Friday, July 31, 2015

Girls of Summer

I was raised to enjoy everything about a beach getaway.

There are the signs I pass cruising down Route 460 on a Wednesday morning:

Sunday night church services (plenty of time to recover from Saturday night)
Local produce and pickling spices ('tis the season)
Pass the Salt Cafe (shouldn't the kitchen know how to season the food?)
Mutt & Jett's Country Kitchen (do millennials even get the reference?)

There's the country store where I stop to get a six-pack of RC Cola in bottles and spot a sign next to a handsome old, chipped stone jug, reading, "Not perfect but I still have character and purpose."

A steal at $20.

My destination is an orange beach cottage with red trim and a porch that fronts the ocean (although there is a road - but no house- between us and it), an outdoor shower (beach view but no sky overhead) and two of my sisters in residence.

They're two of my favorites, but our beach preferences couldn't be more different. They keep the windows closed and the A/C on, despite a constant ocean breeze, but allow me to keep my bedroom windows open as long as my door stays shut.

They're sun worshippers while I prefer to be under an umbrella and a layer of SPF 70.

I'm gone for hours walking to the Avalon and Kitty Hawk piers north and south of us, meeting people along the way and being shown how to cast nets, while neither of them walks for more than 15 minutes.

When I make an effort to rise and shine at the ungodly hour of 8:30 in the morning, I discover they've been up since 7, awaiting my entrance.

And the laugh attacks are pretty much non-stop. When you've known two women their entire lives, you have a lot of memories to share and a lot of sentences that don't need finishing. What's funny is how they - along with my other three sisters - have always counted on me to be the keeper of the memories.

What year did Mom and Dad begin taking us to the beach? What turned another sister into someone so mean? What happened the first night we met a potential brother-in-law?

While I was there, we were invited to two happy hours, one by yet another sister who'd just the day before celebrated a birthday at her cottage and then the next night by an Irish friend of Sister #2's.

As Pru would be the first to point out, what's not to like about two nights of hors d'oeuvres for dinner?

It was at the first  happy hour that the four sisters toasted with the RC Colas I'd brought, a beverage steeped in memories for all six of us. Growing up, Mom would buy one six pack of soda a week, always either Coke or preferably, RC, her favorite. Each one of us got one bottle to enjoy anytime during the week we chose to.

This was back in the olden days, kids, back before high fructose corn syrup and childhood obesity ruined everything.

There we also were entertained by Sister #3's ragtag bunch of bachelor friends, all of whom had changed their plans and come a day earlier once they'd heard about the sister happy hour on Wednesday. It's nice to know we still have that kind of draw.

When we left there to a chorus of "please stays," it was because we wanted to head to Dune Burger and gab while inhaling classic beach burgers al fresco while the sun set.

Thursday's happy hour had the benefit of an oceanfront deck (where, impressively, the outdoor shower was situated), loads of seafood (shrimp, mussels and clams) and several people we didn't know, which always makes it more fun for me. The Irish couple I especially enjoyed, as they drolly noted that they "live on an island, can't swim and don't like seafood."

Not so the rest of us, who dove in amid jokes about getting "the gout," hilarious to everyone except Sister #2 who actually got gout last year after eating seafood for 14 straight days at the beach. We all agreed that  it sounds much funnier when referred to as "the gout," although #2 didn't seem to think so.

That night, we caught a major fireworks show on the beach right in front of where we were staying, an unexpected bonus given how long it's been since July 4th. I do wonder, though, how it is that given the abundance of signs saying that fireworks are illegal in North Carolina, there are always visitors shooting them off?

Both nights were gorgeous for the brightness of the moonlight late into the night, something we took advantage of by talking on the porch until we couldn't access our nouns any longer. My only regret was that Friday was the full moon lighthouse climb, something I've been trying to do for months but it never seems to work out.

Days were spent talking and reading on the beach, all the more interesting because I'm currently reading James Fox's book, "The Five Sisters: The Langhornes of Virginia," a fascinating biography of the fabulous Langhorne sisters. Because so much of the book deals with the dynamics of the sisters' relationships, I was able to read aloud entire passages that, with a few name changes, could have been written about me and my sisters. They roared listening.

Apparently the problems of inter-sister relationships are not only universal, but timeless.

Today dawned rainy as we devoured cinnamon puffs, a breakfast pastry that had been a favorite during our childhoods (and one I hadn't had in decades) and local peaches so juicy they ran down our arms while eating them (my stone fruit allergy limited me to just a few bites until my tongue began itching and swelling) before the sun broke through and we headed straight for the beach.

Coming across an abandoned boogie board on the way, I step on it and do my best surfing impression, cracking up both my sisters.

"Karen, you're a mess!" Sister #4 laughs, doubled over. Sister #2 just shakes her head, her usual response to my humor.

No, a mess is the sign I pass on the way home that reads:

Weekend Special!
Diesel $2.59

But, me, a mess? Au contraire. I may not be perfect but I still have character and purpose. I don't know that I can let myself go for $20, however.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fine Wine and Impressions

It took almost six years, but I did it.

Back in 2009, I'd read about cask ales arriving in D.C. via Churchkey, here, and been drawn in because the article had been written by the Post's then-art critic, Blake Gopnik. Lo these many years later, I decided to head up and finally find out for myself.

Sure, you could make a point for cask ales being available in Richmond now, too, but that wasn't the point. Churchkey is known for being a beer mecca - hello, 500 bottles, 50 drafts, 5 cask ales. Besides, trying it there meant an art getaway, too.

Stop one was the Freer Gallery on the mall to check out "Fine Impressions: Whistler, Freer and Venice," an exhibit of etchings that made a Whistler devotee of Freer, a man who had not yet been to Italy but was enthralled with the images.

It wasn't just Whistler's technical mastery, but the innovation of form, the way he was able to evoke light and atmosphere on paper at a time when that wasn't the norm. But what was so cool about his choice of subject matter was how ordinary it was. Not for him the landmarks, churches and usual inspiration.

Instead he sketched gardens, fruit stalls, balconies and turkeys in alleys. The kind of stuff you'd discover wandering the streets or floating in a gondola. A drop dead gorgeous collection of images.

Since I share with the long-deceased Mr. Freer a passion for Whistler's work, my next stop was upstairs for "Freer and Whistler: Points of Contact," a gallery of paintings, prints and drawings that represent Whistler's synthesis of Eastern and Western art. It was that interest that led Freer down the rabbit hole to becoming a lifelong collector of Asian art.

It was while visiting Whistler's iconic Peacock Room, designed to house Freer's extensive collection of Japanese and Chinese pottery (but also documenting the dissolution of the friendship between Whistler and his then-patron Frederick Leyland during the creation of it), that I met a couple of women, one from London, the other from Boston.

Don't you both have fabulous museums in your hometowns, I asked. "Yes, but they're not free," they shot back. Touche. In town for a soccer game, they'd overheard me asking about the Peacock Room and decided to tag along.

Make new friends, but keep the old and all that rot.

From there, we went to see Darren Waterston's "Peacock Room Remix: Filthy Lucre," a reimagining of the Peacock Room and its sordid story of a patron and an artist who parted ways over art and money.

Meant to be seen from all sides and reconstructed at 90% scale, Waterston took ten months to plan every inch of the room. Instead of delicate Asian heirlooms, the broken and crooked shelves held garishly painted, chipped and downright broken pieces of pottery. Oozing gold spots covered the floor and shards littered it.

In Whistler's room, the large painting of two peacocks showed them fighting, a representation of him and Leyland and their falling out. In Waterston's version, the peacocks are eviscerating each other and it's not pretty.

It was a helluva dark take on the original.

While we were experiencing the room with its haunting music and eerie red light emanating from the windows, a couple walked in, looked around and turned on their heels. In a French-accented voice the man said, "They're comparing this to Whistler's? You gotta be kidding!"

Mais non, you're missing the point, monsieur.

As I was finishing the exhibition, I heard a crack of thunder outside that sent me straight to the interior courtyard, a lovely space with a fountain, trees and places to sit. Within seconds it was pouring rain, so I found a cozy place on the porch to watch the lightening show while around me, other visitors sat in chairs, took their shoes off and napped.

Why anyone would choose to sleep through a magnificent thunderstorm is beyond me. The deluge turned the fountain into a frothing piece of art while I counted off the seconds in between thunder and lightening, hoping for more but knowing I had places to be.

Namely at the front door to meet my companion and get ourselves to Churchkey to meet a favorite couple by 4:00. Luckily, I'd brought my umbrella. Driving over to Logan Circle, we passed scads of tourists soaked to the skin hurrying along. The kids looked like they were having a ball, the parents and school group leaders, not so much.

At Churchkey, we managed to be customers #3 and 4, choosing a bar table by the enormous front window with a view of the fast-moving clouds, a far cry from the dark recesses of the back tables.

Our server was eager to indoctrinate me into the world of cask ale after I shared my story, suggesting that Big Chimney's Porter from Mad Fox Brewing company would be the best choice for me, mainly because the other cask ales were all IPAs.

Not the right choice for a cask ale virgin, apparently.

I was barely a few sips in, pleased at the warmer temperature and lesser carbonation, when the happy couple showed up, impressed at me with a beer glass in my hand. After expressing her astonishment, she looked at our server and demanded tots, lots of tots.

Our server, a transplant to DC from Raleigh and musical to boot (treble clef on one hand, bass clef on the other and played bass and drums), let us know that all meats were cured in house, all breads housemade, almost all ingredients locally sourced, so we ran rampant over the menu. So, sure, he'd bring tots, but might we want more?

Duh. Buffalo wings, garlic breadcrumb mac and cheese sticks, fire-roasted shishito peppers, Fontina grilled cheese, fettuccine with pork belly, fig and prosciutto flat bread with bleu cheese. And tots.

The mention of Raleigh took us on a tangent about the couple being at a beach house and finding a koozie from Taylor's Fine Wine and Fish Bait in Raleigh. As if that combo - fine wine and bait- wasn't evocative enough, the logo was a worm emerging from a can o' bait with a wine glass in its (non-existent) hand.

She assured us she'd left a koozie of her own to replace the Taylor's one she took home.

