Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sunset on Belle Isle

A regular reader recently told a mutual friend that she's disappointed when she reads one of my posts and finds me "happy and giddy."

Apparently she finds no poignancy in my ramblings when my life is firing on all cylinders.

This brings up a good point.

My blog is a daily writing exercise for me and the fact that anyone at all chooses to read it is a bonus.

That people follow my blog, much less 108 of them, was completely unexpected.

Now I'm wondering if, like her, they were only reading to hear me long for what I wanted.

From where I sat, I'd always thought my blog demonstrated my enthusiasm for whatever life I was leading at any given moment.

When I began this blog back in early 2009, I admit my life was at a low point, with recent losses in job, health and love.

But over the past four and a half years, my life has moved on in many interesting ways and that's what I try to share.

I'm a firm believer in the journey, not the destination, being the purpose and finding satisfaction in whatever life presents me.

I hope there are still readers who find me chronicling my pleasure in the parts of my journey I choose to share worth reading.

And if not, I know there must be plenty of less happy and giddy blogs out there.

I hate to disappoint, but I am who I am.

Poignantly, this post replaces what would have been a happy, giddy post for last night.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Case of the Missing Red Sauce

In what may be a first, my evening began in a park.

Oddly enough, it was for a meet-up, not that I have any intention of sharing the nature of the meet-up.

I will say it involved introducing ourselves and sharing a story of something that had happened to us, but that's as far as I'll go.

Getting to know each other aside, it was a beautiful evening to be in Forest Hill Park (and coincidentally I used to go to beagle meet-ups in that same park), under the shade of huge, old trees talking to strangers as people with fishing poles and dogs on leashes walked by.

It lasted longer than I expected, though, and by the time I said goodnight, I felt sure everyone could hear my stomach grumbling.

I turned the car in the direction of Carytown, in the mood for Don't Look Back, or perhaps, just tequila.

Walking past the Daily, it was obvious that the novelty factor is packing 'em in even on a Monday night.

Across the street, Don't Look Back was lightly populated so I had plenty of choices of bar stools.

Espolon Reposado seemed the best way to start, so I did.

With no taco specials on the board, I punted, ordering a Frito Pie, my old standby.

Screech. Sound of scratching record. My server grimaced.

"Um, we're out of Frito Pie," he stammered.

So many things went through my head. How can that be? Do I need to go to 7-11 and buy a bag of Fritos for you?

You're breaking my heart, I told him.

"I am a heartbreaker," he admitted, grinning.

At least we had humor.

What they didn't have was the necessary red sauce for Frito Pie, so I defaulted to black bean nachos.

"I'm really sorry," he said, going to put the order in.

Minutes later, another bartender approached me, innocently asking how I was doing.

Quite well, I told him, considering you have no Frito Pie.

"I'm sorry," he said. "It hurts me, too. I look forward to my Monday shifts because the kitchen does a variation of carnitas with red sauce on Mondays. Even if I've already had dinner, I always eat a couple of them because they're so good. There weren't any today and I'm bummed, so I've been kicking stuff back here."

He kicked the ice chest to prove it to me.

The snafu resulted because of a transition in produce suppliers, leaving them with cases of hard avocados and unripe chilies.

Bad news for a place that goes through avocados and chilies hand over fist.

But soon my nachos were delivered by a sweet-faced girl in braids who set them on the bar with a longing glance and said, "They look really good!"

Yea, but they're no Frito Pie, I teased her.

"I'm sorry," she said, joining the regret chorus.

Grow up, Karen. No one said you always get Frito Pie when you want it.

The nachos, as usual, were very good, the music was excellent (Pandora set to Superchunk) and once I relaxed into eating and listening, all was right with the world.

I fear that my hunger had descended into hanger, and I was a little ashamed of being so vocal about something they couldn't help.

Two women near me were having a fascinating conversation about a mutual friend and eventually I couldn't help joining in.

This friend had gotten a settlement of $20,000 after a bike accident and had managed to spend the entire amount in six weeks.

45 days!

Now he was apartment-less and back to sleeping on other people's couches.

Apparently all he had to show for the money was a few new tattoos.

I'd say, "How very Richmond," except he lives in Norfolk.

The rest had gone to living in hotels, eating and drinking every meal out.

We shared our amazement at such poor use of a windfall.

Even the tooth he'd broken in the accident was still broken since he'd spent it all before having that fixed.

"And he's not young, he's 25!" one of the women said, as if his age should have guaranteed better money management.

I didn't know where to start, but I tried, leaving them aghast at the idea that there were even 35-year olds (or older) no better equipped to deal with life than their friend.

They did say they'd resolved not let him couch surf in their apartments anymore.

Tough love. That'll teach him, or so they were hoping.

Doubtful, but I didn't tell them that.

We chatted about small-town life in Richmond because they've been discovering how frequently the same people turn up if you're out and about here.

They were amazed to learn it was true, no matter what your age.

When our little meet-up wound down, I asked for my check.

My server handed it to me, saying that they weren't charging me for my tequila because they'd let me down with the Frito Pie.

In what may be a first, my evening ended with guilt about my big mouth.

And more Espolon to even the score with the heartbreaker.

Double Dutch DInner

Once isn't always enough.

Tonight that meant two dinner dates, with the first at Toast.

I'd reviewed Toast last Fall, but it's located way out of my limited world, so I hadn't been back since my four visits back then.

But when one of my couple date suggested dinner there, I happily agreed, even offering to drive.

As we headed westward ho, it became clear from the darkening sky that we were just going to beat the rainstorm.

Walking in with my umbrella clutched in hand, the hostess complimented my wisdom, noting that I was the first to come in prepared.

Well, I was a girl scout.

Within minutes, the skies opened up and a deluge began to fall outside.

I'd offered my extra umbrella to one of my companions, but she'd turned it down, commenting, "I don't melt in a little rain."

Honey, this was a lot of rain and I may not melt, but I can do without wet hair at the beginning of an evening out.

Over peach sangria and happy hour beer, we slowly narrowed our food selections.

Since I had a second dinner date, I kept my choice light with the grilled avocado and cheesy corn chip salad with cucumber, sprouts, sunflower kernels, tomatoes, and pico de gallo in a lemon/smoked honey vinaigrette.

Our food took forever to come out and I wondered if perhaps it had been sitting a while since the cheese on my four corn chips was cold and hard, meaning a long way from freshly melted.

Luckily, the rest of it was fresh and quite delicious, so I overlooked the sub-par chippage.

As we ate, we watched people rush in from the monsoon, eager to escape the outside for drinks and eats.

Meanwhile, we moved on to Toast's signature doughnuts with honey mascarpone, the only dessert I know of that arrives being shaken in a paper bag.

I'm here to tell you that the smell of freshly fried doughnuts shaken in cinnamon sugar is enough to make a person forget she has further dinner plans.

If I'm going to leave my personal orbit and venture as far as Three Chopt and Patterson, these doughnuts are as worthy a reason as I know of.

By the time we left Toast, the rain had stopped and a rainbow was arching over Patterson Avenue as we drove back to the city and all I hold dear.

Dinner #1 done.

Stop #2 was at the home of my friend, Holmes, and the occasion was a visit by a mutual friend.

Our little quartet has an affinity for bubbles and LaMarca Prosecco, the favorite of Holmes' beloved, had ben earmarked as the beverage of the evening.

By the time I arrived, the three of them were already starting the second bottle so I had to hit the ground running.

First order of business was choosing wine tags for our glasses.

Holmes had already claimed "immature," his beloved went with "earthy," the guest chose "rich" and I opted for "supple."

Sometimes we label ourselves as we are and other times as we wish we were.

In any case, it didn't stop people from drinking from the wrong glass on occasion, but what's shared cooties among friends?

My work was cut out for me when I noticed that there was no music playing because I don't see how people can have a dinner party without it.

Holmes allowed me to choose the music (probably since he knew I had to pick from his collection so how bad could it be?) and I began with the Finn Brothers' 2004 album, "Everyone is Here."

One of my favorites on that record is "Anything Can Happen," which seemed like an apt metaphor for tonight's gathering.

I could never give it up
I could never relent
And I can't wait to see
What will happen to me next

Music blasting from the dining room, we prepared to commence the business of making dinner.

This involved grilling shrimp in Holmes' secret sauce whilst preparing chicken and steak to be grilled afterwards.

Despite keeping the meal simple with jasmine rice and sliced Hanover tomatoes sprinkled with Old Bay, it wasn't long before the kitchen and deck resembled a Keystone Cops caper, with people coming and going, taking things that others were looking for and constantly losing what mattered.

But as long as the LaMarca kept flowing, no one seemed to mind.

It seemed to me that such chaos required '80s music, so my next album choice was "Natural History: The Very Best of Talk Talk," a record I never expected to find in Holmes' collection.

Au contraire, he informed me; he had four Talk Talk albums.

Man, you think you know a person.

Funny how I blind myself
I never knew
If I were sometimes played upon
Afraid to lose

By the time we finally sat down to eat, it was on Holmes' new Japanese placemats, purchased yesterday at an estate sale and leading to a discussion of the pleasures of said sales.

Sometimes it's not about the stuff for sale (an $18,000 cabinet?) but about being inside a house you'd never otherwise get to see.

With three women and only Holmes to represent the simpler sex, I'm afraid the conversation took a decidedly feminine turn, settling on the intricacies of relationships.

Is living together necessarily the goal of a relationship? How long is too long to wait for commitment? How important is the concept of the "right person"?

Hell if we knew.

Once the conversation devolved into our misspent youths, we decided it was dessert time.

