsed the speech and have it pretty well down, although I hope to run it by my forum co-moderator Mike King before Thursday. It’s a lot of material but I’ve got it down to about 5 minutes and 20 seconds (hopefully they won’t have the stopwatch on and cut me off right at 5).

Looking forward to it… maybe after I give the speech Thursday I’ll post the complete text of it here. I’ve practiced it so many times that I’ve just about got it down word for word.

Happy hour just got a lot happier at the Peabody’s Corner Bar

Looks like the Peabody’s Corner Bar at Second and Union is going to be the place to be after work from now on. They are now offering a complimentary hors d’ouevres bar, with food prepared by Chef Brian Barrow from Capriccio Grill, “on the house” with the purchase of an alcoholic beverage. Food selections include ravioli, fried calamari, chicken Parmesan strips, meatballs and imported cheeses. Monday through Friday, 5:30 to 7:00 PM. Yum!!! Looks like The Corner Bar just went straight to the top of my happy hour list.

Main and Beale: panhandling progress

One of the biggest problem areas for panhandling in Downtown Memphis has been the corner of Main and Beale, and the block of Beale between Main and Second. Panhandlers have been known to aggressively hit up people waiting for trolleys at the stops there, as well as swoop in on tourists trying to photograph the Elvis statue. They also like to illegally charge for parking at the Premier Systems Parking lot and for the metered spaces on Beale. Well, I’m pleased to report that progress is being made.

A week ago Sunday I walked down that block, and sure enough a panhandler came right up to me. I talked to him for a minute to find out if he was illegally parking cars in Premier’s lot, and as we were talking a police car pulled up. “Sir, is he bothering you?” the cop asked me, gesturing toward the panhandler. He wasn’t – he was just talking – so I told the officer things were okay.

I continued to see and hear of progress last weekend. Mike King, who co-moderates the Handling-Panhandling forum with me, told me he watched Friday night as the cops arrested one of the panhandlers who was parking cars at Premier. Apparently the guy resisted arrest and it was not pretty – panhandling will only get you a $50 citation, but the illegal parking scam and the resisting arrest charge will add up to jail time.

Saturday I cruised that block twice, once in my car and once on foot. On a weekend day at the tail end of Elvis week, I was sure I’d see lots of panhandlers on that block. I was wrong. I did not see a single panhandler either time. However, both times I did see a cop parked on Beale, keeping a watch on the area.

I have to believe that the police learned about this problem block from the Handling-Panhandling group. Inspector Mhoon, who commands the Downtown Precinct, assigned a lieutenant to monitor the forum, and Main and Beale was a hot discussion topic. Last month I watched as three panhandlers pretty much turned that block into their own private business, parking cars, bothering tourists and even stopping cars on public streets to panhandle. Looks like the Memphis Police and Handling-Panhandling have seriously disrupted their business.

Thanks to MPD for doing such a great job.

Pimp My Cubicle

Yesterday afternoon I was shopping in East Memphis (to my favorite blogger/MILF: Please note that I got out of downtown for more than 2.5 seconds) and on the way out there, I stopped at Bookstar to look around. I noticed this product:

It’s a box called Pimp My Cubicle. If you’re bored with a drab workspace on your job, this box’ll make it bootylicious. It contains the following:

  • A money sign paperweight
  • Gold push pins for your bulletin board
  • A dazzling disco ball
  • A “PiMP” mousepad
  • Leopard-print fringe to hide grey cubicle walls
  • A “Bling!” keyboard key – gold tootheses fo’ yo’ keyboard!
  • A 64-page idea book

It’s on the first aisle at Bookstar, where they keep the clearance/sale merchandise. Or, you can click the link above and get it from Amazon’s selling partners at a discount price.

You may notice I’ve added an Amazon search box to my blog, at the upper left. If you need to buy anything from Amazon (and they no longer sell just books – they have EVERYTHING), please consider searching for it through my blog’s search box. Amazon pays commission when people buy stuff through me. Please support your local blogger!

The trip to East Memphis turned hazardous on the way back… stopped at Memphis Pizza Cafe on Park, and while in there the storm clouds arrived and all hell broke loose. Drove through a puddle on White Station so deep I wasn’t sure the car would get through it… then coming back home, I was going to stop at Bookstar again but it was closed because the power knocked out. Continued driving west on Poplar and soon discovered why… there were power lines down in the middle of the road. Finally made it home, and as I walked through my parking garage to the exit, lightning must have struck a transformer on the garage’s roof. It sounded like a bomb went off! It was good to be home. At least the temp wasn’t 100 for a change.

It was a productive trip though… Target had 70-page notebooks 10 for $1. I keep my personal journals in those, so the $2 I spent on two packs should cover me until 2009.

The Sunday brunch crew has decided to take a field trip this week, because one of our favorite former Saucer bartenders is now working the day shift at McGuinness. So we’re going to go see her, probably followed by our usual stupid antics at the Saucer later in the afternoon. Time to get this party started… I’m outta here!

