Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Path Taken

Tonight, the poet was bested by nature.

Good thing I'm flexible because my simple plan - Secco, a poetry reading at Chop Suey and "Django" at the French Film Festival - began unraveling at stop #2.

For that matter, I was so busy blowing minds at stop #1 that I may have altered my own trajectory. Ready to get the party started, I chose Raventos i Blanc Brut Nature Rose "de Nix," a crisp sparkler from Spain along with brussels sprouts amped up with cured lemon, black lentils, Aleppo pepper and candied pecans, a dish so generous I couldn't finish the last couple sprouts.

Meanwhile, two women at the bar had just discovered Secco's "Uncork and unwind" happy hour, causing one to slip her phone into the bamboo box to qualify for happy hour deals. The other woman looked at her askance.

"I'm not giving mine up," she insisted. "No, I gotta have my phone out, but I want the discount. Do you think I can still get it?"

When her friend didn't answer, I jumped right in. Nope, I'm pretty sure you've already disqualified yourself by having been on your phone constantly since you sat down, not to mention after your Prosecco arrived and you began sipping, I told this stranger. She looked only barely disappointed.

"That's okay, it's not worth a discount not to have my phone out," she explained. That's when I realized I had the power to rock her world, but I asked permission first (as in, do you want me to blow your mind?) and she granted permission.

I don't have a cell phone, I told her. She looked surprised and then asked, "Oh, you left it in the car?" No, I don't have one. There were four simultaneous gasps. "Ever?" she asked incredulously. Ever. Serious panic was written all over her face. "How do you live? I couldn't live without mine," she said.

More's the pity, honey.

A woman sitting in between the two of us suddenly piped up. "I admire you," she claimed, but I assured her everyone says that and no one means it. "I only have mine for emergencies," she explained, but I was having none of it. And what did you do in emergencies 20 years ago? Problem-solve? Figure it out? Handle it?

Sheepishly, she said all of the above. Case closed.

As I was ordering dessert, a woman sat down next to me and began poring over a document. When my butterscotch pudding with creme fraiche and candied walnuts arrived, her head spun around like she'd seen the promised land. "What's that?" she had to know.

Only one of the best desserts in the city, I assured her. She gazed at it longingly and we struck up a conversation. Although currently a Fan resident, she's just bought a home in Greengate, the latest fake town center development nearly at the Goochland line. Trying to comprehend why anyone would abandon the city for the hinterland, she said quietly, "I need a new start."

Seems her husband has had Alzheimer's for years and lives in a facility and she's ready to live somewhere other than the home they'd shared (which had sold in mere hours). Perfectly understandable.

In fact, she decided that to celebrate her next stage of life, she was going to order a butterscotch pudding because mine looked so fabulous. The bartender leaned over and shared that she thought it was nothing short of amazing. "You think you know butterscotch pudding until you have this one," she told her.

Not that I needed it, it was nice to have corroboration.

Full of pink bubbles, sprouts and pudding, I left for Chop Suey Books, walking into a practically empty store. Something was amiss. The most significant English language poet born since WW II should have attracted more than three people.

"His flight got canceled because of snow," the clerk informed me. "He's reading at the Modlin Center tomorrow night instead." That's one of those good/bad news scenarios for anyone with a date Friday night, but at least now I knew.

Rather than dwelling on the disappointment of not having an Irishman read to me tonight, I punted, a simple matter of walking across the street to kick off my French Film Festival experience 2018 by seeing "Le Chemin." And like any FFF screening, that meant running into the faithful.

The cinephile just back from the Sarajevo Film Festival, who wanted my advice on getting involved with the Bijou. The theater manager who walked up behind me while I was getting popcorn and from behind asked, "Guess who?"

Probably the most unlikely was the woman whose open house I'd gone to in late February. Although it hadn't been mentioned in the party invitation, the occasion was her impending nuptials. When I'd asked her how she'd met him, she'd shared that they'd met on just as she was about to cancel her subscription.

Lamenting my own lack of dating success, she'd told me to give up (as she had) and that's when it would happen. Here we were a month later, and an update was in order. "Our good luck rubbed off on you!" she said, delighted.

Around us, smart FFF attendees were jockeying for the Byrd's new seats, while the couple in front of me pulled out tuna fish sandwiches in baggies and began a twofold mission: eating their dinner without losing their primo seats and stinkin' up the joint with smelly tuna fish.

They finished just as the introductions were being made.

Two trailblazing women, the director and costumer of "Le Chemin," were introduced and gave minimal remarks before the film began. The title means "the path" and referred to a path where a young Parisian woman studying to be a nun walked everyday to treat a Cambodian villager's sore leg, a path that caused her to meet the husband of a woman dying of cancer.

But of course, the film was really about the path of life, how we meet people along the way, how sadness changes us and what we learn about ourselves as we engage with others. How we plan for one thing and something else comes along.

You know, the path that helps you realize when you need a new start or a butterscotch pudding. And sometimes both.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Memento of Another Time

I feel sorry for today's young filmmakers.

Presumably, that's who Mac and I were surrounded by at the Grace Street Theatre for tonight's installment of VCU Cinematheque, or at least, that's who the visiting professor doing the introduction addressed his comments to.

Explaining to these children that director Christopher Nolan (who never went to film school) made his first film for $6,000 ("The limitations create the energy"), he exhorted the future filmmakers in the auditorium to always remember the budget when writing a script. He must have repeated it a half dozen times to stress the point, but you could almost see his words flying right over the heads of the kids in the rows around us.

Hell, half of them were still talking to friends or scrolling on their phones while he explained why the film was significant. Only when he reminded them that Nolan had gone on to direct the "Dark Knight" trilogy and "Inception" did they seem to notice that someone was talking.

One of the joys of the Cinematheque series is that the films are shown on 35mm, so once the lights went down, we were treated to almost a minute of the purr of the projector, a heartfelt reminder that digital is simply not as satisfying. Call me old fashioned.

Made in 1998, "Following" was a brief (70 minutes) neo-noir (having been made long after the golden era of film noir), appropriately shot in black and white (actually done for economic reasons since color is less forgiving when you're on a non-existent budget) and with enough references to Hitchcock to feel stylish.

And voyeuristic, oh-so very voyeuristic.

It quickly became clear that the film switched back and forth in time with nothing close to a continuous narrative, a device now so common that it probably didn't even register with the students, who've never known a world where movies didn't do that as a matter of course.

I still recall seeing "Memento," another Nolan film, when it came out in 2001 and being blown away at how seamlessly the film flashed forward and doubled back and "Following" was obviously Nolan's first stab at that kind of film structure.

Shot for maximum suspense, the film seduced with its hints at different events and circumstances throughout, but no obvious connections. It's only at the end that every last detail is neatly tied together so the audience can finally see the bigger picture, dark as it is.

And yet, during that crucial scene where we were finally seeing the house of cards that had been built, the students in the row behind us were tittering and mocking the dialog. It was almost as if they couldn't wrap their as-yet-unformed brains around how edgy and well-constructed "Following" would have been in 1998. And without that understanding of cinematic history, I have to question how compelling the movies they might make will be.

The last thing Mac and I heard as we walked out of the theater was a student complaining about how many people had liked the film. He just couldn't understand why.

Okay, maybe I should just weep for the future of filmmaking and leave it at that.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Be Good or Be Gone

I can thank 5th Wall Theatre for teaching me that I don't like moon pies.

Pru might be inclined to point out that our pre-theater dinner at Rogue might have had something to do with it and she'd likely be right. If we hadn't eaten through three courses, we may have had a teensy bit more room to enjoy the southern disks of tastelessness.

Since it was St. Patrick's Day and since we knew there would be all kinds of unpleasant drunken revelry going on all over town, from the moment she picked me up, we resolved to stay in Jackson Ward for the entire evening.

Better safe than face to face with a drunk in a green t-shirt.

Rogue was a bastion of understated cool on a Saturday night, allowing us to score two end bar stools and, once Pru had cooed over the plush new bar stools, complete with backs, glasses of a white Riojas.

Some people would be ashamed to admit that they ordered two of the same dishes as they'd had on their last visit, but I'm not one of them. That first time had been with Beau and not Pru, so why wouldn't I want to introduce her to a couple of dishes we'd fallen for on our maiden voyage?

If I were ever to meet a person who purported to hate carrots (thankfully, I have not), I would take them immediately to  Rogue and order the charred carrots. Then I would sit there to watch the revelation on their face as they learned what carrots' potential can be in the right hands. Cooked to al dente perfection, these multi-colored beauties are bathed in citrus, ginger and soy, with peanuts added for crunch. Cue angels singing.

Fact: I will no doubt have them the next time I go to Rogue, too. No shame.

Beets topped with greens and chevre was every bit as solid as last time and for something new, we tried the russet potato gnocchi in bolognese sauce, the rich meat sauce aided and abetted by the runny egg  and bits of Parmesan on top.

This leads to a discussion because I'm of the opinion that gnocchi is better than pasta and Pru tried to make a case for pasta. But when I point out that if you want pasta and they don't have it, you'll probably eat gnocchi instead and be happy. But if you're looking forward to gnocchi? Pasta probably isn't going to do the trick. At least that's how we saw it.

How we saw "Pump Boys and Dinettes" was from the front row (there were only two) of the Basement, arriving as the two dinettes (servers in a diner) were offering coffee and Moon Pies to those in the front row. A woman two seats down scored a cup of coffee and later was offered a slice of actual pie. For the record, she ate every bite, but only after feeding her husband the first one. Ain't love grand?

What I got offered was a Moon Pie and naturally I accepted it since it looked chocolate to me. Heaven knows, it only took one bite to determine that it tasted like what I imagined the wrapper it came in would have tasted like. Plastic-tasting chocolate, stale, almost chewy marshmallow and bone-dry graham crackers ensured that my first bite would be my last.

