Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Psychedelic Pineapple Collective

My evening took me down a gravel and grass path to the '70s.

Technically speaking, it was a friend's birthday celebration but it was also a chance to show off their recently purchased Southside house and property. All I'd been told was that it was across from a park and needed a lot of work.

Finding it was the first challenge because while I saw 2716 and 2720, I saw nothing in between. Except above mentioned path. To quote Talking Heads, this must be the place.

Wrangling armfuls of stuff - spinach avocado dip, a bag of "really seedy" (actually the name) crackers, a blue hydrangea for the birthday girl's new garden, a jean jacket for once the sun went down - I joined two friends in taking the path to the party.

Passing a large camper (sold but not yet picked up), we soon came to the ramshackle house (originally 1780, addition 1800). This house pre-dates everything around it, having been built when Manchester was a separate city and the grid had not yet been extended that far. Old as dirt.

Nearby was a circle of seats and cushions around a fire pit, while behind that was the sweetest little camper painted dusty blue (matching the color on my host's knuckles) and their current living quarters.

Asked if I wanted a tour, I signed on to hear about their plans to grow indigenous perennials and fruit trees on the front acreage. On the back 40, they plan to convert the former shed to a tiny house they'll live in and the carport will become a studio and place for gardening classes.

As for the aging house, after renovations their intention is to rent out the two upstairs bedrooms to like-minded souls and use the large room downstairs as a community space. A summer kitchen using a gray water system will be built outdoors.

My only question was where will the outdoor shower be?

So, yes, it'll be an earth-friendly farming collective in the city. I felt like I was right back in the '70s, loving everything about the whole, groovy plan.

There were only about eight people at the party when I arrived, but already conversation was getting real. The mother of a toddler was explaining to another woman the miracle of childbirth, complete with open knees, saying giving birth was basically the same as sex, only better. "It's the ultimate sex."

Immediately, the birthday girl challenged her on how she knew how good someone's sex was and that maybe childbirth isn't better than some people's "getting busy" mode. I was in her camp.

People kept arriving with contributions for the vegetarian food table, soon groaning under an assortment of salads, bean dips and salsas, cheeses, fruits and casseroles. The unlikely crowd favorite turned out to have come from a funeral.

Well, if there's going to be a wake and folks are going to bring food, you may as well pick up fresh ideas for group meals.

This one was Paula Deen's pineapple casserole and as disgusting as that sounds, I have to say it was quite tasty, no doubt due to the abundance of cheddar, Ritz cracker crumbs and buttah, as Paula would say.

Rock solid southern funeral eating at its best.

A table held libations, a cassette deck player and a box of cassettes (Beatles, Phil Collins, a mix tape, natch) which were played throughout the night, although at times it was turned down to accommodate nearby conversations.

Toting buckets, flats of squash seedlings and pies from WPA, a girl showed up with party favors: bunches of carrots and bags of spinach from Tricycle Gardens where she works. Adult party favors, so much better than kazoos and bubble gum.

More than once, I was asked how I'd met the birthday girl and for the life of me, I couldn't recall. Probably a show, but I really wasn't sure. Midway through the night, it hit me.

It was her silent film-loving boyfriend I'd first met back in 2007 at one of his Silent Music Revival events. He was the reason I'd gotten into silent films. That was it.

I met a yoga teacher and another woman who'd done her yoga training in Colorado, only to feel like it didn't translate once she got back to Virginia. A passionate 5th grade teacher lamented the frustrations of having to teach to standardized tests.

Upon learning that my parents lived on the northern neck, a favorite couple told me about a friend they'd known who'd also lived there. No longer, because he committed suicide (or his wife killed him, if you believe the scuttlebutt).

Seems that he was loaded. He'd ended up down there because he'd run his boat into a mud flat on the Carrotoman river and his solution was to buy all the land around the mud. He wanted a circus, so he created and paid for an annual I Love America Festival, complete with elephants.

Because we all want to celebrate how much we love our country with America's indigenous species, the elephant. Hilarious!

Talking about the annual James River Batteau Festival, one long-time participant shared that while she wears a long skirt on the boat, her costume is hardly period correct.

"There's a guy on another batteau who dresses to the period in Revolutionary War clothing down to the details. He looked at me and said I was a "far-be," as in, "far be it from historically accurate." Not that she cares when she and her fellow boat mates are wrangling a shallow, flat-bottomed boat down the James River for a week.

I got a recommendation for a new Philly band, Foxhound, with ties to another musician I've seen several times, Chris Kasper. Described as psychedelic Appalachian folk music, I was assured I'd like it a lot. Now I'll need to hear it and find out.

Once the sun set, a fire was lit as people continued to arrive, take the tour and chat with each other. What was so interesting was how far away from the city it all felt, surrounded as we were by land and greenery (lots and lots of mulberry trees). Yet, at the end of the path and across the street, a night baseball game was happening on a lit field with fans shouting their team support.

You just wouldn't know it from where we stood.

The birthday girl told me some great stories she'd been told by the owner of the house, who'd bought it back in the rough and tumble '80s when Richmond was a very different city.

To discourage crackheads from squatting on his property, he'd gone out and shot five bucks, decapitated them and placed the five heads on stakes around the property to ward off unwelcome visitors. I can't imagine they smelled too good come summer.

She said when they'd first asked to look at the house before they bought it, the owner had admitted he'd lost the house keys while using a scythe (!) to trim the grass in the yard. Undaunted, they'd propped a ladder against the rickety old wooden porch and climbed through an upstairs window to gain access to look at the house ("I can't believe we did that!").

The funniest part of that story is that when they returned after buying it, they found that a homeless man had picked the lock and gained entry, although not yet moved in. Basically, he'd saved them a locksmith's fee.

"I shouldn't tell you this," she went on, looking around, "But a friend suggested we christen the camper the "stabbin' cabin." When her partner was informed of this, he cringed, saying that when he gets lucky, he never thinks of it as stabbing. Good man.

Besides, stabbin' cabin doesn't flow with the feel-good vibe of their sprawling compound.

Unable to resist, I told a similarly-aged friend that everything from stepping into the camper to the sense of community and shared goals felt like deja vu. She nodded. "It's just how we lived back then."

Everyone who heard the master plan for the property was impressed, many complimenting it as the wave of the future, energy efficient and green in most every possible way. The whole idea of a collective suggests a group of like-minded people doing their part to be part of the solution, not the problem.

I think we called it a commune back in the '70s and there was no craft beer or pineapple casserole. But otherwise, take me home, country roads.

And don't come a-knockin' if the van is a-rockin'.

Why We're Friends

Three women, two of whom have never met, walk into a bar.

Two hours later, they know more about each other's lives than some men know about their girlfriends. Comedy or tragedy?

After our last planned date got snowed out, a friend I met last summer but hadn't seen since the State Fair suggested she kill two birds with one stone. That meant meeting two friends for one dinner and I was one of them.

Over happy hour at the Mill, I got to know her friend as we talked about heavy stuff: mortality, life's wake-up calls and emergency room visits. Turns out we were all born within three weeks of each other, so perhaps that accounted for some of the compatibility. That or the 9-ounce wine pours.

Both enjoyed the house BLT while lamenting that we're not yet to tomato season while I tried the avocado halves stuffed with grilled shrimp and corn salsa (alas, no fresh corn in that salsa, either). More mindful than some of us, they declined dessert while I happily lapped up a bowl of Bev's double chocolate ice cream.

Just supporting the local, that's all.

I left them peering in windows on MacArthur Boulevard while I made my way back to Jackson Ward and the Hippodrome Theater.

Tonight was 5th Wall's second annual preview and party fundraiser and knowing how much fun I'd had at it last year, I didn't want to be late. My date, though still pining for Pru in Paris, was dutifully awaiting my arrival out front.

Inside, we found our names on a table near the stage with a great vantage point for the entertainment.

Our host was Eva DeVirgilis dressed as the emcee from "Cabaret" and she greeted us with "Willkommen," and was eventually joined by the company.

Eva revels in being bossy and wasted no time mentioning the silent auction, saying, "Go ahead and show off and buy something for your lover." I sure wouldn't have minded someone buying a massage or weekend getaway for me. As luck would have it, no lovers were present.

From there, the audience was treated to a series of musical numbers and scenes from 5th Wall productions past and present.

Always guaranteed to hit it out of the park, Matt Shofner killed it with "Hitchhiking Across America," holding up a cardboard sign ("I like boys!") midway through the song about meeting guys on the road. Behind me, I heard a woman sigh, saying, "He's sooo good!" Yes, he is.

After the song, he took a bow, grabbed the sign held it up again and pointed at it, just in case any nice potential husbands in the audience had missed the point.

Our hostess Eva encouraged us to check our programs for information about what we were seeing. "And if you want to know about any of the performers, buy 'em a drink!" Works for writers, too, by the way.

A scene from "H2O" reminded me how powerful and thought-provoking that play had been.

Brittany Simmons used her big voice and best comedic powers to sing "I Could Be Jewish for You," getting belly laughs from the Jewish friend behind me.

Seeing the incredibly strong cast of "The Lyons" do a scene (even without Jacqueline Jones' magnificent red wig) was further proof of what a superb production that had been, while seeing a snippet of "Human Terrain" made me regret having been too busy to see it.

Much as I enjoyed seeing scenes from plays I'd liked so much, it was even cooler seeing previews from upcoming productions.

"Uncanny Valley" was described as a play about two humans and a robot ("In our mind's eye, we are forever young"), but most interesting was when my date, a certifiable technology nerd, explained that uncanny valley described the discomfort humans feel when faced with a human-like (but not human) creation.

Had I gone to the preview alone, I'd never have known that factoid. Pays to have friends who date smart men.

During intermission, the Hatted Man About Town dropped by to chat. When I explained that I had my date by default because his beloved was in Paris, the hatted one pulled from his wealth of knowledge to inform us that both Paris (the original walled city, at least) and Richmond are approximately 60 square miles.

"It's all about density," he explained, setting off some pretty funny riffing on the pleasures of density.

Mid-laughter, a man approached the table and addressed the hatted one. "Hi, we're friends on Facebook but we've never met." My night was made when the hat responded, "Then why are we friends?"

As one who refuses to accept a friend request from people I don't know in real life, it was a question after my own heart and pretty hilarious to boot.

We left him with his new friend to peruse the silent auction items and bid where appropriate before intermission ended.