He amused us with stories about having recently gone to see Billy Joel ("The saddest bunch of white people you ever saw in one stadium," she inserted). They'd enjoyed the show, acknowledging that the man had a lot of hits and still sounded note perfect, but the highlight of the evening wasn't from the piano man.

Apparently Billy Joel has a guitar tech known as Chainsaw (That's the story I'd like to hear. Chainsaw?) and Chainsaw gets to come out and do one song every show. For this one, he'd come out and done a kickass version of "Highway to Hell." She said some of the audience members looked like their evening had been hijacked, but they loved it.

I'd like to say that after my first cask ale, I ordered another, but that would be a lie. Instead I took tastes from all three of their many beers, probably enjoying the very citrusy Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes Brewery in Oregon most.

And now I can cross off "try cask ale" from my bucket list with a clear conscience. Thanks, Blake, you art geek, you.

When we left there it was to head to their house. Milling about the kitchen, she looks at him and asks, "Should we go down to Shorty's?" and he raises an eyebrow and nods. Drinks in hand, we troop downstairs and outside where sits possibly the coolest tiki bar I've ever seen.

A corrugated metal lean-to angles off the roof where lights of many colors are strung. Lighting hangs from a waterski, with surfboards, catchy signs and colorful miniature license plates making up the decor. A rough-hewn wooden door is the bar, around which sit five stools of varying styles. Two sling chairs sit under the lean-to. A wooden swing hangs from the outer edge and I immediately get on it.

With a citronella candle burning brightly, a stereo behind the bar plays a mix tape that ranges from Todd Rundgren (amazingly, the second time I've heard "We Gotta Get You a Woman" in five days) to the Decemberists to Amos Lee. The story of how it was named Shorty's is a doozy, although unprintable on a wholesome blog such as this.

On a sultry summer night, this is the most wonderful place we could have ended up.

Conversation flows, much of it the kind of in-depth movie discussion that only true cinephiles enjoy. Dissecting the best picture nominees. Comparing new and old "Mad Max" movies. Which is better, the film or the book "Gone Girl"? What was sadder, "The Imitation Game" or "Theory of Everything"? Discussing Bond has the potential to go on until dawn.

Eventually, we go to bed because there is more art to be seen today, this time at American University, a place I've never been despite being a native Washingtonian. We wind our way through Georgetown, past Dumbarton Oaks (still hoping to make it to that pool), and onward to AU.

The women who greets us at the Katzen Arts Center where we've gone to see the "Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb" exhibition, points the way upstairs to the third floor and says, "Enjoy it," then retracts that. "Enjoy is the wrong word," she corrects herself.

Part historical exhibit, two parts artistic exhibit and overwhelmingly moving, this is like several shows in one.

Part of it began in 1947 when a Washington church group sent art supplies to traumatized Japanese elementary students, giving them a chance to express their vision for the future. The drawings and paintings are surprisingly positive - kids flying kites, playing games, frolicking by the river - and some of them amazingly deft.

They toured the U.S. back in 1949 and after this show, they will be returned to Japan.

Another part of the show is the history of the Atom bomb, along with artifacts from the bombing as well as photographs of the aftermath. Seeing a woman with the pattern of her kimono burned into her back and shoulder is as unsettling as it is striking. Another of the image of a man's body burned into a concrete step is beyond comprehension.

Artifacts- rosaries, school jackets, a watch, even glass bottles - show the effect of 6,000 degree heat, as do photographs of burn victims.

But the centerpiece of the show is a series of panels by husband and wife artists Iri and Toshi Maruki, who arrived shortly after the bombings and then spent decades (the panels range from 1950 to 1995) documenting the bombing and its aftermath. Each enormous panel addresses another aspect of the horror, but they're all stunning in their impact, even in the beauty of the imagery despite the subject.

With the 70th anniversary of the bombings next week, it seemed like the right time to learn more about the events and the artistic reaction to them, especially since the show leaves in two weeks.

And as long as I was in Washington to worship Whistler, throw back some cask ale and get my tiki on, the least I could do was go through the exhibit and leave my comments in the guest book before it all returns to Japan.

Make love, not war. Try cask ale at least once. And try your best never to let an important free exhibition go unseen.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Groot Dinner

It's always impressive when you start dating a man who pegs your interests without being obvious about it.

After a perfectly pleasant first date, a guy bowled me over by showing up for our second date with tickets in hand. One pair was for the ballet the following month, one pair was for the theater two months hence and the last set was for a performance by the National Symphony three months later.

Flippin' brilliant. Not only had he already ascertained three ways I enjoyed spending time, but he'd ensured we'd be dating for the next three months.

In a similar, albeit much later and grander, vein, I'd only been dating a guy for a few months when he invited me to travel with him to South Africa for two weeks. At the time he requested the pleasure of my company, the trip was six months away. He'd put the younger man's hubris to shame.

Needles to say, those two weeks in South Africa were so far beyond anything I'd experienced up until that point that I was soon enchanted with everything about it.

The time spent in wine country, days lost in a thrilling haze of tasting rooms and tours at centuries old as well as modern wineries. We drank wines in caves, on hilltops, in glass-walled dining rooms, at quaint restaurants hugging the mountainside. Evenings meant meals in fields, local restaurants and, of course, at vineyards.

Time spent in cosmopolitan Capetown where it was no exaggeration to say that most people were not only drop dead gorgeous but bilingual, something we were not. One night was spent inside the thick walls of the first Dutch fort where we wandered table to table because each one offered another South African chef's signature dish impeccably paired with the perfect wine. A side trip so I could put my feet in the Indian Ocean.

The last of our fortnight was spent at a game preserve where we stayed in a luxurious lodge that slept four (a young bachelor our only housemate) by night and were driven around to see wildlife - hippos standing in a river, giraffes on a plain, big cats sunning themselves - by day.

By the time we headed home, I was devoted to South African wine and not for nothing. And why not? They'd been doing it since the mid-1600s and were damn good at it, not that we got much of a taste of it in the U.S. during the Apartheid years.

As a result of that trip, I never fail to notice when a wine list includes South African wines, almost always opting to order one when I can.

So of course I'm going to attend a South African wine dinner at Camden's tonight, along with a tableful of familiar faces, winos and the one friend who's as passionate about South African wines as me, naturally because he's also visited.

Our septet was seated under the stairway again, this time alongside a group of eleven women. As projected by one in our group, there were times their shrillness completely obliterated our conversation, not necessarily a bad thing given discussions of who among us was a Rose slut (raises hand proudly), who engages in beer trading (for a plasma TV, no less- one he no longer wanted, I added) and who has a beer named after her (an empress, no less).

The newbies to the group were immediately impressed with the chef's pairing ability once they tasted the briny towers of crab, shrimp, avocado and mussel paired with Cape Point Stonehaven Sauvignon Blanc and doubly so once the basket of housemade breads showed up to sop the plate with.

The non-seafood eater in our group was seduced by fish and chips of grouper and the atypical De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay that had everyone impressed with its delicate citrus nose.

When ramekins of baked rabbit au gratin arrived, the handsome one and I stuck our noses over them like they were wine, taking in the earthy, rich aroma before devouring them with brilliantly pink Badenhorst Secateurs Rose.

One person moaned a little, saying, "Can I have this tomorrow, too?" The fruit was more pronounced because of the wine's time in concrete wine tanks, a subject that took flight since some had never heard of them.

As the evening wore on, conversations went in many directions and it wasn't always possible for everyone to hear or engage in every conversation. While busy talking with those to my left, one on my right waved her hand to get my attention.

"For your blog, he just said, "You're not as important as me." This, apparently, was his response when she chided him for being on his phone after I'd made it known we don't use phones at my table during these dinners.

For any South African wine lover, the star of the evening was Warwick Estates Pinotage, a beautifully balanced expression of the native grape and perfectly lovely with venison carpaccio (spring bok is soooo hard to come by in RVA) with a luscious berry compote and spicy micro greens.

When the subject of monogamy came up as it is wont to do in mixed and slightly loopy company, the men split on its imprint on male DNA, one saying he'd never allowed himself to think anything but monogamously and the other two insisting it's a battle to stick with one woman.

Dessert of bruleed peaches wrapped in house-cured ham (started last December) caused orgasmic reactions for the sublime balance of sweet and salty, even if it was paired with the evening's only non-South African wine.

When the empress tried to make a case for how beautifully the peaches paired with the Ferreira white port, her partner (who'd earlier blundered by tactlessly announcing, "Next week we would have been together for 14 years." Would have?) responded, "Without the ham, this pairing would be like "Pulp Fiction" without Samuel L. Jackson."

Without this ragtag bunch of food and drink lovers, five courses of pairings would have been just a means to eat and drink for four hours. And my face wouldn't be sore from smiling and laughing all night.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Drunken and Psychotic

While Benny Goodman played overhead, I sipped black smoke and ate drunken figs. Just another Saturday night in R-town.

Arriving first to meet my trio of dates at the new Julep's, the hostess complimented my Hawaiian print dress as she led me to the table. I thanked her, explaining that I'd bought it in 1995. "That's the year I was born!" she enthused.

I told her I'd had a boyfriend who hadn't cared for it because it was so, well, Hawaiian looking. "I'm Hawaiian and I think it's pretty. My boyfriend doesn't like this dress,"she said of a flowered orange print. "Men!" she said, rolling her eyes.

She's flippin' 20, so what could she possibly know of men?

My threesome arrived, like me, eager to see the renovation of the former Montaldo's space. I had it on good authority that the black and white floor, the Corinthian columns and several frames (now windows, perhaps once mirrors?) were original. One of our group recalled shopping there.

The funny part was, our server wasn't sure if it had been Montaldo's or Shield's Shoes first. Hell, even I knew that much (Montaldo's).

My Black Smoke cocktail, decidedly pinkish-purple in color, united Mezcal, agave syrup, creme de cassis, muddled blackberries and egg whites, a departure - my northern roots, perhaps - from the traditionalists at the table sipping mint juleps from silver Jefferson cups.

The music wasn't all Big Band, although it was all old and familiar (see: Bill Withers) as we tucked into appetizers. My country ham, drunken bourbon figs, bleu cheese and adult arugula (as opposed to the ubiquitous baby arugula) spurred a discussion of laundry tubs, as in what an ideal place they are to soak a Smithfield ham...or wash a dog.

