Saturday, August 19, 2017

Both Sides Now

Sometimes I let my enthusiasm get the best of me and I may come across as a bit odd.

With plans for dinner and a play, my date and I had just sat down at the bar at Amuse when I realized that next to us was a Jackson Ward neighbor. She immediately launched into praise for our alleys recently being cleared of all the leftover student debris and trash that had made our usually fine neighborhood look a little rundown at the heels lately.

Just as we were mulling who might've been responsible for the clean-up, I looked up to see Pru and company being led to a table nearby, so I went over to say hello. Everyone was in full-on Friday celebratory mode.

And since the trio was seated at a four-top, we saw no reason why a fifth couldn't be accommodated, so I was voted the one to take it up with the host.

Excitedly explaining to him that I was certain another chair could be added to the table, he asked which table my date and I wanted to glom on to. I pointed and continued to insist that one more chair wouldn't matter and how the table could easily fit five.

Looking at me with incredulity, the host asked, "Do they know you?"

Well, duh. Do I look like the kind of person who insinuates herself into the lives of strangers? Okay, of course I do, I am exactly that person, but in this case, I assured him, yes, I knew these people very well.

All of a sudden, our cozy dinner a deux was a round table dinner party for five (they were on the way to see the YSL exhibit), with views of the shades rolling up, down and up again as the photo-sensitive system tried to adjust for the rapidly-changing stormy skies outside.

A bottle of J. Mourat Rose was delivered and not long after, a second (Beau: Do we need another bottle? Me: Uh, yes Pru: Next time, don't ask, just order) as the conversation was derailed with a discussion of pigeon toes, knock knees and the problems of trying to vamp when you have both.

Not a good look and especially for a femme fatale.

Unable to narrow our preferences, my date and I shared two entrees - an earthy vegetable tajine and a special of exquisitely grilled New England cod with green beans and snap peas - so that we could taste both our food crushes. Beau was kind enough to share tastes of his shakshuka, even while wishing that there were more than two eggs on top of the eggplant and tomato stew.

"Or even just a few more yolks," he pined, not satisfied with the speed at which his arteries were closing. We helped that along with dessert, my choice of the salted chocolate bar being based on our server saying it was the darker of the two chocolate offerings but any fool knows I'd have eaten either one.

The skies opened up and torrent of rain began just as we asked for the check so we could make our curtain. Our server, who'd greeted me by name when we'd arrived, returned with two checks, her assumption being that I was alone as usual and not on a date.

Surprise! Sometimes I can dig up a date, especially these past few months. Now that everyone is firmly accustomed to me being solo all the time, I'm showing up as a couple all over the place. Who saw that coming?

We left our friends still finishing their desserts and dashed through the rain to the car, only to make it to Richmond Triangle Players' theater just as the pre-play announcements were being made.

Just this morning as I was out walking, I'd randomly run into the artistic director of a local theater company and in the course of chatting, told him which play I was seeing tonight. I could tell by his face that he had an opinion so I asked for it.

He thought the play, "The View Upstairs," had been unduly harsh on millennials and that while the acting and directing were strong, the story itself was not. He was also a millennial himself.

Naturally we two Baby Boomers wanted to decide for ourselves.

The premise was decidedly millennial, not a surprise given that the playwright was, too. A young Instagram-famous fashion designer buys an old building in New Orleans for a shop, only to go inside and encounter the occupants of the 1973-era gay club that once occupied the space.

And even if the program hadn't stated it was the early '70s, actor John Mincks' hairstyle, mustache and large-lensed glasses clearly stated the period. Ditto Luke Newsome's fitted, high-waisted jeans and Andrew Etheridge's fit and flare polyester bell bottoms.

The script was incredibly au courant - "Donald Trump is president, so anything is possible!" - even if the actors speaking it had to compete with the rolling thunder and pelting of rain on the theater's roof to be heard over it.