Fortunately, bubbly goes extremely well with chocolate eclairs and chocolate mousse cake.

We gorged on sweets while listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Deja Vu," a true time warp, but well-suited to Holmes' taste.

Groovy vibes permeated the room, or perhaps that was the Prosecco.

Everybody, I love you
Everybody, I do
Though your heart is in anger
I need your love to get through

Nothing like a Sunday night with everybody.

Our visiting friend told me she had never seen me looking happier or more vivacious.

I'm just happy to wait and see what will happen next.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

15 Minutes of Fame

I'm feeling really lucky about all the art history-themed theater in town lately.

First there was "Red" about Mark Rothko and now there's "Pop" about Andy Warhol, being produced only for the fourth time, playing at Firehouse.

My only disappointment with the performance was not taking a front-row seat when it was offered because the play began with Warhol taking a Polaroid of the woman sitting in front of me, in the seat I turned down.


Once I got over my error in judgement, I was dazzled by the circa 1968 costumes of Edie Sedgwick and Viva, two of Warhol's hangers-on and film subjects.

Much as I loved Viva's glammy, bell-bottomed jumpsuit, if it were 1968, I'd have to go with Edie's leopard mini to better show off the legs.

The play was narrated by the lovely (and formerly male) Candy Darling, star of many Warhol films, who won audience hearts with lines like, "It was a dark and stormy night and we were all at Andy's factory. It was the place to be when we had no one better to do."

Andy kept Viva around because of her intelligence, a fact she came to resent. "When you talk smart during all the sex, it's not dirty, it's art."

And there you have the basis of any Warhol film.

One of the most hysterical scenes, at least to this art history geek, was when a trio of abstract expressionists, Pollak, Kline and Motherwell, showed up as suspects in the shooting.

Warhol  brilliantly puts them in their place, infuriating them by saying, "I'm such a fan of your work. It looks so easy and fun!"

I don't know if non-artsy types see how hilarious that is, but I laughed long and hard.

During intermission, the bar was serving mimosas ('cause it's Sunday!) and the play's signature drink, the Factory Fizz, which director Jase Smith had promised us before the show would make the second act even more fun.

Even sans drink, I had lots of fun during the second act, especially when Mrs. Warhol sang a eulogy for her "dead" son while he watched unhappily from the casket.

The showstopper was "Big Gun" about Valerie Solanas' anger at Warhol for losing her script of "Up Your Ass," the play she'd been hoping he would produce for her.

With Viva and Edie in opera-length white gloves singing back-up, Audra Honaker as Valerie nailed it as the angry feminist who'd written the SCUM Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) and had a slight problem with all men.

Audra was the standout (even her dancing impressed), but the entire cast was strong, with Warhol's assistants (also playing hapless NYPD cops), Gerard and Ondine, especially strong on physical comedy, drug humor and dancing over people and couches.

And how can you not love a musical with a song called, "Untitled Brawl No. 1"?

Today's matinee was a pay-what-you-will performance and after a highly entertaining afternoon of art history with terrific singing and dancing, I'm not sure I paid nearly enough.

But then, I'm not sure I can afford to pay what it was worth.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sublime and Surreal

Saturday is the new Monday.

Or at least is is for those of us who had a raucous week and were finally ready to take it easy tonight.

For us, there was a dinner and a show with my best date gal.

I was craving some Restaurant of the Year action, so we drove east to Aziza's, arriving early enough to be the first customers of the evening.

Prudence went straight for the Vinho Verde while I went with something even less alcoholic. Agua.

Our arrival had apparently signaled the masses, as two tables followed us in shortly after, and we kicked back listening to Sirius' "Coffeehouse" station.

On a mock-Monday, acoustic music is just the ticket.

Despite Pru's objections to octopus, we started with fruiti de mare panzanella because if there's any  good time of the year for panzanella, this is it.

Chef Philip's was so much more than stale bread and tomatoes, though, with shrimp, mussels, feta, cucumbers, olives, mint, basil and anchovies besides two beautifully tender tentacles.

Our lovely server joined me in trying to coax Pru to eat something she was sure she hated, telling her that this would be incredibly tender octopus, like none she had ever tasted.

Midway through our panzanella, she reluctantly agreed to try a bite, even admitting it was far better than she'd expected.

From there we moved on to sharing an entree with a lamb kefta kebab and a marinated ribeye kebab with tatziki and house-baked pita.

The ribeye was perfectly rare and tender while the lamb sausage seduced with its vibrant spices.

Getting our meat fix led to a discussion with our server about our mutual need for meat and how we are happy to order it out when we can afford it.

"And not that petit fillet, either," she laughed. "I want a full eight ounces."

She admitted that on dates, she'll only eat part of her steak and bring the rest home so as to appear more ladylike.

I assured her she'd grow out of that nonsense.

For our final course, we had, wait for it, foie gras carpaccio with sliced brown turkey figs, rose hips and watermelon and cantaloupe balls.

Words can't describe this new-to-the-menu dish, but I'll try.

Obscene. Sex on a plate.

Sliced thinly, the rich, creamy slices of foie gras combined with the deep fig flavor and the delicate tang of the rose hips was exquisite.

The melon balls brought in another level of sweetness, but the overall effect was best summed up by Pru.

"That goose happily gave up his liver for this dish."

All I can say is tonight may have been the first night for Aziza's foie gras carpaccio, but please god, don't let it be the last.

The sublime combination of buttery and sweet made for an ideal last course, and that's saying a lot at a place that has the best cream puff around on the menu.

After sopping the plate clean with bread, we raved to our sever about our satisfaction with the dish, which led to a discussion of sex.

She was concerned that her sex drive seemed to escalate with age and wanted input from a couple of older women.

Conveniently, we had the experience to help her out.

"Wow, I'm so glad to hear that!" she said. "I thought there was something wrong with me."

Nothing that the right guy can't take care of, my dear.

She suggested we all needed to have dinner sometime to discuss the matter further.

Sex talk while eating? Glad to oblige.

Can we eat here, where the food is as good as the topic of conversation?

By then it was time to take our stuffed bellies and overactive libidos to the theater.

It was my first time at Dogtown Dance Theater in Manchester and I have to say it's a great space, high-ceilinged with comfortable chairs, so I hope to be back.

Playing tonight was TheaterLab's production of "Exquisite Corpse, a Devised Piece."

The name comes for a parlor game played by the surrealists where one person begins a drawing, poem or story and passes it on to the next guest, who does another part before passing it on.

We've all played that game where you add on fanciful tails and heads to an unseen creature, only to see the result once everyone's had a go at it.

Tonight's theater piece was a little like that in that it was collaborative (all the actors had contributed to the ideas and dialog) and didn't follow a linear path.

It began with humor, a skit about first year medical students witnessing a mock operation and morphed into a dance piece.

At times a group of actors would be lined up in chairs onstage, alternately spouting out confessions.

"I'm no magician, but I've had my fair share of being in a trunk," said the guy who claimed to masturbate in a trunk's confines.

A scene with  two people alternately telling a third, "I love you," segued then into the central person telling the other two alternately, "I love you," until his words were unintelligible as his head snapped side to side.

Music served the devised piece well (like Sinatra's "That's Life"), as did humor (a couple rush at each other to kiss, only to stop, putting on a sterile mask and gown before kissing) and even nudity.

One especially surrealistic scene involved three people and an operating table littered with gummy bears that they alternately gorged on and attacked each other.

There was plenty of commentary on contemporary life, like when the group came out into the spotlight, bouncing and shouting under the light and moving with the light to stay in the spotlight.

When the spotlight moved to the audience, they approached us, looking at us like animals in cages worthy of observation.

One particularly confessional scene had the group lying on the floor calling out their fears.

"I'm afraid of dying alone."

"I'm not afraid of getting older, just having an unfulfilled life."

"I'm afraid if people really knew me, they wouldn't like me."

Because the cast was very young, some of their fears were the kind that will dissipate with time and life experience, not that they know that now.

Others were universal.

What mattered was the truthfulness of the performance, which came out in every line of dialog, every improvised scene, every concern voiced.

It was theater that didn't give you the option of sitting back and being spoon-fed.

Whether confusing you, making you sad, reminding you of an old hurt or amusing you, the audience had to think. And feel.

That's a damn fine way to spend a Saturday or Monday night.

Restaurant Monsters, Inc.

It's best to get the high-brow out of the way so the evening can end with the more, ahem, common pleasures.

I had plans late and later, but it was neither late nor later yet.

My default when faced with unexpected free time is usually the same: VMFA.

Walking in to the museum,I immediately headed up the stairs, past two young women on their way out.

On the bright side, they were leaving by the Boulevard entrance, my favorite.

On the downside, one of them gestured down towards Evans Court and said to her friend, "Down there is African art,which I avoid at all costs."

I refrained from saying something, but just barely.

My goal was the changing gallery just before the Near gallery to see Goya's "Los Caprichos." a print series from 1799 with the artist pulling from his vivid imagination rather than reality.

Let's just say that the prints represented a high point in the history of satire.

"The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" was hardly reassuring with bats circling above the head of a reasonable sleeper.

"Can't Anyone Untie Us?" showed a couple tied together and to a tree, with a huge bird on top, one talon embedded in the hapless woman's head.

Commentary on marriage or coincidence?

"Bravo!" showed a monkey playing a guitar (lute?) with a rapt ass looking on and bystanders making fun of them both.

Each print made fun of some group or convention in the slyest of manners.

Hard as it was to leave a print of a creature passing gas, I made my way toward the American gallery, where a man stood watching my approach, smiling broadly.