The second act began memorably. "We're fine with you masturbating, Gerard," Melissa Johnston Price said to major laughter in a scene from the upcoming "Body Awareness," which looks fierce ("You're 55 and you've never read "Crime and Punishment!").

Mental note: see this play.

Desiree Roots did the classic "My Funny Valentine" off of her latest album, "Don't Ever Stop Dreaming," wowing the crowd with her beautiful voice while Carl Lester dazzled on jazz guitar.

It looks like we'll get another provocative Israel Horovitz play this season, "Unexpected Tenderness," an impassioned look at the anger-driven patriarch of a family with some impressive acting talent.

Artistic director Carol Piersol took the stage in sequins, raving about the past year being the best ever for a theater company's first year, a fact verified by anyone who'd been in the audience. You know, like me.

The final portion of the evening was left in the capable red finger-nailed hands of Miss Georgia Rogers Farmer, the blond queen of sass and sweetness. Or, as she put it, "I'm slutty, I'm a domestic goddess and a teacher. I hope you can learn a few things tonight." Oh, yes, and a big red flower tucked behind her ear. Classic.

That meant she began with a song about the wonders of not eating meat that segued into a brassy interlude about the pleasures of bacon ("fried heaven in a pan") and being willing to wring a pig's neck to get it.

"I told myself I wouldn't make anything for tonight, but I couldn't help myself," she explained, handing out to the audience two trays of chocolate-covered bacon for us to pass around. "If there's any left, my seat is right over there," she said pointing.

There wasn't.

I considered myself lucky when she did the '30s classic, "I Only Have Eyes for You," a personal favorite that was followed by "Sing for Your Supper" with stellar back-up by Carolyn Meade and Katrinah Carol-Lewis, all clad in feathered headbands with birds attached.

But the real gem, the number that had to be seen to be believed, was her version of the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow," complete with grinding, booty shaking and memorable lyrics such as, "Shittin' on y'all, you with the boom boom."

The evening got its final pop with the entire company doing Sondheim's "Old Friend," a tribute to the power of the people in the room, most of whom were Firehouse Theater supporters who followed Carol Piersol and BC Maupin on their inspired path to create 5th Wall.

Most friends fade
or they don't make the grade
New ones are quickly made
and in a pinch, sure, they'll do
But us old friends
what's to discuss, old friend?
Here's to us
Who's like us?
Damn few

Fortunately, there's far more than a damn few rooting for another outstanding season of 5th Wall productions.

So what happens when a woman walks into a bar to meet a fairly new friend and a brand new friend and then walks into a theater to meet another fairly new friend?

There's lots to discuss. Here's to us.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Be My Angels of Rock in 2/4

The problem with going out of town is that once you get back, you're scrambling to catch up.

Yesterday, I'd driven out to the sticks, past bright green fields with a gold-ish cast thanks to the filtered sun of a cloudy afternoon, with Tears for Fears' "Elemental" blasting. Rolling down my car window when I came to a horse pasture, I serenaded the horses at the top of my lungs with "Good Night Song."

Get some honesty
Take the best of me and then the rest let go
In every situation with its tireless rage
Step outside your cage and let the real fool show

I wouldn't subject any humans to the sound of my singing voice, but horses (and dogs) don't judge. Or if they do, they keep it to themselves.

Being in the country yielded the usual things: hearty walks, a visit from a drunken neighbor, listening to music and the pleasures of fire-stoking in front of the fire pit and alas, too little conversation.

Back in the city today, I played catch up with work, exchanging bon mots with Pru in Paris and making plans for the week. Every girl wants her dance card full.

Looking for something fun for tonight, I spied a $2 show at Capital Ale House (notable mainly because yesterday I ate at Sedona taphouse and the world knows I couldn't give a fig about taps) with Alison Self opening and Tennessee's Lost Dog Street Band headlining. Bingo.

Although I've been to scads of free shows, I always wish that instead of gratis, they'd charge a measly $2 at the door instead like tonight's. It's only fair to place some monetary value on people performing, even if it is a last minute show. They're still sharing their talent.

Arriving just as the show was supposed to start, I caught a break because it hadn't, allowing me time to order food - Maryland crab soup and a chimichurri steak salad - before it did. I hate to be "that guy" talking to the server while someone's singing.

Alison Self took the stage and briefly considered not using the mic for the small crowd, but did anyway. Her big voice took charge of the room and she kicked the evening off by saying, "Go ahead and talk if you want to."

I didn't, although there was some soup slurping and chewing going on at my table.

You never get a bad set from Alison, whether it's Kitty Wells covers ("Honky Tonk Angels"), an original waltz ("When I Feel Weak, I Pour a Strong Drink") or Tanya Tucker ("Blood Red and Going Down").

Laughing, she told the crowd, "None of my songs are happy. They're country songs!" She also pointed out that she shouldn't drink beer when she's playing cause it makes her burp. I'm inclined to think that just adds to the country feel of it all.

Kind of like when she was singing about paying for past mistakes with bitter tears, inserting the line, "And bitter beers." Probably the same ones that made her burp.

She wowed with some Patsy Cline before closing with one of her own, "I Wouldn't Kiss You If I was Whiskey Drunk." I've never been whiskey drunk, but I do understand the sentiment.

After she thanked the audience, someone called out, "Your bangs are perfect!" which was an absolutely true statement. If she cuts them herself, she's got another talent besides just being a honky tonk angel.

Next up was the western duds-wearing duo known as Lost Dog Street Band, with Ashley playing fiddle and Benjamin playing guitar and harmonica as well as drum and tambourine with his feet. Both wore straw hats and she might have even had a gun holster on her belt.

"It's a small crowd, so we'll do a different set, just stuff I want to do," Benjamin told us before educating us on the lingo of train hopping. So that you know, there are hobos, tramps and then there are yeggs, who, we learned, are the criminals of the bunch.

As you might expect from a couple who ride the rails and hitch cross-country, they had story songs as well as some personal favorites by a former collaborator, Nicholas Ridout, whom they called the best songwriter ever. There was even a Rolling Stones cover which I didn't recognize.

They got lots of cheering when they said they were going to do Hank Sr.'s "Lost Highway" and soon couples were two-stepping on the floor in front of the stage.

When their set ended, the crowd called for one more and they obliged with another Ridout because, according to Ashley, "We always close with one of Nicholas' songs."

Too bad or they could have closed with "Good Night Song." Never fear, I wouldn't have considered for a moment singing out loud.

Good night song
Played so wrong
Blame the crowd
They scream so loud so long

Hey, that's for horses.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Go Where You Wanna Go

It was mid-afternoon when the invitation to the platter party was extended. Conveniently, I had no plans.

Tee-off time was 6:30. I arrived a bit early with a salad to contribute to dinner, three purchased desserts (chocolate truffle napoleon, German chocolate cupcake, chocolate napoleon; no really) and an armful of records to share with the group.

Mind you, I stopped buying records in 1984 when I got my first CD player, so my selection covered a very minute and youthful stage of my music devotion.

Not the point on a night meant to christen and celebrate Holmes' new (old) turntable. The man known to boast of the width and breadth of his vinyl stores - 45s, EPs and albums - was finally going to have to walk the walk about his superior collection.

The occasion began with Gerard Bertrand Cote de Roses and a selection of singles culled from his eclectic offerings. When one person saw a 45 of the theme to "Love Boat" by Jack Jones, she insisted on hearing it. It sounded nothing like how we remembered it, with a disco interlude that baffled us. Only then did our host realize he had the turntable set on 33 rpm rather than 45. Hilarious.

It wasn't hard to tell what a record geek he had been in his younger days. A bottle green vinyl copy of the Police's "Message in a Bottle," the trio looking like babies on the cover. There was pink vinyl of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You." Madonna's "True Blue" from '88 presaged half of pop music since.

What I hadn't realized was that this portion of the evening was merely the warm-up, the amuse bouche, so to speak, of what was to come.

We were soon herded upstairs for cocktail shrimp and Prosecco, a means of segueing to dinner prep in which everyone participated. Only downside? Upstairs, we were back to CDs.

Brilliantly, Holmes had conceived of a rainy day indoor picnic with a menu of SausageCraft pork belly sausage with onions, potato salad and pasta salad. My spinach, bacon and strawberry salad was the only dish not likely to send us into a food coma.

My job was first cooking the onions and then the sausage while the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" wound its exquisite harmonies through the many rooms in Holmes' house. Knowing pig pops, I requested an apron of my host and was given a Smithfield hams one his mother had crafted from the bag a ham came in.

It had a red sash and I wore it with pride. Holmes wanted to take a picture.

Musical desserts finished the meal as we took a few bites and passed the sweetie in front of us to the right. Turns out three chocolate desserts is too much for three people after a picnic, but we persevered on with our Prosecco aiding and abetting.

Back downstairs, Homes went back to mumbling, "So cool," every time he did something with the turntable He was particularly impressed with its "stop" button for how it made lifting the needle less brutal. It was obvious the man had been too long without the pleasures of a record player.

As with dessert, we went around in circles, each of us choosing a song (occasionally two if they were on the same album) and the others having no veto power. If we had, I'd have vetoed Ace's "How Long," and missed hearing a once-overplayed song that hasn't sounded so good to my ears since the '70s.

A lot of that was hearing it on vinyl, I have to admit. Even with occasional snap, crackle and pops or skips, the sound quality was everything my ear's memory recalled. Youth.

Out of hearing songs and records we hadn't heard in years or even decades came questions, attempts at remembering factoids and trivia. Frustrated at one point trying to recall who the other two guys in Traffic were, Holmes moves away from the records and says, "People got the Internet, I got my rock book," pulling a dog-eared over-sized paperback from a  dusty shelf near a wall of VHS tapes. No, really.

Minutes later the book was disappointing him, void of the names we sought.

Someone chose the '86 Stones single, "One Hit to the Body," a song several of us admitted we'd never even heard. "This is as close to disco as I get," Holmes observed, although the guitar was so distinctively Stones that disco was more of a fleeting impression.

Naturally with people drinking and listening, there were disagreements about tempo (his turntable didn't have settings for 33 and 45 rpm, it had a variable knob so you could change speed incrementally: a DJ's turntable) and pitch.

Several of us got a kick out of an old Charlie Byrd album called, "Let Go" full of '60s pop gems. Although I'd brought Badfinger's "Straight Up" to hear "Baby Blue," I hadn't known until tonight that one of the band members was Paul McCartney's step-brother.

That's a long time to have an album and not know a fact as central as that, don't you think?