Happily, "Pump Boys and Dinettes" was far more pleasurable, with a litany of feel-good songs dealing with the problems that come with being a garage or diner worker: love, food and jobs, not to mention drinking. Who doesn't put on their drinking shoes occasionally?

The waitresses uniforms were perfection: orange, blue and white, right down to the buttons, with an apron for good measure, just like a proper HoJo server would have on so she'd have a place to stash her order book.

A lot of the fun of the musical was that the four actors playing the pump boys played their own instruments, although watching the Dinettes play pots, pans and the counter was pretty darn impressive, too.

During the moving song "Mamaw," I spotted a guy in the second row mouthing every single word to the song. He was part of a large group who'd come in, all in blue blazers and khakis, and while I'd resorted to making rich white people jokes, Pru had pegged them for a men's glee club. She's brilliant like that.

It was the kind of play where you walked out, not feeling like your worldview had been changed in any way, but confident that you'd been solidly entertained by talented people for a couple of hours.

As for the green beer squad, we never so much as laid eyes on them. As usual, J-Ward for the win.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Satisfied Mind

You never know which way the wind will blow me.

Yesterday, I was siting on a ferry behind a table of eight New Jerseyans unwilling to go below deck to smoke, so instead playing cards to pass the time crossing ("Who's in? Ten cents a card!" to which someone responded, "No, 20 cents a card!") and tonight I was watching a German expressionist film while listening to Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas play the soundtrack he'd composed for it.

Because I've been away all week, tonight was my first opportunity to take advantage of the James River Film Festival and with Lucas accompanying "Der Golem," I was getting a two-fer: music and movie.  All I had to do to get a hat trick (eat-film-music) was stop by Asado on my way to the Grace Street Theater.

Crowded because it was happy hour, I took the only available bar stool, in between a couple of women razzing their male friend about all the texts he was getting from someone named Jazmyn ("You do know that proves she doesn't know how to spell her own name, right?" one teased) and a sullen young man nursing successive whiskey shots and staring at the wall.

Welcome to Friday, millennial style.

Meanwhile, I overheard one of the bartenders ask his roommate (who was finishing up a mound o' fries) what he was doing next. "I'm gonna go home and take a shower, then sit down and start drinking. When are you getting home?" The bartender explained that he was going to need to shower, too, asking if the drinking could hold off till he was ready, too.

"Not a chance," his roommate said without so much as a grin. Apparently Friday drinking waits for no man, not even your own roommate.

By the time I'd finished my honey sriracha shrimp tacos, there was a line of people waiting for seats, so I graciously gave up mine and walked over to the theater even though it was half an hour till showtime. I wasn't first, though, so I had the conversation of others to provide some entertainment.

I heard two women talking about the good old pre-GPS days of using maps, except one said they were inconvenient because you had to pull over to look at them and they got torn and creased. "Yea, but remember those Trip-tiks AAA used to give you?" the other asked reverentially.

It was funny to hear since Mac and I had just been discussing Trip-tiks and our fond memories of them while road-tripping to Cape May this week.

Then there was the conversation where someone was saying that he'd wrecked his mother's car coming home from an Edgar Winter, Peter Frampton, Bad Company show where he'd had second row seats in front of the Stacks. "When I left the concert, I was functionally deaf," he claimed. "I tried to tell my Mom that's why I'd wrecked the car."

From there they were off on a '70s tear. "I skipped school to see Todd Rundgren and I didn't even know who he was!" one humble bragged.

You get the idea about the make-up of the crowd. In fact, when JRFF organizer Mike Jones ("I'm basically the glue stick that makes this festival happen...with  a lot of help") came out and began talking before the film, at one point he asked how many people had Depression-era parents and the majority of people raised their hands. Young we were not.

And I don't know whether it was the Frankenstein-like aspect to the film or that a musician who's collaborated with everyone from Jeff Buckley to Chris Cornell was playing, but I'm here to tell you that the audience was easily 80% men. Guitar nerds abounded.

Lucas, who is Jewish, spoke about how tickled he'd been to discover this 1920 silent film based on a Jewish folktale ("A Jewish monster and a rabbi saves the day, how cool is that?"), so much so that he'd written a soundtrack with a musician friend and performed it all over the world, earning him a spot in the JAM (Jewish avant garde music) pantheon.

His soundtrack was masterful, taking us through the story of a rabbi who foresees disaster for the Jewish people and creates a clay monster (immense and awkwardly heavy-footed, a precursor to Frankenstein) he asks the spirits to animate to help defend his people. All the potential problems you'd expect from creating a monster ensue, but it ends up dead and the Jews are saved.

Praise Jehovah and pass the Manischewitz.

As if that wasn't enough excellent entertainment for the evening, it was followed by local band Zgomot taking the stage and playing a couple of Lucas' songs set to experimental short films. Then the man himself came back out to join them, doing a couple more, including one he'd written with Jeff Buckley.

If I needed to be baptized back into the cultural world, I couldn't do much better than with one of the top 100 horror films you must see before you die, accompanied by a guitarist who's played the Venice Biennale and Shakespeare & Co. in Paris.

All I can say is, beats the hell out of playing for 10 cents a card. Or even 20.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sprung from Cages Out on Highway 9

Tramps like us, baby, we were born to walk.

Mac and I were determined to walk the beach today, come hell or high wind and, quite honestly, it was a little bit of both. No surprise, it was deserted, because no sane person would choose to walk when it's this cold and the breeze is gusting to 25 mph. Our goal was Morey's Pier, an amusement park 2.3 miles down the beach, for no other reason than I'd never seen an oceanside rollercoaster.

Along the way there, we came across dozens of conch shells and while they were no big deal to Mac, I'd never in my life seen so many fully intact conchs, making it impossible to leave them laying there, if for satisfaction's sake if nothing else. Final tally: 9.

I stuck a few in the front pocket of my pullover and carried a few more, all the while on the lookout for a plastic bag to aid the cause. She was skeptical I'd find one, yet somewhere past the tidal pools and before the dump trucks busy moving sand into bulwarks in anticipation of the Nor'easter due to arrive this Monday, there it was, imbedded in the sand and calling my name.

And while the bag definitely made it easier to wrangle them (I could remove the conch nestled in my armpit), that fierce wind whistled through the holes in the bag like a keening bird, not to mention that bag was some kind of heavy as we made our way across a beach of constantly blowing sand to the concrete boardwalk along motel row.

It was practically a ghost town, with street signs swinging and squeaking in the wind.

We took our wind-burnt faces to the Blue Pig Tavern as much for its roaring fireplace as for its appealing lunch menu. Part of Congress Hall, a classic Victorian hotel, the Blue Pig claims it's been providing hospitality since 1816, yet the couple seated at the table next to us by the fireplace vacated theirs in a matter of minutes while we reveled in its warmth every moment until we left.

The way I see it, you weather the Wildwood winds, you earn a table by the fireside for as long as you care to stay. I hated leaving just as a server was stoking the fire with three fat logs, causing an uprising of sparks and renewed energy in the flame.

But we couldn't linger because we'd bought tickets for a trolley tour of Cape May's Victorian architecture and didn't want it to pull away without us. As it was, we got lost a couple of times walking to the meeting place, eventually arriving last while all the other tour participants patiently awaited our arrival.

That's right, we were those tourists.

Our trolley tour guide was not only knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but scored points by beginning the tour with black history, explaining that during an especially awful storm that united bay and ocean, hundreds of houses were destroyed or badly damaged. It was doubly tragic because it occurred during the days of urban removal and since the area was predominantly black, most building remnants were demolished, sending 2/3 of the black population out of the area and 1/3 to West Cape May.

Fortunately, a few African American buildings were saved, a tiny Baptist church, the Franklin School and the summer home of a wealthy black Philadelphian. It was news to me that many of the 19th century houses here were built by well off people from Philly who'd come and spend "the season" - July and August - in Cape May.

Two months? What kind of a summer season is that? Now I understand why I was born south of the Mason Dixon line.

Our guide explained that these people called their enormous Victorian houses "cottages" and considered themselves "cottagers," both phrases borrowed from French royalty and their desire to have smaller rustic houses they could "escape" to.

Cottages these were not.

Another piece of unexpected intel was that back in the 1950s, almost all the cottages had been painted white (with green or black shutters). Cape May got national historic landmark designation in 1976, but the town put no restrictions on paint colors for houses, which goes a long way to explaining the kaleidoscope of colors and patterns on any one house. Even balusters changed from one level to the next.

Easily the oddest architectural detail was the knockout bathroom, essentially a loo on stilts attached to the side of a house. We saw a half dozen or so, each looking like a box with bird legs and no architectural roots to the house. We were learning so much.

Then there was the humor. "In the '70s, Cape May fell into disrepair and everyone started going to Wildwood," our guide explained with utter disdain. "Wildwood!" Since we're staying in Wildwood, Mac and I are well aware of the architectural differences between it and Cape May, but only a native could make it sound so low rent.

Gorgeous gingerbread-covered Victorian cottages aside, the highlight of learning about life in old Cape May was hearing about the Iron Pier, which had been designed with an opera house at the pier's end so that patrons could listen to the intoxicating sound of opera set to waves.

If that's not a romantic notion, I don't know what is.

But it wasn't all turrets and pink shutters, either, we learned. Turns out Cape May was second only to Daytona for auto racing on the beach, with 20,000 people lining the boardwalk to watch a race that included Henry Ford back in 1905.

After the trolley tour, we set out to see the Cape May lighthouse, but made a hard right when we saw a sign for Higbee Beach. Our tour guide had spoken about the beach because the three recent Nor'easters had caused railroad tracks to be uncovered right on the beach and at low tide, they were visible. It's been enough to inspire the locals to trek down there to see them for however long they last.

