Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thursday in the Park with Michael

A day after I left the country, Monroe Park finally reopened.

This morning was my first opportunity to see what the city and VCU had wrought after nearly two years of endless renovation inconveniencing me. Yes, me.

While everyone was (deservedly) harping on all the big, old trees that were cut down and bemoaning the displacement of the homeless in the park (also justified), absolutely no one was talking about how having the park closed affected my walking life.

When I want to go to Dinamo or 821 Cafe, I cut through the park. Or, more accurately, I used to. When I'm coming back from Texas Beach, hot, tired and sweaty, the park offered a short cut for the last half mile stretch. When I wanted to stop at my favorite thrift store to score a $3 dress, cutting through the park shaved off some time. I've seen art exhibits, been to festivals and taken in InLight installations in that park.

But then you add in the overlapping ICA construction (finally finished) on the nearby corner and that whole area has been off-limits to locals like me for what felt like forever.

So when I set out for the Boulevard this morning, I intended to see what the new and improved Monroe Park was all about because driving by is no substitute for determining the quality of a renovated park.

Immediate conclusion? I miss the tree cover of those old growth trees that were uprooted, but I can accept that the sight lines are cleaner and more open now. The extensive flower plantings along Belvidere are well-intentioned, but could they have picked more ubiquitous or uninspiring flowers? No, they couldn't have. And where the hell are the array of park benches that would provide momentary respite to a weary walker?

But then, under a canopy on the Laurel Street side, I saw the brightly-painted piano and heard the sound of ivories being tickled as I got closer. A student, his black backpack tossed atop the piano, was dazzling my ears with something classical I didn't recognize as I walked toward Floyd Avenue.

It was the most beautifully unexpected addition to my walk and I'm not too proud to say I noticeably slowed my pace so I could hear it for a while longer.

And although I don't usually take the same route coming and going on my daily constitutional, you can be sure I returned along Floyd in hopes someone would serenade me again. Sure enough, I spotted a man in a cap, his bike lying on the ground next to the piano, plucking away. Again, I slowed my roll to get maximum ear time.

Just as I came abreast of the piano, the pianist looked up and smiled. "Hi, Karen," he called. Sure enough, it was someone I knew, an author and DJ, a teacher and musicologist with a social justice bent and a killer smile.

Hi, Michael. I only hope my face conveyed my pleasure at his music-making.

A few minutes ago, I saw he'd posted video of a snippet of his playing, saying that he was back in Monroe Park, "Blazing that chronic like it's 2001," and I couldn't resist commenting on how much I'd enjoyed hearing him play earlier.

"Ha! You caught me in the act! Good to see you..." he wrote back.

Okay, maybe I am okay with this whole Monroe Park renovation thing. All it took was a colorful public piano in a city full of musicians and artists to make me realize how wonderful it is to have the park open and available to all again.

Here's to catching anyone I can - friend or stranger - in the act.

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