One of my picks was Graham Parker's "I'm Just Your Man" and I shared that a guy I dated once told me that the songs' lyrics described exactly how every guy wanted his woman to feel about him. I asked Holmes to listen and opine.

Listening with his eyes closed, he said, "It's Percy Sledge." Well, except it's a skinny English guy and not an American black man, but sure.

I made use of his extensive collection and efficient organizing system by challenging him. When I got a hankering for Roxy Music, he slid sideways and within 10 seconds gave me a handful of Roxy singles.

Someone else wanted Eric Clapton every which way, so we heard Cream, Blind Faith and solo Clapton. On some of the earliest stuff, I barely recognized the guitarist with his Carnaby Street mod clothes.

The Beatles "Help" was significant for the childish notation on the back of the album: "The 1st album bought by Holmes with his own money. Oct. 30, 1965." Given the cover, a discussion of semaphores ensued ("Hey, I was a Boy Scout").

Everyone wanted to know who was doing the cover of "Don't Be Cruel" (Cheap Trick) and everyone could find a favorite on the Hollies' greatest hits record.

Pawing through the shelves of records revealed overlaps: two copies of "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" and three of "Rubber Soul" (mono, stereo, import). In the Association album I'd brought were two identical copies of their greatest hits.

I made a gift of the extra to the one who chose to hear "Along Comes Mary" twice in a row. What do I need two copies of it for?

"This is where it all started, ladies," Holmes announced, playing the Bee Gees' "1st" album and  "To Love Somebody." FYI, liner notes told me that the brothers were 14 and 12 when they first signed with a label. Fetuses.

Some people occasionally got loopy uppity about taking turns choosing and even Holmes would show his dissatisfaction with someone's selection by looking at them and asking disdainfully, "Really? That's your choice?"

In other words, the musical taste police were out in full force. Funniest summation: "This whole night's been "Let's Make a Deal." All seven hours of it. No, really.

How long could this go on? As long as record lovers are willing to take turns. Late to the party, but so cool.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ranchin' and Rappin'

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. I couldn't have asked for a better evening.

The "new" was Rancho T in the former Sprout space where I spent many an evening hearing bands and meeting new friends. "The "old" was Richmond Famous, probably my favorite of all Richmond Comedy Coalition 's regular programs. The "borrowed" was the beau of my pal Pru for the second night in a row and, for lack of anything better, the "blue" was his chariot.

Our evening began with a laugh when he told me that Pru was "jealous" of our outing. Just to be clear here, she spent the day at the Musee d'Orasay and had sent him a shot of a Degas to prove it. And she, the one who is in Paris, was jealous of us? Please.

Like last night, our goal is to bring him up to speed on Richmond restaurants, but we one-upped ourselves tonight by trying a place so new I hadn't been there, either.

Hello, Rancho T.

Parking in their side lot, Beau looked down at the gravel lot and commented on how fresh and new the stones looked. Later we heard it was laid today. Now that's fresh.

Inside, the interior was proof positive why it took two and a half years to open. Every detail was well-conceived and executed, from the southwestern-toned paint palette on the walls to the handsome, handcrafted beer tap system looking like a piece of sculpture to the intricately carved wooden back bar.

As we slid onto two stools near the side door, I saw a familiar smiling face behind the bar ("It's so good to have you in front of me") and by the end of the evening, I'd run into the storytelling queen, the painter, one of the owners, the poetry mistress and the haiku writer. Already, it's a popular place.

Deciding on drinking was as easy as ordering a bottle of the one pink on the menu: Le Rose di Regaleali Sicilia, a deep pink with a nose of rose petals and a rich taste.

Their menu had several things going for it, including affordability and intriguing sounding choices, but it scored highest with me because it offered options.

The pork chop plate was available with one or two chops, providing me with a rare opportunity to have an appropriately-sized entree (after being reminded that I never order entrees). A sunny side up egg topped the tasty chop along with a cilantro salad and chili sauce, with sides of criollo rice and a bowl of escarole and beans.

Beau chose chickpea and spinach chili in guajillo sauce and fortunately, he's the kind of friend who believes that all plates are shared plates. His chili was stellar, a satisfying combo of textures and flavors with just enough heat to announce itself. We divvied up my sides so he could enjoy as much of them as I did.

While we were eating, a couple came in and took the stool beside me, him hovering as they got a drink and chatted. When I heard her ask incredulously how it was that he didn't know about tomorrow's Arbor Day show, I spun around and chimed in, giving aid to the sisterhood.

He stammered something about having seen Avers before, but we made it clear a Pumphouse show was too good to miss. "Sunday is National Pinhole Camera day and I'm bringing mine tomorrow," she told us both. When I shared this with Beau, he quipped, "The best cameras are pinhole cameras."

Best of all, he's not just astute, he's got a sweet tooth. We agreed that the point of savory courses is to set us up for sweet and chose two: orange caramel pie and today's daily dessert, an orange chocolate ancho pie.

The orange caramel was lovely, not overly sweet or orange and divine with the thick caramel smear on the plate. But, holy moley, the chocolate ancho was a religious experience. Extremely dense (one of us would anchor the slice while the other carved off a piece), it registered as deeply chocolate at the start but once swallowed, left behind a cloud of heat in the back of our throats that intensified for the next minute or so.

"Forget hair of the dog," he joked, "That's the hoof of the mule kicking!" There was no better way to describe the delayed heat of each bite. My vote is for it to go on the regular dessert menu, none of this "daily special" business.

Behind us arrived a steady stream of people but we ignored them to share our pasts - my circuitous career and his circuitous personal life - as the place filled up and a line formed by the door. At the bartender's suggestion, I did a walkabout to see the "green room" and what was beyond the sea of bodies near the bar.

All of a sudden, we were pouring the last of the Rose down because we had places to be.

DJ Black Liquid was the featured guest at Richmond Comedy Coalition's "Richmond Famous" and we arrived to take front row seats for the spectacle. I'd heard him play music before but not talk about his life.

He began spinning what he called his "rapper shit stories," saying, "I'm gonna leave the grimiest parts out maybe or maybe not," putting us in stitches almost immediately. "I blink and I wake up and I'm buck naked in a blanket. True story."

Buck naked is a continuing theme when I'm out with Beau it seems. I don't know what to make of that.

Once Black Liquid finished his story, Richmond Comedy Coalition's talented band of improvisers took the stage to riff on it, calling out east coast rappers, thug life, entourages and every other rapper cliche imaginable.

At one point, Black Liquid was doubled over laughing, saying, "Oh, man!" from his chair on the side of the stage.

But he got up to tell another story, this one about how before he gave up drinking and drugging, he wanted to kill everybody. "But you can't kill all your problems."

He and his brother decided to go to South by Southwest where they scored a bottle of Maker's Mark, some PBR ("Because we're from Richmond") and ended up "lost in a sea of white women."

Then it was advice time. "This is some rapper shit," he explained. "If you ever need weed, go to the bathroom."

Needless to say, this provided all kinds of fodder for the comedians who took it and ran with it. There was a skit about stoned out-of-towners endlessly ogling the food cart menus. Uh, what's a Tripe Called Quest taco like?. One boneless thugs and harmony taco, coming up.

"Um, what's in this KRS A-1 Sauce anyway?"

I burst out laughing when one guy asked one of the stoners at the taco truck where he was from and he said Richmond. "How's that whole riverwalk thing going for you there? Any retail yet?" That's some brilliance right there to pull that kind of topical humor out of your ass when you're onstage.

And it wasn't just me. Black Liquid and Beau were laughing at lots of it, too.  Leaving, we marveled at how brave and quick they had to be to come up with these skits immediately after hearing the guest's stories.

I couldn't do it, just like I could never sing karaoke. "Me, either. How much would you have to drink to do it?" Beau asked as we walked to the car.

Honestly, enough that I'd wake up buck naked in a blanket in a sea of white women. And that, my friend, is not going to happen.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Steady as She Goes

If you're going to borrow someone's beau, better to begin barefoot and buck naked.

It's not as tawdry as all that; I had two theater tickets and he had no plans. All I had to say was "Hey, handsome, wanna go?" to get a response of "All you have to do is call me handsome and you've got me for the evening."

Now I know why his girlfriend calls him easy.

He was gracious enough to pick me up and let me choose where to eat, so I'd say he's not just easy, he's chivalrous, too. I kept it close by directing him to the Rogue Gentlemen, a place he hadn't been before, knowing he likes a well-crafted cocktail.

So while his main squeeze is dining in Paris tonight, I'm broadening his horizons (and eating Chef Aaron's food, of which I'm quite fond), all in the name of friendship.

With an early curtain to catch, we got started as soon as he got off work, nabbing a parking space directly in front of the restaurant and becoming only the fifth and sixth customers inside.

Few places in town make an effort visually with their menu - L'Opossum and Perly's being the exceptions that come to mind - but I'm going to have to put the Rogue Gentlemen's cocktail menu right up there in the running.

Resembling a fan magazine, on the front was a photograph of an impossibly young Richard Gere with headline teases all around, while inside was a fold-out of a more mature Gere in bed, strategically draped with a sheet, each body part numbered to correspond to a cocktail.

That's when my companion succumbed to the passion flower-infused gin-based "Barefoot and Buck Naked" (corresponding to his toes) while I did the usual pink with Jean Luc Columbo "Cape Bleue Rose," a complex pink his sweetheart would have loved.

With the Raconteurs and the like playing overhead, we ate our way through a succession of small plates until sated while he regaled me with tales from his college days and tales from the Treehouse Apartments.

Food-wise, his first choice was roasted artichokes, getting the star treatment with guanciale, dots of saffron custard, fava beans (but no nice Chianti) and hazelnut while I dove right in the deep end with fried chicken skins drizzled in harissa honey, chives and cilantro.

While he might have initially been a tad appalled at my less than healthy pick, he was also soon raving about how well the two dishes complemented each other.

Dare I say my mouth knows what I'm doing?

Once we stopped eating with our fingers (it's fried chicken, for crying out loud), I was treated to photographs he'd been sent of the Alps (coincidentally enough, her comment had been about what a schlep they must have been for the von Trapps to cross; hello "Sound of Music" last night) and my friend's opulent Venetian and Parisian hotels, the latter with a round bedroom.

Much as we adore her, we could only ogle and envy for so long before returning to the business at hand: stuffing our faces.