When I got close, he said, "I'm thinking we're the last of the tour," and went to lead me into a back gallery.

Except, I told him, I wasn't on the tour.

But I trailed nearby, listening to the docent talk about Beauford Delaney, a friend of Duke Ellington and Georgia O'Keefe's, and the painter of the stunning and very yellow portrait of Marian Anderson painted in 1965.

Wandering into an adjacent gallery, I ran into an artist/musician friend whom I'd seen playing at Balliceaux just last week.

Tonight, he was in his artist's guise, notebook in hand, strolling the American gallery and saying it had been too long since he'd been to the museum.

Since the VMFA's renovation, I can honestly say I've never had cause to admit that.

Dinner followed at an undisclosed new restaurant, where we spent the better part of the meal discussing whether or not a sense of romance comes standard in most human beings or whether it's a thing that is developed over time and life experience.

After dinner we drove downtown to the city dock to look at the place where the man had driven his car into the river earlier in the week and died.

Since he's now suspected of having stabbed a woman half an hour before propelling himself into the river, we felt no guilt about being gawkers at his death site.

Then it was on to an anniversary party for the Roosevelt, an atypical gathering on a Friday night  of a bunch of local chefs and assorted staff.

As I was talking to a couple of chefs and a sausage-maker (and, no, that's not a metaphor), someone mentioned people who don't like oysters.

"If you don't like oysters, you don't like sex," one proclaimed definitively.

I had more than a dozen oysters yesterday, so I think my position on that matter is clear.

There were two cakes, a Coke (or was it penis?)-shaped one for the Roosevelt and another more traditional sheet cake for Magpie, both for their second anniversary.

The party began technically after dinner hours, but a few diners remained, only to be all but trampled as celebrants arrived.

The music was a magnificent pastiche - Ricky Nelson, Looking Glass - when you could hear it, which, as the evening progressed, got difficult.

So many restaurant people, so many drinks, so much volume.

And you know what restaurant people talk about at a party?

Kitchen costs. Opening new restaurants. Brunch menus. Slow summer business.

But they're also hilarious, clearly thrilled to be out with their kind on a Friday night, drinking, hugging and trash-talking with abandon.

Truth be told, the later it got, the more ass-grabbing and ball-punching went on, all in good fun, of course.

Still, ouch.

Because apparently, this is what grown men do on a rare Friday night when they're finally away from the kitchens where they spend the better part of their lives.

And all to celebrate success in a food-crazy town where new restaurants never cease opening.

In many ways, it's optimism of the highest order.

Not for these guys the sleep of reason.

And aren't we lucky for that?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tuning In

As history lessons go, it's hard to beat one in music history.

The Virginia Historical society's new exhibit, "Revolutions: Songs of Social Change 1860-65 and 1960-65" sounded right up my alley.

It turned out to be stellar.

With a focus on the Civil War and Civil Rights eras, the show explained how strong the relationship was between the music of the two periods.

Let's just say I have a whole new list of things I did not know before.

Like how the Byrds took a traditional folk song called "He Was a Friend of Mine" as the basis of "Turn! Turn! Turn!" which they wrote to lament JFK's assassination.

I had not know it had anything to do with that tragedy.

Or how there was a Civil War-era group called the Christy Minstrels.

Sure, I'd heard of the New Christy Mintrels of the '60s, but it hadn't occurred to me there were old ones first.


How Dylan used a Civil War-era song called "No More Auction Block" as the melody for his seminal song, "Blowin' in the Wind."

There were audio versions of him singing both so the proof was right there.

Or how Odetta was considered the "queen of American folk music."

While I was making my way around the gallery, looking at song lyrics, vintage photographs and album covers, two groups came in.

One was an older man and woman and he was bringing her to see a large photograph of the Hampton choir.

"Oh, my alma mater!" she squealed in delight, wondering to him how she might get a copy of the picture, which she couldn't take her eyes off of.

The other group was a Dad and two boys, maybe early teens.

As they walked by a large picture of President and Mrs. Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade taken moments before shots rang out, the kid had no idea who the woman pictured was.

"That's Jackie Kennedy," Dad clarified patiently. "She was the First Lady."


When the boys got around to the picture of Peter, Paul and Mary, there was a frame with a 45 of their hit, "Cruel War" on the wall under it.

The kid clearly didn't see the glass on the frame, reaching in to grab the record and almost knocking the frame off the wall.

They completely bypassed Pete Seeger's banjo head, the one he played on for 40 years.

Hoping to suck them in, I hovered looking at an old banjo, dated 1840-60, made by William Boucher in Baltimore.

It's apparently one of only 40 Boucher banjos known to still exist and it was a beautifully crafted instrument.

Eventually my prolonged interest had the desired effect and they joined me to look at it.

Finally one conceded to the other, "It's kinda cool," before scampering off to the next gallery.

Maybe there is hope for the future, after all.

Music history will always be cool, kid, because you get to listen to music to learn.

Trust me on this.

Cloud Song for Bivalves

Today had to be the most exquisite weather Richmond has ever presented us with on July 25th.

So naturally my first thought was to go someplace else.

With a willing companion, we headed east to Merroir and a leisurely meal by the riverside.

Yesterday, Merroir had posted a picture of the view with an impressive looking water spout straight out from the dock.

We didn't require a water spout, just sustenance, libations and a scenic place for sustained conversation.

My first stop on arriving was necessarily the ladies' room and as I made my way there, a large party began greeting me, calling "hello" and "glad you're here" as if they knew me.

When I inquired if they were the welcome committee, they answered in the affirmative.

Turns out they were actually celebrating a birthday and doing so with lots of alcohol, making for a noisy, garrulous group for several hours to come.

Not that it mattered to us because we knew we were going to outlast them.

I have a long-standing record of closing down places even when I don't have good company, so I felt pretty sure they'd cave long before we did.

An unexpectedly beautiful Thursday afternoon at the river surely merits bubbles, so we began with Gruet Brut under a sky packed with clouds and promising spots of blue.

Our server, Ford (short for [and much cooler-sounding than] Clifford, a family name), was ever-present, checking in frequently to see if we were ready to order.

With a view of masts bobbing at the marina, the tempestuous-looking sky and a continuing stream of new arrivals, it seemed a shame to hurry.

I just don't have any trouble making the shift to river time.

But you can only send a nice boy away so many times before agreeing to order oysters to give him something to do.

We tucked into buttery Rappahannocks, mildly salty Stingrays and killer Old Salts, while discussing the difficulty (at least for me) of ordering only one type rather than a variety of all three.

I say why limit yourself when you can savor the fruits of three different parts of the river?

Others might say I'm just greedy.

The party table continued their greeting of every new arrival, pretty much drowning out the very '90s music emanating from the porch, not necessarily a bad thing when a decades-old Counting Crows or Third Eye Blind song is playing.

With bubbly and oysters behind us, we moved on to the next course.

Young Ford looked relieved.

Pan-seared scallops with crab slaw, Prospect Farms beef sliders with roasted garlic and herb aioli and the signature crabcake accompanied a bottle of Cave de Pomerols, Picpoul de Pinet, a lovely, acidic default to go with our seafood.

And may I just say what a good idea putting crab into slaw is?

Of course, with my Maryland roots, I probably wouldn't object to putting crab in much of anything savory.

One of the evening's specials was a flat bread "pizza" of butter-poached oysters, bacon, spinach and Parmesan on flat bread, which we'd both seen on Facebook earlier and discussed on the drive down.

But with our lackadaisical ways, by the time we got around to asking for it, we barely made it in time.

Ford put our order in, returning with a grin to inform us we'd gotten the last one.

Well, that was close.

Munching on the coveted final special, we discussed our next move.

Since my last visit to Merroir in late April, they'd greatly enhanced their little piece of riverside heaven.

Besides fancier picnic tables and more metal table and chair sets, there's now a landscaped area down by the dock.

Merroir, we hardly know ye.

Crushed oyster shells defined paths for Adirondack chairs and other seating so that the dock was no longer the only option for sitting.

Not that there's anything wrong with dock-sitting.

We'd already seen the birthday boy from the loud table head down there with a bottle of wine, so why not us?

After informing Ford of our intentions, he informed us that he'd have to be the one to carry our wine to the dock for us.

You just never know when the Virginia ABC will rear its useless head.

Pulling two big chairs side by side, we settled in to enjoy more Languedoc loveliness mere feet from the rippling water.

Uranus was the first arrival in the night sky but we sat there long enough to watch others join it overhead.

Call me old school (or worse), but eventually the big Adirondacks lost their appeal and we moved down to the end of the dock to hang our feet off the edge and admire the fuzzy lights across the river.

Being severely directionally-challenged, I had no idea from where they emanated and even my navigationally-savvy companion could only hazard a guess.

Irvington? White Stone? Smoldering meteorite?

But when you're sitting on a dock drinking wine and listening to fish jump, who really cares what's on the other side?

And just for the record, we did outlast everyone except the staff, who were politely waiting on the porch railings when we finally made our way back.

Say goodnight, Ford.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pink Amidst Dashing Deliveries

The good news is...I can still drink rose and be a bad ass.

I may not have the bumper sticker, but I'd like to think I can embody the sentiment.

Tonight was the third annual Rose crawl and since I've yet to miss one, I wasn't starting this year.

Instead, I collected Prudence and, like me, she was dressed in the de rigueur pink of rose crawls.

We made our way to C street where we were the first and caught the staff unaware.

They immediately began pouring, a gracious gesture, but an inappropriate one since they'd neither asked what I wanted to drink, nor how much.