Seeking a bottle of wine to accompany our main courses, a server in a matching yellow watch and tie suddenly appeared to grant our wish. When our server arrived, my friend told him a little bird had already taken care of it. "A big bird named Al, I'll bet," he responded. A big bird named Al with a yellow Swatch actually.

I followed my loopy figs with a kale country salad with bacon, cucumber, cornbread croutons and buttermilk dressing, a hearty plate of greens but not quite as impressive as my dates' entrees of a massive crabcake (so large we all tasted it), black grouper and fava beans ("You can't throw a line in the water in Bermuda without catching grouper," the ex-pat shared) and karbanara (their appalling spelling, who knows why?) of ham, linguine, peas and kale.

Someday I would like to see a job created whose sole responsibility is to ensure that no restaurant's menu contains spelling, capitalization, punctuation or other word-related errors. Either that or give diners a red pen to make corrections.

Finished eating before the others, I could tell everyone was filling up by the glassy looks in their eyes, but two of us were intrigued enough by the dessert menu listing of "rich dense chocolate hominy and fresh whipped cream" to order it. The hominy was a negligible component and I'd have preferred the chocolate to have been darker, but it's always a pleasure to have a few bites of chocolate after a meal.

Because our table had been on the other side of the ultra-suede curtain, I'd had no idea how crowded the place had gotten since our arrival until we left. Outside on the sidewalk, Grace Street was positively lively with people walking about.

Not us. We had an 8:00 curtain at Richmond Triangle Players, where sculpted guys in swim trunks hung leis around our necks as we walked in. That was one way to get us in the mood for "Psycho Beach Party" (original title: "Gidget Goes Psychotic"). Onstage, other bathing suit-clad actors tossed a beach ball and danced to surf music.

RTP has found the perfect summertime diversion with a campy play that takes classic '60s beach movies and skewers them with Hitchcock-worthy psychological thrillers focused on young tomboy Chicklet (played by a guy, natch) who wants to learn to surf from the coolest surfer dude, Kanaka.

Only thing is, Chicklet has multiple personalities and one of them is a dominatrix. Fortunately, Kanaka is a willing submissive. She's planning to take over the world, first Malibu (oh, no, where will Barbie live?) and then Sacramento (that's as far as she's gotten with her plan for world domination, apparently).

Thwarting all the fun was Dan Cimo as Chicklet's mother, who resembled a prettier Joan Crawford but with just as inadequate mothering skills. Make that domestic skills, too. Her veal scaloppine exploded out of the pressure cooker and she picks bits out of her coiffure and eats them as she lectures her daughter.

I think we can all agree that one should never miss an opportunity to skewer Miss Crawford.

Of course it was hysterical, lambasting all those Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies, with lines such as, "You have the sex drive of a marshmallow and you're pushing 16!"


Strobe lights appeared whenever there was a fight scene, which took place in hilarious slow motion.

When the lights came up at intermission after a particularly lurid description of what two people do when they're alone, one friend joked that they wrote the script while another indicated that it was a long way from anything they'd seen before.

And isn't that why we love Richmond Triangle Players? Well, that and offering $10 tickets on a Saturday night, let's be honest.

I like to maintain my cheap date status whenever I can. Doesn't mean I'm cheap.

Friday, July 24, 2015

As the Evening Sun Goes Down

It's a little after 8 and I can hear the band sound-checking as I approach the bakery.

Inside Sub Rosa, I score a stool from the dwindling number still unoccupied and say hello to the southern-drawling Bijou champion, who lets me in on two fabulous upcoming movie events, one classic, one unreleased.

After sharing my enthusiasm for both events, I leave him when I spot pastries on the nearby counter. It's been a fabulous but long day and I haven't yet had dinner.

From a selection of delectable looking breads, knots and croissants, I choose a fat salami and Gruyere croissant, placed artfully on a stoneware plate by owner Evrim. I can tell by its buttery sheen that multiple napkins are in order.

Standing there as he prepares my plate, I overhear a woman talking about her trip to St. Martin's and its nude beach. When I think I hear her talking about a man on the beach with not just braided pubic hair, but beads braided into his pubic hair, I can't help but insert myself into the conversation.

The visual is unsettling. "It's so disturbing, I hesitated to say it aloud," she apologizes. "How much do you have to pay someone to spend that much time doing that to your, um, pubes?"

As much as they'll pay, I would imagine.

Sticking a needle in my mind's eye and returning to my stool, my fingers got shiny and my belly progressively happier as I ate the savory roll. I got a look of surprise and delight from the singer of Turkish songs when she walked in and an inquiry from the recently arrived film professor of, "What's in that?" as he pointed to my croissant. Apparently, the pleasure I was taking in my dinner wasn't lost on him.

I love being an inspiration to other eaters.

Sub Rosa isn't a big place and it continued to fill up, even after the Paul Watson Quintet - Paul on cornet trumpet, Steve on guitar, Tadd on double bass and Pippin ("The man I call Mr. Essential," Paul said) on drums - began knocking the crowd's socks off with their talent.

From inside, I saw my favorite jeweler/Viet Nam vet (tonight wearing a cowboy hat) at the front door, and he was waved around, entering through the back door. He wasn't the only one.

As talented as Paul is on horn, he's also got a terrific baritone voice and used it often tonight as he showcased material off his latest album.

After all these years
and 10,000 beers
Tell me, what do you see?

It was while the band was rocking out to "These Words" that I realized that the bakery was a gorgeous place for this show, with the sun setting behind us and the soft yellow glow of lights along the wall illuminating a crowd sitting on chairs, stools, the floor and standing. One guy even perched on the counter.

Just as I was noticing all this, Paul must have been, too, saying, "This is a timely song," and began singing, "When that evening sun goes down, that's the time I love the best," a slow and sweet song.

Massive applause followed an instrumental piece featuring Paul on cornet, and he took the moment to announce, "I want to remind you about our little merch display. It only represents 40 years, that's all. They say the best things in life are free, but they're really $19.95."

Paul's longevity in the business is well-known. Just last weekend, I'd seen a film from the early '80s that he'd voiced, his distinctive baritone a pleasure to listen to.

Behind me were two guys visiting from D.C. and it took me no time to find out they lived in Dupont Circle (R and Connecticut), my old neighborhood (21 and N). Turns out they'd come down for scuba diving lessons in Petersburg (I didn't ask) and to see this show. They already have plans to come back in August.

That's how far some people come for a Paul Watson show. No surprise there.

The band's finale was a Mark Linkous song, "All Night Home," a nod to his recordings with Sparklehorse. The crowd listened reverently before he ended the evening by introducing the band.

But the full house was having none of it, demanding "One more!" until the band obliged with a song that included the evocative lyric, "How the youthful harlots curse..." Don't they, though?

With the show now officially over, bakery owner Evrim took the mic, saying what a magical evening it had been. As he'd told us, they only do occasional shows for very special performers, which is why I try not to miss them.

"Feel free to relax for a while," Evrim said. "A while, like three minutes. Then the bakers have to go to bed."

And while I'm not a baker, I had bed in my sights, too. It's exhausting having as much fresh air and fun as I've had the past two days.

When's the last time I said that?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Warm Sun and a Kind Air

One flashback was from two years ago, the other from 25.

Not being a southside denizen, I'm not often in O'Toole's. In fact, the last time had been June 2013 when I'd gone to see O'Theater at O'Toole's and that's exactly why I was back there again tonight.

Being half O'Donnell, I'm constitutionally unable to resist an evening of Irish theater in a pub. But unlike that solo trip, tonight I had three partners in crime, theater-lovers all.

Remembering my last visit - the shortage of seats, the lack of servers to keep up with the crowd - I'd suggested we get an early start to ensure time to eat and score good seats before "The Tinker's Wedding" began.

It wasn't long after we staked out a fine table that live music began with Wayne Ruotolo kicking things off with a true classic from my younger days: Todd Rundgren's "We Gotta Get You a Woman." Listening to him play covers by artists as varied as David Gray and Roger Miller, there was something familiar about his well-executed set.

But eating was the priority because of the play. It was while we were scanning the menu that someone spotted that relic of the '90s, Jello shots, on the menu. Unlikely as that seemed, I was even more surprised to hear that one of our quartet had never had one.

Full disclosure: I'd had Jello shots as recently as February. Five, in fact: three red, two blue.

Knowing I had a duty to his social education, I immediately agreed to join him in his first one, although I did stipulate it would be after I ate dinner, a meal that began with shared nachos and moved through a black and blue salad, also known as Cesar salad with steak and bleu cheese.

Why? There's always room for Jello, not that we should believe everything a sexual predator told us in our youth.

As we were were finishing eating, I asked our server for two Jello shots and she couldn't have looked more surprised. We couldn't decide if it was that people her parents' age were ordering them or that only two of us were in need of shots.

Before they arrived, I schooled the Jello shot virgin on the proper way to do a shot, all of which went out the window when the shots arrived. Not only were they easily twice the size of a typical Jello shot (as in, way too much to fit in a mouth at one time) but they also contained an alcohol-soaked cherry in each.

Pro tip: you don't shoot fruit.

But we did manage to shoot the massive shooters in multiple gulps, saving the boozy cherry for the big finish. In the worst kind of mixed metaphor, my friend's Jello shot cherry had been popped.

From there, we moved into the back room, second row, for a staged reading of a 1909 Irish play by John Millington Synge about marriage during a time when Catholic priests were forbidden to perform marriage ceremonies in Britain. Of course, this didn't stop Irish girls form wanting to get married in the church.

Because it was a staged reading, we were warned that, "You get good actors, you do a couple rehearsals and you hope for the best. That's why we got you liquored up first."

One Jello shot had hardly done me in, so first up for me was a vocabulary lesson. Had I known that a tinker was a person who moved from place to place making and fixing things like cans? I had not.

Tonight's tinker Micheal Byrne was played by none other than Matt Shofner boasting a fine Irish accent, as did the rest of the cast.

It's not that he wants to marry Sarah Casey, but she's threatened to run off with another man if he doesn't. Who'd have thought such a strategy would work on a man?

As the object of this strong-willed woman's attention, Micheal's busy fashioning a wedding ring for her because she wants to get married in the church like a good Catholic girl. I may have been raised Catholic, but I never qualified for that status.