Sea bass crudo got both our attentions with asparagus and tarragon gremolata, but it was piquancy of the pickled red onions and the creaminess of the roe aioli that made it one of the finest raw dishes I'd ever had.

Salt cod dumplings in fish head broth with pickled shrimp, soffrito, potatoes and olive oil dazzled us least despite the savory broth.

With only a half hour left before we needed to be at the Singleton Center and the restaurant now almost completely full (must have happened while we were gabbing), it was time to move on to a sweet course.

Even from her perch inside a round room in Europe, Pru would have known what I was going to order off the dessert menu and I didn't disappoint.

My dark chocolate cremeux got a savory twist with pickled rhubarb, whipped ricotta and vincotto, nothing more than cooked wine, but sounding much so more exotic in Italian.

Being a man, he somehow preferred his red miso panna cotta with crushed Virginia peanuts, caramelized white chocolate, black sesame honey and lime butterscotch but we both agreed that it was the butterscotch that lifted the custard to something special.

Then, like the wind, we were gone.

Finding parking was challenging because of an unexpected event at the Siegel Center (wait, I thought basketball was over?), but we snagged a spot and he did a pretty decent job of parallel parking for a guy who's lived too long in the hinterlands (can you say Ladysmith?).

High-tailing it to the theater was a trip down Memory Lane for him since it had apparently been eons since he'd walked through campus, not that much of it could look the same as it had in the '80s.

We arrived at the theater just as the ushers had closed the house so we were led upstairs to enter from the top and back so as not to disturb anyone. "Frankenstein: Dawn of a Monster" was about to begin.

The set could not have been any simpler or more central to the stage. Four long sheer drapes hung from a circular metal rod on the ceiling and were used to create a bedroom, a lab and even the great outdoors. It was brilliant.

So was the story, in many ways, which wove together the saga of Mary Shelley's life and that of her literary creation, the monster in "Frankenstein" with many of the themes of her life being transferred to her fiction.

Sad lives make the best stories, of course, and hers was plenty tragic. She was madly in love with the married Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley but he eventually lost interest. She didn't want children but got pregnant only to have her baby die. Her father all but disowned her when she got knocked up, leaving her destitute.

Plenty of fodder there.

Meanwhile, the story of the monster created and then abandoned by its creator had all the inherent tragedy of her own life: abandonment, lack of love, sorrow.

Comic relief came courtesy of Dr. Frankenstein's simple-minded assistants who supplied fresh corpses and drinking songs to wile away the time. Chandler Matkins as Benjamin was notable not just for his excellence in projecting but for his seamless shifts from comedy to drama.

And, speaking of projection, the dapper one and I opted to change seats at intermission, the better to hear the actors with our middle-aged ears (he allowed as how he'd forgotten his ear trumpet). Choosing a seat next to a woman, I commented on the obvious:  she had a record album (no cover) on her lap.

Glancing down at it, she said, "They gave it to me when I came in."

"There has to be a story there," my companion said, offering her an opening. Silence. Clearly she had no intention of telling us what it was. Pity.

We passed the time instead talking about how little our perceptions of ourselves have changed since college. How impressed we are when we open the refrigerator and see food and realize we're the ones who made that happen. How we may look older but feel much like we did when we were 20.

That's a story there, too.

It was in the second act that it really became obvious who the standout in the show was: Brandon Sterrett as the Monster. From his early physical awakening as a living creature (limbs awkwardly twitching and falling) to his development as a thinking, feeling being resentful of his lot in life, he was riveting.

That he projected like a pro was icing on the cake to those of a certain age.

We walked out busily discussing the film, which was exactly why I'd invited him to join me for it in Pru's absence. Had she been with me, we'd have been doing the same.

But she's in Paris and I had custody of her easy boyfriend for a night. The barefoot and buck naked part will just be our little secret.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Some 50th celebrations are way better than others.

My friend is celebrating her big birthday in style, with a trip to Paris, a ride on the Orient Express and time in Italy. The last thing I expected was to hear from her while she was gone.

OMG! Girl! I'm drinking the rest of the wine from dinner and Prosecco (lord) but all is well in Venice as it is, back streets, waterways and the square. It's all good. Wish you were here. I kind of channeled you for a minute or two when I was in dire straights here and there. Hmm, what would Karen do? Worked every time.

True, she's in Venice and I'm in Richmond, but her unexpected message made my day. Ask anyone who knows me. I'm a sucker for words.

First it made me stand up a little taller, knowing I was being channeled on the other side of the pond. Then I crossed my fingers hoping that doing what I would do doesn't get her in any trouble. It's been known to happen.

So while she's probably being complimented by Italian men (one of my favorite parts of being in Italy) and drinking great wine (my second favorite part), my evening was spent celebrating the 50th anniversary of "The Sound of Music."

I kid you not.

She's probably eating hand-rolled pasta at some quaint little trattoria on the edge of the square with Italian love songs playing softly in the background while I was digging into black bean nachos at 821 Cafe alongside the bearded, pierced and tattooed crowd while loud thrash music played.

I've got no idea what she might do afterwards - the opera perhaps? an after dinner drink on a corner patio? - but I doubt she had the option of going to one of the 50th anniversary screenings of the restored version of "The Sound of Music" like I did.

That's right, the hills were alive, right here in Richmond.

TCM was presenting the special screenings for two days (this past Sunday and today) for two screenings each day. And, yes, Robert Osborne, looking, and especially sounding, as old as dirt provided the intro and commentary afterwards.

Honestly, I had no expectations of how many people might show up for an over-priced chance to see a 50-year old movie that lasts three hours, but a good-sized number did.

And let's think about that run time for a moment, shall we? Ah, 1965 when audiences had the attention span for films that long. As it was, tonight's audience couldn't have been further removed from the one this movie had been made for, talking whenever they pleased, looking at their cell phones throughout and a few even leaving at intermission.

Some people were clearly raised by wolves.

Me, I just sat back and enjoyed it for all the same reasons I've watched it with pleasure for decades.

Corny or not, I like Rodgers and Hammerstein's songs. Beautifully shot, the scenery of Austria is breathtaking. It's not only based on a true story, but the unlikeliest of romances. And Christopher Plummer at age 35 was, to use a friend's phrase, a good-looking hunk of man meat.

But as many times as I've seen it, apparently I needed Robert Osborne to fill me in on fun facts about the classic.

How Julie Andrews kept getting knocked down from the helicopter's down draft while filming the opening scene on the mountaintop. How using seven kids presented unique problems such as one kid growing six inches during filming and the two youngest losing a total of four teeth during shooting (they capped the lost teeth for continuity's sake). How Plummer was drunk in the last scene.

Hardly surprising that the classically trained actor who referred to the movie as "The Sound of Mucous" needed to tipple to get through the shooting.

Meanwhile, my friend is tippling in Venice and channeling me. That's my kind of 50th celebration.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Forever Is Just a Day

Seven hours in the car today. I covered a lot of ground.

In spite of an early start, it was a beautiful day to drive to the Northern Neck to visit the parental units and see the lilac and Candytuft in bloom.

Among today's accomplishments: planted herbs for Mom on the screened porch, helped Dad locate a nursery that carries the dwarf flowering cherry tree he covets and not only baked a pound cake but taught my clueless mother what patty melts were (they then had them for dinner).

When I got back into Richmond, I had exactly enough time to get cleaned up, answer two e-mails and leave for D.C. Tonight was the Hurray for the Riff Raff show at the 9:30 Club that I'd bought tickets for all the way back on December 16th.

Good things come to those who wait.

While the last thing I wanted to do was climb back in the car, I wasn't about to miss the show. A music critic friend had told me that they'd been spectacular at South By Southwest, impressing those who caught their shows and leaving those who didn't full of regret.

And in what had to be the luckiest of circumstances, I found a parking spot on the side of the venue, four cars from the front door. Not bad at all.

I'd barely found a place near the stage when opener Son Little took the stage. The trio was fronted by lead singer/guitarist Aaron wearing a baseball hat and shirt that said "Rucker" on the front. Since Aaron is black and his bassist and drummer white, the joke could have been a reference to Hootie and the Blowfish. Or not.

All I know is he had a soul-smooth voice and a bluesy guitar while most of the songs were pure pop, well-crafted songs. Even so, he didn't hesitate to mention "kids dying in the streets every day it seems lately," both in lyrics and between song patter.

He was especially excited about playing "Oh, Mother" because the video is being released tomorrow by the Wall Street Journal (he joked about that). "It's got a lot of wolves in it. I get upstaged by wolves."

When he said he was going to play a quiet song so we'd have be quiet, the crowd obeyed. "That's good. If you aren't quiet, I'd have to start abusing the audience."

"Abuse us!" the loudmouth behind me called out. "Now, no," Aaron said, shaking his head in frustration. "Man, I never saw that coming." Mid-way through the quiet song, he moved away from the microphone to center stage and projected out across the room un-amplified.

Favorite song: the heartbreaking "The River."

After his set, I scanned the room, noticing a girl near me with a backless dress and lots of tattoos. In a room full of conservative and prim looking D.C. types, she seemed very Richmond. Then I looked at her date and he actually looked familiar, although I couldn't place him.

After a few minutes, he came over because he'd recognized me, too. It was Zac from the Green Boys and Red Light Rodeo. I told him I always see someone I know when I'm out of town for shows. "That just means you have good taste," he explained matter-of-factly.

For the record, he also made sure to tell me I missed a good show last night at Gallery 5.

After he returned to his friend, I overheard the guy behind me - dressed in a matching tie dye t-shirt and knit cap - tell his companion, "This is so great we can do this on a Tuesday!"

What was so great was that Alynda Lee Segara had just taken the stage alone with her acoustic guitar and thanked us for coming out tonight.

"I'm going to start the set all by myself, if that's okay," she said to a rapt audience who stayed absolutely silent while she sang, "The New San Francisco Bay Blues."

It was a stunning start to a stellar set. Her band came out - keyboards, drums, bass and fiddle - for the second song, "Blue Ridge Mountain," which she called a song about doing more than you thought you could.

I echo that sentiment, albeit not in song given my tuneless voice.

The band's sound was much fuller than on the records I'd heard, a rich complement to hers.

"This is a song about not giving up on your dream," she started and then changed course. "Look at all of you! It's a Tuesday night, do you know that? I never thought this many people would come out to hear me sing!"

The bouncy ode to trouble-making, "I Know It's Wrong (But That's Alright)" got couples dancing and the rest of us moving in place. She dedicated "Body Electric" to the Mayors for Peace participants, with whom she said she'd walked a bit and some of whom were in the house tonight.