Where the script was brilliant, especially so for having been written by a guy born in 1988, was in its attempts at explaining the present reality to denizens of 1973.

You know, back when you'd judge if someone was cool or not with a few simple questions. Oscar Wilde or Arthur Miller? Sonny or Cher?


It's tough to make dating apps and virtual reality sound appealing - because of course you'd want to see a picture of someone before you met them in real life, the better to decide if they were worth wasting your real life time on - to some of us (okay, me) today, so there's really no way to describe it to people with no frame of reference for our ceaseless connectivity married to a greater sense of unconnected humanity.

The two of us laughed a lot about the contrasts of a time we vaguely recall with the "improved" present, rife with loneliness, isolation and, too often, an absence of social and interaction skills. How must it feel when your self-esteem is based on "likes" from people you may or may not know?

We weren't the ones to ask.

But we were the ones to leave the theater and head directly to my balcony for an in-depth discussion of the play's themes set to alternate periods of hard rain and warm breezes while listening to Joni Mitchell's chronicle of a relationship, her 2000 album "Both Sides Now." Going down a rabbit hole about the arrangements and a certain kind of early '60s movie soundtracks).

Doing so didn't get us a single like from anyone, except each other.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Helms Alee

Take me to the middle of a river and feed me, and I'm yours for life.

As meals go, having one aboard a sailboat with my favorite river rats made for pretty spectacular eating.

I'd been eyeing the dropped wooden table in front of the helm sine the first time I'd set foot on the boat last summer, but today was the first time we set the boat to auto-cruise, pulled the table up and lunched on the Rappahannock.

In our own modified version of "Groundhog's Day," today's outdoor adventure, like yesterday's, began with a ride in the powerboat to see what we could see and ended up on the sailboat. With a whole lot of talk and laughing in between.

One major difference was that today we finished up our sail trying to outrun a squall. As the sole occupant of the bow when the going got rough, I tried to ignore the choppy water splashing up around me and keep my eyes fixed on the horizon.

Only occasionally did my stomach register a complaint about the rough water, but I didn't falter (much).

But without a doubt, the high point was breaking bread on the water with these two people who act like I'm doing them the favor by coming to visit, when the reality is I'm the lucky one. We've gotten so comfortable with each other that they can now discuss family matters in front of me and pause to listen when I put in my two cents' worth.

Today's voluminous cloud cover was a welcome relief from yesterday's unrelenting sun - with both female members of the crew having the overly brown legs to prove it - while also providing fodder for the cloud game (look, a strapless bra...look, a hen on a nest) when we felt inclined to play.

The captain was in fine comedic form as usual, coming up with the concept of The Church of the Holy Dolphin, wherein people would join in hopes of being reincarnated as a dolphin. To the three of us, it made about as much sense as any other church.

They regaled me with stories of the maritime artist John Barber coming to their house for dinner and took me on a water tour of some of the more notable locals' houses. We discussed the Monkees in depth and when we take a tangent to my long ago phone conversation with singer Bobbie Gentry, my friend demands to know if I'd asked her what Billy Joe McAllister threw off the Tallahatchee Bridge.

I have to admit I hadn't and she sighs in disappointment.

One of my favorite things about these two is that every sentence out of their mouths is an opening to sing a song. Mention darkness approaching and one begins to sing, "Hello darkness, my old friend..." or comment that the dog isn't as spastic as usual and I hear, "He's grown accustomed to your face..."

It's hilarious and non-stop. It also helps that both can sing. You won't find me inflicting my singing on anyone.

And when the sail was said and done, we took turns in the palatial outdoor shower so that we could go out to dinner without the stink of sailing, sweat and sunscreen on us.

We ate at Relish in Warsaw because so much of their sourcing -vegetables, fruits, seafood, meat - is within a few miles and because the place has a charming colorful vibe.