Along comes a priest, because that's what happens on Irish country roads at night, whom she badgers to marry them, promising in return money and a gallon can. Next comes Michael's mother Mary, drunk, cantankerous and eventually hitting on both Sarah and the priest, which I consider very progressive for 1909.

As the pipe-smoking, beer-drinking Mary - referred to as "an old, flagrant heathen" (a descriptor I embrace), actress Bridget Gethins cracked the audience up when after misreading a line, she said, "Let me just say this again because I'm a bit tipsy."

After stealing the can and trading it for beer, she awakens the next morning, not because of the noise of hammering but because she hears her son washing up, "a rare thing." Suspicious she asks, "Is it you marrying her, Michael Byrne?" to which he replies haplessly, "It is, god spare us." That's the Matt I know.

Of course without the can as part of the payment, the priest refuses to marry them, which royally pisses off Sarah. 'She's vexed now!" Michael warns.

The couple tie up the priest, leaving only a small face flap for him to breathe and talk and thus are finally married. It's not exactly the traditional rehearsal dinner, but close.

And they probably didn't live happily ever after, but oh, well.

After intermission, we reconvened for "Tying the Knot," a new play written by Keri Wormald and Bridget Gethins, for which the jumping off point was a priest in a hood.

This time, it's 2015 and Ireland has made civil unions legal but Megan wants a holy sacrament, She wants to be married in the church with her father walking her down the aisle. This time, Matt plays the put-upon priest (not sure which role I enjoyed more, Matt as a straight man or as a priest) who, while he admits, "I voted yes meself," isn't allowed to perform the ceremony by order of the Catholic church.

He suggests that the couple check with the Unitarians or the Quakers. "The Unitarians have people lined up around their odd looking churches to get married." How often have I thought the same at the sight of one of them?

It's not that he doesn't want to, but the bishops have given them their orders. "If we see a couple with the look of homosexuality about them, we're to turn on our heel and walk away to avoid conversation," he says. The look?

Happily, this big Irish Catholic same sex under-duress wedding eventually takes place and the lesbian couple lives happily ever after and since it's now the 21st century, presumably bathes regularly.

It was as fine a night of o'theater as any half Irish could have hoped for.

Walking out, I paused to talk to the musician Wayne, no longer vexed because by then I'd figured out that I used to see him play back in the '90s. He always used to include "Under the Milky Way Tonight" and that's what I'd finally remembered.

"Probably at Castle Thunder," he said with a smile.

Castle Thunder, of course! Coincidentally, where I'd also had my first Jello shots. Under the milky way, cherries were optional.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Some Kind of Wonderful

All the criteria of a brief road trip were met.

We got started later than we intended to and brought duplicate supplies.

We took the new car - complete with smell - with its handy directional mirror (NE, SW), although we still managed to miss our exit, easily enough corrected with a detour, U-turn and only a slight swerve.

We used driving time to crack each other up sharing love stories from our pasts - the old, the young and the crazy. Most oft-repeated question: "What exactly was the attraction?"

We listened to local Top 40 radio, meaning Grand Funk Railroad, the Pointer Sisters and Tommy Tu-Tone. So yes, unbelievably, for the second time in four days, I heard "867-5309/Jenny," a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone but Tommy.

We discovered a mutual youthful fondness for Danskins, although, to be clear, I never lost mine to a rogue wave in Ocean City on my honeymoon. Come to think of it, I did wear one in Rehobeth Beach to see "Aliens" (one of the very few films I ever walked out on) and in Aruba to dance away the night in a club. Photographic proof of both these ensembles exists.

We discussed where we want our ashes scattered and how there's no such thing as "a bit of a rescue." You might as well say it's a bit of a pregnancy.

There was laughter pretty much start to finish, something not achievable with every travel date.

Driving back under an epic cloud and a shroud of humidity, we made mental notes about how we'll do our next road trip bigger, better, longer, most of which we're bound to forget before it happens, which is sooner rather than later.

Book it, Dano. This is the summer of reinvention.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Up the Waterzooi

Best way to celebrate Belgian independence day (as told by an Irish-American woman):

1. Follow the Belgian flag and a gnome (?) hovering on the roof to Cask for a pop-up by chef Xavier Meers of Brux'l Cafe.

With Broadbent Vino Verde warming up at an alarming rate in this heat wave, we dove into cheese croquettes, garlic scampi, waterzooi of chicken (a traditional Belgian stew), mussels Provencal and a superb veggie salad that included among other things, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon and olives.  Basically, we ate everything on the pop-up menu.

When the chef put in an appearance, we agreed he resembled a Dutch masters painting: curly haired, red cheeked and sturdy of form. Frans Hals or Rembrandt would have painted him.

2. Proceed to Ardent Brewery for Secretly Y'all, Tell Me a Story with tonight's theme "I quit!"

Standing in the back challenged the ears (too far from the storytellers) and patience (too many talkers) but the handsome bartender was complimentary ("Love your hair") and during intermission, we scored seats up front.

Stories ranged from a guy who learned to quit violence after choking a guy into unconsciousness to quitting the church and heroin at the same time to trying to quit life on the Lee bridge after a party in Oregon Hill to an ESL teacher in Henrico who chucked it all to make soap to an ESL teacher in Thailand who inadvertently taught kindergartners to say "sandwich" to a job as building inspector that included finding men having sex in the showers to a Ziplock bag of human poop that required quitting a job to save face to a man who refused to beat up on inmates.

Let's just say there are many ways - and things - to quit. Still deciding what it is I need to let go. I have an idea.

Friends ranged from a gallerist needing an open door to a bartender who gave me crap about quoting her to a wine guru trying to read a book to a yoga teacher questioning my location.

3. Final stop? GWARbar for metal night, the DJ spinning such classic pre-metal gems as Iron Butterfly and April Wine. Tattoos, dreadlocks and piercings abounded, but the Espolon was flowing and the conversation amiable.

Here's to 84 years of independence, Belgium! May I have just as many.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Trippingly on the Tongue

I am but mad north-north-west.

What are the chances I'd see "Hamlet" the same day I saw the film that takes its name from a line in "Hamlet"? Apparently, pretty good.

It wasn't very difficult to find a willing date for dinner and outdoor theater, even if we did arrive at Agecroft just minutes before the sky opened up, full as ticks and willing to sit in the car and listen to music until the subsequent rainbow appeared and we felt cleared to make our way to the courtyard.

There, from our second row seats, a minstrel greeted us with song - "Welcome to Elsinore, leave your morals at the door" - as the post-rain weather enveloped us in cooler temperatures and lower humidity.

Don't tell Quill Theater I said it, but perhaps every production should begin with pouring rain to clear the air.

Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.

Despite it being my 17th year of attendance, my date was a first-timer to Shakespeare at Agecroft, agog at the 500-year old architecture and entranced with the notion of theater there. To prove to me his devotion to "Hamlet," though, he recited soliloquies learned long ago in his nerd days. You know I was impressed.

And not just with him, but with Molly Hood as Hamlet. Make no mistake, I was well aware of her stunning ability to play Shakespeare's men, having seen her in any number of local director BS Maupin's gender-reversed Shakespeare readings over the years (a long-time favorite series of mine...hey, BC, when's the next one?). The woman is a master with the Bard's language.

When I had seen this hot love on the wing.

Director Jan Powell had updated the play in other ways, with actors carrying cellphones and taking selfies, the seersucker suit-wearing Polonius pulling out his checkbook and Rozencrantz and Guildenstern (wearing Wittenburg baseball caps) dressed as preppies.

I have lost all my mirth.

My date took as much pleasure as I always do from the distinctive moments that are unique to an Agecrodt performance: the sound of a train rolling by, the lightening bugs and moths that join the actors onstage, the bats swooping overhead.

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.

During intermission, I grabbed my companion and took him on a tour of the grounds, up to the terrace for a view of  the panorama, down to the gazebo where couples could be alone, to the picaresque herb garden and along every darkened path, all under a fingernail sliver of a moon.

When I pulled out a bar of dark chocolate with sea salt, he said, "You really are the best date ever." Roger that.

When you're working with a script the caliber of "Hamlet," a director can only hope for a cast worthy of it and Powell had chosen well.

Casting Hood had been a brilliant stroke because she can play heartbreaking and ball-breaking equally well, but just as impressive was her decision to refer to her as a "she," and a she who was in love with another she, Ophelia.

That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.

For sheer watchability, Jeff Clevenger nailed both his roles as the eager but inept Polonius and the southern-accented grave digger singing "I Ain't Got Nobody" as he shovels skulls out of the ground, to great comedic success.

Thomas Cunningham, strong in every role I've ever seen him in, was Hamlet's bespectacled rock as Horatio and Foster Solomon commanded his scenes with his sheer physical presence and authoritative diction as the plotting Claudius.

You would pluck out the heart of my mystery.

No matter how many times I see the tragedy of Hamlet play out, I am struck by the sheer sadness of its scope - the evil, the corruption and deception, the overwhelming grief that finishes with so much death and loss.

"I teared up at the end," my date told me walking out. That's the most ringing endorsement I can imagine for his baptism by fire with the Richmond Shakespeare Festival.

Only problem is, now that he's seen Molly Hood in the lead role, he may never be able to go back to a male Hamlet. The play may be the thing, but in this case, it played far more compellingly with girl parts.

Therein lies the rub.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

In Lincoln's Nose

I pity the fool who thinks they can watch "North by Northwest" on a TV screen - even a big screen - and experience anything like what Hitchcock intended.

Not me. Despite a heat advisory, I walked the two miles to Movieland to see the mystery masterpiece, where I was pleasantly surprised to see that for a change, the Movies and Mimosas screening included more than the usual eight or ten people. Today's audience even included a group carrying mimosas in hand to their seats.

Now here's the problem with people accustomed to watching movies at home: they've either forgotten the rules of public viewing or willfully choose to ignore the on-screen reminders that there is no talking during the film. None.

Either way, it's bad cinema behavior. I don't go to a movie to hear you tell your companions what to look for or how funny you think something is. Gasps, laughter, honest reactions are fine. Discussion, unacceptable, and today's showing was full of people who felt entitled to blather over the brilliance of Hitchcock, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.