I love a staff who's quick to pour, but I also have a budget and a liver to keep in mind.

Once chastised, they gave me the requested half pour of The Seeker Rose, a delicately fruity rose with a label clearly written by a frustrated English major.

This sophisticated wine is ideal with shellfish, salads, and berry-based dishes or enjoyed all on its own amidst dashing deliveries.

I only hope for a day with dashing deliveries, not to mention delightful alliteration.

As the room began to fill with pink-clad strangers and a few familiar faces ("We were just talking about you and saying good things"), we moved on to J Brut Rose (Russian River Valley), a wonderfully smooth and complex glass of bubbles despite its U.S. pedigree.

A tomboy friend came in and we compared pinks; she beat me with glittery pink nails but we tied on the pink underwear.

Pru and I enjoyed discussion with a friend and a newcomer about Glaswegians, weather in Scotland and disdain for the English before packing it in for pinker pastures.

We chose to be part of the first wave leaving for Amour, hoping to establish a beachhead before the masses arrived.

Of course Amour was more than ready for us with pink flowers in vases and a lovely pink menu of wine choices and nibbles.

Tres jolie!

That we did at the end of the bar and promptly ordered two glasses: Costieres de Nimes Chateau Valcombe and Cotes de Provence Chateau Montaud, the better to go with our smoked trout mousse on cucumber wedges.

The Valcombe paired beautifully with the smoked trout and we settled in for in-depth chats with several in-the-know friends.

If we looked like we were having too much fun, we probably were.

The gossip was flying fast and furiously, so much so that we couldn't resist trying another stellar rose, this time the floral Cotes de Provence L'opale de la Presqu'ile de St. Tropez.

When you're a pink lover, it's hard to know where to stop when the choices are this good.

Just for good measure, we ordered a half glass of the delicately peachy Bandol Domaines Bunan Mas de la Rouviere, just because we could.

I mean, why be on a rose crawl and not take advantage of all the beautiful pink wines you can?

Soon the clarion call came for us to gather our forces and make our way to our final stop, Secco.

The place was mobbed when we arrived, but then, as the organizer of the crawl, no doubt some people had cut right to the chase.

We hovered in the back near a small table and I ordered a glass of Brazilier Pineau d'Aunis Rose and Prudence ordered the Grange Tiphaine, so we could experience the Loire Valley after an evening tasting Provence and the Russian River Valley.

To keep our strength up, we asked for protein, namely Asher, a spicy cow cheese labeled as "cream-kissed southern blue," robiola due latte, an Italian cow and sheep cheese that promised to be silky and bloomy and Olli Bresaola, an intensely flavorful dried beef sausage.

Before it arrived, we spotted a free table and quickly took it over, much to the surprise of the occupants at the adjacent table.

We used our proximity to find out about them, assuming they were on a date but finding out instead that they were five years married.

That led to a philosophical discussion of the importance of dating during marriage and how long to wait for child-rearing (they'd stuck their toe in the water with a dog).

By the time they left, she was thanking us for our input.

Always glad to help, especially after a few glasses of rose.

And speaking of the magical pink elixir, The New York Times did a piece on roses last week.

They'd rated the Bandol we'd had at Amour #2 for its density and complexity and the #1 spot had gone to the Commanderie de Peyrassol, a wine with a history for me.

I'd discovered it a couple of years ago and enthusiastically blogged about it, causing one reader to comment.

Hmmm..Peyrassol..summer is here and I just bought a case. Love your blog, Karen.

It was my first wine blog fan, at least as far as I knew.

Sometimes I wonder if that Peyrassol lover still reads me.

And if he knows I'm still a bad ass despite a love of pink. Hope so.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Under a Thunder Moon

Holmes always guarantees a good time.

After getting over being mad because I stood him up (for the best of reasons), we had our post-vacation rendezvous tonight.

He was full of vacation stories - alternate routes, vaporizers while grilling, 68 (count 'em) shrimp, eating at Ocean Boulevard.

We discussed the importance of an enclosed outdoor shower, the challenges of returning to clothing and shoes and why sometimes, the second time is cursed.

We met at his house and motored to Acacia, where they were doing a booming Tuesday night business.

After a patient wait in the "lounge" with a bottle of (half-off) Domaine Michel Thomas "Si'lex" Sancerre, not to mention an over-abundance of Proctor-Silex jokes, we scored seats at the bar.

While music like Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" played, we whittled down our meal choices.

Holmes and beloved were unable to resist the siren song of Chef Dale's soft-shells, but I held fast, starting with salame, heirloom tomato jam, pickled fiddleheads and grainy mustard.

I'm a fool for cured meat and besotted with fiddleheads when I can get them.

The beauty of eating with friends is the opportunity to eat their selections and one of tonight's was white anchovies, grilled marinated radicchio and romaine, fourme' d'ambert, pine nuts and a creamy garlic dressing.


Prosciutto and melon delivered my daily dosage of sweet and salty.

Holmes and girlfriend moved on to crabcakes and soft shells, sharing both the obscenely buttery crabcake and the perfectly fried softshells with me.

Chef Dale is nothing if not a master of seafood.

My local jumbo lump crab with rice noodles, fresh corn and peppers and creamy Vidalia dressing looked like a mound of summer, red and yellow and bursting with crab and corn.

Over discussions of beach meals, the importance of 151 rum and fondling under bars, we entertained our bartender and each other.

Holmes likes nothing better than to give me a hard time.

About everything.

When he made a break for the men's room, his beloved and I did some plotting, opting for the chocolate hazelnut dacquoise with caramelized bananas and brown sugar ice cream to go with our young, vibrant and crisp bottle of Jeio Prosecco.

Holmes took the manly route, enjoying some Ardbeg single malt while giving us a hard time about our weakness for dessert and bubbles.

And the problem with said weakness is...?

Enjoying a scotch whiskey seemed only appropriate since we had earlier met a Scotsman named Scott, a man with a slight burr still audible in every word.

I have to admit susceptibility to such things, because a Scotsman had once tried to use that accent to woo me even while I was falling for someone else.

Yes, I'm a language geek, but brains, wit and kissing ability trump all.

Especially if he instinctively understands the beauty of an outdoor shower.

Wings and Fables

Some places you fit in, some places you don't.

I thought I'd try the revamped Mint Gastropub to see what it had to offer on a Monday evening.

Three children spread over two tables and a smattering of other occupied tables, it seemed.

Arriving just moments after happy hour was ending, the bartender graciously agreed to give me my Tiamo Pinot Grigio at the discounted rate.

Truth be told, it was only $1 off and it was only two minutes past happy hour, but it was a nice gesture.

It was pretty obvious that the couple next to me had arrived in plenty of time to avail themselves of cheap drinks.

He looked moderately loopy but she was over the top, leaning against the bar with her head in her hands, eyes closed and trying hard to listen to what he was saying.

I think he was putting on the full-court press, so I tried not to look.

Instead I switched my attention to the menu, looking to see what the new chef had come up with.

Since he's apparently a famous TV chef, not that I'd know since I have no TV, I was curious.

That and the fact that painted big on the outside of the restaurant was, "Mint Gastropub by Malcolm Mitchell."

No ego there.

I decided on the Mexican barbecue chicken wings with chipotle dipping sauce, checking first with the bartender to see if he recommended them.

"It's just the fat part of the drumstick, not the wing part," he explained. "But they're really good."

He was right, the drumettes were tasty- fat, smoky and medium-hot with green onion shavings over them.

As I was sucking my chicken bones, I found myself enjoying the music, a mix of indie artists like Grizzly Bear, Walk the Moon and Empire of the Sun.

It had to be Pandora, but I also had to know the starting point, so I asked.

Foster the People. Ouch.

Thankfully, the end results surpassed the starting point.

Wings and wine consumed, I left the children and drunks behind for greener pastures.

Tonight was the second installment of the Mingus Awareness Project and I knew I'd be right at home there.

Walking into Balliceaux, I was happy to see guest mixologist Bobby Kruger behind the front bar and stopped for a hug and a hello.

Paying the cover to support those with ALS, the whole point of the project, I got as far as the back stairs before the mass of humanity stopped me cold.

The Brian Jones quartet had just started playing and the joint was packed.

It turned out to be an excellent perch because I was four feet from drummer Brian Jones, as authoritative a drummer as this town has ever seen and a blast to watch.

Before long, Reggie of No BS Brass band, who'd performed last night, was standing next to me and pointed out that Jamal Millner was playing guitar and, as he said, "killin' it!"

He made his way down closer, next the drum kit and his own drummer, Lance, while I stayed put.

It was true about Jamal but the other guitarist, Adam Larrabee, whom I'd seen before, was doing his usual fret magic, too.

This was some serious guitar talent, not to mention the stellar Russell Pharr on upright bass.

The evocative "African Flower" was hands-down my favorite of what they played, moving and sensual at the same time.

Between songs, Brian, who'd organized the two-night event, said, "Thanks to No BS for playing last night," and gestured to Reggie and lance standing a couple of feet away. "They're the vultures over my shoulder."

After asking if anyone "has the chart for "Canon," the group launched into "Canon," for their last song, with Brian wryly observing, "It'll become apparent why this is called that."

Oh, it did.

When their all-too-short set ended, a lot of people headed outside, whether for smokes or air, I don't know, but I used the opportunity to get off the stairs and find a place to hang for the RVA Big band's upcoming set.

I immediately ran into a jazz lover, followed by a big band fan, followed by a friend I'd last seen coming out of a bathroom stall in Wanchese, North Carolina.

So everybody was there.