It was also date night and crowded, a testament to both the locals and the summer people. We briefly considered passing ourselves off as on a date - what, no man ever dated two women? - but decided we were too hungry for that and ordered with abandon.

No matter how good lunch on a sailboat is, it only takes you so far. The good news is, with the right friends, that's pretty far. I think these two know they've got me for life and they're okay with it.

Cue "Hungry Like the Wolf."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wow, Look at the Time

If you found out you only had one year to live, what would you do?

That was one of the 36 questions my girl crush and I spent last evening answering - not that we didn't already know plenty about each other - more as a conversational jumping off point than anything else.

As her husband joked when we told him about all we'd learned about each other, "You two would make a great lesbian couple."

What we all agreed upon by the end of today was that one way we'd spend that final year was exactly how we'd spent today: on the water.

When the captain said he was going to spend the day working out and cutting grass, I wasn't shy about asking him how I was going to get a boat ride if he didn't give it to me? It was enough to get him checking the forecast, only to find that there was no wind predicted, a bummer since we'd hoped to go sailing.

The way I saw it, though, that was of no consequence since he also has a motor boat, so a cooler was packed, bathing suits were donned and the dog began running in circles in excitement second only to mine.

What followed was a glorious two and a half hours cruising the Rappahannock on what turned out to be not just a a beautiful day but a recon mission. Once out there, we realized that the wind had picked up after all.

The two of them claim I bring luck with me, but I'm inclined to think it's more about what happens when we're together. We're magic together.

We'd passed under the Whitestone bridge and were tooling along when I spotted a dolphin jump out of the water, do a somersault in the air and slap his tail on the way back in. That was all the captain needed to hear to turn the boat in their direction, the better to appreciate the show these dolphins were putting on.

We'd seen dolphins in the river near the bay last year, but these were three young pups - no scarring on their bodies or fins - with endless energy and they were in full-on play mode. They didn't just swim nearby, they jumped, tumbled, rolled and entertained us in high fashion.

At one point, they ducked under the boat and came out in front of us, facing us head on and looking directly at my girl crush and I. I mean we locked eyes with these dolphins.

We came back through an especially narrow channel that took us by Parrot Island with its decrepit pier and overgrown green-roofed house and then within sight of Merroir and its colorful umbrellas.

Returning to the cottage only long enough to eat lunch, reapply sunscreen and repack the cooler, we loaded up the car and headed to the marina to take out the sailboat. It had been almost a year since I'd seen the sailboat and she was looking mighty fine, having had her bottom painted since I last saw her.

We headed out, passing a regatta struggling in a particularly un-windy stretch of the Carrotoman River and were greeted with whitecaps on the Rappahannock, an indicator of good winds just waiting to be taken advantage of.

Although technically I'm part of the crew, it's only my fourth time sailing, so my contributions are small and untrained, but I did well enough to be dubbed the "winch wench." Mostly I reveled in the sight, smell and sound of the river around us while they did the heavy lifting.

I did, however, contribute to the innuendo-filled banter that we're inclined to toss around, being great fans of each other and all. Today's recurring theme was "It only takes 15 minutes...and then a lifetime," a phrase we applied to everything from successful relationships to tying off sails.

After a couple of hours of pitch perfect sailing, we decided it was time to head back, but given the wind direction, it was a lovely, leisurely return trip that allowed the female members of the crew to stretch out on the bow of the boat under the jib (not to be confused with the lower part of the butt cheek, which has always been known in my family as the "jibs") and admire the mast and sail against a sky so blue it a good way.

If that's not zen, I don't know what is.

So it took us another couple hours to get back, not a one of us regretted a moment of such an idyllic sail. It's not always about the speed and angle of the boat, although some of us are inordinately fond of both.

Back at the cottage after our four hour sail, it was decided that Mojitos were in order and while the captain took over the outdoor shower, I was sent to the yard to fetch mint. When I asked where I'd find it, her response was, "The toilet."

Because all the best river people grow mint in in old toilet tank, you know.

