Monday, August 7, 2017

Rainy Days and Mondays

The thing about working for yourself is that there are no hard and fast on or off days.

Which means when I take off for the beach on a Tuesday and don't come back until Friday, working the weekend is a foregone conclusion. That's merely an observation, not a complaint.

There are worse obligations than having to drive to the Northern Neck on a beautifully sunny day to check out a soul food restaurant. The special of the day was meatloaf, mashed potatoes and collard greens, but I had to have the crabcake sandwich because, well, because I'd passed multiple roadside signs advertising crabs for sale so my tastebuds were set.

Honestly, they were set for crab in childhood, but that's another story.

And while I certainly didn't need it, when I saw that they made their own cinnamon buns for breakfast, I had to have one of those, too. The size of a well-made pastrami sandwich, the roll was flaky, spicy and overly-indulgent with icing that surely contained a stick of butter on each roll. Mac would have loved them.

Because the Whitestone bridge is still under renovation, it's down to one lane which results in being stopped high atop the bridge for 3 to 4 minutes while the opposite lane passes.

The beauty of such a high perch is the magnificent view of the Rappahannock and, yesterday at least, the dozens of boats (both motorized and sailing vessels) traversing the rivers in pursuit of pleasure. The sailboats are the most picaresque to me but the foamy white V-shaped trails of the motor boats against the turquoise blue of the water also have their charm.

I was barely home an hour when I headed to an ACLU fundraiser and legislative letter-writing event organized by a 12-year old, albeit an extraordinary 12-year old. When I asked him if he could imagine a time when he wasn't active in the community, he paused and said without irony, "Yea, when I was 11."

Kids today! When I was 11, I was reading Nancy Drew books and riding my bike around the neighborhood, not trying to shine a light on democracy. I'm not sure one is better than the other but they sure are different.

I intended to spend part of my evening in service of my hired mouth but we arrived to find a locked door (despite online Sunday hours...grrrr, there's a pet peeve) and wound up at Garnett's instead. We took the table in the front, the one next to the two open windows - aka the best seats in the house - for an MLT (meatloaf clearly being pro-ordained today) and a Scuffletown chicken salad.

In lieu of dessert, I got a tour of my date's recently-built outdoor shower nestled between an old tree and the house. Textured window for view? Check. Large showerhead? Check. Bench? Check. Multiple hooks and shelves? Check. View of stars? Check.

Already, he's forsaken indoor plumbing for a daily diet of outdoor showers, as would I given half a chance (and an outdoor shower where I live). My sole contribution was giving my opinion on details (when asked) such as stringing covered lights for late night bathing.

Today I was up at the crack of dawn (okay, 6:45, but I don't honestly know when dawn cracks) to catch an 8:18 train to Annapolis. My only regret is leaving a forecast of two days of precipitation in Richmond because I love a good rainy day or two.

Taking such an early train on a Monday morning puts me in the company of lots of business types who undoubtedly do far more serious jobs than I do. They look so serious and they may be nice people, but I wonder how many of them know there's a full moon tonight?

I'm barely settled on Amtrak's Quiet Car when we stop in Ashland, where I spot Cross Brothers Grocery with a hand-written sign saying "Hanover tomatoes" in the window. Tis the season.

So much of the scenery after Ashland is swampy or at least low and recently rained on, so enormous puddles fill in between trees and track. I could practically feel the mosquitos breeding.

In Fredericksburg, the streets are empty and rain-slicked and while passengers climb aboard, I watch an older couple loading what looks like antique furniture into a space-age looking trailer from the back of a building labeled Gunston Hall in fading paint.

Meanwhile on the Quiet Car, people work on their laptops or nap, some with their heads awkwardly resting against the window and others, like the guy across from me, stretched out across two seats, his shorts-clad legs sprawled open and his sock-covered feet atop the armrest.

As we reach the Potomac river, the view becomes monochromatic with the water a still silvery gray and the surrounding trees a green-gray, very English landscape artist-like.

I can always tell when we're approaching Quantico because the architecture takes a hideous turn.  The military makes no secret of its preference for function over form, resulting in an abundance of warning signs, chain link fences and squat brick buildings with zero personality.

My guess is it would require a lot of off-base drinking to self-medicate the rigidity of that life.

But leaving that ugliness behind, the train precariously hugs the river for a bit and that's when I can catch glimpses of river life along the Potomac. Colorful little river houses hang off the side of hills, up on stilts to escape storm damage and no doubt difficult to get to unless you know the back roads.

I especially like the River Shore, which appears to be a bar and grill with a long dock, no doubt a social hub when the river people are down. The kind of place I'd like to drop in and strike up random conversations with people who spot me for the stranger I am.

The first time I made this trip, I got off in Alexandria and one time when I missed my train, I was driven to Alexandria to catch up with it, but I'm really not much of an Alexandria fan. The station is quaint, I'll give it that, but not much more.

Today, the station's environs continue to fail to seduce me with its brutalist architecture and scraggly trackside landscaping. Worse, no one in blazers or suits is smiling. Man, it must be a long week when you're already hating life on Monday morning.

Not surprisingly, I'm partial to stopping in Washington. It is, after all, the city of my birth and where I last lived before Richmond, so even though I'm sitting in a train car for 40 minutes while they change engines and crews, I still get a sense of the city. Self-important people are everywhere and I know their first question would inevitably be, "What do you do?"

Enjoy my life, sir, It's enough.

On this overcast day, the Washington stop's highlight is a gorgeous two-car vintage train with the words "Pennsylvania Norfolk Southern" written in gold. The cars themselves are a burnished burgundy color, the windows more intermittent than on Amtrak's newer trains. It clearly hearkens back to the golden age of train travel.

Just as familiar is my final stop, New Carrollton, where my family moved when we left the city. Of course, the train station didn't exist when I was a kid and even as recently as the late '80s, when I took the train to visit my family, I got off in Washington, but now Amtrak arrives at the same place the Metro does, a stones' throw from my childhood.

It's where I'll get picked up for the drive to Eastport, get some work done and then enjoy dinner riverside eating crabs while admiring the full moon.

Because who doesn't have a soft spot for being off in the evenings?

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