THE STREETCARS WE DESIRE
Tonight is Trolley Night on South Main Street in downtown Memphis. Except there won’t be any trollies. There will be those hideous looking buses designed to look like trollies. Those faux trolley buses are the Elvis impersonators of mass transit.
The last Friday night of each month is “Trolley Night” for bars, restaurants, and retail stores on South Main, as patrons are encouraged to ride the trollies and stop from time to time to eat, drink, be merry, and shop. (Shameless self-promotion: I’ll be there tonight at the South Main Book Juggler Bookstore signing copies of my epic work on seersucker.)
But over the past couple of years, “Trolley Nights” on South Main have lost a lot of their glamor. That’s because in 2014, the city mothballed its fleet of old wooden electric trollies after two of them caught on fire. Seriously. The old trollies actually went up in flames. Talk about a hot seat!
Fortunately, no passengers were injured, but the old downtown trolley fleet was shut down as experts from the American Public Transportation Association were brought in (presumably by taxis) to conduct an investigation. After a thorough inspection and review, the experts reported the explanation for the firey trollies was simple: There had been virtually no maintenance on any of the trollies in the fleet. We were just letting these charming old trolley cars creep along until a couple of them burst into flames.
The beautiful old trollies were replaced by the aforementioned “trolley buses.” It was like replacing the Beale Street Flippers with a couple of dogs who could stand on their hind legs, if you hold their front legs up.
I loved the old trollies, and I’ve missed them greatly over the past couple of years.
I’ll be the first to admit that the old Memphis trollies did not actually constitute a mass transit system like light rail transit in other cities and the Garden District trollies in New Orleans. The Memphis trollies were more like the cable cars in San Francisco. They were mostly just a nice ride for tourists. But I enjoyed those rides on the old uncomfortable wooden chairs, as my wife and I would head down South Main on a Friday night.
But I have some good news to report. The streetcars we desire are coming back, most likely by the end of the year.
Last week the Memphis Area Transit Authority announced that they expect the refurbished electric trollies to be running along Main Street again in the next several months. And here’s even better news. They do not expect any of them to catch on fire.
I can’t wait to take my seat again. But for safety’s sake, I may bring along my own fire extinguisher.