Her band was terrific and she'd throw the attention on the fiddle player's solos or the keyboard player's impressive finger work every chance she got. Talking about how close the band was from living in a van together, I envisioned her and the female bass player slipping away on occasion to do girly things. Thrifting, maybe? Talking about the boys?

"I'm one of those un-f*ck the world people," she shared. "Some people say 'f*ck the world' but I say un-f*ck it." With her bangs, long hair and bow barrettes, she looked kind and gentle enough to be on the "un" side of things.

She told us that "Crash on the Highway" had been written while on the road in Germany and missing New Orleans terribly, something that came through in every line.

Saying she was going to do a song about one of her heroes, John Lennon, she said it was also about Yoko. "I'm trying to spread the gospel of Yoko. It's all about love," she said, prefacing the gorgeous song.

Favorite lyric: "Love can make a change in man."

She even thanked the 9:30 Club. "Thank you for the cupcakes. Did you know they do that sometimes?" Sure didn't, but of course they'd do it for someone as charming as she was, someone talented enough to cover Lucinda Williams' "People Talkin" and make it her own.

No one moved when she said goodnight so of course the band came back for a brief encore and another fond farewell to the adoring crowd.

Even the prospect of another two hours in the car couldn't harsh the mellow I had after such a satisfying evening of music. I loved everything about the band's genre-crossing sound.

According to the band's philosophy, that makes me the riff raff. Traveling riff raff at that.

Apparently great taste knows no mileage limitations.

Monday, April 20, 2015

When Generations Collide

Ask a Gemini if she's A or B, and she'll answer honestly that she's a little bit of both.

Which means when I went to see a film about the generation gap, I found myself alternately siding with both ends of the spectrum.

When I saw the previews, I was immediately attracted to Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young," the story of a middle-aged couple questioning where they'd wound up in life and their subsequent friendship with a 20-something couple they meet.

Sure, I could relate to Ben Stiller's character's resentful attitude when he's told he has arthritis and needs glasses. I'm not above complaining when I feel like my body has betrayed me simply because of how much time I've been on the planet.

But I was also in sync with the young couple's desire for simplicity. In one scene, the two couples are deep in conversation when no one can remember a fact. The middle aged guy immediately pulls out his phone to look it up.

"No, that's too easy. Let's just not know what it is," the 25-year old insists. Yes, please, let's go back to a world where we don't automatically look up everything we don't know or can't recall.

I could appreciate how appealing the older couple found hanging out with the millennials to be. I've got far more friends under 30 who are  interested in the music and lifestyle I lead than I do friends my own age.

One thing the middle-aged couple found so appealing about the younger one was their openness to everything, a trait that, sadly, often fades with time and life experience.

On the other hand, the millennials had no compunction about appropriating anything that appealed to them, shamelessly "borrowing" bits of pop culture they'd not experienced or even had much knowledge of and passing it off as their own.

Honestly, I like that so many 20-somethings prefer records to digital music, ride bikes rather than drive and raise chickens for eggs. I liked it in the movie and I like it among my Richmond friends.

But it wasn't hard to relate to the middle-aged relationship either, with the woman telling her husband that she longs for how it was when they first met and he wrote her romantic e-mails daily.

By movie's end, director Baumbach had concluded that neither way was better. One was just youthful while the other more seasoned.  In other words, they're not evil, they're just young.

As far as I was concerned, the most salient point the film made was also the simplest: why do we stop doing things? That's something that's always puzzled me, too, because it seems as if once you stop - going out for live music, sliding down a banister, writing romantic e-mails - you rarely get back to those things and they're gone forever.

Which means you can be sure I'll keep on keeping on. Because no Gemini wants fewer options.

My Sunday Reader

I'm not much for suburbia, but sometimes the music calls.

A new venue, Tin Pan Alley, sits in the shadow of aging Regency Square mall and on the bill was Nellie McKay, a quirky singer I saw a few years back.

She was late taking the stage ("Sorry, traffic was a bitch"), looking adorable in a maxi empire-waisted dress that owed as much to the '70s as to Jane Austen. In fact, except for the length, it was identical to one I made in 1971 minus the pink ribbons.

She wasted no time sitting down at the grand piano and letting loose. Because her last album "My Weekly Reader" was all '60s covers, we were treated to a lot of that era's music and not just what came off the record.

I couldn't have been happier to hear "World Without Love" segue into "Georgy Girl," where she made an aside after singing the line, "Why do all the boys just pass you by? Could it be you just don't try or is it the clothes you wear?" saying, "I love that line!"

Telling us she was going to do a couple of songs from the musical "O Lucky Man," she whispered, "Don't tell anyone but if you look closely at the final scene, you'll see my mother dancing with Alan Rickman." Swoon.

Moving effortlessly between piano and ukulele playing (perfect for "If I Fell"), she didn't hesitate to start over when she made a mistake or solicit the well-behaved crowd's opinion for what she should play next. When someone called out for "I Wanna Get Married," she sang the clever and smart-assed lyrics to much laughter.

I wanna pack you cute little lunches
For my Brady bunches
Then read Danielle Steele
I wanna escape 
This rat race I've created.

At one point, she riffed on the piano itself, sharing that she'd once played Liberace's piano. "You could see yourself from every angle. He must have had very good teeth. Yes, yes, he did." Then she played "Red Rubber Ball," a Paul Simon-penned '60s gem.

She'd brought poet and "champagne communist" (an oxymoron if ever there was one) Steve Coleman with her to entertain while she caught her breath mid-set and when I couldn't wait any longer, I set off for the ladies' room, finding Nellie in the back strapping on a harmonica for her next song.

Two of the songs the crowd had requested were "Beneath the Underdog" and  "Moon River" in Portuguese and she obliged, along with "Broadway Melody" complete with trilling, after coming back for an encore that was half the length of her set.

When she took her place behind the merch table, most of her devoted fans lined up to buy something she could sign ("I'll sign most anything and Steve will sign anything"). I got her latest CD and a chance to compliment her dress and tell her how it resembled mine from 1971.

"We're married because of our dresses," she said of our bond, smiling charmingly.

See, it is the clothes you wear.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

What's the Temperature, Darling?

A watched suitcase never arrives.

So I told myself after waiting 'til the last possible minute to give up and walk over to the Mosque Landmark Altria Theater. A generous friend had double-booked himself, leading to offering me his Richmond Forum tickets.

Considering I woke up In Memphis, lunched in Chicago and still have no idea where my belongings are, I could have been excused for saying no thanks and spending a recuperative evening at home.

Here's the problem: tonight's speakers were Dr. Daniel Levitin, the guy who wrote "This is Your Brian on Music," a book I read despite enormous gaps in my musical knowledge, and the incomparable Rosanne Cash.

There was no way I could live with myself if I passed up a chance to hear these two talk, play guitar and sing from my friend's prime ninth row orchestra seats.

The best part was that the good doctor wasn't just a neuro-scientist, he was a musician.

As in, years spent as a session musician, record engineer and producer who worked on albums by Steely Dan, Joe Satriani, Chris Isaak and Blue Oyster Cult. That made him was way more than just a science nerd.

It wasn't my first Forum. Back in the '90s, I had a subscription to the Richmond Forum and saw all kinds of fascinating people speak: Dr. Joyce Brothers, H. Ross Perot (there's a flashback), even Bill Cosby (before, you know).

Twenty five years on, people still get dressed up for the Forum but it's become way more of a production. SPARC's spotlight ensemble was onstage singing and dancing Broadway show tunes like "At the Ballet" from "A Chorus Line" while people filed in and socialized. A soloist sang the national anthem and  we were off and running.

The evening was a conversation between the doctor and Rosanne who was participating not just because she's a musician but because eight years ago she was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder, had surgery (the drill bit broke while the doctor was drilling into her skull) and had to fight her way back to playing, writing and singing.

We heard a fair amount of science explained tonight, fine by me because I could stand to know more. Music serves an evolutionary purpose. Music releases a chemical in the brain called oxytocin (this got applause when mentioned). "It's a very pleasurable chemical," the doctor said.

There was humor, too, like when Rosanne said that music was currency in her family. "It's cash, you might say," the doc quipped. "Boy, I lobbed that one right at you," she laughed before telling a story about her famous father sitting in with her at the second Clinton inaugural.

When they got ready to do their first song together, "Blue Moon with Heartache," it took a minute to get the volumes right on their guitars. "Turn me down, I sound like Megadeth Lite," Rosanne said with authority.

She was very dry and funny, bossy sometimes to the doctor and almost making fun of his wealth of knowledge at other times. They were both completely engaging, with each other and the audience.

She made the point that a musician's song subject matter changes as she gets older. For her that meant writing more third person songs, more observations. "You're a better singer at 50 than you are at 30 because your whole life shows up in your voice."

I loved the visual imagery when the doctor talked about how Coltrane's musical ideas were too big for that little horn he played. "You could hear them just struggling to get out."

They played together on the moving "Etta's Song," about the 65-year marriage of one of the musicians in Johnny Cash's band and his wife Etta. "They started every day saying 'What's the temperature, darling?' and while she wasn't sure if the question was literal or metaphorical, she couldn't resist using it as a lyric.

The doctor told us the guitar he was playing was from Guitar Works and he loved it, while Rosanne shared that she'd gone to Plan 9 today for Record Store day. I'm sorry I missed that.

The room melted when they did "Seven Year Ache" and then it was intermission. During the break, people could write down and submit their questions for the Q & A afterwards.

I was surprised that so many questions were directed at the doctor but Rosanne had her share, too.

First musical memory? Running circles around the living room while her mother played "Hit the Road, Jack."

While the doc was explaining how we are able to store lyrics and musical information, he used the example of remembering obscure things such as Iron Butterfly's songs? "Innagadadavida," Rosanne shot back. "Well done," he said, clearly impressed.

"I'm old," she said to explain her wide-ranging knowledge. She'll be 60 next month, a fellow Gemini and still very attractive, tonight in a country-looking black shirt and skirt ensemble with spangles on the skirt.

I have to say the audience asked some thoughtful questions that garnered informative answers. The doc said countless studies have shown that, contrary to popular opinion, listening to music makes us less productive except in the case of manual labor and endlessly repetitive tasks.

And how about this: 5-10% of the population do not like music in any form. That's a really hard one for me to wrap my head around The doctor said it's an evolutionary thing; we can't all be alike or one microbe could wipe out the entire population. Count me thankful not to be in that 5-10%.