Somebody needs parental guidance.

Talk abut a stylish movie! Both Cary and Eva Marie managed to look devastatingly fashionable at any given moment, whether making out, hanging off of Mount Rushmore or standing in a pine thicket. I may give Cary even more credit because he did it in just two costume changes, but Eva Marie scored for the gorgeous gloves she wore with every gorgeous dress.

Because the action took place in 1959, some mental adjustment was required on the audience's part. When someone moves into a new apartment and doesn't yet have a phone, you send them a telegram.

Men in train station bathrooms shave with straight razors. Because everyone's not bearded.

The train serves brook trout in the dining car. Nowadays you're lucky to get a bag of chips and a soda.

Hotel rooms have fresh flowers. I'd have loved to live in that world.

Men carry personalized matchbooks. And handkerchiefs.

Buses have open windows. People managed the summer without air conditioning, even in Indiana and South Dakota.

And the Ruskies were still the bad guys. "War is hell, even when it's a cold one."

Women still said things such as, "I never make love on an empty stomach" to men as suave and handsome as Cary Grant.

Too bad. I'd have liked to have seen that on the big screen.

Sweet Caroline, Love Will Tear Us Apart

Good thing I already have the big hair. Today was a day which both began and ended in the '80s.

First on my to-do list was to take a man who has been been known to pick me up in his car with Neil Diamond playing to see a Neil tribute band. That's right, the always enjoyable Diamond Heist was playing their monthly musical residency at Cary Street Cafe.

Arriving early enough to stake two choice seats at the end of the bar, we ordered lunch minutes before the show began.

"We're the Shivers and it's 1989," singer Will announced. "Everyone's 25 years younger, but it won't last." A guy walking toward the door to smoke on the patio looked up and commented as he passed, "I had hair."

Sweetheart, we all had things in 1989 we no longer have. I'm willing to bet that some of the women in the room could still pass the pencil test back then.

The band played through original and cover material, including "Dear Prudence," with references to drummer Rick 's house where the back door was always unlocked. Farcically, Will also thanked the Diamond Center for allowing the band to play. "I pulled some strings."

After playing "Vancouver," Will joked, "That was our stealth hit." After playing "89," he hit it again. "That was our second stealth hit." Hits or not, they looked to be having a good time playing together.

During the break, we were chowing down on black bean nachos (my date supplemented with a sandwich) when a guy appeared next to me looking anxious. "I left my card here last night," he told the bartender. "It's red."

Were you drunk, I inquired. "Yea, it's about the tenth time I've done that here." Sounds like someone has a bit of a problem.

When the girl returned with his card, she informed him they'd given themselves a 20% tip on last night's tab. "I'd have given you that much," he gushed, clearly relieved at retrieving it.

The first thing Will announced when he and Diamond Heist took the stage was that today was the one-year anniversary of their gig at Cary Street. Unfortunately, there was no cake to celebrate.

Instead, there were lots of Neil Diamond songs the band had learned since I'd seen them last - "Desiree," "You Got to Me" ( a fave of my seatmate), "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" - and new bad jokes.

After doing "Red, Red Wine," Will reminded the room to tip their bartenders. "And on that note, order a drink." What drink, singer Rebecca asked, playing along. "Love on the Rocks!" and another classic song began.

Drummer Dean was in the hospital, so the crowd was instructed to send good vibes his way, while fill-in (and Shivers') drummer Ricky had learned 34 songs in four days to fill in. The guy did a helluva job.

As I pointed out to my companion, part of the pleasure of a Diamond Heist show is watching the arc of the crowd as they move from straight through loopy to drunk. It didn't take long before people were dancing, some slow dancing and others doing the pony like it was 1967.

A guy in a jean jacket, sleeves cut off, came in to pay his tab and I couldn't help but notice his jacket had a Mt. Calvary Cemetery patch. Since I've walked through that place, I asked why he had it. "I used to live there," he said sullenly as if that explained it.

It was during what Will had called the Neil Diamond polka - the song "Beautiful Noise (nerd alert: I had the album) - while I was chair dancing and having a ball that a stranger came up to me and whispered in my ear, "You have the best legs in the whole place."

I shared that with my date, who kindly confirmed it.

By now, I know I can count on the barn-burner "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" to be the last song of the last set, but today we got a surprise. As is typical, there are always celebrants at a Diamond Heist show and why not, given the feel-good vibes and guaranteed dancing that accompanies their gigs?

Today we had a woman celebrating her birthday and a couple celebrating one month of wedded bliss (good luck with that) plus someone named Jenny who'd requested a song, a request they saved till last.

That's when drummer Ricky proved his range by not only drumming but by doing lead vocals on "867-5309/Jenny," which got all the drunk women on the floor and gave the rest of us flashbacks to 1982. In a good way, I mean.

I always have a terrific time at a Diamond heist show, so my concern was that the one I'd brung did, too, a fact he confirmed as we left, although his delicate ears were still bleeding from the volume. Since I ruined my ears years ago with overly loud shows, the level hadn't even registered with me after the opening notes of "Forever in Blue Jeans."

After my date dropped me off, I had less than an hour to get ready and over to the Visual Arts Center for Ian Curtis' birthday celebration. Although, does it count as a celebration if the birthday boy has been dead for 35 years?

I walked in to find several musician friends, helped myself to a bag of free popcorn and took a seat with a great view.

The James River Film Society was showing the documentary "Joy Division" along with a couple of experimental films made by VCU film professor Mike Jones back in his student days guessed it, the early '80s.

Jones had been a huge Joy Division fan and influenced by the band when he as making the films. The titles say it all: "Dead Love" and "Dead Friends." The former had been made after a break-up with his girlfriend and was pretty much a poem about his sadness set to black and white images shot at Belle Isle and narrated by trumpeter Paul Watson, whom I've seen many times.

After the second short about a friend who'd died in a car crash, I used the break to look at the outstanding collection of Joy Division records, singles and books on display in the back. Jones posited that their striking album art had probably caused scores of young people to go into communication arts.

Yea, and the rest to form bands.

Tonight's main feature was "Joy Division," a documentary about the seminal band and when better to show it than for lead singer Ian Curtis' birthday? I'd seen the film "Control" a few years ago when the James River Film society had shown it, but Jones said the documentary was better.

Honestly, when isn't a documentary better than a retelling of fact?

This one benefited from scads of fabulous footage of early shows and photo shoots of the four very young men from Manchester who saw an early Sex Pistols show at the Electric Circus and all resolved to form a band.

It didn't hurt that they were all talented and hard-working, none less than Curtis, the lyricist and singer whose frenetic moves onstage were mesmerizing. With the energy of punk and literary-based lyrics expressing complex emotions, they were a sensation almost from the start.

The most challenging part of the film was understanding the extremely thick accents of the musicians, producers and managers who were the talking heads of the film. Once I got past that, it was fascinating.

His wife refused to participate in the making of the film, but his lover agreed and her commentary was some of the most telling about Curtis' difficulties dealing with epilepsy and not wanting to let the band down." Onstage, it was like he was plugged into electric voltage. He was completely outside of himself."

Hardest to understand was how no one in the band paid any attention to the tortured lyrics he was writing or they might have had a clue how bad off he was. The band members admitted to not even listening to the words, a fact which is incomprehensible to someone like me who focuses on the words to a song.

The thing with a documentary is that you know going in how it will end, but you still get completely caught up in the information.

Because who could have imagined that he could have written as brilliant a pop song as "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in a mere three hours? Or that a member of the band would have been told that he'd committed suicide and gone ahead with his Sunday lunch? Or opted out of going to his funeral? Or that the name "Joy Division" came from the name the Nazis gave their military officers' brothel?

Of course it was a fabulous soundtrack because it was all Joy Division, impossible to hear without inadvertently hearing the hundreds of bands who have aped their style or Curtis' distinctive vocals in the ensuing years since his suicide in 1980.

As Neil Diamond sang back in the '70s, done too soon.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Keepin' It Fresh

Summer's in full swing with my second outdoor movie of the week.

Richmond may not have a drive-in, but that doesn't stop outdoor movie lovers from pining for cinema under the stars. Tonight's showing was courtesy of the Afrikana Film Fest and marked the premiere of their new Starry Nite Cinema lawn chair series. Count me in.

Even better, they were screening "Fresh Dressed," which I'd read a review of in the Washington Post almost a month ago but was certain would never play RVA. And, technically, it didn't, since no local theaters booked it.

I know, I know, you're scratching your head wondering why in the world a middle-aged white woman was interested in a film chronicling the complex relationship between fashion and hip-hop. Simple: I'm a documentary dork and I find fashion history fascinating (I just saw "Iris" just last month).

The screening was being hosted on the hill behind Tredegar Iron Works, a great location given that it boasted free parking in their lot and a fine view of the downtown skyline - first in the glow of the sunset and then lit up within - and a narrow peek at the Manchester Bridge high up between two of Tredegar's buildings.

Although I'd brought a chair, I arrived early enough to score a seat in the second row of plastic folding chairs set up in front of the screen.

Off to the left were heart balloons, which indicated the area where Speed Dating RVA was set up beforehand for those "who have a blanket but no boo." Tempted as I was (and I was very, very tempted...for journalistic reasons, of course), I had elected not to sign up.

The film laid out its premise from the opening scenes: being "fresh" meant more than having money to black culture. Even if you didn't have money (or a nice house or a car), you could dress stylishly.

It was an expression of aspiration.

Like all good documentaries, this one had plenty of archival footage, in this case dating back to the '70s and '80s, but the history lesson actually began in slave times when masters ensured that their slaves had Sunday clothes for church.

Explaining that black culture had a unique approach to fashion, they looked at the music's fashions from gospel to jazz to R & B to hip hop, using Little Richard's colorful wardrobe as a particularly strong example of wardrobe demonstrating freedom (to dress like a black Liberace, in this case).

The film traced street fashion's beginnings to the gangs in the Bronx in the '70s through the B boys of the '80s and the glut of hip hop artists with their own clothing lines by the '90s.

Urban boutique owner Dapper Dan, an institution apparently, explains how he started making Louis Vuitton hats and shoes to "blackenize" them, to make them look good on blacks. He says that for 8 years, his shop was open 24 hours a day with occasional 3-hour closings to nap.