I was thrilled to see that Brian Jones was going to drum for the big band, a first, and that C-ville trumpeter John D'Earth was looming large in the back row.

Bandleader Ricky did his usual plug, reminding people, "I want you guys to clap or dance or whatever you want. You don't have to just watch."

Taking the 17-piece through Mingus classics like "Go Train," the band rose to the occasion, imbuing every song with an energy that would have made Mingus proud.

When they did "Fables of Taurus," at one point the band began doing a chorus of "ahs" and after "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," an audience member shouted out, "That shit is sick!"

Quite the jazz compliment.

When they got to "Moanin'" the crowd started interjecting "uhs," then people started clapping and before long, No BS drummer Lance was full on dancing as he continued to hover over drummer Brian's shoulder.

I don't think Lance could stop his feet.

Nor would Mingus or Ricky have wanted him to.

The rest of us were just bopping and swaying in place.

Oh,yea, I fit in much better here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Music for a Cause

It was my third benefit in as many days, but truly, I was the beneficiary.

Tonight's philanthropic endeavor was the Mingus Awareness Project at Balliceaux, which provides support for people with ALS, the disease that killed jazz composer Charles Mingus at an incredibly young 56.

Since it also claimed my Richmond grandmother, I feel strongly about donating to the cause.

On the bill tonight were the Jason Jenkins Quartet plus No BS Brass Band, so a full night of serious talent.

But unlike my last two nights of benefit music, tonight's was more of a jazz crowd and that's a horse of a different color.

At tonight's show, the man next to me pours his can of PBR into a glass to drink it.

A glass? I wanted to laugh out loud.

I run into a nerdy friend who has brought a book with him to the show (!) and leave our chat with a recommendation for a must-read biography ("Tonight at Noon: A Love Story").

Readers "R" us.

When two girls sit down in the booth where I'm sitting, one informs me it's her first time here since the place was Bogart's.

How is that possible, I ask her incredulously?

Drummer and organizer Brian Jones kicks things off by introducing the Jason Jenkins quartet featuring trumpet wunderkind Victor Haskins.

As the band starts swinging, people continue to arrive, no doubt surprised at the timely start of a jazz show.

Their set is short and tight and an attentive audience eats it up.

As No BS Brass band sets up, I look around the room, noticing that it's not entirely the usual No BS crowd.

Maybe it's the Mingus part that confused regular fans or maybe it's that it's a Sunday night show starting after 10:30, but let's just say it was a far more adult crowd than many I've seen at No BS shows over the past six years.

"This is our tribute to Mingus," announced trombonist Reggie Pace after putting on his white headband, which always indicates that he means business.

Their set began with a monologue via megaphone courtesy of Chris Bopst on the subject of god, Cuccinelli and vaginas as trombonist Bryan Hooten wailed away on Mingus' "Nostalgia in Times Square."

Not sure who was more in their element, Hooten blowing or Bopst ranting.

On "Jelly Roll," Reggie tore it up on tambourine, causing the guy near me to wonder, "How anyone can not move to this music is beyond me."

Looking around, I saw Brian Jones, who'll be playing tomorrow night for the second installment of the MAP, standing near the front, grooving in place and smiling widely.

No doubt that was in part due to Lance's drumming (with what sounded like the thickest of drumsticks) as he competed with all those horns to be heard.

Playing all the Mingus songs on No BS' album "Fight Song," Reggie made sure the crowd knew who had arranged and soloed on each one.

A little Marcus here, a little Taylor there, a bit of Bryan here...

It didn't matter which song they played - "Better Git Hit in Your Soul," "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," "Girl of My Dreams," the band took turns sharing the spotlight and wowing the rabid crowd.

There might not have been as much dancing as at a typical No BS show, but the energy of a roomful of Mingus/No BS fans is not to be taken lightly either.

As a friend and jazz-lover had told me earlier, "I'm not very good with money and I only had $5 in my pocket, but this is where I came to spend it tonight."

I could say the same...for the sake of my grandmother and the great Mingus.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Shannon's Steppin' Stone

The music just kept on coming.

Today's seven-hour musical extravaganza, WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions present Volume 3 (part 3), was conveniently (for me) located at Gallery 5, meaning I could stroll over at 4.

I'd been instructed not to be a minute later by the show's first performer, Dave Watkins.

Unlike the park show where I'd recently seen him, tonight he had his full array of instruments, layering dulcitar, drums, keyboards and percussion to craft "songs."

With many new faces in the crowd, I just leaned back and watched their awed faces as they tried to wrap their mind around the textured sounds Dave was creating.

It was during his second song that the members of Dumb Waiter, an instrumental math rock/improvisational quartet (with sax!), joined Dave and that's when the epic factor went off the charts.

Seriously, these are musicians to watch and Dave complemented them magnificently.

The good news is I heard they've already scheduled an upcoming show together.

The only one I knew was Nathaniel, who used to be in Lobo Marino and who was in his element on drums here.

Speaking of, next, we all trooped upstairs for Lobo Marino, playing in the same room where they'd recorded their album a while back.

I'm proud to say that you can hear my laugh on that album.

Lobo Marino has been on tour a lot lately, so it was great to have Laney and Jameson back in RVA to play for long-time (and new) fans.

They did material from all their albums old and new, including inviting the audience to follow along with the hand gestures on "Animal Hands," the ecstatic "Celebrate," and the evocative "Stay with Me."

Calling up Nathaniel to join them onstage for the first time in over a year, Laney said they'd do the only song they sing in Spanish, one that they hadn't done in ages because it was "dependent on Nathaniel."

It's true; his trumpet and mandolin on that song make it even more beautiful and it was a real treat to hear it again after so long.

Back downstairs we went for Herro Sugar, a band whose singer wore their collective heart on his t-shirt, which said Wilco.

They began by sound-checking their mics, with each member stating that his mic should be the loudest because he was the most important member of the band.

I do like it when musicians have a sense of humor.

Their tightly written, indie pop songs were short blasts of energy and hooks and the crowd bopped right along with them.

Way, Shape or Form followed, sans one of their guitarists, who was away, but with a worthy replacement.

Their sound is more polished, with jazz and pop elements, demonstrating the range of the show's bands and yet the overlap of fans who enjoyed them just as much.

After their set, I bade my music buddy farewell for a bit, as I headed home to eat and get a little work done before returning.

When I got back, Warren Hixson was just starting and Friend and I picked up where we'd left off, with water in hand and attention to the band.

I'd seen them back in April, so it was no surprise that their catchy psychedelic surf rock was easy enough to enjoy from the first notes.

But I had to laugh when I overheard a guy say to a girl, "They're so new and different, I find them interesting."

Clearly his musical history knowledge was surface deep as the band's influences were all over the music, but I didn't correct him.

I did repeat his quote to some musicians who laughed at his naivete, but that's another story.

After their set, I mingled for a bit, only to have someone come up and exclaim, "You left and I couldn't find you! I was so upset I threw up!"

You have to love the high drama of friends after they've been drinking at a show since 4:00.

Even if they mean it.

Tonight's piece de resistance was Baby Help Me Forget's reunion show a year and a half after they'd played their last at the 2012 WRIR birthday party.

I wouldn't have missed their set for anything.

Personally, I think singer Jamie is the best showman in town, whether singing, dancing, gesturing or flinging his hair.

Until you've seen him bound onstage or leap off it, you can't imagine how he abuses his body in the service of rock and roll.

He leaped onstage in a jacket, vest and shirt and I knew right away that he'd be losing layers as the set progressed.

Unlike at past shows, sadly, we never got down to bare chest.

The band kicked into high-energy mode from the first song and the remaining crowd danced and cheered them along.

At one point, Jamie dedicate a song to the event's organizer, Shannon and it was a doozy.

"(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" whipped the band and the audience into a '60s pop frenzy, with people doing everything from the pony to pogoing.

From there, you'd have thought they couldn't possibly take things any higher, but they did.

They sure did.

Jamie came down off the stage and placed what looked like a candle on the floor in front of the stage.

Returning to the stage, the band began another kick-ass song just as the "candle" showed itself to be fireworks of some kind, sending up a stream of colored sparks and plumes that lasted almost as long as the song.

Meanwhile, Jamie sang, ending up writhing on the floor, as is his long-standing tradition at shows.

It was the most epic ending to the show that could have been imagined, short of burning down Gallery 5.

And we wouldn't want that anyway.

Strolling home under a nearly-full moon, I had to think what a fantastic day in the neighborhood it is when I can support my local independent radio station by watching local talent strut their stuff all day and night.

Plus fireworks.

My only regret is making someone throw up for missing me.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lemonade from Lemons

You know how difficult it is to update your website to reflect your correct hours of operation?

Apparently, if you're the Viceroy, pretty difficult.

Meaning that when a girlfriend and I showed up for lunch today, based on their web page saying they were open 10-2 a.m. Saturday-Sunday, a sign on the door clarified things.

Brunch begins in August.

Huh. Maybe that should be noted on the website, folks.

For the purposes of our lunch, we headed up Sheppard to the VMFA and Amuse, where they were not only open, but doing a brisk lunch business.

We joined a wine-drinking couple at the bar and considered our menu choices.

I saw no reason to resist a farm fresh BLT with a sunnyside -up egg and aioli and all it took was my decision to convince my girlfriend that she needed the same.

Tomatoes are too good right now to pass up any opportunity to eat them and it wouldn't be a proper lunch with this particular friend if we didn't have good fries.

Part breakfast, part lunch, the open-face sandwich on a slice of focaccia tasted incredibly fresh with its arugula and heirloom tomato, not to mention the yellowest of egg yolks oozing over it all.