A guy in the parking lot (his car sporting one of the N.J. "Shore to please" license plates) told us it was a 20 minute walk and to follow the left path to see the tracks. Mac and I trudged along sandy trails through a maritime forest, unable to locate the tracks after 20+ minutes.

I was ready to give up and go back, but she insisted we take the beach trail ("We're not gonna walk this far and not find those tracks!") and, sure enough, there were the rusted railroad tracks coming out of the beach, as groups of intrepid visitors snapped photos. Once they began to clear out, I asked Mac if she'd take a snap of me. Almost immediately, she guessed where I wanted my picture taken.

"Too bad we don't have any rope," she laughed as I laid down across the tracks on a wooden trestle and she snapped away. Too bad is right.

Rather than return the way we'd come, we decided to brave the beach along the bay, watching the ferry head out in choppy waters. We know from experience the queasy ferry feeling those aboard were probably settling into right about then. Put your heads down and close your eyes, kids, it'll be over soon enough.

We finally made it to the lighthouse, only slightly worse for the wear after our second beach walk into the wind of the day. What's clocking ten miles battling the wind for walking veterans like us? What was notable was the more than a quarter cup of sand we found in each of our shoes once we got home.

Despite our tour guide's distaste for Cape May's redheaded stepchild, we stayed in the 'hood for dinner tonight, settling in at the Dogtooth Grill where, it seemed, half of Wildwood had landed:  families with soccer-playing children, a firefighter, a couple who never uttered a word to each other as they ate through steak, ribs and fried chicken.

Neither of us could resist the allure of Cape May Salts, the local oysters our blond server said were raised on the point (see: where we'd spent most of our afternoon). Enormous, although not quite as briny as Chincoteague's Old Saltes, they gave us a sample taste of a Jersey shore wave since it had been far too cold to experience the real thing.

But it was the combination of slurping my first local bivalve just at the moment when Springsteen's "Born to Run" came on the sound system - "The amusement park rises bold and stark" - that put the exclamation point at the end of our "shore to please" day.

Fireplaces, conch shells and roller coasters, oh, my. My sole regret? Not having any rope.

Although, come to think of it, that does make it easier to save myself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Greetings from Wildwood

Just to be clear, we're not here looking for Guido types.

When Mac and I set out this morning for the Jersey shore - because doesn't everyone head north when the third Nor'easter in as many weeks is moving in? - it was for a getaway planned long before even the first storm.

Sure, we knew we were headed to a decidedly chilly and unpleasantly windy peninsula, with our AirBnB condo appropriately situated 3 blocks from the ocean and 2 blocks from the sound, the better to take the wind abuse from both sides. Like I said, we planned this excursion back when Spring was busting out all over.

Coming across the Chesapeake Bay bridge, Mac shared that she'd never been over it before, whereas I'd crossed it many, many times in my youth, though it was a mighty windy day to experience it for the first time, even with the magnificent views.

Once over it without mishap, we stopped for lunch at Harris' Crabhouse in the shadow of the Kent Narrows bridge, scoring a table overlooking the deck and the choppy water. Harris' was a classic bay seafood place (lots of wood, windows and young servers), the kind that have only gotten larger and a tad more polished since the long ago days I was through this way with any regularity.

The only sour note was the handwritten sign taped to the front door: "Sorry, we're out of crabs." Disappointing, yes, but a deal breaker? Hell, no.

Our server proved her youth immediately by writing her name and birthdate on the brown paper covering the table. "Danielle 3/13/97" was a good reminder that I have dresses older than she is.

The menu was solidly traditional and neither of us had any problem choosing a favorite. I liked the way the steamed shrimp platter was described ("a generous serving of 16-20 count shrimp," which clearly leaves the generous part to the discretion of the kitchen) and it allowed for my two requisite sides: hushpuppies and cole slaw, while Mac did an oyster po'boy.

Our food arrived so quickly and we were so famished that we were wiping our lips and heading for the car in about the same amount of time it takes to scarf fast food. I'm not proud of that, but traveling gives a girl an appetite.

Continuing on toward Delaware after lunch, I was struck by how much more developed the area out there is. What I remember fondly as 2-lane roads with an occasional vegetable stand is now four lane highways with subdivisions and big box stores.

Occasionally, we'd spot something rustic and my faith in humanity would be restored, something such as Marge's Garden Place or Po'Boy's Creole Café (motto: "Make gumbo, not war"), but mostly it was asphalt and soulless, the only redeeming factor the way the sky had opened up on three sides, making it clear we were headed toward water.

We made it to Cape Henlopen to catch the Lewes ferry in plenty of time to watch the uniformed staff check cars for drugs and explosives using dogs, under-car mirrors and trunk checks. These guys were doing their best to keep bad stuff out of New Jersey.

I could so many jokes there, but I won't.

Once on the ferry, we got out of the car to take in the water views as we chugged along, eventually abandoning the ice-cold breezes and heading upstairs to the warm lounge for a better perch. Within moments, an announcement was made about the café being closed in 5 minutes because of the roughness of the crossing.

Unlike Mac, I'm not prone to motion sickness, but it wasn't long before I was feeling plenty green as the boat pitched side to side, the horizon rising up and then disappearing in the windows next to the table where we sat. First I felt it in my head, then in my stomach and the only way I could think of to deal with it was by putting my head on my arms on the table and closing my eyes. I still felt the boat rocking wildly but without sight lines, at least my nausea was contained.

And it's not like I don't have ferry experience, Hell, a few years back, an old boyfriend and I took three ferries in one day and each crossing was smooth as silk. Today's gusts of 20+ miles per hour were a different story and proof positive that my sea legs aren't all they could be.

Fortunately, it was barely an hour and 20 minutes before we were deposited in Cape May, New Jersey and began the short drive across countless small bridges to our temporary digs. Never having been to the Jersey shore, I was unprepared for how ticky tacky beach architecture in these parts is.

Glorified ramblers, cinder block cubes and disproportionate split levels were surrounded by statues of the virgin Mary, white plastic fences and moving projections of the Easter bunny and eggs (okay, the latter was on the downstairs of the condo where we're staying). If I'd thought about it beforehand, I'd have realized that of course the Jersey shore would look like this.

I'm not mocking it all. Some of the very dated elements are perfectly charming in a mid-century kitchy way. Just over a block away sits the Biscayne, its sign looking like something straight out of a 1957 motoring magazine.

With less than an hour to sunset, Mac and I fought the wind the few blocks to the beach, only to find that we then had to traverse a beach as wide as a football field. Let's put it this way: when we set foot on the sand, we couldn't hear the crashing of the surf, despite being able to see the breakers as we walked toward them.

Looking to the north, we spotted an amusement park, glowing in the warm tones of the early evening sunset, as picaresque a Jersey vignette as we could've hoped for. I could practically hear Springsteen singing in the background.

Naturally, if we'd walked to the ocean, we had to walk to the sound since it was just a couple blocks past our condo. If possible, the wind was even stronger on that side, without the consolation of crashing waves. Enough with the wind already.

When we finally took off for dinner, we had to cross all those little bridges again, including one that had a toll in only one direction (the one we were going), with the tollkeeper's both at the pinnacle of the bridge. I told Mac, the only bridge with a tollbooth in the center that I know of is the one in "It's a Wonderful Life" where George Bailey decides to jump off. Now we know they exist in real life, too.

One hazard of the Jersey shore in March is a sharp reduction in open restaurants, but Lucky Bones welcomed us in, along with a good-sized Tuesday night crowd. It was their menu that informed us that Cape Island was once a whaling village and not always a cheesy resort with bad architecture and punishing winds.

Since Lucky Bones had a brick pizza oven, I chose the 'shrooms and cheese white pie with Kennett Square mushrooms (mushroom capital of the world, and close enough in Pennsylvania), Pecorino-Romano and my favorite, Tallegio, a pie so fabulous, I devoured all but a few crust bones, which I gallantly donated to the wine and garlic broth on Mac's pasta. After all, a girl's gotta sop and she'd finished her lone piece of bread, poor thing.

As if Lucky Bones hadn't already won our allegiance being open 365 days a year, they sealed the deal when piping hot shot glasses of dark hot chocolate crowned with whipped cream were delivered to us. Belmont Food Shop ends every meal with truffles; Lucky's with hot chocolate shots.

On a wildly windy and ridiculously cold March night, it was a generous serving of Jersey shore welcome. Motto: make the best of it, not whine about the wind.

And when you start turning green around the gills, put your head down.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Pate and Pearls

The queen had a migraine, but the court carried on.

The moment I saw that Richmond Triangle Players was remounting "I Am My Own Wife" with Scott Wichmann playing 35 roles - a play I was awestruck by in its original run in 2006 - I alerted the posse.

Taking my word for it, Pru, Beau and Queen B signed on without hesitation.

Fast forward to Saturday night and Pru is down for the count with a migraine, so the quartet is now a trio as we headed to Belmont Food Shop for a pre-theater supper at Queen B's favorite restaurant in all of Richmond.

Between the unique vibe and the killer food, I've long been a fan of Belmont and although it had been too long, the meal was a start to finish reminder of why I won't stop going until Mike closes the place or I die and they have to pry his pate with hot mustard, pickled mushrooms and lotus root out of my cold, dead hands.

And the pate was after I'd swooned over a plate of winter vegetables and scored some of Beau's bleu cheese custard. Queen B never let me near her mushroom soup, so I'll never know how good it was, although if her moans were any indication, I should have begged.

The only fly in the ointment of the entire experience was an annoying late arrival to the private party in the Belmont space next door, a young woman who arrived in the tiny and very full dining room with a dozen balloons (including the numbers 3 and 0). Despite the bartender telling her to go back out and enter through the next door, she proceeded to navigate the balloon bouquet through crowded tables, all the while saying loudly, "Oh, I'm so sorry about this," over and over as if it were a performance and she was the star.