East BumbleFest @ the Agricenter Aug 31 – Sep 9


They have Lawnmower Racers, Mechanical Bull Rides and Monster Truck USA. Truly the culture of Cordova.

(Edit: My favorite blogger/MILF made an insightful comment about this on her blog: “My favorite blogger wrote that “They have Lawnmower Racers, Mechanical Bull Rides and Monster Truck USA. Truly the culture of Cordova.” about the new fair coming to the Agricenter… If he left downtown for 2.5 seconds, he would realize that the TRUE culture of Cordova was Three 6 Mafia, Rocawear, & knowing the ‘right’ gang sign to throw. Times have changed. What he was talking about has moved on to Fayette & Tipton Counties.”)

OQO Model 02 Ultra Mobile Personal Computer: Teeny-tiny but powerful PC that runs Windows Vista

Saw something kinda cool online today… one of the tiniest computers I’ve ever seen that is a full-fledged PC (not a PDA or mobile phone that is a Pocket PC) running Windows Vista (you can also get it with Windows XP) and all Windows software. It’s called the OQO Ultra Mobile Personal Computer and as you can see in the image, it fits in the palm of your hand. Billed as “the world’s smallest Windows Vista PC,” it weighs under 1 pound with standard battery, and is only 5.6 inches wide, 3.3 inches long and 1 inch deep. Its 5-inch screen can zoom to 1200×720.

Although it’s a tiny PC, it can run at speeds of up to 1.5 Ghz and can contain up to 1 GB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. It also comes with built-in wireless LAN and Bluetooth and optional wireless WAN. The optional docking station allows for connection to full-sized monitor, keyboard and wired Ethernet.

So, who would this computer be ideal for?

– Seems to me it would be a good second computer for people need to have PC/Internet access on the road, but don’t want to lug around a full-sized laptop. This thing would easily fit in a standard backpack, messenger bag or purse. With many restaurants and coffee shops offering Wi-Fi these days, would provide the capability to check e-mail from the road.

– People who are not heavy computer users but still need basic functions like word processing, e-mail, surfing the Internet, spreadsheets, etc. This is a full computer so it can run the full range of Vista and XP software. Could buy the optional docking station and hook it up to a full-sized monitor when at home for improved screen resolution.

Probably would not be a good primary computer for people who deal with a lot of photos, sound files or multimedia – these would fill up the hard drive quickly, although you could use the USB port to connect to an external hard drive for additional storage. It’s also not the right primary computer for people who rely heavily on computing power – 1.5 Ghz and 1 GB of RAM are enough for most people these days, but you may want more if you run a lot of computationally-intensive software (Google Earth, for example).

You can decide for yourself whether this is a computer worth getting excited about. Personally, I’m glad to see PCs this small hitting the market.

Tap dat ass… or, rather, tap dat keg

One of the best outdoor events of the year is less than three weeks away. Art on Tap, the Dixon Museum’s annual fundraiser, will be held Friday, September 7 from 6 to 9 PM. Here’s how it works: You pay $35 for a ticket ($25 if you’re a Dixon member, free if you’re a Young at Art member). You show up and get a 5-ounce taster glass. You then get to walk around and try as many different beers as you can in 3 hours. All the major local distributors are there, as well as the Bluff City Brewers homebrew club. There are over 100 beers total. There will also be food by Blue Coast Burrito, Elfo’s, and Jimmy’s Chicago Style Dogs, Pizza and Beef – all included in your $35 admission fee. And, there will be music by the Sallymacs.

I went to Art on Tap for the first time last year. For weeks before I waffled – friends told me it was a lot of fun, but it’s hard to get me fired up enough about anything to convince me to leave downtown on the weekends. Finally they talked me into it, and WOW! Nearly every person I knew was there. The place was packed and everyone was having a great time drinking, dancing and socializing. Even some of my Beer Goddesses were there, working the table for one of the distributors. Highlight of the evening was listening to fellow blogger East Bumblefuck Kat make snarky comments about then-Saucer waitress The Romanian Sensation: “She sure is short. There certainly isn’t much to that dress she’s wearing.” The Sensation won’t be back for ’07 Art on Tap, so Kat will have to find someone else to be jeal- er, um, I mean, someone else to make witty, insightful comments about.

THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE CANNOT-MISS. Be there. Put it on your calendars. Also, the place gets packed right from the beginning and some of the beers run out, so this is not an event when you want to show up fashionably late. Ladies, if it takes you 2 hours to get ready for this kind of event, you may want to take off work early that day.

Attn Downtowners: Anyone want to split a cab for this? This definitely isn’t an event you want to drive to. If we got 3-4 people together, it could hold down costs. I figure we could meet up about 5:30, walk over to the Peabody and find a cab (there are usually 2 or 3 waiting in the parking lot there). Getting a cab back Downtown from East Memphis can be a bit more challenging, but usually if you tip the driver well on the way out there and get his cell number, you’re set. If anyone is interested in splitting a cab, let me know.