We sipped our toilet Mojitos and ate dinner while crowing about how perfect our day had been. When talked turned to the Monument Avenue business and our young mayor, I wasn't shy about sharing my thoughts.

"Karen, I love your mind," my host tells me after I get off my soapbox and before he makes me watch a clip of Elvis dancing, part of a tribute to the 40th anniversary of his death today.

It only takes 15 minutes to meet a charming couple...and the rest of your life to enjoy their company fully. No less so if it's your last year.

Lucky me that so much of that time involves bawdy humor, dolphins and wind.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A View to a Talk

There are some people I would drive through hell or high water to reach.

As it turned out, today I got to. It wasn't exactly smooth sailing - I had to maneuver through massive puddles, mudslides and a rivulet of displaced gravel along the last stretch to reach the riverside cottage of my friends - but I knew it would pay off in spades.

And, as I learned upon arrival, I'd been the fortunate one. I'd missed the series of storms that had deposited the aforementioned on the narrow, twisting road, while my hostess, returning from her other land-locked house, had been forced to pull off the road during the worst of it.

Maybe that's the hell part: driving rain, flooded roads and debris.

Still, she'd recovered enough to welcome me onto the back deck with a glass of wine just as the sun began peeking out. It was there we stayed planted for the next few hours as we tried to catch up on a year's worth of life.

Usually, we start our summer visits in July but we'd both had too much going on to make it happen sooner, a fact which only added to the sheer amount of back and forth we both needed to unload. The ever-changing sky and weather were an ideal visual metaphor for the highs and lows we shared with each other.

When her adoring husband showed up while she was in the house, I asked for a hug ("You don't ever have to ask for a hug") and he delivered. "I don't know which we've missed more, your brains or your beauty," he tells me.

Honestly, either answer would flatter me but mostly I appreciate how men like him excel at saying just the right thing, not just to their female friends (thank you), but to their main squeeze on a regular basis (and even in front of other people).

One reason I love visiting these two is to be around a couple so determined to verbalize their feelings for each other regularly.

Another is the sweeping view of the river, the long (and now lighted) pier and the ample deck from which to appreciate the few small boats out on the water today and later, the sky crowded with stars and cloud traces.

And always, I revel in the opportunity to lather myself up in an outdoor shower and sleep on a screened porch for a few nights.

Without sounding too hyperbolic, that's the heavenly part.

Monday, August 14, 2017

My Love, We Shall Hang

In order to be one of my people, you have to be able to talk.

Two of my regulars were missing in action after she face-planted in Carytown at the Watermelon Festival shortly before the wine dinner was to commence. Truth be told, I wouldn't have thought any of my people would bother with the madness at that festival. Nonetheless, they were missed.

You can begin the ascent to my people status, as the newcomer at my table did, by announcing, "I'm a lonely man" and wind up so comfortable with us that you start humble-bragging and show us photos of your mid-century Alan McCullough house on southside. So much glass.

I awarded him points when we discovered that he also shares my hometown and then again when he inquires of the table who's been to Italy, thus providing a chance to share my memories of Florence and the Amalfi Coast and launching a wide-ranging discussion of Italy's provinces.

That he'd been so many times pre-retirement, back when he was a wine rep, only made his stories more colorful.

In order to hang, you need a bank of stories and experiences to share, so that when I talk about the food poisoning that hit me last week, you can come back with a story of a cassoulet you ate in France that did you in.

Being at my table means that tonight's wine rep tells us, "I think you're my favorite table" and later, as she's pouring us glasses of Fazio Nero d'Avola, "Nobody wants a thin wine with pasta."

She failed to elaborate on when a thin wine was warranted and we didn't pursue it.

Pru showed up in a maxi-dress, Beau offered me relationship advice and, as a sidenote to Pru telling us about the time she dated a football player, we somehow got on the subject of AMC cars like Gremlins and Pacers.