There was a collective sigh of relief when she finally exited the restaurant.

For dinner, I chose the matelote, a wine and onion fish stew with rockfish, monkfish, scallop mousse and tiny purple potatoes, a heavenly combination of sea and earth that I washed down with Grillo. Both my companions went with beef cheeks with sirloin and, as Beau put it, "I pulled a Pru," meaning he dove into it with laser focus, only looking up long enough to pretend that he wished he'd shared it.

Two desserts - chocolate silk pie, easily the richest chocolate dessert in the city, and maple semi-freddo with cranberries - were shared by all three of us in a vain attempt to feel better about having polished off so much food. That said, if someone had suggested more pate, I've no doubt we'd have devoured that, too. Belmont does that to a person.

Or, as Beau so eloquently put it, "This group travels on its stomach." If that was supposed to be an insult, I ignored it as we drove to Richmond Triangle Players for a different kind of indulgence.

Seeing "I Am My Own Wife" with the same actor and director twelve years after seeing it the first time was a revelation, as much for the changes in Scott's performance as an actor with an additional dozen years of experience under his belt as for seeing it in a completely different cultural and political climate.

One of the biggest surprises for me was how much more often the audience laughed. As we discovered at intermission, a startlingly large number of people were there solely because they're huge Scott Wichmann fans and hadn't had much idea what the play was about.

Especially in the first act, every time he'd change characters (which he did solely with posture, accent and demeanor), people in the audience would titter. It wasn't that the line was funny, but that they were giggling at his chameleon-like ability to turn character on a dime. As someone more caught up in the words being said, it was an unnecessary distraction.

On the other hand, there's no comparison between how much more comfortable the public is with transgender issues now than it was in 2006. When I saw it back then, the play had a far more exotic undertone - how had this trans woman managed to live in plain sight throughout the Nazi and communist regimes? - because there was so little open discussion of trans issues.

It also resonated quite differently because of the country's unfortunate present leadership, which seems to be leading us backward in time rather than forward when it comes to gender issues. In that way, the play has a new urgency that it didn't last time I saw it.

Driving home, Beau and Queen B searched for words (tour de force was being tossed around) to describe how impressed they'd been with Scott's performance, all the more so because neither had ever seen him before.

Meanwhile, I marveled at how a masterful performance that had so wowed me that I still remembered it 12 years later had affected me every bit as strongly tonight, albeit with slightly different nuances.

That's entertainment.

The Taj Mahal of Cottage Bunks

I could get used to river hopping.

Friday found me at my parents' house, where Spring was busting out all over, from the pink hyacinths (Mom asked me to cut a couple so she could enjoy their heavenly fragrance inside) blooming near the driveway to the weeping willow covered in the lightest of green leaves just beginning to unfurl.

The back 40 leading to the dock was still super-saturated from last week's Nor'easter, but I didn't let that stop me from traipsing through it to go down to the river, where the beach was littered with shells and the air smelled especially briny.

Back at the house, Dad surprised me by sharing that my friend, a member of the local sheriff's department, had stopped by for a chat the other day. Dad was incredulous that despite four (five?) years of friendship, I'd never let slip that I have five sisters. I explained that his wife not only knew how many sisters I had but had heard stories galore about some of my trials and tribulations with them.

Seems the two of them had bonded, both being men's men with the kind of softer side that allows them to openly worship the loves of their lives. They apparently hit it off so well that I think we all know there will be future chats between them.

And just for the record, it's not as if my friend had just randomly shown up at my parents' house, either.

He'd been checking on a security system alarm across the street caused by a window blown in by that same Nor'easter and figured as long as he was in the neighborhood, why not finally meet the man who'd produced me? He'd certainly heard enough stories about him and Mom and it's not like I hadn't told him where they lived. In fact, just the other day, he'd sent me a photo of a flooding in a yard very near my parents' house and I'd forwarded it to my folks.

By mid-afternoon, I was bidding my parents farewell because I had an interview to do with - wait for it - my sheriff friend. When I'd called to set up the chat, his beautiful wife had gotten on the phone and insisted if I was coming that I stay the night at their cottage. Actually, she wanted me for the entire weekend, but I had plans Saturday.

For the record, the sole time I have not spent the night with these friends was the night of our first meeting and then only because I hadn't known what a perfect place I was walking into. Since then, I return regularly to soak up their happily-ever-after vibe and partake of their stellar Corrotoman River views. They're the ones who introduced me to sailing.

So I left the Rappahannock River and my parents behind to work (not that interviewing a friend is work, not really), dine and spend the night with the happy couple. It was notable mainly because it was my first winter visit so I wasn't going to be able to sleep in my usual spot, the screened in porch on the guest house. That's okay, I was ready for a new experience.

Settling into comfortable chairs for the interview, we journeyed back through his life - the MCV blood bank in the '70s, his carrot cake-making days in the Fan, his absolute luck in marrying the woman of his dreams - as I teased out the information I needed for my article and got the scoop on so much of what I hadn't known about him before.

More than a few times, we found ourselves completely distracted by a sailboat out on the water on a chilly day. It originally caught our attention because it was heeling so far over we were convinced it was going to capsize. Only when it changed direction could we see its sails only partly unrolled and understand that it was following a wind pocket unusually far in.

I didn't wish I was on it - too chilly - but it made for some spectacular viewing from our cozy perch.

"That's the most we've ever talked!" he, an introvert, observed. I didn't point out that actually, it was just the most he'd ever talked with me. A shame because he's a great conversationalist, funny and with a near perfect memory.

It wasn't long after we finished the interview that my girlfriend got in from work and the full-on fun could begin. Our first topic was an agreement: I will no longer be just a winter friend and am expected to visit year round from here on out. Can do.

First she poured us wine, then we settled down to catch up after  six months. So much to talk about in both our lives. Turns out we've both had a sharp turn for the better with people very close to us.

But since woman cannot live on wine and girltalk alone, her husband eventually rounded us up and drove us to The Corner, notable because the last time she and I went there, in bathing suits and still damp from the pool, the owner expressed interest in getting to know me better.

When we pulled up, it was clear the place was rockin' on a Friday night, with cars everywhere and a crew of smokers on the front porch. Inside, two birthday parties kept the jukebox fed and a continuing stream of new arrivals incoming.

We scored a table in the center of the madness and an adorable young server my friends knew by name (likewise, she knew their beer orders without asking) took our food order while chaos swirled around her. When she brought my wine, she asked, "So who are you?" without a trace of hesitation.

Best she learn my name and order if I'm going to be a year round regular.

The very first time I'd gone to The Corner had been for an interview with a guitar-maker and he'd told me that his wife said the crabcake was the best in the state and I hadn't ordered it (the cheeseburger had been calling my name). Tonight I rectified that and I'd have to say that the woman I never met (and who since left him, a fact I know only because he asked me to dinner as  result) knew her crabcakes.

Once back at the cottage, it was blowtorch time because my hosts had made creme brulee using Matt Lauer's recipe and, I think, because the man of the house likes desserts that involved open flames. You have to love friends who make dessert because they know you're coming.

My girlfriend teased me about how whenever I blog about their cottage, I get effusive. "You made our outdoor shower sound like the Taj Mahal of showers!" she joked and I reminded her that it is extraordinary. It's just a shame that it's March and I can't use it.

For the first time ever, I slept in the bunk room, a slender room fashioned out of a former bathroom with a nautical theme and two single beds mounted on the wall. I saw no reason to climb the ladder to the top, instead burrowing into the lower bed and sleeping like I was on a boat.

In a related note, my host had suggested that one of these times I sleep on the sailboat, so it looks like I've got another first time experience to look forward to.

Who am I? A woman with fabulous friends and a happier outlook than I've had in months. Only now we know I can hold my own at The Corner.

Goin' Down, Down, Down

The basement called with Bordeaux.

As many times as I've been to Bistro Bobette, I'd never been to their subterranean event space, so getting an email about their French wine dinner meant they were all but putting me on notice to correct that wrong. That I knew Pru and Beau would jump on board with me only hastened my acceptance.

Arriving before they did, the server at Bobette greeted me by saying, "One for dinner?" This might not sound extraordinary to you, but as someone who resents being asked, "Just one tonight?" when I arrive solo, it was a welcome kindness. I am more than just one.

He showed me how to get downstairs and a gaggle of women followed me into the elevator. Like me, they'd never been to one of Bobette's basement wine dinners, but unlike me, they said they buy most of their wine at Costco.

Luckily, vintage soul music was playing on the sound system loudly enough to drown out most of the rest of their conversation as I found a seat several chairs away.

It wasn't long before Pru and Beau arrived and we were introduced to Jules, a stylish Frenchman working in Chicago for the wine distributor. Jules had a lovely accent, red socks and the most un-French peccadillo imaginable: he didn't like cheese.

I mean, I don't want to say we judged him for his failure lacking, but how does he keep his French card if he doesn't like fromage? Quelle horreur!

We had no choice but to overlook that since he'd brought such wonderful (and well-priced) wines to share with the long table of wine lovers tonight. To my right was the wine rep from the local distributor, a young NOVA escapee, and he provided delightful color to the conversation, not to mention a whole lot of Snapchatting.

First wine out of the gate was a white Bordeaux, Chateau la Freynelle, and given Pru's love of Sauvignon Blanc, Beau and I both knew he'd be taking some of that home with them. Paired with it were shrimp and soba noodles in an Asian dressing, a lovely complement to the balanced wine with the juicy finish.