Or this: Music has been proven to be as effective as Valium in pre-operative situations and has fewer side effects. The doctor was a thoroughly fascinating fellow, smart, musical and very funny.

As if she hadn't already, Rosanne won me over completely when she talked about the exchange of energy between her and the audience, saying a performance was half her and half them.

"Some nights I look out and see the lights of people's phones scattered throughout the first six rows and I think, oh, it's going to be one of those nights." Believe me, Rosanne, there are those of us in the crowd who hate it as much as you do.

After the last question, she said, "We're going to send you off with one of the great folk songs," and they both picked up their guitars and began playing "500 Miles." Her voice was so ethereal and his harmonies so well-timed and subtle that I actually got goose bumps listening.

That, my friends, is why I had to go out tonight instead of sitting around waiting for my suitcase to arrive.

And, as luck would have it, it just arrived anyway, finally, at 11:45 p.m. Stick a fork in this day. I'm done.

Light in April

I can now say I've been up for morning civil twilight in Memphis, which, for those keeping track, precedes sunrise.

And a civil waking time.

But we had an airport shuttle to catch, so we had no choice. A middle-aged couple sat behind us on the shuttle and despite the ungodly hour, looked pretty happy.

When I inquired where they were from, the woman hesitated, smiled and said, "Mars." Venus and Mars jokes ensued.

"We're one of those long distance couples who met on" he informed us. "I'm from Illinois and she's from Arkansas." Although their relationship was only three months old, they were en route to Maui. My friend was sure that this meant that they were already sleeping together.

"So at least I know she won't break up with me this week," he joked. Or the week after, if only out of gratitude, I would think. When we parted, I wished her good luck and he questioned why I hadn't wished him the same.

It's all about the sisterhood, mister. You're on your own.

Our plane ride to Chicago was uneventful and once there we grabbed lunch to eat at our gate. There we found a large group of freshly-minted sailors, male and female, dressed in their bell-bottom blues and looking impossibly young.

Apparently our seas are being maintained by teenagers. This was news to me.

Once on the plane, we were delayed because the plane was overweight and needed to be adjusted.  While in the air, I finished my Jacques Pepin book and napped intermittently, still tired after that crack of dawn wake-up call and less than six hours of sleep.

High in the sky, my friend shared her grandmother's secret to longevity (she lived to be 103): box wine and peanut butter. If it were only that easy.

It was back on the ground that the U.S. Navy caught up with us. At baggage claim, the only things coming off the conveyor belt were duffel bags, most of them camouflage duffel bags. Turns out that when a plane's overweight, it's the civilian bags that are jettisoned, not the Navy's.

A long line quickly formed at baggage claim where we were told that our bags would hopefully make the trip from Chicago on one of the next couple of flights and be delivered to our houses tonight. One woman was half hysterical because her special food was in her suitcase and it was perishable.

My friend had the right attitude. "At least it didn't happen on the way there."

And she calls me a Pollyanna. True, the make-up and cute summer dresses can be replaced, but I'd hate to lose the Faulkner that I actually got to read in Oxford.

Or maybe it's the perfect southern Gothic finish to my first trip to Tennessee and Mississippi.

Requiem for a suitcase with caution and dispatch. It's a fable, of course.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sound and Fury Meets Soul

Early morning thunderstorms signaled the start to our second day in Oxford.

Unfortunately, they also meant we couldn't walk to our third John Currence restaurant, Big Bad Breakfast, not because I didn't want to (I love walking in warm weather rain) but because the missus was feeling poorly (see: last night's balcony revelry) and needed food STAT.

BBB, as it's known in these parts, was southern lunch counter adorable with a surprisingly low wooden counter (like sitting in elementary school chairs) of distressed red and white paint. Booths were red and over each was a curved wooden valance. In the back hung a black velvet Elvis painting.

We were seated at the low counter just as a guy was seated next to me and soon we were getting to know each other. You know I love me some talkative strangers.

Originally from Connecticut, he's down here going to school for finance and working in a restaurant kitchen. He'd invited friends to join him when he'd woken up craving a heaping plate of big bad breakfast (an item on the menu), but they'd all taken sleep over his company.

Their loss, our gain. We quizzed him on local lore and ended up being sung the Ole Miss fight song (now I understand all those "hotty toddy" t-shirts).

When I ordered a Belgian waffle with housemade bacon, I was told the waffle came with strawberries and whipped cream. No thanks, I said, I'd prefer butter and jam.

As luck would have it, BBB serves homemade jam and today's was blueberry, so our server scooped up some in a ramekin and set it down in front of me. Our Connecticut friend told us about the blackberry version he'd had  and bought to take home - "Best peanut butter and jelly sandwich you can imagine" - and about the hour-long waits for a table on weekends.

Based on two Richmonders' breakfasts today (Friend said the hidden secret omelet was the best omelet she's had in her lifetime and the mildly spicy bacon was thick cut and expertly fried but not to crispness), we weren't surprised.

Best of all, the man himself, J.C., showed up behind the counter talking to his staff and making our pilgrimage to Oxford complete. I wanted to stand up and salute, but refrained.

Our new friend told us that customers who show up before 9 a.m. get a 25% discount on their food. That's an inspired way to get butts in seats early.

Because the three of us were northerners, we got off on a discussion of the differences between north and south. "You would never have a conversation with strangers like this in a diner in Connecticut," he said. making me sad for his home state despite his claims of it being the pizza capital of the U.S.

But he showed his loyalty to newcomers when his friends unexpectedly showed up and he sent them on their way, explaining that he was busy talking to his new friends.

Clearly he's adopted some southern qualities in his eight years in Mississippi since we talked right up until we paid our checks.

Since it was pouring down rain so not a good day to further explore Oxford, we decided to head up Route 7 to Memphis, eventually driving out of the puddle zone.

On the way out of town, I spotted a car with an RVA bumpersticker. That's some reach.

Back in Soulsville, we parked the car and walked around looking for action. The Center for Southern Folklore was closed, so Friend suggested we head back to the Peabody Hotel for bubbles and duck-watching, as good a plan as any.

With the player-less grand piano providing a Great American songbook accompaniment, we sipped Louis Perdrier Brut Rose, which arrived with a plastic drink stirrer with a duck atop it and placed upon a linen bev nap for a formal touch.

The Peabody is nothing if not southern and gracious.

Watching the hotel ducks swim the fountain, shake their tail feathers and entertain the guests was just the kind of brainless relaxation my hungover friend was craving.

By late afternoon, we knew to head out to avoid the crush of visitors for the duck march and get some lunch over in Cooper Young, the hip little 'hood we'd visited a couple of days ago.

We even parked in exactly the same place, directly in front of the same distinctively named shop: "Me and Mrs. Jones." Only in Memphis could that be a shop name.

Chef Ryan Trimm's "Next Door" (so named because it's next to his hot Sweet Grass restaurant, duh, next door) was on our radar for upscale bar food and it didn't disappoint with luscious green walls, the Velvet Underground blasting overhead and a long bar with an affable bartender.

Given last night, it seemed wise to begin with something hearty such as dirty fries, a deep bowl of enormous hand-cut steak fries smothered in pulled pork, sauteed greens and onions, Pecorino-Romano and a drizzle of Sriracha, that would be right at home in Richmond (hint, hint).

Next came matching salads of arugula, honey walnuts, blue cheese and caramelized onions, except she wanted chicken on hers and I had to have Benton's ham. Chicken over ham? Not me.

We wolfed down our food with Cokes, a sure sign of a late night's overindulgence, and dissected the menu and decor since there was nobody else at the bar to get to know at the moment.

Properly fortified, we spent the next hour cruising the neighborhood, a charming one where no two houses were identical. Lots of stone, lots of porches and all with multi-level rooflines. So unlike home.

Coming to a big, old elementary school, I saw that there were separate entrances for boys and girls on opposite sides of the handsome building, the words "boys" and "girls" carved into the stone over the respective doors.

Since it was after 5, we passed more than a few dog walkers including an adorable 8-month old beagle I had to stop and pet. At one house, a dog lounged in the big bay window, looking up when someone interesting went by.

To our Richmond-centric eyes, the neighborhood reminded us a little of a northside/southside hybrid, albeit one with architectural variations we'd never seen.

Just as foreign to our eyes was their booze bus, already cruising the strip during happy hour, dubbed the 'Roo and featuring a giant kangaroo lounging on top of the bus, martini glass in hand. Not sure how you explain that to the kids, but not my problem.

I'm just here to take in Memphis and have conversations in diners with strangers. Not a worry in the world.

Because the Night

Oops, we did it again.

Get lost, that is, albeit in the tony outskirts of Oxford which means houses with real gas lamps, landscaped yards and owners saying hello in deep southern drawls. But with persistence, we find our second John Currence restaurant, SnackBar, set in a mid-century strip mall with a Sears and a hip yoga place.

Granted, we were also 15 minutes late for our reservation, but everyone was nice to us about it.

Here's one big difference between home and here: easily 60-70% of the men here wear sports jackets everywhere. We'd seen it walking around the Square but dinner confirmed it (as did asking locals). It's look so old school to us, but apparently that's just how it's done in the south.

SnackBar was billed as a "bubba brasserie" and had a definite brasserie feel with a prominent raw bar, lots of oak and booths and dim lighting. Oh, yes, and mounted deer heads on the paneled walls.

Repeating ourselves in the best possible way, we began with Bouret Cremant de Loire and oysters from New Jersey and Rhode island, both brinier than last night's Alabama offerings.

Across the street from the restaurant, we'd seen a hand-painted sign saying "Local crawfish" which inspired us to try Creole spice-roasted asparagus  and crawfish vinaigrette. If that's how they do asparagus here, we're down with it.

Switching to Domaine Houchart Rose, she moved on to roasted red fish (mainly because she wanted the black eye pea polenta)  while I had the classic brasserie sandwich Monte Cristo served with frites.

My friend was bowled over with the frites because they were dusted in paprika, her latest obsession (it had also been a major component in our pork shanks the night before). Her assessment: "Paprika is the new black."

I have to admit, she's often right about these things.

We'd hoped to save enough room for a southern cheese plate afterwards, but alas, were too stuffed. Leaving the restaurant after dark, she wondered if we'd be able to see along the residential route we'd taken, but thankfully well off Oxonians keep their streets well lit for loopy visitors.