I gotta say, this was one of the most educational documentaries I've seen. The bright colors that defined the fashions? Ripped from graffiti artists. The crux of hip hop fashion? You build your outfit off your shoes.

How did Tommy Hilfiger get so popular on the streets? Took his clothes to the hood and passed them out for free. Like a drug dealer, he hooked the kids on the style and then they had to keep buying more.

The film had a terrific sense of humor, putting up definitions for street terms the audience might not know. Urban customer: (noun): scary black or Latino person who wants to spend money.

For those of a certain age, it was also nostalgic, since every decade's urban style represented something I recalled seeing at the time, if only on "In Living Color."

Fully engaged in the movie, it was a shock when the screen suddenly went blank with less than 15 minutes to the end. After a short intermission, the film picked up where it left off, explaining how rappers now aspire to runway fashion over streetwear. Still aspirational, just to a different aesthetic.

Afterwards, I chatted about the documentary with one of the three people - two of whom were jazz guitarists - I'd seen tonight and knew. He recalled what a big deal his first pair of Ecko jeans had been to him in middle school in the '90s.

Can't say I could relate, except to our mutual agreement that it had been a perfect evening for a fashion lesson under the stars...even without a boo for my blanket.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Beagle and Bivalve Assignment

I know it doesn't sound like I'm working, but really, I am.

The interview I'd originally scheduled for Wednesday got moved when my interviewee had to deal with "family matters" (I didn't ask), so it was today I headed east to Irvington to interview one woman in the flesh and the other on the phone from Florence, Alabama, apparently near Muscle Shoals.

As in, sweet home and all that southern garbage.

No question, it was a beautiful day for a drive past things such as vegetable stands (one with Chad's Dad BBQ sending up smoke signals right next to it), two guys and a pickup truck with a hand-written sign, "Fresh Clams," an electric business with a sign reading, "July is National Horseradish Month" and a house with a hand-painted sign out front saying, "Crabs $15/dozen." I came this close to stopping at that one.

When we finished our interview, the woman asked if I was "driving all the way back to Richmond" now. Nope, I figured I'd make a stop as long as I was out this way. The story I was working on will pay well, so why not enjoy some residual benefits from it early?

I okayed an advance to myself on the spot.

I was so close to the Dog and the Oyster Winery, with its inviting screened porch tasting room, that I could have left my car and walked over from her offices, but I didn't.

Pulling up, I saw that four or five of the umbrella tables were occupied while two couples sat on the porch, which had lost its screened doors since I was last there. But the really big change was the tent set up next to the porch where lunch was being served.

Well, this was something new.

After tasting their Rose', Rosie, the pourer asked if I was hungry. Always, I told him, netting me a big smile. "I'm only asking because they stop serving in 15 minutes." Needless, to say, my Rosie and I shuffled over to the tent to order.

I couldn't resist a dozen Antipoison Creek raw oysters (or the story of John Smith being stung by a stingray there) which had been pulled from the water at Windmill Point at 9 this morning and were being served at the winery by 11.

Great balls of fire, they were some of the best oysters I've put in my mouth, with a delicate salinity (love my salt) and a crisp mineral finish. The cups were deep, holding copious amounts of oyster liquid and they weren't overly chilled, making them taste like the oysters I'd been given by a retired judge right out of the river one day.

When my server dropped them off, she politely explained the mignonette to me with the caveat, "It's pretty strong, so just use a tiny bit on your oysters." Honey, these oysters were so fabulous I wouldn't have put anything on them, not even lemon (not that I was offered any).

The old gray-muzzled winery dog came over to say hello laying her head in my lap as I sipped my pink. Her head was hot because she'd just come in from outside but her eyes were knowing and friendly.

I'd taken a seat at the long wooden table piled high with oyster shells decorated by happy customers. Most people had written a remembrance on their shells.

55th birthday 7/16/15
Excellent wine, nice lecture!
Don't drink the water, fish pee in it!
a picture of a sailboat and the artist's signature (Drew)
Love making memories around the state- Navone hearts David

And anniversaries, lots of anniversaries: 11th, 25th, 35th.

While their son decorated a half dozen shells (after being told he was only allowed to do two), the couple at the far end of the table sat glued to their phones. She was particularly excited that after she'd posted where they were, 13 (thirteen!) friends had commented about how much they liked Dog and Oyster. They were so busy responding, they could have been on Mars for how much they were enjoying the view.

Their loss. My chair faced the verdant vineyards and the giant corkscrew sculpture that greets guest on the road, whether they arrive on foot, bike, car or trolley, all of which I witnessed sitting there.

After chatting with a couple from north Jersey ("Five miles from the city but we never go in. We hate it, we're country people." Uh huh, I can see that by your braless turquoise halter top, hot pink shorts and bleached blond hair...and she looked to be about 65), I finished the last of my wine and snagged a doggie treat out of the jar on the tasting counter on my way out.

I'd spotted the winery hounds on the other side of the fence and there was one I needed to say hello to, a beagle, of course. I can honestly say today was the first time I've ever sat in a vineyard with a beagle in my lap, scratching his ears and neck while I breathed my wine breath on him and he shared his dog breath with me.

But really, I was working before that.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

In the Bathroom

I love many things about living in Jackson Ward, not the least of which is its central location.

Because when I don't decide until 7:12 to attend the preview night production of Firehouse Theater's "The Boy in the Bathroom"-  which starts at 7:30 - it's s snap to drive there, buy a ticket and claim my favorite seat (second row, aisle) by 7:25.

The only downside was that I had barely any time to chat up strangers beyond discussing the set. The guy nearest me did tell me, "If my bathroom was as nice as that, I'd never leave it, either." Doubtful, but good for a quick laugh.

Since my decision had been last-minute, I knew nothing of the play. What I'd discovered when I was handed a program was that it was a musical.

What I learned during opening remarks by producing artistic director Joel Bassin, besides that it was volunteer appreciation night so most of tonight's theatergoers were ushers, was that they'd been charmed by the story and that we were the first audience in Richmond to see it.

There's always a certain pleasure in knowing you're the first, right?

Fully half the set was, what else, a bathroom (its most notable feature was the mobile of paper crane origami strung on dental floss from Rite Aid hanging from the ceiling), with a table and chairs and a rack of cleaning supplies making up the rest of the set.

The three actor play - David, the titular character who has lived in the bathroom for a year now, his overbearing and enabling mother Pam and Julie, a young woman who comes to help out when Pam falls on ice and breaks her hip - had been strongly cast with Denver Crawford, Catherine Shaffner and Rebecca Turner giving it their all.

David has chosen to live his life in the bathroom ("It's my abode and my commode") for two reasons: he needs to finish his master's thesis in philosophy and he has Obsessive-Compulsive disorder. He knows this isn't normal, but he also knows it's the only place he feels safe. "It's a great place to think," he tells himself.

You'd think this would worry a parent, but Pam is the great enabler, spending hours at the grocery store shopping for food that can be slid under the bathroom door which David never unlocks. When she's not buying pancakes and tortillas, she's obsessively cleaning her entire house.

Every single day. No neuroses there.

It's not until much further into the play that we learn she has her own demons caused by first her father's abandonment and then her husband's.

In a twisted way, she's happy to have her son entombed in his porcelain womb. At least he can't desert her like the other men in her life had.

Enter Julie, a young woman with a college degree, no car and a burning desire to escape Michigan who needs to earn money, signing on to clean house and help Pam during her recovery.

Intrigued by the idea of a young man choosing to limit his world so sharply, she begins talking to him through the locked door while Pam is at physical therapy. Eventually, they move on to playing games - chess, Go Fish, Life, Monopoly - with each other on either side of the door.

She's the spirit and positive energy of the play, always trying to push David to try something new. She convinces him to unlock the door briefly, but he won't open it. When he says he loves her, she sings "Say It to My Face." She continually works at earning his trust and then asking for more.

Without a doubt, the most powerful number in the production was "Full," a song Pam sings late at night - "I'm full, but I want more" - as she stuffs her face with David's leftover birthday cake and laments how fat she is. The strength and emotion of Shaffner's voice as she shoves cake in her mouth, icing smeared on her face and hands, was gut-wrenching. This was a deeply damaged woman.

Although (or perhaps because of?) Denver Crawford is just entering his third year as a theater major at VCU, his portrayal of David resonated as a young man still feeling his way in the world, trying to figure out if he even has a philosophy of life.

My only complaint was that it seemed like his hair should have been longer or at least not so neatly trimmed, given the year of bathroom living.

Although mental illness could make for heavy subject matter, there were more than enough humorous moments given the abundance of knock knock jokes, usage of toilet paper as props (David is writing his thesis on TP using the toilet as his desk) and bathroom humor (as a child, David awoke from sleepwalking to find he was peeing on his mother who was sitting on the toilet, a story that caused the biggest laughs of the evening).

At just 90 minutes (despite 15 songs) with no intermission, the time passes quickly watching this dysfunctional family and the unexpected interloper who stirs up emotions in both of them.

Who knew I'd luck into a quirky musical with some dynamite performances less than a mile from home tonight? My last minute decision pays off in spades...and toilet paper.

Doors Into Summer

I don't know if Art on Wheels did it with me in mind, but it's working out awfully well for me.

Last Tuesday they launched their summer project, "Find Art Doors," a group of 40 salvaged doors that were then painted by local artists and planted in the ground around town to be discovered.

So far, I've come across five, all by well-know and talented artists: Mickael Broth (the guy who did the looming wizard mural at the GRTC depot), Ed Trask (with his signature bird), Jackson Ward native Sir James Thornhill (right on Clay Street, so mere blocks from my house!), Noah Scalin (but of course there's a skull on it) and today's find, Chris Milk (in Oregon Hill, natch, and with his trademark bicycles).

Every time I come upon one, I'm surprised and delighted. I have no intention of looking at a map of where they all are because I want to feel like I stumble on them in a happy accident.

Because I set out to find none of them, I have done exactly what Art on Wheels wants: I'm discovering these works of art on old doors while enjoying my city. With 35 left, I've got some discovering to do, but also plenty of summer to do it in.