Between courses, we discussed how both Beau and Pru had forgotten about tonight's dinner, despite having made the reservation only days ago. When Pru and I were messaging earlier this afternoon, I mentioned seeing her in a few hours and that was her first inkling that tonight was the night. Beau, meanwhile, had made plans with his oldest friend, completely oblivious to the reservation he'd made.

Clearly it's my job to remind everyone what plans they agree to with me. Just call me your private social secretary. Oh, and if you do, I want a raise.

Our next course featured Chateau Haut Colombier, a blend with 90% Merlot which Jules promised us was "well-balanced, not big," a solid assessment. We sipped it with plates of stuffed baby veggies, miniature foods that warmed the cockles of Pru's hors d'oeuvres-driven heart. It was the kind of thing I'd love to see (as would vegetarians, I'm sure) on a restaurant's regular menu for the sheer variety of flavor profiles on one plate.

The foursome next to us, two couples, were the first to decide that they needed a bottle of wine to tide them over between courses and a bottle of that Merlot soon showed up. The three of us looked at each other and Beau wasted no time in ordering us a bottle of the white Bordeaux to sip in the interim.

At one point, our server came by - we've known each other since his days at La Parisienne - to refill water glasses, pointing to my metal straw and grinning. "You still have your straw," he said.  Using the white paper over the tablecloth, I drew a quick sketch of a sea turtle with a plastic straw up his nose for reference in case anyone wondered why I never leave home without my straw.

Not to sound too groovy '70s, but I want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

By then, the quartet next to us was feeling their Merlot - they were already tilting to the obnoxious side before that bottle was ever opened - so we focused our attention in the other direction, chatting with young Ryan about his time in Richmond and why Charlottesville had been too small town for him.

"You walk down the Mall and everyone knows everyone's business," he said with a shudder.

Because Chateau du Caillau was 100% Malbec, it led to a lively discussion of how most people's opinions of Malbec are based on South American makers and not more the more round and mellow French expression of the grape. Pru still took issue with its mature tanins, but it made for a fine pairing with bistro steak with bleu cheese sauce and whipped potatoes.

One of the funnier moments happened when Beau screwed up his visage and announced, "That's my Dr. Evil face!" Raising an eyebrow, Pru asked, "You have a Dr. Evil face?" in a tone that said she clearly didn't think he could pull it off.

That was the end of Dr. Evil.

During a lull in the chatter, I shared that I'd gotten asked out and Beau's first question wasn't whether I'd said yes or who'd asked, but whether or not that meant the blog would go live again. That's what friends are for, right? To make sure I'm documenting their lives any time I'm with them.

Besides, I didn't say I was going, I said I was asked.

Glancing at the menu, Beau wrinkled his nose when he saw that the next wine was a Sauternes, saying he was no fan. I politely reminded him that he should taste the pairing before pronouncing judgement on the wine while Pru, a devoted Sauternes lover, rolled her eyes.

It was about then that we noticed that not only had the music faded to nothingness, but the inebriation level in the room had risen so that it sounded like a party and poor Jules had to fight to get everyone's attention to brag about his wines.

Which is just what he wanted to do about the Chateau Laribotte Sauternes, reminding the boisterous crowd that, "It's always a great year for Sauternes" before leaving us to the sublime pairing with orange blossom sabayon adorned with bits of fruit.

Looking across the table what seemed like moments longer, I noticed that Beau, the Sauternes hater, had drained his glass. Looking sheepish, he admitted that his perception of Sauternes was that of cloying sweetness and that perhaps he'd spoken too soon. Again.

Pru's eyes did a lot of rolling tonight. Beau did a lot of wine ordering tonight. A Frenchman who doesn't like cheese did a lot of explaining tonight. Me, I had some very interesting conversations. Just don't get me started on what.

I believe the rule is that what happens in the basement stays in the basement.

Hi, My Name is Karen

Fortunately, First Baptist didn't have a security checkpoint for heathens.

It was a good thing, too, or I'd never have made it inside for the "Color of Law" panel discussion tonight. The church has been holding discussion groups all month about Richard Rothstein's book "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America," as part of their acknowledgement of Black History Month.

I give them major props for that.

But tonight's panel discussion was open to the public and while Mac was the one who'd told me about the event, she couldn't go. Not long after taking my seat, a woman named Betty Ann approached to welcome me and ask how I'd heard about the event. Presumed on her part was that I was not a member of the congregation or she'd have recognized me.

I prefer to think I just don't look like a Baptist.

Not long after she moved on, a man came over to adjust the iPad mounted on a tripod right next to my feet. After introducing himself, he pointed to his name tag, letting me know it was there for me in case I forgot his name. Considering he was the pastor of the church, it didn't seem likely.

Besides, there was little chance I'd forget him after he stepped in front of the iPad - now turned on - and welcomed the home audience and told them that the event would be starting...when it started. That's a joke, son.

The five-person panel took their seats on the dais and my immersion into the history of government-mandated segregation began.

Prior to the 20th century, Richmond wasn't terribly segregated, in part because of all the urban slaves who lived here near their masters and worked the flour mills, the ironworks and the tobacco factories. But come the 20th century, the U.S. government got serious about extending segregation.

And to bring that home to RVA, Baltimore was the first city to adopt race-based zoning codes to segregate people. And, yes, sadly, Richmond was second in the country. It's not enough we have an avenue dedicated to white men guilty of treason, now this. We ought to be ashamed.

In its typically underhanded way, the government passed racial purity laws which stated, in part, that people could only live in neighborhoods made up of residents they could marry. Well, we all know Virginia (among others) had laws on the books prohibiting blacks and white marrying, so the racial purity laws ensured separate neighborhoods.

The panel reminded us that our country was built on a lie, citing the American Revolution as truly only half a revolution. That's because at the time of the Declaration of Independence, 300,000 whites were granted equality, life, love and the pursuit of happiness while 300,000 blacks were told to get back to work.

1776 is looking less glorious all the time.

We heard about urban renewal plans begun as early as the late 1930s and the formula was always the same. Tear down a black neighborhood and replace 1/3 of it with highway (hello, I-95), 1/3 with industrial and 1/3 with public housing. Even with my poor math skills, that tells me that X amount of people are now being forced to live in 1/3 the amount of space (and not allowed so much as a garden) simply because their skin is black.

The structural barriers of race were discussed, things like the FHA's refusal to make mortgage loans to blacks, thus ensuring they'd have to rent not own, a sure way to limit any possible wealth growth.

Lofty as it is, the goal, everyone agreed, is to economically and racially integrate.

After the panel discussion, audience questions were taken and don't you just know that some blue-haired white woman raised her hand and said it was her impression that black people wanted to stay in the projects. I think I saw a black woman on the panel silently count to 10 before she politely explained that that wasn't always the case.

"In many cases, they don't want to live there any more than you do," she said explaining it in a way that white privilege could relate to.

The minister was quick to remind us that anyone who'd come to this kind of panel discussion was a good person, but sometimes, you just have to cringe to be part of a race where people can be so clueless.

At the end of the evening, the minister led us in a short prayer (I spent the time deciding what dessert I was having next) and said he had an extra copy of the book if anyone wanted it.

Heathen that I am, I marched right up there and asked for it. He was more than happy to hand it over and expressed the hope that I come back again soon. And I may. I always enjoy their movies in the garden series in the summer.

Oh, that's not what he meant? We heathens can be so dense.

The Almighty Dollar

I didn't want to go out, but I knew I needed to.

By that I mean I needed to get back to interacting with people besides my innermost circle of friends (3 women, with one non-alpha male attached to one of them) even when I don't feel like it (for some time now), but also I needed to go be exposed to something I could learn from (beyond my daily reading) because doing so inevitably makes me feel better.

When I ran into a photographer I know on my way over, she said seeing me headed there meant that it was the place to be tonight. If only she knew how untrue that was these days.

For the past two days, Candela Gallery's exterior has been draped in a giant flag reading, "Puerto Rico is dying," in an effort to remind people that it is day 156 for Puerto Ricans without any return to normalcy. As part of the 3-day event, artist Steven Casanova had illuminated the chandelier he'd made out of a collection of the type of small solar lights that were handed out to islanders with no power.

Even grouped, it wasn't a lot of light. What it was, was a powerful reminder. Ditto the bottled waters handed out to each audience member as the film began playing.  Looking at the bright side, at least we didn't have rolls of paper towels being thrown at us.

Tonight's main event was a screening by the Bijou of "Harvest of an Empire" about the history of Latino immigration to the U.S., beginning with Puerto Rico, although, of course, that's not immigration since they're U.S. citizens.

But it was a good starting point to teach us how the U.S. meddles in the affairs of other countries, always for financial gains, and once the country is destabilized, people flee it for opportunities or asylum here.

I needed to be reminded that Mexico once extended as far north as California and Utah and that while we were technically two countries, it was very much one economy and we desperately needed the labor supplied by Mexico. Or we did until the economy went south and then those workers were easily expendable. And re-hirable at our convenience.

The filmmakers methodically showed how our government had used greed to motivate meddling in the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico, moves that drove thousands of people to flee brutal wars and regimes and land here.

Where the movie shone was in using accomplished immigrants - a Pulitzer prize winner, a brain surgeon, renowned writers and musicians, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Geraldo Rivera - to explain their path here. What came through time and time again was how many immigrants fought for this country, were dedicated employees for decades and raised children here to give them a better life.

No one expected a handout, but they did hope for a chance.

Learning all this history was disturbing enough - old colonial habits die hard - but then there's the other side of the coin that we're dealing with today. If it's our government's fault that life in these countries has become intolerable, shouldn't we have a moral obligation to accept people trying to flee it?

I can't hear you, immigrant haters. How can we turn our backs on people who are suffering because of our unlawful actions in their country?

Turns out I didn't get a whole lot of social interaction after all. But I did go out, I chatted with a few familiar faces and I learned a lot.

It's not progress exactly, but I am trying.

