I try never to miss the opportunity to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.
That's why I was at the Maggie Walker historic site for a lecture this afternoon from Kitty Snow about the West Clay streetcar line where her great-grandfather was a motorman from 1909-1934.
Hello, I've lived on West Clay for almost six years now. I was that person calling out, "What block is that?" throughout her talk.
Arriving early, I heard a woman address the speaker, acknowledging their bond, having worked together at the telephone company 30 years ago. As they reminisced, a man in the second row, called out. "Where did you go to high school?" Huguenot High, she responded. He told her he'd been a good friend of her brother.
"That's the thing, " she said, laughing. "You can't be unkind to anyone in this town because they'll end up being someone you know's cousin." Just then a woman spoke up, saying she was knew the speaker's daughter, who had just had triplets.
I was sitting there feeling superior, thinking how grateful I was that I hadn't gone to high school or college in this town when a woman behind me began talking about how she knew the women's brother, even lived near him, and had heard about the stories of the triplets. When she mentioned the twins' father, I recognized the name and suddenly I was in the game.
The father is a musician and someone I know well. All of a sudden, I was one degree removed from all these Richmond stories. Funny how that happens, as I admitted as much to the group.
The talk was fabulous: pictures taken by a streetcar motorman who worked the West Clay line (Oakwood Cemetery to Newtowne) and snapped pictures of people and places along the way.
There were pictures of mule teams working on the Broad Street station (yes, now the Science Museum of Virginia). There were lots of pictures of activity on Bowe and Moore Streets in Carver, including one of Norton Street looking north towards what is now Magpie.
Photos of VUU showed a mostly wooded lot where now buildings stand. The stockyards located behind Newtowne West showed up in photos of pigs and cows being led down Leigh Street and Bowe Streets to slaughter.
Other photos showed drugstores with spittoons, streetcar drivers taking much-needed naps and various Jackson Ward neighbors, black and white, posing for portraits.
It was a fitting tribute to the everyday man, the best possible way to salute Martin Luther King.
After that, we went to Evergreen Cemetery, a huge burial ground for blacks and one I'd only read about. Everywhere you looked were tombstones, most buried behind trees and overgrowth, a testament to the sheer numbers of dead and the complete abandonment of the grounds.
The only ones who hadn't forsaken the cemetery were the lovers or at least the fornicators because we unearthed two used condoms as we sought out graves. Headstones ranged from early 19th century to the 1980s, with some trees growing right through the slabs of stone.
It was a powerful reminder that we only get so much say over the dead and gone. Me, I want to be burned to a crisp and scattered to the four winds.
With the east end in our rear view window, we made a bee-line for the Boathouse, hoping to see the sun set. The end result was even better, a twinkling view up the river toward downtown, crowned by the Libbie Hill monument.
While it was incredibly bright in the bar, our stools put the sunset at our backs, the TV out of view, and glasses of LaMarca discounted by $3. Not a bad place to end up on a Monday night.
The guy next to us was trying to achieve three weeks in January without alcohol (kudos, buddy) while most other people were taking advantage of discounted pizza. For us, a view of the setting sun was sufficient.
On a day dedicated to a man who sought racial equality, we were more than happy to sit at a bar of people of all races, ages and creeds. Equal opportunity drinkers and talkers, so to speak.
Quoting MLK, I have decided to stick with love; hate is too great a burden to bear. Besides, love holds so much more appeal.
Or perhaps I'm just showing myself to be the hopeless romantic I really am. There can be no deep disappointment when there is not deep love. Or walks in the cemetery and bubbles.