I came upon the one today as I was returning from my walk over to Belle Isle, a glorious day to do so given the 77 degree temperatures, low humidity and light breeze.

It was while I was sitting on a sunny rock there, my legs and feet submerged in the burbling water near a rapid, the back of my shorts getting rapidly soaked, that I hear a voice behind me.

"Can we take your picture and ask you a few questions?" a girl standing next to a guy with an actual camera (not cell phone) inquires. "It's for a project for school."

Sure thing.

"What did you have for breakfast?" she asks as the guy begins snapping. Oatmeal with fresh blueberries I tell her. "Mmm, that sounds delicious!" she enthuses. Given that it's high blueberry season, I assure her it was.

"Where do you live?" I tell her Jackson Ward and ask where she lives, Gesturing with her arm in a sweeping gesture, she says she lives everywhere. Not sure how to respond, I tell her she's lucky then.

"You look very happy," she states, which is not a question at all. Splashing my feet in the water, I ask her who wouldn't be happy sitting by the river on a day so gorgeous.

Smiling, she makes my day. "You're going to be my favorite picture."

She's going to be my favorite interviewer.

Sheena is a Punk Rocker

It was my first outdoor movie of the summer and hopefully not my last.

After a three course dinner with a favorite musician discussing a May Dweezil Zappa show at the National where middle aged men smoked pot openly, why "Hazards of Love" may be the greatest Decemberists record of all time, the appeal of the new "Mad Max" movie and why an omelet is better for you for breakfast than a salad, it was on the the great outdoors.

Okay, maybe not the greatest of outdoors, but the grassy lot across from Lamplighter and behind Yesterday's Heroes Vintage. While surrounded by buildings, street and cars, there were clouds overhead in a deep blue sky and recently cut grass underfoot. And lightening bugs, lots of them, twinkling all around us as I set up my lowest beach chair by the fence with a great view of the movie screen.

People brought blankets and snacks, chairs and beer and a few sat on the wooden picnic tables near the back. Clouds scuttled overhead and the organizers delayed starting until the sky morphed from blue to dusky before beginning.

Before long a couple of guys set up camp next to me, one described as having a good heart and the other nicknamed Cowboy. It was he with the hat and vest (which he'd sewn himself, making him a most unusual but talented cowboy) who turned to me just as the movie was beginning, holding a beer and raising an eyebrow to see if I'd like one.

Thank you, no. Besides, from the first frames, I was too enchanted with the 1979 gem "Rock 'n' Roll High School," a Roger Corman-produced film that had to have been an instant cult classic by 1980, to do anything else.

As probably the only person in the crowd who remembers 1979, the first thing I noticed was that the star of the football team wore a tie to school. Listen, children, and you shall learn: no guys were wearing ties to public school in 1979. And no freshmen were wearing beanies, either.

Hollywood, pure Hollywood.

The corny film had every cliche firmly in place: a principal who looked more like a prison warden with lipstick and fitted uniforms, a character named Coach Steroid and teen aged girls in the shortest of '70s gym shorts (oh, we all had them) and the brightest of fitted tank tops (or possibly body suits, just as popular at the time).

During a scene in the gym where a student successfully climbs the rope only to fear coming down (she slides, which if she'd done in real life would have removed the skin from her palms), a fate I recall clearly from 7th or 8th grade. I wonder if kids even have to climb the rope anymore in gym class.

In a scene that surely was seen by the makers of "Spinal Tap," the principal demonstrates the destructive powers of rock and roll by cranking the music in her office. What's hysterical is the settings on the volume control, which begin with Pat Boone, go up to Donny and Marie and continue through Kansas, Foreigner, Led Zeppelin and the Who.

At the top of the volume meter is the Ramones, the source of all the trouble at Vince Lombardi High, motto: "Winning is better than losing." So naturally, the student body's favorite band is the Ramones.

Our heroine is Riff Randell, a girl with enormous, long hair tied up in pigtails with yellow yarn (soooo '70s), who defies authority and plays the Ramones on school grounds. Scandalous!

While the movie used plenty of Ramones music, much of it played by the band as they join the plot, there were also other bands of that era. "Smoking in the Boys' Room" accompanied a scene in, where else, the boys' bathroom, where clouds of pot smoke masked a line that snaked to one stall where a savvy student helped others with their dating woes.

Just so we didn't forget it was set in a time long, long ago, there was a shot of a teenager reading Crawdaddy magazine and another where glass bottles of milk were delivered by a milkman. No, really.

But the essence of '70s-era cliches was the football star's tricked out van, a place he hoped would get him laid.  At one point, he used the red, push button phone in the van to call up a girl and tell her he was in his van, on the water bed, listening to his expensive stereo. "Wanna go out and get drunk?" he proposes suavely.

Some men are masters of the romantic approach.

The movie was funny, both intentionally - "My daughter Kate? I thought she was in the basement splitting photons." - and unintentionally, as in when the Ramones pull up in their car (license plate: Gabba Gabba Hey) singing a fully electric version of "Come on Let's Go," except their instruments aren't plugged in and there are no drums to be seen.

Mostly, it was a cliched rehash of youth versus authority with enough bad '70s hair and clothing (in one scene Riff wears a striped bodysuit with alternately striped tights and a scarf, causing one guy to comment, "She looks like Grimes." Actually, that would be Grimes aping the '70s, but no matter) to keep the crowd agog constantly.

During the scene where the Ramones played a concert in their town, the words to "Teenage Lobotomy" scrolled underneath the footage of them singing, like some bizarre punk singalong.

Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em
That I got no cerebellum

One of the coolest parts of the entire film was the ending where the photon-splitting smart girl (nice touch for 1979 for it not to be a guy) sets off a bomb to blow up the school and thus prove to the principal who's in charge. Turns out it was the actual demolition of that L.A. school they used in the filming.

The only thing that could top that was the scene of the Ramones and Riff singing "Do You Want to Dance," a song, I admit, I hadn't even known they'd recorded.

Movie Club is always a learning experience. And if I'm learning things from it, god knows the Grimes contingent is.

Afterwards, there were trivia questions with prizes for those who knew the answers, but if you ask me, the real prize was watching the Ramones, hair hanging in their eyes, awkwardly sing and act their way through "Rock 'n' Roll High School" under a canopy of stars.

Vans with waterbeds, tube socks up to your kneecaps and black marks on your permanent record. Good times.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

La Vie en Rose

We didn't storm the Bastille, but, make no mistake, things got pretty raucous.

Bistro Bobette was hosting those determined to celebrate French independence while eating and drinking well - people such as moi - although I did opt out of the waiter race scheduled hours earlier. I'd say it was because one can't spend an entire day celebrating the storming, except before the night was over, I met someone who did.

The bartender appeared quite happy to see me, a guy from Philly offered me a seat next to him and Le Figuier Rose seemed like the ideal pink with which to toast France.

Philly and I got to talking with a woman who gets to travel the world because her Dad's job is setting up wind farms and anytime he's doing it somewhere interesting, off she goes. Next up is Peru, but tonight she regaled us with her two trips to Australia.

Some of the best show and tell came from the bartender who shared that the chef had asked him what beer they could carry for tonight that was blue, white and red. Naturally, he suggested PBR, the people's beer of Richmond, but the best part was the video he showed me of the kitchen staff shotgunning PBRs in the back alley under the celebratory Bastille day banner.

Almost as good was his saga of the broken crepe maker, a potential disaster for a busy night in a classic French restaurant, but they adapted by rigging up what he called a "redneck crepe maker" by fitting the top part over another heat source - it wasn't pretty, I heard - and voila! Les crepes!

Before long, a favorite couple arrived to join the party and Philly moved to the end of the bar so we could sit together. After ordering duck rillettes along with a cheese and charcuterie board, conversation began ping-ponging around the bar as we ate with our fingers.

Since it had been a while since I'd been to Bobette, I was tickled pink (or was that the Figuier?) when the Gentleman from Upstate New York arrived and sat down next to me. We'd met years ago at this bar, but it had been far too long since I'd enjoyed some quality conversation with him.

He was the one doing the double dipping, having eaten lunch at Bobette earlier today, but he lives nearby and is such a regular, he can be counted on to eat there three or four nights a week, admitting that if they served breakfast, he'd consider doing all three squares there on occasion.

Conversation turned to restaurants - Southbound, Galley, l'Opossum, Roosevelt - and vacations, because the Gent was just back from his lake house and Philly was headed up that way Friday.

In walked another Bobette regular, the gentleman from Virginia in a suit and red tie, as traditional a southerner (read: churchgoer) as I've met at Bobette, although fortunately he has a whip smart sense of humor he wields often. Ordering the same Le Figuier as we were drinking, he raised his glass and began the toasting.

Out walks the chef to greet his guests, although I knew exactly what he wanted from me. Presenting a cheek and pointing, I delivered pink lip prints to both. After some Franco-American banter, I pointed to the nape of my neck, telling him I was wearing perfume brought to me from his hometown of Paris.

"My wife used to wear that!" he said, inhaling deeply near my hair while I pointed out that I was not his wife.

"I'm going to close my eyes and pretend that you are," he said suavely. We laughed about his introduction to PBR earlier this afternoon. I'd heard he'd moved from the city to the Avenues and inquired about his garden, knowing full well he must have one. He beamed just talking about it.

The bartender entertained us with stories and photos from his vacation in Colorado, a highlight of which had been an extended afternoon at a butchery selling over 160 kinds of locally caught meat. We're talking antelope, moose, buffalo, you name it. By the time they finished their man meat feast, they'd run up a $300 tab. I'll bet that was some outstanding eating.

Next to arrive unexpectedly was the friend whose lifestyle screams "conspicuous consumption," although he's currently trying to downsize by giving away stuff he doesn't actually use as part of a life simplification process.

When he spotted me, he made a crack to the bar at large about how I probably wasn't going to speak to him because it had been so long since we'd been out together, but instead I just feigned not recognizing him.

He took the seat recently vacated by the NY gentleman who'd left too soon and tried to get in my good graces by reminding me that he'd just last week invited me to go see Bill Maher with him, an eleventh hour offer I'd had to decline because of existing plans.

"But you were the first person I thought of to ask!" he insisted. Note to men worldwide: no one wants to turn down a $90 ticket but no one wants to be asked at the last minute, either. I introduced him to Pru and Beau with one of my favorite stories about him.