Youse, With the Axes and Melancholy

Our second day in Philly started on a disturbing note. By choice.

After yesterday's glorious sunny day and 78 degrees, we woke up to 52 degrees and falling with occasional showers. It wasn't about to stop us from doing anything, but it did require more clothing and an umbrella in hand.

Besides, a gloomy day was the ideal setting for a trek to the Mutter Museum, a place whose mission was to be "disturbingly informative" and how better to describe a place where you can see skulls and skeletons of diseased and abnormal people behind glass (no leaning, please)?

Of all the strangeness - shrunken heads, co-joined twins, pieces of Einstein's brain - assembled by Dr. Mutter for educational purposes, I can say without equivocation that my favorite was the mega colon, a distended colon that contained 40 pounds of poop when the subject died of it.

Needless to say, he wasn't terribly regular.

Truth be told, I was also fascinated to see how much of a man's face was covered by pustule lesions and half eaten away by syphilis, but that was one of countless objects that Lady G didn't even try to look at for fear of getting sick.

What she did do was pull out one of the many drawers of swallowed objects - keys, buttons, hair pins - to show me things comparable to the object she'd swallowed as a 2 year old. And we were both taken with the skull exhibit because under each one was a simple dossier telling you the skull owner's name and/or occupation, age and how he died. "Charles, 36, petty thief, shot by gendarmes" or "Marie, 25, well-known prostitute, suicide." One man was injured but recovered and "lived to 81 without melancholy."

Personally, I'm shooting for 101 without melancholy.

Once she convinced me to leave the carbuncle-covered body parts behind, we set out in a light rain for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, although G's phone directions somehow took us in circles despite the museum being barely 8/10 of a mile away.

After an hour of walking and not finding (although G did get to hear the bell at Liberty Hall announce noon with its authoritative and no-nonsense ring), I flagged down a construction worker in a yellow hard hat, seeking local directions. And color, as it turned out.

He only had to think about it for a second - "That's the place with the giant paintbrush outside, right?" - before directing us around Independence Hall, past LOVE Park and left at the Subway and repeating the directions at least 3 or 4 times to make sure we got it. In the pouring rain and with a smile.

And like the restaurant manager we'd talked to yesterday, he repeatedly referred to us as "youse" before sending us on our way.

It's been 11 years since I'd been to the Academy and it's still every bit as wonderful, what with its salon style arrangement of paintings (new were the iPads with which to identify the art since there was zero signage) and focus on artists who trained at the Academy.

Besides getting to see Eakins' career-defining "The Gross Clinic," we caught "Women's Work," an exhibit of paintings showing the things that women do, both domestic chores and childcare. Many, but not all, of the artists were women, meaning we saw art by artists we'd never heard of in some cases, along with old familiar names like Hopper and Cassat.

Wandering through a gallery, an older women with an Academy name badge and a cane came up to us to share some information about a painting. "You looked like you were enjoying yourselves so much, I thought you'd like some more information," she said, then looked at me. "Are you an artist?"

Of course not, but G is, so it seemed strange that she'd pegged me for the artsy one. As a long-time docent, she stayed to talk about the art for as long as we had time. We paid rapt attention, enjoying her distinctively Philly upper crust accent.

Once we made it downstairs, she followed and offered up some detailed info about the buildings' architecture, including that the massive two-level staircase once floated, at least until they put in the subway underneath and it cracked in places. These days, it's supported from below.

Not pretty, but time and construction wait for no staircase.

Happily for us, Porto was far easier to locate and its enormous, castle-like wooden door ushered us into the former furniture store-now-pizza-and-pasta joint. By arriving at the tail end of lunch (and may I just say how civilized it is for a restaurant to serve lunch from 11 to 4?), we were just getting started as the other tables were clearing out.

The building's interior was elaborate with carved arches with reliefs, but they'd dressed it down with colorful graffiti on one wall and two massive pizza ovens in the back. And, yes, because it had formerly been a furniture store, the floor slanted up, the better to show off suites of furniture. Most appealing about the decor were all the various sizes and colors of doors mounted on the walls of the restaurant like art.

Lady G went for the Zola Jesus pizza with black pepper gorgonzola crema, fennel and housemade Italian sausage, but an even bigger hit for her was my Winter Betty - goat cheese bechamel, garlic, thyme and brussels sprouts - which is named after a favorite customer, who donates $1 to a local scholarship fund for every one of her namesake pies sold.

I was feeling pretty smug about eating good to do good for the second time in two days when our server informed us that the Betty pie changes every season and I was scarfing the winter version. That's practically an invitation to return and try the summer heirloom tomato Betty, right?

We were throwing down pizza when I saw smoke start rising from the pizza ovens and mid-bite the fire alarm began screaming incessantly and the hostess propped open the front door, ushering in the cool, damp air we'd come in to escape.

Within moments, in troop four firefighters in full gear with axes, looking like they mean business. Back they go to the ovens, then back out front, then back in, each time sweeping right by our table and adding a bit of excitement to our last lunch in Philly. You haven't had pie in Philly till you've had it with firemen.

By the time our chocolate budino arrived, they were focused on resetting the fire alarm, demonstrating something to the restaurant employees at a panel near the bar. The creamy budino got an extra kick from chilis, which you couldn't taste right away, but made themselves known with insistent heat on the finish.

We made it out of Porto by the time lunch hours ended (okay, roughly 3:57, but still), yes, the final customers but also the most deserving of a lingering lunch given our non-local status.

Our Philly adventure ended on South Street because an artist like G needed to see the many mosaics and murals that cover alleys, house facades and brick walls between the shops, eateries and community gardens.

Seeing South Street after nearly a dozen years gives me faith in the funky, because while there were undoubtedly more chain stores, there were still plenty of places that look as comfortably decrepit as they did on my first visits during the Bush years.

It's good to know some things don't change. Far too many things have in the years since and that's got me feeling pretty low.

Here's hoping Winter Karen will be replaced by a Spring or Summer Karen with a sunnier outlook. Youse guys know what I'm talking about.

It's Always Sunny in Philly

Let's just say we didn't come for the brotherly love.

When Lady G and I set out for Philly, it was for multiple reasons - she hadn't been in 30 years, I hadn't been in 11- with the main ones being we wanted some out-of-town art and food. We got even luckier when it turned out to be a 78-degree day, because, let's face it, almost anywhere would be a fine destination when the February weather is so agreeable.

On a stop in Elkton, Maryland, I got out to stretch my legs and spotted what looked like an 18-wheeler with the words, "Mobile Chapel" on one side, and underneath, "Transport for Christ." Is it just me or does this have the makings of a hysterical Saturday Night Live skit?

We rolled into Philly around lunchtime, paid a king's ransom at a parking garage  for expediency's sake and sat down at Rooster Soup Company just as the regular lunch rush was winding down. The subterranean spot got our business because they a) make great food and b) donate their profits to "vulnerable Philadelphians."

When I asked about that last part, the manager said they work with a Broad Street ministry that supplies all kinds of services to locals in need.  In order to do my part for those less fortunate people, I was willing to scarf today's special: a smoked trout tartine on housemade semolina with pickled fresno pepper salad, green goddess dressing and sunflowers.

I raved about the flavor combination when asked by our server and she nodded approvingly. "We're putting it on the menu tomorrow," she said. Not a moment too soon, I told her. Meanwhile, we swooned over G's cauliflower soup with capers, which the manager told us he eats almost every day.

Our seats at the long, sleek counter were near a metal cabinet with a collection of colorful, magnetized plastic letters scattered on it, so I took the opportunity to create some short-term graffiti by arranging the letters to reflect both my and Lady G's initials, the date and our location (RS Co).

Proof, in other words, should the cops come looking for us.

We wanted dessert, we asked about dessert and our server let us down gently by saying they were sold out of desserts and their local bakers hadn't replenished their desserts yet. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we'd have some killer desserts at dinner.

Properly fortified, we headed back outside to enjoy the spring-like weather at the Morris Arboretum. You might wonder why two art-loving tourists would choose to visit an arboretum in February when trees are leafless and few flowers are in bloom (snowdrops, crocuses and heliobores were about it, but, wow, were they ever fragrant) and it would be a fair question.

Let me tell you. We wanted to experience Out on a Limb, a 450' long walkway 50' in the air, with a 12' nest complete with 3 oversize robin's egg blue eggs at one terminus and two rope suspensions built around massive trees for those brave enough to walk it or sprawl out on it at the other.

Lady G opted out of both, while I couldn't resist doing either.

Besides, even if I hadn't gotten the chance to literally hang out 50' feet up, the grounds were well worth a walk. Sure, the trees were leafless, but they were all such magnificent specimens that it was like looking at nature's sculpture as we admired the dramatic trunks and branches of massive old locusts, chestnuts and, yep, even redwoods.

Best of all, there was a TV crew there filming people's reactions to such an oddly warm day and while I was running back to the car to get my hat, G got asked to share her opinion on camera. They had no clue she was a visitor and she happily opined on the problems of warm weather arriving too early.

When she said, "We thought it would be rainy and in the 40s when we came, " I called out from off-camera, "It's going to be tomorrow!" and the crew cracked up. Needless to say, my comments didn't make it onto the 6:00 news, although G's did.

More clues for the coppers if they're hot on our trail.

Once I'd worn her out walking past keyhole ponds, outdoor sculpture (the kinetic "Two Lines" was my favorite) and fields of wild crocuses, we headed back to the Museum District to our short-term digs, accessed by going behind the gyro shop, up the 2 steps to the purple door under the blue awning, where you enter the secret code that allows you inside, where you climb three flights to apartment #4.

Good luck following that bread crumb trail, fellas.