Since it was our last night in Oxford, we had no intention of going right back to the hotel so we made our way to the Square where things were mighty lively. Cabs sat idling waiting for drunk passengers and couples in jackets (him) and ridiculously high heels (her) passed us on all sides.

Our destination was the balcony at City Grocery which we'd been told was "the" place to have a drink. The robust man who greeted us when we got upstairs oozed southern hospitality and somehow managed to find us a tiny two top on what looked like an already capacity balcony.

I decided to forsake wine for Heradurra and she left France behind for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ("Wow, that's really different from where we were," she said puckering her lips), which we sipped from our prime table at the front of the narrow balcony looking over the Square.

While she was getting more wine, I overheard behind me, "East Mississippi is the worst. Hell, it's really Alabama."

When I came back from fetching more tequila, I found myself behind a guy with long hair and a t-shirt reading, "Faulkner's Sexuality." Of course I stopped to read it, front and back, meeting its wearer along the way.

A feisty redhead plopped herself down at the table next to us with two guys she didn't know (their girlfriends had departed 10 minutes earlier), turned and looked at me and said, "Ooh, I love your dress." Once I told her it was $2 thrift store find, she wanted to fist bump me. Then I heard about how for her recent 35th birthday, she'd treated herself to seven dresses at a thrift store for $50.

Clearly she wanted a pat on the head so I gave it to her.

Another big difference down here is people can still smoke in bars and they do. The birthday girl shared a massive cigar with strangers while all around us, cigarettes burned in hands. Fortunately, there was a good breeze on the balcony and smoke was never an issue.

A large lamp with green glass was mounted on the outside of the balcony railing, lending a vintage touch to the simple wooden structure.

Sometime after our second round, the rambunctious group behind us stopped knocking into us and decided to befriend us.

Slade was their ringleader and while his cig had come dangerously close to me far too many times earlier and his hip had knocked into the back of my head with alarming regularity, he turned out to be a blast.

Even better, he manages the Square's bookstore, a place we'd already visited today. When he heard we were from Richmond, he grabbed a chair, pulled it up and enthused, "Okay, let's talk Shaka."

Since I'm not in the least sports oriented, this could have been a conversational snore for me except that Friend and I had already had a long talk about Shaka's departure. I'd even discussed it with my parents over Easter. Believe it or not, I'd even read a little about it all.

So for a change, I could participate in sports talk.

Because of Ole Miss, eventually the talk moved to their sports mania, something we'd ascertained based on the grandiose football and baseball stadiums we'd seen while walking around campus, which reeks money and athletic devotion.

"We took 'em to Memphis to strip clubs and got in a whole lotta trouble for that," Slade explained about the unpleasantness with the football team a while back before taking a swig of his Amstel Light. "Got us on probation."

He introduced us to his friends, all locals and all unabashed Oxford devotees since moving there.

One woman had on a cute red top and when I told her it looked exactly like something I wore in 1988, was thrilled, saying in her distinctive drawl, "Aw, that makes me so happy to he-ah that!"

Turns out that the balcony at City Grocery attracts the older set and tourists early but after 9ish reverts to the province of the locals, so we were lucky to have been allowed out there.

In fact, the only reason we eventually said our farewells was because we still had to walk home and wanted to make sure we could. Our new friends assured us that we'd be perfectly safe, in fact that we wouldn't even be able to find the unsafe areas if we tried.

Obviously, they don't know our navigational record.

But we did make it home with only one pit stop, probably laughing and talking a bit too loud in certain neighborhoods for the hour, but all in one piece.

Back in our room with the windows open, we devoured her Memphis-bought chocolate chip cookies while recapping the night.

"I was really impressed with you joining in the sports discussion!" she said then and again this morning.

I may not be a sports fan but I can play one in conversation.

At least I can when there's a soft Mississippi breeze on an Oxford balcony with enough Heradurra and good company to make anything seem possible.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

That Will Be Fine

So long, Memphis, hello Oxford!

After sleeping in, we made a stop at Brother Juniper's, a hippie breakfast hangout on the campus of University of Memphis that came highly recommended, although no one mentioned all the pictures of Jesus and saints on the walls.

Luckily, lightening did not strike me dead for going in.

I went strictly southern, choosing biscuits with sorghum molasses and sides of bacon and country ham to start my day. Then we hit the highway for Mississippi, which couldn't have been more verdant looking.

Our hotel turned out to be right in the middle of the Ole Miss campus, which means centrally located but we have to dodge students with backpacks and ear buds at every step. They do smile a lot, though.

Oxford is every bit as charming as we expected and downtown a short walk from the hotel. My friend says it reminds her of Charlottesville with plenty of pricey boutiques and restaurants.

At a t-shirt shop, her eye was caught by a "Reagan/Bush" t-shirt while my eyes popped at a red, white and blue one with the slogan, "Winner of two world wars: U.S."

If that gives you any idea of the local tone.

The Square is every bit as picaresque as it must have been a half century ago and we wandered around it trying to get some sense of the town, eventually landing hot and sweaty at John Currence's City Grocery for lunch.

Besides Beauty Shop, it was easily the most attractive space we've eaten on this trip with old wooden floors patched with metal sheets, long benches down both sides, the backs upholstered in Persian rug-patterned fabric, an all-window front wall with two shelves above, one for books, one for wine and enormous colored glass hanging lamps down the center.

The old, original City Grocery sign set on a shelf back near the bar lending a gravitas go the space.

We'd arrived at the end of the lunch rush, so before long it was just us enjoying corn muffins and a side of baked red peas with green tomato chow chow made decadent under a cloud of buttermilk whipped cream and shivering a little in the air conditioning after our hot walkabout.

For lunch, I chose a hanger steak salad with black beans, grilled corn, romaine, tortilla strips and green chili vinaigrette, a practically perfect combination of flavors and textures to my taste. I know there are those who were hoping I'd be eating possum now that I'm in ole Miss, but we couldn't find a possum purveyor.

By the time we left, we were both freezing so more than happy to go back out into the hot Mississippi afternoon where we went directly to an ice cream shop to get cups to eat on an outdoor bench. Better cold outside than inside.

Since we're in Faulkner central, we felt compelled to walk out to Rowan Oak, the writer's home from 1930-62. Yes, we got a bit lost along the way but we also got a chance to admire the distinctive architecture of the area.

Like Memphis, there are many houses that reference the mid-west more than the east coast. Lots of stone, plenty of carports, far more arts and craft-influenced houses and windows, all that sort of thing.

One particularly striking thing here is church-influenced architecture in houses with steeply-sloped rooflines, belfries and spires on residential dwellings. We saw some beautiful houses on our walk, all the more so because azaleas, dogwoods and iris were in bloom in neighborhoods with huge, mature trees and bushes.

After first winding up at a dead end, we finally found Rowan Oak and took the striking path lined with oaks that leads to the very southern-looking house and grounds (stables, out buildings). Turns out Ole Miss is renovating the house (a literary historical landmark, natch), meaning scaffolding and workmen.

Despite all that, there was a serene quality to the property and it was easy to imagine Faulkner getting away from the locals by burying himself just far enough away from the city center to write without interruption.

After a meandering walk back, there was really only one thing to do. If I'm not going to make time to read from the "Collected Stories of William Faulkner" in Oxford, then where?

Section 1: The Country, first story, "Barn Burning." Next up, "Shingles for the Lord." windows open, soft, warm Oxford spring breeze wafting in.

Don't forget to call me for supper.

Fork and Map

Let's be real here, this trip is as much about food tourism as anything.

We chose tonight's dinner destination because Garden and Gun magazine recommended the farm to fork Bounty on Broad as simple but elegant with everything served family style.

Being hearty eaters, we like platters of food.

Choosing the bar over a table, we settled in with a bartender who had helped open the place last October but was a little standoffish for our our taste. Or maybe we just prefer friendly, chatty barkeeps. Talk to us, we're gregarious.

Since it's our last night in Memphis for a few days, we celebrated with Prosecco and oysters to start. The Prosecco was poured into classic champagne coupes for a vintage feel.

Of all the unlikely oyster offerings, one was from the James River (buttery with a touch of salt), about the last thing we expected in Memphis.

The other two were buttery Turtlebacks and slightly salty 'Bama Beauties, both from Alabama. They were served with pecan cheese crackers, a nice southern touch.

How can you not feel festive when you begin with bubbly and bivalves?

We were joined at the bar by a lovely lesbian couple ("Well, if they're not, they missed their calling," my friend said, riffing on an old family friend's stock comment) and a guy with his motorcycle helmet in hand in need of an old fashioned.

Concerned about her food options, my traveling companion inquired about gluten-friendly menu options only to be told that the entire menu was gluten free. She was immediately over the moon.

For our next course we chose an arugula salad with artichokes, grana padano, hazelnuts (usually too expensive to show up on a salad) and citronette and chilled green beans with ramps (everywhere at the moment), fish sauce, sesame seeds and lime, a completely addictive dish.

Like last night's restaurant, this one had the stock reclaimed wood decor and cliched indie music, but it was lively and crowded on a Wednesday night, a plus for out of town visitors looking for some fun.

By then, it was time to move on to more substantial wine, namely Stephane Aviron Beaujolais Aviron, a fruit-forward beauty that led to a discussion of learning different wine regions in a methodical way (her, not me).

Our eventual choice for a main course was braised pork shank with collards and smoked paprika, a Fred Flintstone-like hunk o' meat on the bone in a smoky au jus. Today we have shown our true carnivore side eating meat off bones at every chance.

When Friend heard that even the dessert menu was completely gluten-free, there was no question of us not having a sweet course. Our bartender laboriously detailed our options and we chose a layered concoction of chocolate cake, mousse, whipped cream and Nutella mousse along with more Beaujolais to close out our meal.

By the time we cleared out, they were putting chairs on top of tables and their little arts district was looking pretty deserted.

Back at the hotel, we had the front desk call a cab to take us to a libation lounge along Millionaire's Row for something different.

I wiled away the time waiting to leave by attempting to play instruments I have no business touching: a Gibson traveling guitar and a grand piano. Friend wasted her time even more so trying to shoot video of my ineptitude with which to blackmail me.

When the cab was still not there 40 minutes later, we slid into the hotel bar (mainly to avoid the frat boys who'd wanted us to join them on the rooftop bar) and downed more bubbly to finish off the night.

Mostly, we talked about where we might want to eat and drink tomorrow.

