The old, a former co-worker and music buddy, had emailed with his standard, "Drinks or lunch soon?" so we'd planned lunch at Peking (I know, I know, who goes to Peking anymore, especially when a so-called Chinese restaurant doesn't provide chopsticks without asking) because it was near his office at the James Center.
Over my Sezchuan chicken and his
Not for the first time, he thanked me for insisting he attend the Silent Music Revival back in 2008 when he hadn't a clue (always happy to be of service) and suggested a game where we chronicle our favorite cultural experiences back in that era when all the underground scenes were just beginning to burble up to a more mainstream audience.
Mermaid Skeletons in the Poe Garden, the first Listening Room at the Micheaux House, the Silent Music Revival with Blue Letter making our ears bleed, the first time we marched together in the Halloween parade.
We got a million of 'em, he and I.
Only problem is, we can play that game all day long and both of us had work to accomplish this afternoon, so I accompanied him as far as the James Center and continued my walk uphill to Jackson Ward.
As for the new (friend, that is), he was technically still wet behind the ears since we'd met exactly a week ago and this was our first outing. The man's only been back in Richmond for two months, so I'd offered to help a brother out by showcasing what I like about Richmond life.
Upon his return from a weekend in Asheville, the Barrister had notified me of his availability, I'd shared what my plans for that evening were and left him to decide if any or all of it was appealing enough to join in.
Whether bravely or foolishly, he'd checked all three boxes.
We met at Chop Suey Books for "One Hour, Four Places," with four writers reading from their work about linen closets, cheating spouses dying, overnights in a museum and bedside manner, although we were also those horrible people in the back row who only stayed for three of the readings.
Once out on the sidewalk, we agreed that Gayla Mills' ode to repeatedly patching the worn out jeans of the 21-year old she fell in love and began making music with rang truest.
As old friends of mine know well, memoir often trumps fiction for my interest.
From there, we did a convoy over to Vagabond for dinner, only to walk in and be informed that it was Restaurant Week and they were full up. On the one hand, I should probably have known what week it was given my occupation but on the other, I tend to block it out intentionally.
Fortunately, the bar was empty and dinner service extended to those stools, so we settled in to do battle with the unexpected constraints of the week, but the good news kept coming when I learned that ordering off the Restaurant Week menu was not required given the - ta da! - "Vagabond Staples" portion of the menu.
That and a glass of La Galope Rose ensured that even if Barr turned out to be dead boring as company, at least the meal wouldn't be (and he didn't). Additional points were earned because he's also firmly in the camp that food is meant to be shared so there can be no duplicate ordering.
Not a problem since I went with the staples and Barr went traditional with the Restaurant Week menu.
My first course was fried cauliflower with a swipe of earthy roasted pumpkin seed Romesco, while his was a smoked brisket taco combining pine nut salsa, pickled jalapeno and queso fresco that refused to stay contained in the tortilla despite our best efforts.
We covered the entire histories of all the people at the table where we'd met, as well as our conflicting plans for Saturday night. Despite his entreaties, Paula Poundstone yields to Julius Caesar for me in this instance.
Next up I tucked into scallops perfectly seared over smoked corn puree (something I'd love to see more of), butternut squash, pico de gallo and, yes, that's right, tortilla chips.
Snack food fine dining, yes, please.
His roasted rockfish brought up the whole roasted rockfish we'd shared with the table last Wednesday, a frequency he commented on, but, pshaw, I'd already had a second rockfish since then, making this my third in a week. Tonight's repeat fish benefited from toothsome collards, sea island red peas, potlikker and butter (although, let's face it, a fillet never measures up to whole fish).
Because that's what friends do - even brand new friends - I was happy to explain potlikker to the grown man next to me who was unfamiliar with the term despite an obvious affinity for the product.
More explaining was in order when he inquired about the photo on my blog - Jonathan Borofsky's "Walking to the Sky" - which I took in 2008 laying in the grass at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas (and good for me since it has since been dismantled and not reinstalled) on a glorious winter day.
And since I can't mention Dallas without sharing how distasteful I repeatedly found the city despite the friend I adore who lived there, he gave me his take on Dallas, which was far more positive than mine.
But even newly-minted friends are bound to have differences of opinion, so I didn't hold it against him.
His third course was a chocolate torte with a Fall-tasting sweet Asian pear compote and goat cheese whipped cream, which he graciously shared with yours truly before we took our drinks and headed downstairs to the Gypsy Tea Room for the main event: music.
Two large groups of noisy talkers were just vacating their tables when we arrived, ordered more wine and claimed prime spaces on the banquette facing the Scott Clark Other Other 4-tet in the moody darkness, which also happens to be one reason I like this space so much.
So. Much. Atmosphere.
Given that it was a first outing for this friendship, we both had plenty of getting-to-know-you questions, such as him inquiring what radio station I listened to. When I said public radio WNRN, he said that told him everything he needed to know since he was also a huge fan of the station.
People continued to trickle in for the next half an hour as the quartet began playing and improvising, meaning I saw a favorite candidate for City Council, one of the musicians who used to live underneath me ("How are the new tenants?" he wondered about his replacements) and the drummer whose park show I'd missed last night.
Across the room, I spotted the jazz critic and several up and coming musicians, little surprise given the quality of musicianship on display tonight: the low key and multi-talented Scott on drums, Cameron Ralston slapping, plucking, bowing and generally owning the bass, Jason Scott killing it on sax and clarinet and Trey Pollard on guitar while making outstanding guitar faces.
I could see that the Barrister was enjoying himself completely. Leaning over between songs, he asked rhetorically, "Shows like this are happening all over town every night, aren't they?"
Sure are and some nights, they're in the same place where potlikker is being ladled up.
If this friendship continues to go well, in ten years I'd like to think he'll be another long-time friend thanking me for suggesting all kinds of places.
My gold and silver motto? Making new friends, keeping the old and laying in the grass when it's called for.