I'm not ashamed to say we plowed through our plates without bothering with conversation, instead doing all of our catch-up during the hour and a half after our plates were licked clean.

The pleasure of pools this time of year, the inherent difference in people's paces, the pains of being dissed by friends, we covered it all.

And that's not even counting the requisite discussion of the opposite sex, both personal and professional.

When we finally left Amuse for the nearby photography gallery, I was greeted by the most satisfying surprise.

There, on the wall, was a plaque dedicated in memoriam to George Cruger.

George, a former boyfriend and long-time employee of the VMFA, had been the one responsible for the VMFA beginning their photography collection back in the '70s.

When he'd died last year, I'd suggested that the gallery be renamed in his honor, here.

I must not have been the only one to suggest such a thing because there on the wall was the acknowledgment I'd only hoped to see.

Thanks, VMFA, for doing right by George.

A wonderful lunch in the light-filled Amuse with a really good friend was just icing on the cake.

Possessing All Women, All Music

Lesson 1: Editors don't know everything.

On my way into the VMFA with Prudence, I spotted my editor and had the pleasure of introducing him to the Boulevard entrance of the museum.

My work informing the world about my favorite museum door is never done.

He must have been grateful because he suggested we join him and two friends for happy hour.

Watching people do yoga in the sculpture garden while we sipped chilled wine inside made for a most enjoyable prelude to the evening.

Lesson 2: Artists make good romantics.

Prudence and I followed our impromptu happy hour with a screening of the 1936 film, "Rembrandt."

Successful painter loses beloved wife and alienates patrons before falling for maid he can't marry and finishing out life living in obscurity with her until she dies.

Introducing the film, curator Mitchell Merling showed his romantically artistic side when observing, "Not that people were really laughing at "The Nightwatch" like in the movie, but it kind of made my heart break when I saw that scene."

A linguist might have had a problem with everyone in Holland having clipped, English accents, but we overlooked that for the sake of a good story about a man who loved women.

And of a sudden he knew that when one woman gives herself to you, you possess all women. Women of every age and race and kind, and more than that, And of a sudden he knew that when one woman gives herself to you, you possess all women. Women of every age and race and kind, and more than that, the moon, the stars, all miracles and legends are yours.

Do they still make men like that anymore?

Lesson 3: All gnocchi is not created equal.

Prudence and I had a post-film tryst at Bistro 27 where I tried a new dish, the gnocchi with mushroom ragout, to accompany my Vinho Verde.

And while most gnocchi I've had has been potato, this was semolina and Ricotta cheese and shaped into little cakes rather than dumplings.

It so impressed a nearby barsitter that she leaned in, inquiring what it was and remarking on its delicious aroma.

Don't I know it, honey.

Properly sated, I deposited Prudence to her doorstep and headed out into the night for music alone.

Lesson 4: Sometimes taking a break is the best thing you can do.

As part of Shannon Cleary's four-day extravaganza, "WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions presents Volume Three," tonight's installment was at Balliceaux.

Best of all, the hook was that it featured the first show by the Diamond Center in a year.

The band that got outsiders paying attention to Richmond's music scene were back after a baby hiatus.

Expecting it to be mobbed, I arrived early and found loads of friends.

The scooter queen welcomed me with open arms and her beloved graciously bought me a Cazadores.

The historian looking fetching in a maxi-dress with a maraca in her purse.

Of course Shannon, the ringmaster, looking very happy,

And so many musicians- the ones whose hair had noticeably grown (or been shaved off) since I last saw them, the one I'd seen just the other night, the one who loves to dance, the one doing the new al fresco music series I'm so enjoying - that the local music scene would have been devastated if Balliceaux had spontaneously combusted.

But it didn't, it just provided the expectant and celebratory atmosphere for The Diamond Center to knock our socks off.

Bassist Will was back with the band adding an essential element that had been missing for far more than a year and they had a third guitarist, a guy I see at shows frequently, for the first time.

He, in fact, walked up to me before their set to say hello, noting, "I thought sure I'd see you at S'Matter last night."

And he would have had I not had a prior commitment, for which he excused me when he heard the reason.

The band sounded full-on psychedelic good, running through new songs and old stalwarts that had people dancing, swaying and head-bopping.

From where I stood, there was no indication that they'd missed a beat after twelve months of not playing out.

But then, they always were damn good.

And, let's face it, sometimes stepping back makes stepping back in all the more pleasurable.

To paraphrase the Dutchman, when everything's that good, it's like the moon, the stars, all miracles and legends are yours.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Skirmish of Wits

Lest it look like I took a night off, I offer an abbreviated version of a stellar night.

Joining the happy hour crowd at the Magpie, it was all about tuna crudo and rabbit liver mousse with a refreshing Villa Wolf Pinot Gris to wash down the offerings from land and sea.

Seeking a movie that required higher than a third grade intellect among a selection of action/adventure/comedy summer blockbusters delivered us to the Criterion for "Much Ado About Nothing."

Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.

Honestly, I could see well-executed Shakespeare every week of my life. Especially in an air-conditioned theater.

I can see why theaters used to advertise their "frigid air" along with the latest western and newsreel.

Post-Ado, we stopped at Avenue 805 for wine and a trip in the way back machine.

During a recent replacement of the restaurant's booths, the owner had come across an old menu from 1999.

That would be back when you could get a glass of wine for $3.50.

Or half what a well-priced glass is now. Whoa.

Remembering that I was making way more money in 1999 than I do now, a $3.50 glass of wine sounds mighty appealing now.

Our last stop was on the Robinson Street corridor at Michael's Pies and Pints where a decent-sized crowd was celebrating the transition from Thursday to Friday.

Fortified by couplets and plenty of wine over the course of the evening, I tried a slice of their "Napoleon" pizza (as their FB page boasts), if for no other reason than that they clearly know nothing about Neapolitan pizza.

And despite having had plenty of notable pizza in Naples last fall, for a post-midnight pepperoni and onion slice of pie in Richmond, it was perfectly okay.

Tepid praise, indeed, but considering how outstanding the rest of the evening had been, it didn't need to be any more than that.

Silence is the perfectest herald of joy: I were but little happy if I could say how much.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Two L'heures Happy

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves. ~ Albert Einstein

Before Einstein, there was Henry Box Brown.

Meaning that my evening began at the Anderson Gallery happy hour for Jefferey Ruggles' talk on Henry Box Brown, the man who mailed himself to Philly to escape life as a slave.

I arrived and found a seat on the bench with a good view of the screen and close access to the cheese and cookies, as a nearby attendee pointed out.

Soon, I was joined by a WRIR DJ who, like me, was eager to glean some new information about an escaped slave with a plan.

As we awaited the start of the talk, we discussed Floyd Avenue and Cambridge, MA, and their very different worthiness as bike routes.

As a former thirteen-year resident of Floyd Avenue, I felt his pain about present-day Floyd.

Ruggles was funny, losing sight of his slide show as he shared endless details about Brown's journey from boxed cargo to globe-trotting entertainer, sharing his panoramics about life in Africa and as a slave with audiences all over the world.

Our speaker had even acquired original drawings of "A Nubian Slave,"  an illustrated and devastating series about the journey of an African destined for the New World.

At one point in the slide presentation, we saw a slide of Boston, the Charles River and Cambridge on the other side, necessitating me observing, "Speaking of..."

"Yea, I know, right?" the DJ agreed, referencing our earlier conversation.

The lecture was fascinating for its story of Brown's life, his struggle and his success at creating a life in Canada after abolitionists found fault with how he squandered his new-found freedom.

Wine, women, gambling and song.

Like it was their job to judge.

Friend and I bolted once the lecture ended, both with plans that would not wait.

Mine involved Amour Wine Bistro's l'heure heureuse, a happy hour involving four small plates for $12.

Who wouldn't be happy with such a deal?

They were the ones who had posted the Einstein quote and, frankly, anyone sharing that sentiment was speaking to me directly.

Moments after I sat down, I ordered a flight of roses and soon a man joined me at the bar, ogling my array of pink wines.

"That looks good!" he said, clearly coveting my roses.

What's not to love about Pere Cabouche 2012, Chateau de Valcombe 2012, L'Opale de la Presqu'ile de Saint Tropez 2011 and Bandol Mas de la Rouviere 2011?

Inquiring of the owner if any of my roses were not sweet (duh), he was assured that sweet was not an issue here.

He promptly ordered the exact same flight.

Oohing and ahhing over the array of roses, he told me that he'd been out shopping for his 32nd anniversary tomorrow.

The VMFA had yielded the jewelry for his wife's gift and Mongrel (natch) had supplied the card.

Just as he'd finished there, wifey had called and asked him to pick up dog food.

A side trip to PetCo. had delivered the dog chow, leaving him hot and sweaty (there is a heat wave going on, after all) and craving a glass of wine.

Sadly, he'd come in looking for a glass of Pinot Grigio.

It was only once he spied my four pink glasses that he'd succumbed to something far better.

As if I hadn't inspired enough envy, I proceeded to rub salt in the wounds by taking advantage of Amour's happy hour deal of four small plates for $12.

In short order, I devoured smoked trout "sushi" (English cucumber and smoked trout in orange-poached carrot roll with wasabi-soy-shitake reduction and candied ginger), marinated scallops with aioli and the freshest of melon and red onion salsas, summer gazpacho of English cukes and chilled watermelon gazpacho with a pickled veggie salsa and, finally, crispy prosciutto (baked prosciutto cups with tomato basil soubise, shaved Parmesan and the reddest of grilled tomato).

My pre-anniversary-celebrating friend was pea-green with envy.

