In early 2016, I ran into a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer while enjoying the last days of Love Park. We talked about skating, the early 90s, and the end of an era. I told him about this project and a month later he wrote a story about Storm print City. That sparked a series of emails from people all over the world – telling me about their travels, covers they found, and places I should visit.
That April, a few of us took a road trip from Philly to DC, Atlanta to Birmingham, then a few days rest in New Orleans — making prints the whole way. The next plan was to drive straight to Nashville where we had a place to stay that night. I checked my email early that morning and saw another random note from a stranger. It read “Go to Memphis. Look up Jimmy Ogle.” I did a little search and found Jimmy. He is the unofficial mayor of downtown Memphis, a historian with a ton of information, and he happens to give a walking tour of Memphis’s manhole covers.
We took two cars and were gonna split up the driving. After I read about Jimmy, I decided to pack up my car and head straight to Memphis – while the others still slept. I looked at a map quickly and figured it was a hop, skip, and a jump. I left New Orleans with nothing but a stranger’s suggestion and hope that Jimmy Ogle would come thorough. Seven hours later, he did.
I called him when i was about two hours out and left a voicemail. “My name’s Russ. I make prints from manhole covers and heard you’re the man. Also, I’m 2 hours away. Are you free?” Less than five minutes later, Jimmy called me back and agreed to meet me downtown for an impromptu, personal tour. He showed me the iconic Steamboat design (perfect for Memphis) and helped direct foot traffic as I made a print. He took me through a few alleys pointing out lots of beautiful iron and unique things about the city’s history. He then took me to what he knows is the “oldest cover in Memphis.”
It was hot by that point and the iron was almost steaming. I thought there’s no chance the ink would stick. Then I thought there’s no chance I’m leaving here without capturing this iconic piece of street metal. I was sweaty, tired from the drive, totally unprepared, and had an overwhelming desire to make the print. It took many layers of ink, lots of patience (from Jimmy and myself) and some determination to make it happen.
The thing with street printing is… you never really know what you’re gonna get until you pull it up. At first, I was disappointed (which happens often) but then I remembered the day I had. I got an email from a stranger while I was in New Orleans. I drove to Memphis blindly and called another stranger. He became a friend, I got a free Memphis tour, painted a steamboat, and left with a print from the oldest cover in Memphis — which is now a personal favorite.
It’s not just about the prints… It’s preserving history, unearthing overlooked art, and meeting people like Jimmy Ogle.
If you’re in Memphis, you gotta check out his tour.