It should be noted that I kept it to myself that I once owned an AMC Hornet. A woman can't be expected to give away all her secrets at a Sicilian wine dinner, now can she?

As for the dinner's pairings, top prize went to grilled prawns with lemon aioli accompanied by Fazio Grillo, a creamy summer sipper of the highest order. Nearly as perfect was Fazio Rosato sipped with watermelon, mozzarella and prosciutto, a pairing that managed to wed the wetness of the watermelon with the bone dry finish of the Rosato.

All my people, new and old, appreciated those combinations.

What I hadn't anticipated was the afterparty that unfolded on an outside patio once the wine dinner cast of characters had gone home to watch TV.

A new configuration of my people gathered to dish with abandon in the night air and not on the subject of wine or Sicily because there's so much more worthy of conversation.

Six of us convened around a table, opinions and questions flying, while, unbeknownst to us, a scofflaw scaled the crane on the construction site behind the building and cops sped by to get him down.

When the conversational free-for-all ended at nearly 1:30, we saw that a lone cop still sat in his car guarding the crane. Only later did I hear about all the counter protests going on at the same time across the river in reaction to Charlottesville's mayhem.

Sometimes I get so caught up with my people that the hours fly by in a haze of words and wisdom and I'm grateful for the people around me.

In the immortal words of the Cars, it was just what I needed.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hard to Handle

How do you blog  about your innocuous Saturday when white supremacist terrorists are mowing down peaceful protesters an hour away?

The same way a person deals with any of the unpleasantness of life - heartbreak, sickness and death of a loved one, natural disaster - I would guess, so any way you can.

When I left for my walk, I knew several friends were in Charlottesville as part of the resistance to the rally, but other than observations that some brawling had been happening, they seemed to think things were going well.

Walking down Fifth Street, I passed two motorcycle guys in leather vests dragging a cooler up the hill. When I commented that surely the load was lighter coming up than it had been going down, the one with the vest marked "chaplain" offered me (and a family exiting their SUV) bottles of cold water from his cooler (thereby proving that even heathens can benefit from a chaplain's ministrations).

Friday night's rain meant that some of the more elaborate spiderwebs on Brown's Island were dotted with raindrops, looking luminescent and lacy in the partly cloudy light.

I wasn't surprised to see how un-populated the pipeline was with just one guy fairly far ahead of me. What did surprise me was when he stopped, turned and began shooting photos of the pipeline where yours truly just happened to be walking.

For a nanosecond, I thought I was being smart by passing him, but now I'm not so sure.

Under a massive rock stood two men off to the side and submerged far enough that they looked to be naked, with the nearby rapids splashing water on their bodies. Ever the art historian, it looked to me like a study for Frederick Bazille's "Summer Scene."

Climbing out on to the rocks to put my feet in the water, the scent of men's cologne wafted toward me, although I couldn't see another person around. But it persisted and a while later, I saw a quartet of kayakers paddling downstream. One even waved at me.

As I was waving back, I couldn't help but wonder if one of these guys had decided to bathe in cologne before shooting the rapids this morning. Maybe what I'd been smelling had been traveling across river and not island.

Walking home along Broad Street, I overheard a young woman tell another that a state of emergency had been declared and her friend, busy texting, asked, "Why?" in a completely uninterested way. Clearly more had happened in Charlottesville since I'd left.

As I breezed through Jackson Ward, I spotted a family standing on a corner, clearly looking for help, so I offered my services. All the nice Australian tourists wanted was a lunch suggestion and preferably someplace their three young sons would be happy and I delivered three options.

They voiced their gratitude but offered me no "G'day, mate" as I walked on.

Facebook gave me all the unpleasant updates, although when people began posting video of the neo-Nazi driving into the crowd of counter protesters, I had no stomach for watching such a thing. Seeing photographs of people flying in the air as the car hit them was horrific enough for me.