Why not? In a city where all of a sudden every restaurant in town is doing early-evening specials, these four dishes were superb examples of big flavors and small prices.

Translation: score.

But he was also marveling at the array of stellar roses we were both drinking and eventually wised up, purchasing a bottle of the Bandol Mas de la Rouviere 2011, flattering me by saying he never would have a) tasted it, much less, b) bought a bottle if he hadn't seen me enjoying it.

I love being the reason people experience (and buy) wine.

Besides, I bet his wife will have a better anniversary because of that bottle, so my work here was done.

To his credit, he has a successful 32-year relationship under his belt, a fact he said causes amazement among his friends.

Once he left, I enjoyed  dessert, a trio of ice creams - lime, white peach and cocoa- with the ideal accompaniment, Muscadet de Beaume de Venise Domaine Saint Dominique.

Two words: perfect pairing.

I may be allergic to stone fruit, but I will never pass up white peach anything and the creamy mouth-feel of this peach ice cream was swoon-worthy.

Let my tongue swell and my mouth itch, for it is well worth the reaction.

The cocoa delivered raptures and I heard that there are people driving from D.C. to enjoy that cocoa bliss.

No surprise there.

While savoring dessert, I heard of the owner's impending trip to Paris and Provence, two destinations I have yet to experience and yet two places I long to know.

Even better, he's meeting a mutual friend there, a man who will ensure that they visit the best dance clubs and experience all that both cities have to offer.

A perfect travel companion, in other words.

By the time I finished the last of my flight, the final dinner guests were leaving and I knew it was time for me to clear out, too.

Driving home alone,  I wasn't threatening anyone's driving with my kissing, but I was awfully satisfied with the direction my happy hours had taken.

Tomorrow's goal: preventing a man from driving safely.

I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hitting My Stride

Contrary to what I was warned, it was not a #deathsentence.

As thunder and lightening got more intense in Jackson Ward, I debated going to Scuffletown Park for music.

On the one hand, one who lives mere blocks from the park messaged me, "It's thunderin' in these parts" and predicted certain death if I went to an outside show.

On the other hand, the park had to be cooler than my apartment, so the risk of sudden death seemed worth it.


When I got there, plenty of people were already spread out on blankets, but I joined the bench-sitters with a clear shot of tonight's artist, the talented Josh Small.

After a few minutes, he inquired of organizer Patrick if it was time to begin.

"Not yet, wait three more minutes," Patrick said, adhering to the Scuffletown series rules he no doubt made up.

"Man, you're strict. Okay, I'll just vamp 'til then," Josh said, nonplussed, promising to dazzle us with an array of cover songs original material and sad songs.

A Tuesday night audience really couldn't hope for any more.

He started with the Liza Kate-like sad song, "Knife in My Belly," as the thunder rumbled and the lightening flashed.

Then he called up harmonica player Andrew Ali to sit on the grass beside his bench for the Rodney Crowell gem, "Bluebird Wine," a song Josh got so involved playing that he rolled back on the bench, his feet up in the air as he played.

And it's all right now
I've just hit my stride
Right off the bat
I'm drunk on bluebird wine

Don't I wish.

For "Moses," Josh invited Andrew to leave the grass and join him on the bench ("We're like Bert and Ernie") and they outdid each other stomping feet and playing.

Eventually, the thunder got more distant as Josh showed us his take on being a soul singer, told a story about cell phones in 2003 and how Swahili was different than Disney ("Hakuna Matata") and continued to sing his heart out as dusk descended.

Meanwhile, I'd been joined on the bench by a friend and musician and we marveled at how once the thunder and lightening moved on, a delightful breeze had arrived with a drop in temperature, almost as if it had rained.

About to cover a Maxwell song, Josh praised the original for its horn solo, but said to watch out for the fake ending (we did) before doing a song he wrote for his Dad ("Singalong"), a talented musician in his own right whom I'd seen play with Josh a few years back.

After "Comedown," Josh closed his sunset performance with, as he put it, "A song by a band called Little Feat. It's called "Trouble" and I wish I'd had the wisdom to write it."

Fact is, that's a 40-year old song, which I suppose is why he had to explain Little Feat to the crowd.

By then, it was almost dark and host Patrick reminded us to keep the gate closed as we left so we wouldn't provide an escape route for Scuffletown's resident turtle.

Like a turtle can make a quick getaway, someone cracked.

But we took note because no one wants to piss off the pocket park's neighbors and lose our slice of sunset summer heaven.

Because we all know that if the gate were left open, it would almost certainly be a #deathsentence for the tortoise and who wants that on their conscience?

Far better to spend Tuesday night under thundering skies drunk on bluebird wine.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday, Monday, Can't Trust That Day

We could call this chapter "Tales of a Misspent Monday" and leave it at that.

In my defense, I worked way more of the weekend than usual and from the moment I got up until early afternoon today.

So when my lunch date e-mailed me sounding desperate ("Come now...! FAST!"), what could I do but change into a lunch dress and go fetch him?


So we set out for Arcadia, found it closed and settled on M Bistro, a place I hadn't been in a couple of years.

We arrived toward the end of lunch, but the cool, masculine-looking interior and eager-beaver young server welcomed us in.

If I could have, I would have carded him.

Our first choice for wine was a 2011 Louis Jadot Macon Villages chardonnay, but they were out of it and our tender server suggested that the Kendall Jackson Vintners' Reserve chardonnay was "just the same."

Well, except that both friend and I knew that the French wine is unoaked while the Californian definitely finishes with oak.

We got it anyway. It's just afternoon wine.

Last time I'd been in, I'd been quite happy with my lobster roll, so I ordered it again (despite the change to it being billed as lobster and crab salad on a "rustic roll," whatever that might be) while Friend tried a crabacake over tomato salad.

What arrived looked nothing like the lobster roll of M's early days...or anything seen in New England.

The roll was round and dusted with flour and the filling was mostly crab with only incidental pieces of lobster claw meat.


Pushing the flour-dusted roll aside, I begrudgingly ate the crab/lobster salad while my friend noted, "You don't like it, do you?"

It just wasn't anything like a true New England lobster roll anymore.

On the plus side, Friend said his crabcake salad was excellent and he plowed through it while telling me about his recent vacation in Philly.

Now, I've only been in Philly four times in the past eight years, so I'm no expert, but I do know I've enjoyed eating, walking and seeing all the art when I have been there, so I was eager to hear his stories.

$24 drinks, nine hour stints in the art museum, and 100 miles of walking told me everything I needed to know about their sojourn.

All he wanted in return was an update on my personal life (while giving running commentary, natch) so I obliged.

Needless to say, we ended up being the last lunch customers of the day, although Friend did take the time to teach the newbie server how to properly open a bottle of wine.

Somebody's got to teach the youth of today tomorrow's wine-pourers.

While debating the finer points of my life, we got a slice of lemon/coconut pie with strawberry coulis to help pass the time.

Now here's where the afternoon took a turn for the indulgent.

Coming back into town from Rockett's Landing, Friend suggested a stop at the Jefferson for an afternoon cap(?).

If there isn't such a thing, we were open to creating it.

We landed at TJ's, which was empty of any human life except a server, and here we finally got glasses of the un-oaked Macon Villages we'd been denied earlier.

In my never-ending quest to derail the best intentions of my friends, I suggested getting the Chesapeake dip (ham, crab, artichoke hearts in a creamy Gouda dip), knowing  my companion doesn't eat pork.

He waved off my concerns, assuring me if he can't see the ham, he's fine with it.

Now there's a man with religious convictions.

Promptly at 4, our server informed us that TJ's was closing, necessitating a trip upstairs to Lemaire if we wanted to continue our conversation.

We did.

I wanted to hear about his business plans, he wanted to hear about my gallivanting, so we climbed the grand staircase to finish our talking.

Midway through our conversation and his Cosmo (some of us were opting out by that point), his boss called and I took the phone to provide the alibi for why he'd been "detained."

I didn't even try to make up a story, opting instead for the bald-faced truth.

And while I don't know that I convinced the boss of the worthiness of our afternoon's endeavor, he at least accepted that Friend had needed some away time.

Sometimes you just gotta stand up to the big guy.

After dropping him off, I came home to find that no one desperately needed me and none of my hoped-for responses had arrived, so I was free and clear to continue my debauched Monday.

After a respite to gather my forces, I headed up the big hill to the Roosevelt to take advantage of their new Monday hours.

I'd heard they'd been slammed last Monday, but by the late hour I arrived, things were positively civilized.

I sat down next to two guys at the bar who were gracious enough to welcome me into the fold.

When the bartender brought my water, I requested a straw and he returned with one, the kind that bends to make straw-sipping so much more ergonomic.

"Wow, bendy straws and Cheerwine, that's the Roosevelt for you," one of the guys drolly observed with a smile.

I feel like that's a left-handed compliment of the highest order since there are many ways I could summarize the Roosevelt, but none so charmingly succinct.

I started with the oyster, corn and bacon stew, a gut-filling bowl of the richest stew full of sweet corn, salty bacon and buttery oysters.

Given the afternoon I'd had, it was clear my Richmond grandmother had been right with her predictions and I was going straight to hell in a hand basket.

Honestly, it's probably the first time in my life I ate an entire bowl of oyster stew by myself.

Just to ensure that my arteries close up entirely tonight, I followed that with one of tonight's specials, pulled pork under cole slaw and over house baked beans.

It was like a picnic on a plate but a picnic for two and I was, alas, just one.

As I worked my pig down, I overheard the guys next to me and gleaned that they were about to open a new business.

