When I threw my bag in the car and hit the road at 8 a.m., it was a beautiful 75 degrees. I was headed to the Northern Neck for a "Sunday in the Park with George" idyll at Belle Isle State Park.
I'd been invited by a recent acquaintance, the only one I would know at the all-day bucolic gathering. It sounded like it had all kinds of potential and the only thing I'd been asked to bring were mix CDs. It looked to be a day of meeting new people and who knew what else, definitely my kind of day.
An hour into my trip, rolling down Route 360 listening to the Joy Formidable, I had a flat tire. I pulled off to the shoulder, perched on the guardrail and waited for assistance. It shortly arrived in the form of Bud and his able young assistant Sonny, introducing themselves and asking how they could help.
The first thing Bud requested was that I back up my car and angle it further off the road. "Last time I stopped to help someone, a car ran off the road and hit me...sent me 75 feet in the air and I didn't walk for three years." Immediate guilt and awe. This man was truly a good Samaritan to have even stopped to help me.
They made quick work of the change, told me my flat tire looked fine and that it was probably just a nail and I was back on the road in no time. In little more than half an hour I was pulling into Belle Isle State Park, a place I'd never been, looking for a group of people I did not know.
My host had invited an eclectic group of people from DC to RVA; the food included BBQ, grilled corn and crabs (for a change I went more in the BBQ direction than my usual crab obsession)and there were endless things to do: swimming and boating on the Rappahannock, yard games (I'd forgotten how much fun badminton can be, but bocce ball: fail), even dancing...everywhere from atop picnic tables to the little beach.
I'd brought a variety of mix CDs since I knew nothing about the crowd who would be listening to them. I went as far back as a sentimental favorite, Beach Mix 2003 and as recent as Still Naive 2010, but also brought Amazingness mix, Car mix #2, Philly mix 2007 and Vacay mix 2008 among others, trying to cover every possible base. I was unsure about the reaction I'd get to The Ghosts that Haunt Me mix, but, played late in the afternoon, it totally worked.
In a brilliant stroke, our host had asked a photographer friend to set up his camera on a tripod, framing river, sky and trees. As guests moved across the camera's frame throughout the day, he took endless shots of us, mimicking the composition of Seraut's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte. None of us had parasols or top hats, but the random groupings of people captured in his lens were no less picaresque for it. Luckily, I'd brought my newest and most fetching hat (thanks, N).
Early in the evening, 6ish probably, it was clear that storms were rolling down the river and we relocated to the large screened pavilion to watch the lightening show and stay somewhat dry (none of us having a parasol, after all). The rain poured for quite a while cooling things down nicely after an incredibly hot afternoon and when it finally let up, we began to pack up and say our goodbyes. To George I expressed my sheer pleasure in having been included in the day's revelry.
Driving out of the park, the road was literally steaming and out of the mist hopped several little rabbits. Near the equestrienne parking area (!), I saw a cautious deer peering out of a burnt and brown cornfield. As I drove back toward Richmond on my donut tire, I had a constant display of jagged lightening bolts ahead, but the air coming in my car windows was cool and refreshing.
Passing through Aylett around 8 p.m., a sign said that it was a beautiful 76 degrees. In twelve hours, the temperature had come full circle. But I'd be the first to admit that the scorching heat in between hadn't dampened our pleasure in the least.
We had wisely been more scantily clad than the original Sunday in the Park with George attendees (not a single bustle noted). And, if I do say so myself, we undoubtedly had a far superior soundtrack.