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Some kids break bad. I don’t mean to brag, but mine break good.


Getting it done

This same gentleman tore off paneling in another room one year he was in high school, inspired partly by a class on architecture. I guess he’s a little bored now, which works for me. And how handy that this little project that I’ve had little to do with other than breathe in lots of dust will provide fodder for a couple of more columns in RHome. And yes, those non-existent purple polka dots were my idea, several Super Bowl Sundays ago, in cahoots with my daughter. The stencil sizes were inspired by a piece of cardboard leftover from a box from some other project–think it held light fixture parts and it was a done deal. Or so I thought. Turns out there’s never a done deal around here….

My first task upon taking the job writing  Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond, VA was to come up with a Table of Contents and outline the book, pitching whatever chapters I thought relevant to Richmond.  Are you surprised I didn’t write one on monuments? Instead I suggested a river chapter since I don’t think you can appreciate Richmond without experiencing the James River here. (and yes I was on the board of the Friends of James River Park when I wrote the book–still am.)

Some cities’ guidebooks combine Recreation and Parks in one chapter. I knew we had more than enough to split that, so I did. I added an Architecture chapter because RVA is so strong and quirky in that area–Agecroft and Phillip Johnson’s WRVA building and Thomas Jefferson’s Capitol, oh my! And for that war you’ve probably heard about, I paired it, a la Future of Richmond\’s Past, with Emancipation, so visitors don’t think we’re living in some twisted, glorified past. What happened here is more complicated than most people realize and there are lots of compelling and illuminating stories that still need telling.

I didn’t like that in the Houston guide, which oddly enough was my template, art galleries were listed only in the Shopping chapter, so I paired our art galleries with museums in one chapter. Historic houses get their bit in the Attractions chapter.

In the Restaurant chapter and several others, I decided to do things differently than most dining guides around here and not go alphabetically. It made no sense to me to let Ashland, no matter how many times I’ve heard it referred to as the center of the universe, get top billing in Richmond’s book when it’s 15 miles out of town. And Brandermill and Chester!!! Um no.  I started Downtown and circled around within the city north of the river and then went south of the river for the rest of the city. Only then was it the counties’ turn.

Let’s not kid anybody–the best attractions are within Richmond’s city limits. Sometimes in the guise of regional cooperation, people fudge that. I put the city front and center as often as it made sense to. There’s just no question where the action is even if the counties offer some interesting and worthy destinations now and again-the State Fair in Doswell is one such event.

I could psycho-analyze Richmond all day long and share my various theories about why we hide our light under a bushel, but I’d rather blow the lid off and show people how worthy we are–even if we’re not  quite ready.

See my article online at Richmond Magazine, Richmond, You are Here, for more of my thoughts on improving the visitor experience in Richmond. I’d love to hear yours.

The other morning I was banging around Shockoe Slip and Bottom taking photos when it occurred to me that I could run a couple of blocks west on East Cary to get up close and personal with the SunTrust building, the 400ft. building I and several dozen other people will be rappelling down Oct 22 and 23rd as a part of Virginia Special Olympic’s Over the Edge Richmond extreme fundraiser.

That's a lot of feet.

I rappelled 90 ft. off a building when I was in high school, and a few times on canopy tours, and once right here in Richmond after treeclimbing with Riverside Outfitters but 400 feet is many more feet than I can get my brain around, much less the rest of my body on board.
This past Wednesday, as a part of the Virginia Center for Architecture’s architectural walking tour series, Look Up! , I saw the, in architect-speak, “extreme verticality” of the Central Fidelity Bank on Broad St. It’s less than 300 ft. Gulp.

Had never seen Joan Armatrading in concert (or in the grocery store or anywhere else for that matter) until dragging the very gallant hop-a-long guy with me to one of Richmond’s many cool, renovated old theaters, The National the other night. It was only a little distressing that I had been turned down by approximately 18 friends in the days before. In their defense–or mine–several of them were out of town or at board meetings or are creative excuse-makers. Some are just lame. (I’d say you know who you are, but you probably don’t–that’s part of your lameness that I find charming.)

I hadn’t paid any attention to Joan since the ’80’s when the album photos seemed to indicate she was fit and Afro-ed, so it was a surprise to me to see a dead ringer for a retired librarian walk onstage wearing comfort sandals and big tent pants and shirt–sort of a Communist China look. Her straightened hair covered too much of her smiling face. Her three-piece band of 3 guys smiled, too.  It could have been my Aunt Maria out there in front of her three sons (except it couldn’t have been for all sorts of reasons I will not go into) –until the music started. Man, that woman can play the guitar.  Wow. She’s near 60 and her voice is still very cool–high, low and everywhere in between–and her band was tight and pumping.

not Joan Armatrading's guitar--or mine for that matter

Still the whole thing was incongruous. I certainly don’t think every performer should have to look like Tina Turner or dress like Beyonce, so, once the music started it was actually refreshing to see somebody being comfortable being her talented self–wearing comfortable shoes.  I could have done without the overly long audience participation thing that proved that Joan is a control freak and that Richmonders are easily controlled. For the record, there is no need to repeat anything 60 times.  Her set ended with a rollicking  Me, Myself, I (I got gimpy out of there before the encore. It was the least I could do–really–the least.)

Musicians (and writers) are notoriously self-absorbed. Lucky for all of you, I don’t demand audience participation and I’ve (unselfishly, of course) decided to use my self-absorption for the greater good. How’s that working out?

When I signed on to write the Insiders’ Guide to Richmond, like any good freelance writer, I figured I would do as many fun things I’ve always wanted to do as I could and write them off for tax purposes.  If there is another reason to be a freelance writer, I haven’t found it. Since I started the project just before Christmas and had no time to shop for my children who don’t need anything, I also figured it would be thoughtful of me to include my family in my work and make them do (I mean give them tickets for) a Segway tour of downtown Richmond.  Segway of Richmond    

I’d been on a Segway briefly once, and it was really fun, so I honestly thought they might like the zooming about our town on wheels. (Has anybody staged Our Town using Segways? Be my guest.)   I booked us a 4-person trip to see the landmarks of our fair city. Couple problems. The mere mention of the gift was met with groans–yet another attempt at forced family fun. My children were home December and January and between busy social lives, frigid temperatures, lots of frozen precip, and zero interest, there was never a good day to do the tour. They didn’t want to go AT ALL. Perhaps it had something to do with the fear of not being cool. How’s that? How could riding on a Segway with a bike helmet on with a hipster tour guide and your parents not be cool? 

So with my children’s blessing and sighs of relief, my husband and I finally took the tour this beautiful, balmy Sunday morning with a couple of fun friends who had no qualms about looking goofy on Segways. That’s kind of a pre-requisite. I admit I was a little nervous after another friend told me she had seen a woman wipe out nastily on the tour we were about to take,  and then when the very patient tour guide mentioned it was “all about balance–just like skiiing”–I had to laugh since the last dumb thing I had done in a series of dumb things that usually involve propelling myself inappropriately out-of-control was tear two ligaments skiing–but the die had been cast.  And I’m happy to report that nobody died–or wound up in a cast. One woman tried to repeatedly, but she was unsuccessful.

Let me be clear. A cute 23 year old on a Segway is cool. The rest of us—not so much. When we arrived at the shop and saw our comrades-in Segways were four women in their late 60’s and early 70’s, it suddenly didn’t seem like we were living on the edge quite so much anymore. Ah well.

I’m back!



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