If we were sending a postcard, it would be succinct: Weather is immaterial, wish we were eating.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gritty, Groovy and Gettin' It

"That's some Karen kind of shit" is a favorite expression of my friend and traveling companion.

She uses it to refer to when unexpectedly great things happen to me unexpectedly and far too often.

Leaving Richmond, we were going through security and she was directed through normal, intensive screening while I was waved through as pre-checked. Her reaction to having to remove shoes while I sailed on through? "That's some Karen kind of shit."

So this morning as we're planning our outing to the Stax Museum, we debate walking (2.9 miles each way) versus driving (when we both enjoy a good hike) and decide to hoof it.

After about a mile and a half, the neighborhood goes down dramatically and soon we're walking through a large public housing project. Everyone who passes us on the sidewalk or sees us on the other side of the fence is unfailingly friendly and polite.

About two miles in, we spot a uniformed man in front of a firehouse shouting to us asking if we're lost. Nope, we're fine.

"You need to come look at our map?" he calls. Nope, we have our direction. "You need to come look at our map!" he yells, no longer a question. We cross the street to the firehouse where 9 or 10 guys are gathered around a table.

One tells us he spotted two white women across the street and was concerned. "If you'd weighed 80 pounds, you might've been crack whores, but you didn't," he says. I assure him we're not. Another asks where we're headed.

When we say the Stax Museum, they are appalled. Apparently the next section of our walk is through an even sketchier part of town than what we just left. They insist we go back and get a car or take a taxi.

"Wait, we'll drive you," one says, standing up, "in the fire truck." Another three guys stand up, too and we head to the bay to get in Engine #5 for the ride back to the Madison Hotel.

"Ever ridden in a fire truck?" the handsome one asks. Nope, can't say that I have, but it's a pretty fine view from up there. On the way, the two firemen riding in the back with us ask where we've been so far and make some recommendations.

When we reach the hotel, my new fireman friend takes a picture of me in the truck for posterity. Another hops out to help us down, causing the doorman's mouth to drop open before he remembers himself and welcomes us back.

As the firemen wave and drive off, the doorman asks how our ride came about and is aghast that we attempted to walk to Stax. "Next time, ask me before you walk," he insists.

We wave goodbye as we head down the block to get the car and, without even looking at me, my friend says, "A ride home in a fire truck, that's some Karen kind of shit."

Whatever. I think it was the best possible outcome of our morning. We got in a two mile walk, made new friends and got to ride in a fire truck for the first time in our entire lives.

I call that a pretty frickin' fantastic way to kick off my second day in Memphis.

You must admit, a drive to the museum is pretty anti-climatic after that. Fortunately, the museum itself wasn't, but then I'm all about some downtown Soulsville.

Of course I'm going to love a museum with an R & B soundtrack blaring in every gallery, even Walter Bell, whom I saw last October at the Folk Fest.

One of the last galleries was floor to ceiling album covers, a crash course in musical history.

"The Country Preacher: The Reverend Jessie Jackson"
"Melting Pot: Book T and the MGs'"
"Presenting Isaac Hayes"
"Love Man: Otis Redding"

And my absolute fave: "David Porter: Gritty, Groovy and Gettin' It"

Per our lecture from the firemen, we then drove, not walked to Payne's Barbecue, a bastion of Memphis-style ribs.

The cinder block building was even more bare bones than Gus's Fried Chicken and yet had a simple charm to it. Plastic tablecloths, plastic blinds and Saran-wrapped cake slices on the counter made up the decor.

We each got a rib plate, meaning it came with two slices of white bread, mustard-based cole slaw and probably the best pork and beans I've ever had because there was so much shredded pork in them.

The ribs were some kind of sweet (Coca Cola? maple syrup?), almost too sweet to our taste, not that we didn't gnaw every last scrap of meat from the bones.

Next on our agenda was a stop at a nearby gluten-free bakery my friend had discovered online. Following directions, we found ourselves in a residential neighborhood. Mary's Bakery was in a house in the trendy Cooper Young neighborhood where we'd lunched yesterday.

Mary answered the door to the arts and crafts-style house and explained that she had her commercial kitchen there. Leading us in, we smelled baking and saw huge bags of flour everywhere.

It seemed odd, but maybe not for Memphis. Mary said she'd been gluten-free for 31 years and sold us a dozen chocolate chip cookies before we headed back into downtown.

Ditching the car, we walked to the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The Lorraine Motel.

It was kind of eerie seeing the bank of balconies on the motel, so familiar from photographs and newsreels of Dr. King's assassination. The museum had been built on to the side of the motel.

Beginning with the slave trade, the galleries worked through the present with interactive displays, lots of audio and video and installations such as a city bus (Rosa Parks) and a Greyhound bus (Freedom Riders) with sculptural figures around them.

I was fascinated with it all until two groups of middle school students caught up to where I was and I had to put up with teen-aged hormones confined to a museum on a beautifully sunny day. So much suffering despite their teachers' best efforts to engage them. Their favorite moment was taking pictures of each other in the recreation of MLK's jail cell.

Wandering home afterwards, our heads swirling with so much stimulus after two museums, we stopped for coffee (her, not me) on a patio and then took the path along the river (do not swim in the Mississippi, it's dangerous) back to the hotel.

The doorman smiled widely when he saw us, asking how our day had been. "You look like you've been having fun."

So far, so pretty groovy. Let's see where it goes next.

Working on My Delightful Smile

Just to be clear, unlike the masses, we are not in Memphis for the King.

The most frequent question the two of us have been asked is if we're going to Graceland. We're not.

Elvis is omnipresent here - on billboards, in graffiti ("The King is dead!"), in store windows - but doesn't much interest either of us.

What did was a walk down to admire the mighty Mississippi, so after my partner in crime took a nap while I was reading Jacques Pepin's "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, we got cleaned up to go out again.

Her funniest line? "I'm not going to wear my sneakers so I don't look like your lesbian date this time." Not that there's anything wrong with that.

After surveying the river, we headed out Front Street to Gus's Fried Chicken, one of those places they practically require you to eat at while you're here, fortunately with good cause.

The little cinder block building had a charm all its own with two long benches along each wall with tables in front of them, lots of lighted beer signs on the wall and a blackboard that read, "Today's special - fried chicken." I love a shack with a sense of humor.

My companion doesn't eat fried chicken, so I ordered four wings for myself, a Coke for her and we sat down to admire the checked oilcloth-covered tables and mismatched chairs in the dining room while my wings were fried up.

They arrived in a brown paper bag with a stack of napkins and an admonishment to sit down and eat at Gus's next time I was there. Will do.

Walking back up Front Street, I ate through all four spicy wings, crossing streets while sucking bones, feeling a little guilty because my friend can't. She asked me to compare them to other wings but they were awfully tasty and it didn't seem right to rave when she couldn't taste.

I finished shortly before we reached the Peabody Hotel where we were headed to see the march of the resident ducks, a long-standing tradition that had been recommended to us as worth seeing.

To our naive surprise, the hotel's lobby was overflowing with people there for the same reason, so many that there was nowhere for us to sit or get a drink. We admired the ducks from the balcony but decided to forego waiting for the march.

Instead, we headed to the Peabody's history room to see a video about the hotel's history dating back to its creation in 1869, relocation in 1925, closing in 1970 and renovation and reopening in 1981. There were some amazing old photographs of events in the ballroom and even footage of the duck march from years ago.

So, while we didn't see the duck march live, we saw it.

Back at our own hotel, we took the elevator to the 17th floor Twilight Bar for a celebratory glass of Prosecco and a fabulous view of not only the river, a tug pushing a barge and two bridges, but Arkansas.

Not going to lie, that was a geography lesson for us both.

One group was gathered around a roaring fire pit and at the far end, a cocktail party was going on, but for us it was enough to listen to Memphis music ("Stagger Lee" and "Me and Mrs. Jones") and enjoy our bubbles. We could see for miles and miles.

We'd decided on Hog and Hominy for dinner despite its location ten miles from downtown because of all the raves we'd read about the southern and Italian hybrid. Of course we got lost on the way there but still managed to be only 10 minutes late for our reservation.

The decor was the ubiquitous subway tile and reclaimed wood motif everyone's doing these days and they had five TV screens, but the two open kitchens, one directly in front of us, were appealing and service was friendly.

We tried one dish from each section of the menu. Buffalo pork tails and pig ears from the "house favorites" section were appropriately spicy if absent the promised celery. My friend remains unimpressed with the texture.

Nice thick stalks of asparagus from the brand-new spring 2015 menu got richness from an over easy farm egg, pig and Parmesan.

But it was the Thunderbird! 40 Twice! pizza that stole our hearts with a beautifully balanced combination of Fontina, Mozzarella, calabrese, pepperoni and honey to tame the heat on a chewy crust.

Disappointing was the music: standard indie fare rather than vintage Memphis. It was the first place that hadn't delighted us with obscure oldies from Stax and Hit Studios. Even our hotel lobby is constantly blasting songs with the Memphis horns no matter what time of day or night we pass through there.

My date stayed strong but I succumbed to the dessert menu, curious about Carol's Delightful Smile, a malted chocolate mousse in an Oreo/cream cheese crust with a crushed Whoppers topping. What was up with the name?

Seems Carol was the former pastry chef, a quiet and immensely talented woman with a memorable smile. This dessert was a tribute to her unflappability no matter the situation.

Light in mouthfeel yet rich in taste, I only finished half, no doubt partially a factor of my Gus's snack. No complaining; we ll make choices in life.

We were glad to head back into downtown where streets and neighborhood looked familiar after a day of exploring. We're really not the suburban types, even for a few hours.

After ditching the car, we walked down to Beale Street in search of the Absinthe Room, a billiards bar and home to the green fairy in Memphis. Beale was lively with cops at regular intervals and loud music and karaoke blasting from almost every door.

A woman from the Southern Foodways Alliance had suggested the Absinthe Room to us and who were we to doubt a local's opinion? I was just pleased to see an absinthe drip sitting on the bar filled with ice water when we got up there.

The bartender did everything right, lighting the sugar cube, setting the drip and before long we were sprawled out on the comfiest of leather couches, each of the billiard rooms behind us filled with guys shooting pool.

It was a handsome bar with detailed wood trim and moldings and old music posters from shows a half century ago. Smoking was allowed and a cigarette machine hung on a nearby wall near the jukebox.

First song listed on the jukebox? Elvis' "Suspicious Minds."

Needless to say, these two chicks didn't play it. The green fairy can make me do many things, but not that.