I was most interested in reading the accounts of people I knew who were there, but just as compelling was the online commentary by my friends of color. I don't think there's any doubt that if a black group had organized this rally, the police presence would have been far larger and more proactive.

Sadly. At least none of my friends had been hurt.

I wasn't sorry to turn off my computer and go eat in service of my hired mouth while discussing the day's mayhem with a like-minded sane person. It seems forever ago that dinner dates didn't have to involve a rehash of whatever the latest can-you-believe-it-scenario-of-the-day is.

We decided to drown our sorrows on the patio at Saison where we acted as the clean up crew, finishing off bottles by having the last two glasses of a Jura bubbly before doing the same with a Willamette Valley Rose.

"Well, if we didn't, who would?" my date inquired, tongue firmly in cheek. Isn't that the staff's job?

Next to us was a guy with his adoring dog Jada Boo (who wasn't above snapping at a stranger) and on the other end, a trio of tattooed young women discussing all the things the men they've gone out with don't know.

The night isn't long enough for that subject to be exhausted, ladies.

Because today had been a difficult one in terms of where our country seems to be, it only made sense to spend the last of it laughing, so we rounded the corner from Saison and went to Comedy Coalition's late show.

If long form improv by the most senior members of the comedy troupe can't distract you for a while, you may as well call it a day. But it did and before long we were laughing at all of it and, for one bit where the guys slipped into a pretend language, so were the comedians.So hard they couldn't talk.

The bit was funny but their reactions were funnier.

It was a good thing, too, because I arrived home to read that people had died yesterday because of the rally over white supremacy. That was sobering news to learn.

It's difficult to process everything that happened in Charlottesville, but personally, today changed my mind. Up until now, I still thought that context could allow the statues on Monument Avenue to stand, probably because no art geek wants to lose public sculpture.

Wrong, so, so wrong. Those statues need to be relocated to someplace where only people who choose to view them can do so. They have no place on any street in our city.

If calling a statue-less street Monument Avenue bothers you, then let's replace the losing white men sculptures with some celebrating our non-white past (say, Gabriel Prosser, John Lewis or John Jasper and for heaven's sake, some women) and begin to unite as a city.

Before going to bed, I sat on the balcony and admired my lone moonflower in the near-darkness. It feels impossible to take anything for granted anymore when normal changes so often.

Only resistance remains a constant now.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Field Recordings

A non-native species is easy to spot in the wild.

After dinner in service of my hired mouth, my date suggested a foray to Forest Hills and a place called Cafe Zata to see some friends of his playing in a band called the Free Rangers. And while I'd heard of Zata, I had no clue where exactly it was or even what it was.

For us city dwellers, this sort of outing is what is known as field experimentation.

He warned me that every time he'd been to Zata, there were more people playing on stage than seated in the generous, high-ceilinged room. At least he did until we walked in and he had to eat his words since practically every chair and stool had a butt in it and lines snaked from the service counter and bar.

I was assigned to find perches for us while he set out to procure wine and almost immediately I heard my name called out. It was the landscape architect for whom I'd ghost-written a few articles, but more importantly, she's lately been posting old photos on Facebook of her, her friends and her Mom in vintage bathing suits.

Well, not vintage at the time the pictures were taken, but definitely dated looking now in a charming late '50s, early '60s way that predated the youth revolution and the swingin' '60s. She was thrilled that I'd taken notice of her youthful fashion choices.

I'd scored us stools at the end of the bar with a fine view of the band, who seemed to have a chicken theme - on their sign, on the stage and next to the old suitcase housing their CDs for sale - because, well, Free Rangers, get it?

I met a charming couple, friends of my date, who both teach at UR while he's also a musician. Looking around the room, I observed a lot of Friday night date action going on, albeit mostly middle-aged couples whom I'm willing to guess lived in the neighborhood. A bottle or two of wine graced most tables.