After freshening up, we strolled to dinner, bottle of wine in hand, past Philadelphians reveling in their weather. The sheer number of shorts and tank tops we saw made us think that these people never truly pack away their summer clothes, they just push them to the back of the drawer so they're ready on days like this.

Our destination was Trattoria Carina, a former fine dining place that had recently decided to forego reservations, welcome BYOB and simplify the menu to a few housemade pastas, a couple entrees and some starters and call it a night.

Lady G wasn't in the mood to sit outside, but the host all but insisted we take the corner table outside - a prime spot with privacy - when I let on that I was dying to sit out there. It wound up being the best table anyway because everyone crossing the street - and it was prime time, after work, walk your dog time - walked within inches and most of the dogs gave us a sniff hoping for scraps.

For the record, we did not share with the dogs of Philly. Who would when the food was so good?

A tomato soup with chicken and barley was loaded with rich thigh meat and a touch of heat, while warm farro with roasted brussels sprouts made me so full I couldn't do dessert. After shells granchio arrabbiato with spicy crab, G was every bit as stuffed, a shame since we'd been owed dessert since lunch.

Instead, we walked off the wine and fabulous food at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is not only the third largest in the country, but also happens to be open on Wednesday evenings. Moseying through the Impressionist galleries, we were terribly impressed with breadth of their collection, seeing for the first time  a Monet done in England that was completely unfamiliar to both of us and looked almost Degas-like.

But it was in the American galleries that we swooned the most, what with the Sargeants, Whistlers and Philly's own Thomas Eakins. The sheer number of works and sketches by Eakins make it the largest Eakins collection in the world, although we were both a little disappointed not to see a single male nude.

Come on, Philly, we all know he painted them. Show us the goods.

The museum was lively, with lots of people also taking advantage of the evening to mill about and get lost in the art. We made it nearly till closing time, when Lady G announced that her legs had had quite enough walking, thankyouverymuch, and it was time to head back to our clandestine digs.

And even though it had been a very long, non-stop day, when we walked out of the museum only to be met with warm air, a crescent of a moon and a view of the lighted city, the sore bits were forgotten and I, for one, would have happily walked until I dropped.

Yo, Adrian, a balmy night in Philly is a seductive thing. And with my bedroom windows wide open, every bit as noisy as J-Ward.

But it's not J-Ward, and for me right now, that's just what I need.

Away in a Motel

People are going to talk.

For the second night in a row, my dance card was identical to that of the night before: dinner and a play with a good friend's man. Same old same old.

I kid, but where else am I going to get a man for an evening out? Fortunately, Pru doesn't mind lending him out on occasion and this well-reviewed play had piqued both our interests, but not hers.

We began sating our curiosity at dinner at Rogue, the new incarnation of what was Rogue Gentlemen, but after pipes froze and burst in the apartment over the restaurant, causing flooding downstairs, it was time for a makeover. Not only did the place get a shortened moniker, but also a sleek new look that's lighter and more welcoming than the original.

Or perhaps I'm just more of a fan of mid-century modern than I was of Prohibition-era speakeasy decor. And for a change, I was glad my Google calendar-obsessed companion had made a reservation because there were no available seats at the bar, no doubt because of people wanting to experience the new bar stools with backs!

Rogue has gone comfortable and I like it.

I also like a wine list with champagne by the glass, meaning I sipped Lallier Grand Reserve Grand Cru whilst Beau sought something single malt and smoky (but not peat-y, he hastened to explain) because, unlike last night, he wanted nothing to do with fruity and sweet.

Periodically, aromatic clouds from his brown liquor drifted my way.

Both Beau and I are big fans of small plates, so Rogue's new all small plate menu suited us to a "T." Charred carrots, red and golden beets with chevre and pumpkin ravioli with sausage wowed us with nuance, bright flavors and standout seasonality.

While we ate, people kept arriving and those without reservations were given the option of hanging around in hopes of bar stools being vacated. One trio of guys cooled their heels for nearly an hour with not a stool in sight before giving up and going who-knows-where.

Beau was the perfect dinner companion, telling me with all sincerity that he can't for the life of him understand why I am single. His only theory was that I'm daunting to approach, a theory I reject because anyone who sees me is likely going to see me smiling and laughing and that overrides the daunting issue. Subject closed.

Come dessert time, our server  explained that we could expect deconstructed takes on classic sweets. Beau thought his deconstructed carrot cake - complete with shavings of fresh carrots - took first place, but my deconstructed chocolate cheesecake gave it a run for its money. It's not often you get desserts that are both clever and swoon-worthy.

We digested while watching Richmond Triangle Players' production of "Corpus Christi," an updated take on the life of Joshua, aka Jesus, that re-imagines him and a couple of his apostles as gay men.

Before the play began, I admitted to Beau that most of my knowledge of religious stories was gleaned from art history, not from church-going. He, on the other hand, had one of those crazy Christian upbringings where everything was about religion (or at least the organized version of it).

We were a pair, alright.

Even so, both of us were sucked into the narrative, from Joshua's non-traditional birth through his difficult years at Pontius Pilate High School to his dramatically-lit crucifixion as king of the queers. Along the way, the cast of 13 men had scads of opportunities to play drag female roles to perfection.

For a heathen like me, it was a much more compelling story than the tired version long foisted on believers, which is why it was completely gratifying to see online that there were protesters, albeit a small, motley group, marching outside the theater Sunday.

Get over yourselves. It's a play.

Despite having borrowed her man for the evening, Pru welcomed us into the manse once the play was over. Once we'd given her the full scoop - restaurant menu and renovation, thoughts on the play - she got down to business: my lack of a love life.

The problem, she told me, is that I'm not flirtatious when I go out and she says she's been out with me enough times to know that's been the case for years. Claims I send out a "do not try anything with me because I'm not interested" vibe in spades.

After reminding her that I had a boyfriend for 4 of the 8 years she's known me, she reminded me that I was still terrible at it during the 4 years I was available. I didn't have a good argument for that.

Considering the three of us had seen each other the night before, we found enough new to talk about to keep us going until nearly 2 a.m. and fortunately for me, I was only the topic of discussion for part of it. I know, I know, they only care because they love me.

Still, you hate to get crucified by friends.

Save Me from Soma

Not everyone cares to revisit the dystopian memories of youth.

To be clear, I'd invited three friends to join me for Quill Theatre's production of "Brave New World." Although not one of us had ever seen it performed live, two turned me down flat on the spot and only one, the ever-agreeable Beau, signed on.

Where's your spirit of adventure, kids?

When he came to pick me up, I invited him upstairs to admire three pieces of newly-framed art I'd just hung. It's all part of my master plan to convince him to finally frame the art he bought two years ago that has yet to make it to his walls.

How do people live with no art on their walls anyway?

Even after I'd made my clunky point, he was still willing to drive us to Brenner Pass for dinner. I don't know what kind of week it had been for him, but he said for the record that he needed something sweet and fruity (no judgement here), resulting in a frothy pink Caribbean Canneberg showing up, while I kept my drinking simple (and bubbly) with a Cremant de Jura while the dining room crowd multiplied around us.

He was curious about what I'd been up to, so I dished on the cyclist I'd interviewed the day before and the month-long biking trips he takes all over the world. He'd told me that once he biked a place, he never went back because he preferred that his first memory of a place be his only, a sentiment I said I could understand.

Not Beau. He was immediately flummoxed. What if you like a place and want to see it again? Why go somewhere new if you liked the last place you went? It's fascinating to me how some people can't even imagine the pleasure of something they personally have no desire to do.

Once we got down to the business of food, there was some horsetrading going on because he wanted the quail (turns out he grew up eating quail...Beau, I hardly knew ye) but he also wanted bucatini, so I agreed to get the bird and share, allowing him to have his pasta and eat quail, too.

But before any of that, I wanted to share the citrus salad, a brilliant choice, it turned out, as we both raved about the complementary flavors and textures.

The quail had gotten the Thanksgiving treatment, with stuffing and pureed root vegetables subbing for mashed potatoes, but it was the crispy, seasoned skin neither of us was forgetting anytime soon.

Amazed to see a new dessert on the menu since I was last in, I felt obligated to fall on that sword. Did I mention it happened to be chocolate? It was called a mousse, but came across as more of a bombe, with a thick coating of dark chocolate ganache over a lighter chocolate, while Beau finally ordered the coffee profiteroles and promptly went into raptures.

Never mind that I'd suggested them when we were there two weeks ago and he'd claimed to be too full for dessert. Of course, he then went on to eat half of mine.

There was no lingering after dinner, much as we might have enjoyed it, because we needed to get to the far reaches of the Henrico county for the play. Along the way, we made a pit stop at the Dugout, not for cheap drinks and the so-so jukebox, but for a photo of us against the sign, the better to taunt the employee we know who wasn't there and missed our brief appearance.

And as a side note, I'd like some bonus points for venturing to the county, since everyone is convinced I don't. We all make sacrifices for art, you know.

Waiting for the play to start, Beau inquired about my break in blogging, asking if it felt weird not to blog when I'm still going out every night. When I told him that wasn't the case, he was gobsmacked. In fact, he was still wrapping his man brain around it when the action onstage began.

Once we got through the initial exposition, "Brave New World" turned out to be a well-acted, creatively-directed take on a story most of us haven't read since high school or college (except Ihad reread it about 6 or 7 years ago), but still mostly remember.

Cliff Notes: Soma is the government-supplied happy drug, babies grow in test tubes and there is no emotion. The end.

In the not-often-enough category, it was especially gratifying to see the colorblind and gender-blind casting of Lucretia Anderson in the main role of Mustapha. Just as satisfying were the sheer amount of lines taken directly from Shakespeare - a joy to hear spoken - along with Caleb Wade's terrific performance (and fine-looking chest) as the savage John.

