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Inside the Roo

These days, it’s hard to miss the massive, sunglass-clad kangaroo cruising around Midtown with martini in hand … or rather, paw. 

The party-primed marsupial lounging on top of its pink-and-black Premier Transportation Co. shuttle is one of the most recent additions to the area’s thriving recreational scene. In operation since mid-September, the 17-seat Roo links the Cooper-Young Historic District with Overton Square, allowing passengers to hop on and off at 11 stops during an approximately 30-minute loop through both areas. 

As signs around Midtown encourage residents and visitors to “Ride the Roo” for $2 a trip, Premier Transportation Co. President Ham Smythe IV hopes passengers will view the shuttle service as more than just a mere method of transportation.

“We believed the way to make this concept work was to turn it into an attraction on wheels, so we’ve equipped it with a premium audio/visual system so passengers can hear great music playing while watching local slideshows and videos,” Smythe said. “We’re playing nothing but Memphis music, both classic and contemporary, and we hope to be a means by which Memphis music is spread. If local up-and-coming artists want us to play their music on our shuttle, we’ll do that for free.”

The Roo allows the area’s business patrons to park in the Overton Square Parking Garage or anywhere in Cooper-Young – or walk in from one of the nearby neighborhoods – jump on the shuttle at any of the Roo Line stops, and enjoy drinks, dinner and a show throughout the evening without having to use their cars.

Smythe, a member of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, said friends and area business owners had been tossing around the shuttle’s concept with him for about three years as they discussed ways to connect the many recreational options in both districts. 

Smythe credits Playhouse on the Square Executive Producer Jackie Nichols with giving him the definitive push that led to the Roo’s creation.

“He’s the grit in my oyster that made this pearl. We’re old friends and he sort of kept on me about it,” Smythe said. 

Nichols, in turn, says the Midtown Memphis Development Corporation played a strong supporting role in getting the Roo rolling. 

“At first, we were looking at creating a shuttle called the MAD Dash – ‘Midtown And Downtown’ – which would connect the Midtown cultural attractions with sports activities and everything going on downtown,” said Nichols, adding that the idea was modeled after the similar Dart Circulator in Birmingham, Ala. “Pretty much every progressive city with entertainment and cultural districts like ours has one of these shuttle services. And yes, the idea came out of Midtown Memphis Development Corporation, but there are millions of great ideas out there, and it takes people with financing and initiative and gumption to make them a reality, which Ham Smythe has done. Ham is the man.”

And why the kangaroo?

“We wanted something that’s kind of bouncing around town, since we’re bouncing between venues and we’re linking them up,” said Smythe, who enlisted the services of acclaimed Mardi Gras parade float creators Blaine Kern Studios in New Orleans to make the shuttle’s kangaroo. “The kangaroo relaxing on the top of the bus seemed to be the most attractive way to do it. The key thing was to make it low enough to fit under the train trestles that cross over Cooper Street.”

Smythe said he hopes local business owners will take advantage of advertising opportunities on the Roo. Exterior panels allow for prominent placement on the outside, while inside the shuttle, business owners can opt for a slideshow presence, video ads or even a more personal touch. 

“A restaurant could even come on and serve hors d’oeuvres samples if they’d like,” Smythe said. “But we definitely need some advertisers. Ultimately, that’s the thing that will keep this shuttle up and running.”

The Roo operates from 5 p.m. to midnight Thursdays and from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The shuttle is wheelchair accessible as well as GPS-enabled. Passengers can track the Roo’s progress in real time and plan their schedules accordingly at

Written by: Erinn Figg
Photos by: Troy Glasgow
Posted: 12/1/2014 3:33:01 PM | with 0 comments

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The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 ( or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (


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