This is a man who created an Excel spreadsheet of the 77 qualities he wanted in a woman and then began dating (always telling the women on the first date that he would never marry or have children with them), checking off requirements along the way. He stopped when he met a woman who had 52 of the 77 and they've been together now for 14 years.

He'd come directly from his cocktail class, completion certificate in hand, so I had the ultimate surprise for him. Since we hadn't gotten together in months, he was unaware I'd begun drinking cocktails. His jaw dropped and he let out a heartfelt, "NO!?"

Yes. See what happens when you stay away too long?

Meanwhile, I moved on to a perfect summer salad of watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, Feta and greens, the same one the New Yorker had eaten and praised earlier (granted, he's also trying to lose a few pounds and give his liver a bit of a rest...such a smart man, that one) and it was easy to understand why after one satisfying bite of such fresh flavors.

In the tradition of Holmes regularly chiding me for my lifestyle choices when we go out (he rails against my lack of cell phone, refusal to watch movies on TV and the length of my bangs), tonight Pru decided to berate me for my 22-year refusal to use air conditioning as well as my green velvet couch which she considers hot and uncomfortable.

I'm noticing a pattern. No one seems willing to accept me as I am.

The cocktail king and I discussed Portland because he wanted a full accounting of where we'd eaten (by the way, he keeps a spreadsheet of his many restaurant visits also). He gave me props for Ned Ludd and Swedish restaurant Broder, saying the latter had been their best meal in all of the Rose City.

When he left, it was to go to a cocktail pop-up at Osaka, while we went back to witty repartee with anyone willing at the bar. Within moments, 22-year old A. had taken his stool, making for my fourth seat mate of the evening.

I do so love playing musical bar stools.

Uninvited, he didn't hesitate to join the conversation as he inhaled his steak frites and we debated our next course: sweet or savory? Pru announced that she wanted spinach while Beau and I put in our votes for frites (Pru insisting on curry ketchup) and chocolate mousse. For good measure, we also got the chef's housemade strawberry ice cream.

It was the spinach that got Alex excited. "That is so awesome that you're comfortable ordering spinach for dessert. Go for it! Do what you want," he enthused. Like Pru needs to be told to do what she wants.

It was about that time that I noticed that the music had gone quiet and if there's one thing I can't stand, it's a restaurant meal without music. Pru asked the bartender to correct the situation, which he did immediately, observing that she hated to hear people chew.

"I know, I hate loud chewers," A. roared and Pru joined in the rant, calling it one of her pet peeves. "It's like a symphony is going on in their mouths and I don't want to hear it!"

"No, no, not a symphony, because I would be okay with that," Pru corrected, "It's just that unpleasant noise. Like that sound when people kiss, I hate that sound, too."

It was clear these two were soul mates.

Because I didn't have a dog in this race, I was just happy when he left because he was a shouter and my position right next to him left me vulnerable to his volume.

The evening's last addition was a beer-drinking chef who'd just closed his won restaurant and come directly to the Bastille Day festivities. It worked out well as Pru began to plan Beau's upcoming birthday dance party (the birthday boy wants to play Twister and I think that sounds like a terrific idea) because he could guide her to choosing a day when he was free to attend, having missed her last soiree.

By the time it was decided that sleep was in order, we were the last four people standing. The chef had already claimed his good night kisses from me and gone home. Bastille Day was over.

I'm going to close my eyes and pretend it's not. GWAR Bar, anyone?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Bridge to Midnight and Beyond

You may call me many things, but gephyrophobic is not one of them.

Standing on the pipeline today, I saw a red kayak twisted in half on a rock and commented to the guy taking a photo of it, "That didn't end well," to which he responded. "Oh, but it did. We're both still here." Whoa.

Back in J-Ward, I passed a house where a man was leaning on his front porch rail. Waving hello, he called out, "You walk far! I saw you all the way on the other side of the Lee Bridge a couple days ago. Keep it up. You look good!"

I love a good walk across a bridge.

Before crossing another bridge tonight, I went to 821 Cafe for dinner. Sliding on to a stool at the counter, I spotted a sign saying, "Beer to go. Be a good friend. Save a party" (dramatic, but sound advice) and heard a server tell the bartender, "I need three shots of bourbon and a PBR." The table he was waiting on was a two-top. Happy Monday, kids.

The more things change at 821 (all new plastic chairs in orange, green, back and yellow), the more they stay the same vis a vis my beloved black bean nachos, eaten to a raucous soundtrack by the Replacements.

Properly fueled, I drove across the Manchester bridge to get to the Shop at Plant Zero for a community conversation about the proposed BridgePark, a plan to bring people to the river and the river to the city. Obviously, this is not a problem for me since I'm down there walking practically every day, but we know not everyone makes that effort.

After going around the room to introduce ourselves (we were mostly male) and share our favorite part of the James River Park System (the pipeline, duh), the presentation began, one filled with maps and drawings, projections of plans and schemes to create a series of clear, green connections to the riverfront.

This was the first I'd heard about the T Pot project -also known less charmingly as the Brown's Island dam walk - after city planner Tyler Potterfield, a narrow (8-10') walkway over the James to connect to Manchester. While it'll be great to have, it'll be too narrow for anything more than just people walking across it.

Enter Bridge Park, a plan that has yet to be finalized but whose instigators are floating all sorts of ideas for an elevated space that gives people fabulous river views and connects up to the city. They've got all sorts of auxiliary ideas: a green line biking trail to Petersburg, a reflecting pool in Kanawha Plaza that can be drained for concert audiences to sit on, a hanging plaza over Brown's Island. Rain gardens and storm water management. Routes that flow naturally as extensions through the city.

The latest plan involves taking two lanes of the under-utilized Manchester Bridge and converting them to green spaces for bikes and pedestrians, a place that can be used for events, food carts, benches and anything else the populace wants. Maybe an elevator down to the river or a crow's net for bird-watching.

Turns out hundreds of people jammed the center of the bridge on July Fourth to watch fireworks this year. I had no idea. Next year, I'll be one of them, assuming I'm in town.

Clearly, this is a project that will have to be tackled in smaller pieces.

The goal is to create natural pathways (no grade more than 5% for walkability) that encourage people to move through green space rather than roadways. There was even talk of making the current center walkway an express cycling lane once BridgePark provides alternate walking space.

During the discussion afterwards, people wondered about the cost, how long it might take and, of course, whether the populace will stand for losing two lanes of the Manchester Bridge. Here's the cold, hard numbers, though: the Huguenot bridge has two lanes and carries 25,000 cars a day. The Manchester bridge has 11 lanes for only 17,000 cars.

Them's the facts, folks.

After the discussion ended, I chatted with a musician friend, only to learn that he's a civil engineer by day. Outside, I found a group of people continuing the discussion and stopped to join them. Our quintet debated some of the points we'd just heard, citing other cities doing related and successful things.

All of us want to see it happen, yet we all know it'll be a long process and no doubt go through many iterations before a final plan is developed. As we were breaking up, one of the guys asked me about my bridge walking and more tangents followed as we discussed Earth Day festivals, granola types and commitment to a cause.

"Can I buy you a beer at Legend so we can keep this conversation going?" he asked. Much as I was enjoying it, too - he was a kindred soul on a lot of issues - I couldn't because I had plans. It's Harper Lee night.

Chop Suey Bookswas hosting a midnight book release party for Lee's new old book, "Go Set a Watchman," at Lemaire with fun, frivolity and cocktails.

Chop Suey's owner Ward had suggested two brilliant drink names, Tequila Mockingbird and Booze Radley, but Lemaire had ideas of their own with New York to Maycomb, Tired Old Town and, inexplicably, Argyle Vintage Brut.

It's crazy, I was drinking Argyle regularly in Portland, brought some to a party last week and now here it was again. Argyle, you are my destiny.

I found a decent-sized literary crowd mingling about when I got to Lemaire, although not as many familiar faces as I'd expected. The bookseller, natch, the movie maven (we compared notes on "Love and Mercy," got excited about our upcoming film al freco), and later on, my fellow history geek (lamenting over a recent lecture where the author had read, rather than spoken, the entire hour, boring us both to death), an editor and a smiling restaurant owner.

After procuring tequila from one of the overtaxed barkeeps, I decided to bide my time until a bar stool opened up. Conveniently, it was near another book lover, a guy from Ashland who, like me, had reckoned that there was no better way to spend this Monday night than waiting to be handed a book written before "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"Besides, I stay up late and get up late," he tells me. Welcome to the club, kindred soul.

It was his laughter that started the conversation because he'd tweeted about trying Belle Isle Moonshine for the first time a few minutes earlier and in response, someone had sent him a crazy headline about a goat drinking a beer and making some bad choices.

We bonded over our preference for books over electronic reading of books and newspapers (kill me now) and our mutual love of train travel (he can walk to the Ashland station), but it was sharing teenage drinking stories (his involved moonshine surreptitiously poured into a beer, leading to him walking his terrified dog down the median of a four-lane highway) that cemented the bond.

Naturally I shared my old chestnut about a gallon of Gallo wine and a Black Forest cake that, like the goat's sorry tale, also did not end well. "And such quality wine, too," he joked.

Talking about our love of reading and library book sales (Ashland's happens on the Fourth of July, as does the parade which he likes to march in), I floored him when I mentioned the downtown library's annual book giveaway. "I thought I was getting a deal paying a quarter for books! You got me beat." Yea, well, I do that sometimes.

Curious about how I'd found out about tonight's event (pu-leeze!), he'd come across it in Style Weekly's feed, making for a natural segue to what I do. Explaining the life of a freelance writer, he got points for intuitively knowing the challenges as well as the perks.

All of a sudden, people were starting to leave and we realized they had handsome books clutched to their bosoms. Midnight had come and gone without our even noticing it. We decided to be those people who didn't rush out just because they had book in hand.

We rounded out the night talking about the VMFA, east coast versus west coast, and about his swinging annual groundhog day party (he's a native Pennsylvanian) before Ward brought my book over and we said our goodnights.

"It's been fun talking to you. Here's hoping we run into each other again," he said as I shook his hand.

You may call me many things, but shy and retiring are not two of them.