And lest I sound like I can't get past a firm young body, Jacqueline Jones chewed up scenery as Linda, the savage's mother, but then when isn't she magnificent in whatever role she's playing?

Once we left Huxley's dystopian world, it was for the glamour of Pru's manse and a few hours of conversation. She may not have wanted to go to the play, but she did want every detail on dinner and the play.

As Beau and I fell over each other's words describing what we'd seen, he praised Wade's performance but said he couldn't recall seeing him before. Knowing this wasn't the case and whipping out the program to prove it, I showed Pru his bio listing with its accompanying photo.

"Of course I remember him!" she said, with a wave of her hand, as I knew she would. An attentive playgoer remembers a fine physique talent such as his

Of course, if she'd gone with us, she could have appreciated it from the good seats. His talent, I mean.

Mid-Day Tropicale

I'll be honest, what I really wanted was a flaming pu pu platter and a hurricane.

But, alas, it was not long after noon on a dreary, rainy Monday and I was meeting Lady G for planning purposes, not to kick off a party. Although given how busy the place was - I think I passed exactly 2 empty tables being led to ours - there was a sort of festive vibe to the place.

Little Nickel is what had drawn me to southside for lunch (fact: I'm a sucker for a tiki bar) and the place delivered, from the colorful decor (c'mon, textured pink flamingo wallpaper in the loo?) and catchy menu to all kinds of dishes not seen in other Richmond restaurants.

Heck, before even sitting down, I ran into the cider king enjoying some Hawaiian nachos - that's bacon, pineapple and pork - with friends. Lady G and I immediately targeted the shrimp ukey, described as a bird's nest of carrots, sweet potatoes, shrimp, cilantro and tarot root, with a chili vinegar sauce riding shotgun, for its unique-sounding appeal.

And, yep, what was delivered looked very much like a green-flecked orange nest, which I promptly tore in half, musing to G about whether or not it was the kind of thing we should eat with fingers or forks. Before she could answer, I made an executive decision and went with bare hands, savoring every bite of the crispy, fried veggies with shrimp hidden inside.

I don't want to make it sound like we didn't discuss details for our upcoming trip (that came later), but first we had to catch up on life and love, meaning she couldn't resist reminding me, "I really miss the blog."

Sigh. Tell me something I haven't heard. And, if you ask and of course she did, I'll tell you how low I've been and why no one would want to read most of my words these days. I'm doing my readers a favor.

Then it was on to the main event. While she may have grown up in NOVA, G lived for over two decades in Massachusetts, meaning she responds to New England standards like Pavlov's dog. Translation: she ordered the filet o' Nickel, a fabulously battered hunk o' cod at least an inch thick and slathered with caper tartar sauce on a glossy bun and situated next to a mountain of salty shoestring fries.

Me, I couldn't resist the siren song of an avocado crab "cocktail" piled atop a mound of arugula with bits of grapefruit for sass and a pile of tortilla chips for scooping, should that be one's preferred method of delivery (it wasn't mine).

We took a tangent on the subject of tea (G has a multiple cup a day habit) when I told her I'd discovered Earl Grey with double bergamot (her squeal told me she's an Earl Grey fan) but it was so strong and caffeinated that it required some adjustment on my part. Given my lack of coffee drinking, I need to drink my lone cup of tea early in the day or suffer the consequences of a low caffeine tolerance.

"Just use the tea bag 3 or 4 times," she advises me. "All the caffeine's in the first cup. Make it and throw it away and then use the teabag for the other cups." Brilliant.

When we finally got down to the business of our getaway itinerary, it soon became clear how spoiled we are. Between the Smithsonian's various museums and the VMFA, Lady G and I rarely pay for art (the Phillips Collection being a notable exception), so she was gobsmacked when I told her nearly everywhere we were going put a price on our heads.

It'll be worth it, no doubt, but it did require some mental adjustment on her part. Then there were the choices: oddities or contemporary? the '60s or Monet? airborne or black history? Decisions, decisions.

By the time we'd worked out a non-stop itinerary, our smiling server was asking about dessert. Remembering our mid-century childhoods, we went with warm pineapple upside down cake, even better than our memories because Little Nickel's is rum-soaked and Mom's wasn't. Fortunately, the maraschino cherries are still just as artificially red and cloying as they always were, so some things never change.

It only took us two and a half hours to gorge ourselves and nail down 48 hours in the city that's been cholera-free since 1866.

These days, I'm not setting my sights very high. But at least I'm getting my sour puss out of town.

SO Low SO Long

They grow up so fast. Restaurants, that is.

When I'd first visited Brenner Pass last July, it was uncrowded, having barely been open a month. and some servers were still learning how to open wine bottles (ours had to call in someone more qualified). The second time, wine skills had been mastered and the food was even better.

Craving a third time, Pru, Beau and I had made dinner reservations ahead of tonight's play at the Basement. Unlike that first time, though, the hordes began arriving as soon as the doors opened. We had a good excuse for our ridiculously early reservation (an 8:00 curtain), while I'm guessing many others in the first seating were there simply because it was the only time they could get seats.

Keeping with our Jura theme from last visit, we began with a bottle of Benoit Badoz Cremant Rose and a small plate special: rillete of oil-poached swordfish with frisee, mustard and housemade chips to spread it on. The night was off to a good start.

One noticeable difference was the level of the music, meaning we could actually hear it this time (and who doesn't want to hear Slowdive?), which added considerably to the overall vibe. And when you have a restaurant as large as Brenner Pass, you really need a good sound system to overcome the din of loud talkers in an industrial space.

Beau couldn't resist the fondue burger, although I think that had to do with the ability to order it "tres epique," meaning with veal demi-glace and mushrooms. I can attest to the burger's tastiness even if the fries were a bit on the dry side.  Pru's lamb leg was swoon-worthy with prune jam and armagnac puree.

My arctic char with pickled mushrooms over barley boasted an obscene caviar cream sauce that ensured my choice of fish scored me no virtuous points whatsoever, but, man, was it memorable. And something else, too - barley is an underused grain and I'd love to see it on more menus. Along with flour, sugar and tea, my D.C. grandmother's kitchen canister set had a container for barley but it fell out of fashion by the time I was a kid, so I've only discovered my taste for it as an adult.

We were already on the second bottle of Cremant when we finished our entrees, but our server was good enough to understand that we were in no hurry for dessert and allowed us to linger before ordering.

Pru, like several other friends recently, demanded to know why I was suddenly on Instagram and where my line in the sand was when it comes to technology. Apparently it unnerves some people for me to exist in a new realm without having a cell phone.

Looks like they'll have to adjust.

Since we hadn't had time to order the souffle on our last visit, Pru corrected that this time, while Beau and I shared a salted caramel and dark chocolate ganache tart with hazelnut dragees while they explained to me the appeal of Cubano coffee and I pretended to appreciate the nuances.

By the time we vacated the premises two and a half hours after arriving, Brenner Pass was in full-on Saturday night mode, with people waiting for tables, the bar too crowded to see the staff and the music lost to tipsy conversations.

Coincidentally, the first act of the play we were seeing at TheatreLAb, "I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard" was a drunken conversation between a father and daughter as she waits for the reviews to come out of her first play.

Alan Sader was superb as the father, displaying a restraint with his acting unlike his usual scenery-chewing ferocity. Any theater fan knows he's a master, so seeing him rein it in was all the more impressive.

TheatreLAB's theme this year is "taking sides," which means the stage is placed between two risers of audience seats, providing a view of half the audience in addition to the action on stage. It's a brilliant move, allowing us to observe what others are watching or how they're reacting in a way viewers don't often get to do.

Not gonna lie, I like to watch. Does that make me a voyeur?

Maybe, but in my present state of mind, I'm not good for much more than that. Tres triste.

Broad Street Bent

No one is shy on Broad Street, a fact you learn when you walk some part of it just about every day.

A man has stopped and is looking at me as I approach him walking down Broad. "Are you that lady who walks in the summer with the shorts and great legs?" Um, yes?

He breaks out in a huge grin. "I knew it was you! I could tell by the way that you walk! Keep up the good work." For you, stranger? Anything.

I'm at the Dugout, a dive bar out on Mountain Road, standing in front of the jukebox with a dollar in hand. A woman sitting at the bar comes over and hands me two dollars so I can play more songs, though she makes no requests or demands. A stranger trusting a stranger's music taste, nothing more.

Just then, a man sitting near my elbow at the bar looks over and asks, "Aren't you the girl that's been walking by the barber shop for, like, 20 years?" I immediately know he means Salon Z ("Come on in and get fresh!" their sign has read for all those years, which is actually 12, not 20) and confirm my identity.

Truth is, I'm amazed that even out of context and so far from where he usually sees me (near Belvidere on Broad) he nevertheless recognizes me.

I go back to punching songs in the jukebox, beginning with Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," which gets me a high five and praise from my female patron. Meanwhile, I'm still considering and choosing songs when my second selection, Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" unmistakably begins.

The well-groomed barber looks over at me, smiles winningly and says, "Now don't go givin' away all the Broad Street secrets!" Never.

Local fixture Special K has proposed to me on Broad Street twice, once with the promise of a Corvette if I agreed and another time sweetening the pot by saying he'd feed me lobster dinners. I accept neither offer of marriage, but appreciate that he's offering more than just a husband.

Walking along Broad Street another morning, I see a group of well-dressed construction managers - one woman, three men - all in hard hats, standing in front of a building renovation in progress. The woman steps in front of me and gestures at one of the guys.

"I'd like to introduce you to my main man, Chris, here. He's smart and funny and a real good catch. And, he's single!" She's so casually forward about it that I smile and ask what makes her so sure I'm single, too?

She raises her eyebrows and says, "Oh, you're single!" Caught. I admit I am, but keep walking.

You gotta walk Broad regularly to merit this kind of attention. I do.