Never shy about my eavesdropping, I listened as they talked with a couple who'd joined them about the "wild, wild west days of Oregon Hill" and living in Jackson Ward back when fathers who were cops told their daughters not to.

That was before I moved here seven years ago, not that my father (who was not a cop) didn't approve of me moving to the neighborhood where his father worked his entire life (the Richmond Dairy, three blocks away).

Eventually, I insinuated myself into their conversation with the couple and soon learned that congratulations were in order.

After three and a half years of plugging away in Church Hill, the two guys are opening a brewery in Scott's Addition and they'd gotten the approval today.

That was something to celebrate and we toasted their success with my Gabriele Rausse Vin de Gris and whatever beer they were drinking (not their own).

Now that's a couple of guys who are going places.

No doubt they spend their afternoons more gainfully occupied than some of us.

Bravo, gents. To each his own.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

La Fete Nationale

I was an utter failure at celebrating Bastille Day.

It wasn't for lack of desire to mark the occasion, only that I had too much else on my plate.

Man, I hate when that happens.

The day began with a high-wire act; walking down Broad Street on my daily constitutional, I spotted a worker walking the length of the jib of the tower crane that's sitting over on Grace Street for the new dorm construction.

I watched for three or four minutes, certain I was about to see a man plunge to his death and then walked away so I wouldn't be the only witness.

My next stop was Sugar Shack Donuts, where a sign on the door stopped me cold.

Sugar Shack is currently closed on Sundays.

I bet they are after that write-up in "Style" last week.

If things were mobbed before, I can only imagine how that piece fed the fire.

As a neighbor of Sugar Shack's, I'd far prefer to see them close on a weekday and be open on Sundays for the 'hood.

Or at least for all those people who were streaming out of Moore Street Baptist Church a block away this morning.

And me.

After lunch with a friend at an undisclosed but overly-filling location, I spent the afternoon working, not my first choice for Sunday afternoon occupations.

If only I didn't like food and shelter...

Late in the day, I took a mental break to water the window boxes in my living room and unexpectedly spotted my lunch friend below, in front of my house.

He'd come to dig up the black-eyed Susans in the back yard, which I'd offered him earlier.

Only now I needed a dinner companion (approaching deadline, you know) and there he was.

How convenient.

I cajoled him into putting his shovel and garden gloves down and accompanying me for another overly-filling meal.

The funniest part was, he told me that after our abundant lunch, he'd gone home and promptly fallen asleep.

Now here I was dragging him along for another food coma-inducing meal.

On the plus side, we overheard a spontaneous, soulful singalong, the likes of which we're not likely to hear again, even as we clogged our arteries.

By the time we returned, it was dusk and I dutifully followed him to the backyard to provide moral support while he dug up my flowers for his front yard.

After being bitten by bugs, but with Susans firmly potted, we decided to go for a walk in hopes of aiding digestion.

It turned out to be the nicest part of the day.

Strolling Jackson Ward, we walked alleys and side streets as lacy, white clouds streaked across the sky just under the rising moon.

Friend, who is a photographer, was taken by the beauty of the evening light, which lent a rich (almost European-looking) burnish to brick walls and house fronts.

Even I had to admit that it was my beloved J-Ward at its loveliest.

As we strolled along Abner Clay Park, he stopped to take pictures of the crescent moon with streaks of pink clouds around it.

It didn't have quite the cachet of fireworks and a glass of French bubbly, but c'est la vie.

Next year I intend to celebrate more fittingly.

I may not have a drop of French blood in me, but I do hate to miss the pleasures of a perfectly good holiday.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Just a Shot Away

It's turning into a girlpower weekend.

After reveling in the wit and wisdom of Dorothy Parker last night, tonight was about an immensely talented but under-appreciated group of women: back-up singers.

"20 Feet from Stardom" was enough to pull a girlfriend and I down Grove Avenue to the Westhampton for a pop culture history lesson documentary-style.

I was the popcorn, she was the M & Ms and together, we were the ideal Saturday night date, no small feat in a theater full of actual couples.

The film brilliantly began with Lou Reed's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" for the lyric, "And the colored girls sing do, do, do..." as a way of segueing from the olden days when back-up singers were all white.

The problem, it seems, with having whitey sing back-up, is that they follow the sheet music note for note.

Not so the black girls who came along in the 60s; they were testifying gospel-style, singing what they felt and not what they read.

They'd all come up singing in church, of course.

Darlene Love, looking pretty damn amazing for being 70, was the main focus of the film as we learned how her voice sold millions of records for other groups while she got no money and no credit.

It was unbelievable how many songs she'd sung back-up on - "The Monster Mash," "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" and even Frank Sinatra's "That's Life."

We learned that the melding of church-trained voices in secular music was like catnip to the British bands of the 60s, who quickly added black back-up singers to Brit rock.

And, unlike American producers like the megalomaniac Phil Spector, the Brits cut the singers loose and let them sing however they wanted to.

Stevie Wonder, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen all talk candidly about the immeasurable contribution these women made to the songs of the day.

As they pointed out, in many cases, the listener found him/herself singing along to the backing lyrics, not the lead.

Because, you know, the back-up singers get to sing the hooks and we all love the hooks.

What I loved was the vintage performance footage we got to see, like Sting in the studio with his singers doing "Hounds of Winter," with him looking stunned by their vocals.

A couple of the clips absolutely gave me chills, like watching Merry Clayton and Mick Jagger listen to Merry's vocals on "Gimme Shelter" and reminiscing about the 2 a.m. recording session with her singing in her PJs.

The sheer power of that, "It's just a shot away" line is positively mind-blowing.

Then there was the footage of a 28-year old David Bowie doing "Young Americans" live with his back-up singers, including a 24-year old Luther Vandross.

Be still my heart. Soul with a capital "S".

Halfway through the film, it became clear that as fascinating as I was finding the film, not everyone was.

From a few rows behind came the very loud sounds of someone snoring and before long everyone was craning their neck to see who'd gone to sleep while all this music was playing.

Fortunately, an usher was summoned to stop the buzz saw from disturbing the rest of us music lovers.

Merry Clayton talked about singing back-up on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," but only after her husband, a wiser man at 19 years her senior, insisted she'd be glad she did when she got older.

She did sing it, but in a way that showed them she was making the statement.

There was some great footage of Tom Jones (in bell bottoms) singing onstage with back-up singers, including Darlene Love.

And don't get me started on the drop dead footage of Ike and Tina Turner, with Tina and her Ikettes dancing and singing so sizzling hard that it was tough to imagine how they could do all that and breathe, too.

One of the most interesting observations came from a long-time music producer who remembered when he first started seeing a budget for tuning on recording sessions.

As he points out, the only reason for that is because getting current singers to sing in tune now is too lengthy and too costly.

Funny, back in the days of the women featured in this film, they all made it clear how effortless and joyful it was to sing...and in tune.

All hail that kind of serious, old-school girl power.

Filming a Life

It's a good friend who e-mails me post-vacation, asking if I miss the beach.

I admit I do, so he suggests lunch today as a distraction from the pile of work I have been immersed in since my return.

When he picks me up in his new car, Jack Johnson blaring, I choose 821 Cafe because I know it'll remind me of all the things I love about Richmond, even as I continue to miss the beach.

Walking in, a favorite server spots me, seats us almost immediately and grins, saying, "I guess I already know what you want."

Not much of a challenge there.

Foto Boy and I sit on the same side of a table, leaving the other side for new arrivals.

It's not long before a young couple take us up on our invitation to join.

She's got a seagull on her shirt and one tattooed on her shoulder; he tells us he's a server at a chain near Short Pump.

"They've only got 90 restaurants, so they haven't sold out completely," he claims, but when I challenge him on this, he concedes that, yea, they have.

Foto Boy and I order (what else?) a plate of black bean nachos and look around.

We spot our favorite activist in uncharacteristic flip-flops, having brunch nearby.

A familiar beer rep comes in, looking only slightly hungover.

The server (and new Mom) who brings our nachos is also a friend and greets us both warmly.

As we plow through the plate of nachos, Foto Boy wonders why he can never make nachos this good at home.

Dunno, but why bother when 821 is so close?

I regale him with a story about a recent episode where a woman told me how seductive I looked, expressed worry that when I sit down people could see my underwear and even told me I was beautiful.

"She was hitting on you!" he says laughing, almost choking on a tortilla chip.

We chat up the couple at our table, who have presumed that we are a couple.

FB clarifies that we never got that far, having skipped ahead to friendship and I explain that this gives me the right to razz him about his date choices.

"And I give her a hard time because men are always hitting on her," he tells these strangers. "And lately, even women!"

Without missing a beat, the Short Pump server leans in and eyes me, saying suavely, "Have I told you how beautiful you look today?"

Now I'm the one laughing out loud at his quick repartee.

As we leave 821 and round the corner, we run smack-dab into a small group filming a scene.

It's July, so I realize instantly what weekend it must be, but ask anyway.

Gotta be 48-hour film fest.

They grin, acknowledging as much, and we suggest they move their backpacks from against FB's car before we drive away.

Before we can even start the car, they're back to filming and I'm thinking how much I love this town, the people and all the interesting stuff that's always going on here.

Talking about gardening on the way home, he asks if I have any flowers I want to share and once at my house, I lead him to a plot of black-eyed Susans and offer them all up to him.

He's tickled at the prospect of so many new flowers for his yard, straight from mine.

Friend to friend flowers, so to speak.

What was I missing again?

Luckily, I'll make it back to the beach before the summer's over, but for right now, my lunch has reminded me that I'm fine until I do.