Then it happened. I couldn't have been more surprised (or pleased) when my former Jackson Ward neighbor showed up in the bar line. For years, he and his wife lived four blocks away from me and we ran into each other at shows and events regularly. I'd been to plenty of their pre-First Friday happy hours.

When they'd moved out there, they'd promised that they'd still be in the city often so we'd still see each other just as frequently. That hasn't happened much at all and I miss their upbeat energy and passion for live music.

He seemed as glad to see me as I was to see him and we wasted no time in catching up. I knew that, like my date, they'd been at Red Wing Roots Music festival, but they'd also gone to FloydFest, where our mutual friends Lobo Marino had played this year. He said local band Dharma Bombs had also played to great success, another band we'd seen together.

We were knee-deep in musical conversation when all of a sudden, he got a perplexed look on his face and said, "Wait, what are you doing here?" Apparently he didn't see Cafe Zata as my natural habitat.

Pointing to my date and introducing them, I explained that we'd come to see his friends play. Not surprisingly, he was also friends with several people in the band and from there, the mutual associations poured forth. The two of them had loads of people in common and not necessarily people I knew, either.

Leaving them to man talk, I headed over to the table where his wife was sitting with friends. Putting my hands over her eyes and making her guess who it was, it didn't take long for her to figure it out and squeal in delight. It had been way too long since we'd last seen each other and she was quick to say she missed me as much as I missed seeing them.

"Remember that time you invited me to iHop for pancake day and I said no?" she asked out of the blue. "I regret that now." I couldn't believe she even remembered - that had been almost 2 years ago while she was between jobs - but it was a terrific starting point for planning something for the near future.

"But I don't think I could keep up with you on your walks," she admitted, holding on to both of my hands. Not to worry, I wanted to plan a get-together to eat, drink and be merry, not walk our asses off.

Besides, I've got a couple people who like that from me.

From behind her came the woman who used to host house shows at her Franklin Street apartment (the one that once housed Mrs. Morton's Tea Room in the brownstone where Mrs. M. lived) and where I'd seen the Honey Dewdrops, Sons of Bill and Haze and Dacey in the candlelit intimacy of her living room.

She, too, has shifted home base and is now ensconced on southside, although she went to great pains to share that she feels lost and cut off on this side of the river. I didn't point out the obvious (move then) because everyone has their own reasons for where they roost. But I certainly understood her point.

She was trying to convey that she, too, was a non-native species here, at least in her soul.

The band - two guitars, bass, dobro - provided plenty of middle-aged entertainment, covering songs by Gram Parsons, Allison Krause and Crystal Gale, doing a song that involved yodeling (now there's a rarely seen skill set) and inciting an audience-wide singalong when they did "Teach Your Children," in addition to original material.

Also, it should be noted, a woman had brought her cowbell and used it liberally to add the requisite cowbell when a song screamed out for it.

And because the bass player and rhythm guitarist were married, there was plenty of banter about what a good cook and guitarist she was (cleaning not so much), what a showboater he was (see; yodeling and white Stetson) and a corny joke about him sucking in his stomach for two hours to be around a bevy of bikini-clad women.

It was all in good fun.

By the time we left, the place had cleared out considerably and we joked about why people had needed to leave before 9:30 on a Friday night. But of course the answer is obvious: this must be the typical sleeping pattern for natives of the area and who am I, an interloper, to judge?

For us, there was still plenty of evening left, so we decamped for his front porch swing, where we were promptly joined by the musician from across the street, guitar in hand. He told us Vespa stories, did a bit of strumming and asked for a summary of the show we'd just seen before disappearing into the darkness.

As we sat there in the sticky air, it suddenly became cool and breezy enough that we both got a chill, only to be followed by a blast of hot, humid air that announced rain.

And oceanfront aside, is there really a better place to watch a gentle summer rain roll in than from the recessed depths of a dark front porch within spitting distance of the river?

Depends on your species, naturally, but it worked for this urban bird.