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We don’t need Clarence the angel’s help to get our 350 completed license plate applications by January–we need YOURS! We’ve received more than 190 completed applications so far, but we need another 160 this next month to make this dream a reality. I believe, but Friends of James River Park needs all of our members and friends to send applications in today! (Pay with PayPal at  and get the application and info)

Here are 5 ways to help us get the plate now:

 #1 Think of the people who have made the park possible–Jack Keith, Jr., Joe Schaefer, Louise Burke, R.B. Young, and so many more. Buy a plate in their honor. I’m giving Louise a plate as a small token of appreciation for her work with her Girl Scout troop and concerned neighbors saving Pony Pasture from becoming a highway in the 1960’s. I’m a Brownie drop-out and I do NOT want to compound that humilation with having to tell Louise that she’ll never get a James River Park System license plate. Let’s get this done! Whom do you want to honor? 

 #2 Please spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. SportsBackers, Dominion RiverRock and our James River Park Facebook page. That will keep the buzz going.

 #3 Ask your friends and neighbors. Have their walks, runs, paddles, and bike rides in the James River Park System given them $25 worth of value this year?  It’s time to give the JRPS a present for all it has done for all of us. 

 #4 If you know of any large-scale event coming up (even in January) where park-lovers would be gathering and we could set up a table to promote the plates, please let us know at and perhaps volunteer to staff such tables.

 #5 For the person who has everything this holiday season, give him or her the promise of beautiful James River Park license plates. It’s a green gift–no wrapping necessary– and it will add park pride to the owner’s vehicle when they receive it in June. They’ll be reminded of you every time they ogle their plates.

 FOJRP believes it is crucial for the Friends to secure this dependable stream of income (once we have 1000 plates on the road, FOJRP gets $15 of every renewal and new application over that) in light of uncertain budgetary times for parks. We have composting toilets, trailhead signs, kiosks, trail markers and more we’d like to purchase and programs we’d like to underwrite so everyone can enjoy the park for years to come. Thanks so much for your help in clearing the first hurdle of our license plate campaign this January.

At Bryan Park last Friday I saw the premiere of Gabriel’s Story, a monologue written by Derome Scott-Smith for the 100th anniversary of Bryan Park.   The premise is that Gabriel is in his cell the night before he is to be executed at the Hanging Grounds in Shockoe Bottom, near Broad Street.  Gabriel’s life is a rich source of dramatic material–born into slavery in1776, just a year after Patrick Henry bellowed his most  famous words in St. John’s Church on Church Hill: “…Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”  It’s as if Henry wrote those words completely aware of chains but completely unaware of those chained all around him, dismissive of the plight of someone like Gabriel. That’s a pretty good juxtaposition–Gabriel and Patrick Henry, right there (and right here in Richmond), and the more you learn about Gabriel, the more fascinating it gets.

I wish I could report the piece worked as historical reenactment, but it did not. The setting, at dusk at Bryan Park, near squealing soccer players, bike-riding children, and oblivious others did not help set the scene.  I felt badly for the actor, who seemed to have trouble with his lines–also the wind bedeviled him as he tried to light candles frequently for symbolism.

Gabriel had more room to roam than I’d expect to see in a cell and it strained credulity to think a powerful figure such as Gabriel would be allowed the hefty club he occasionally picked up to mime field work or blacksmithing.

These are trifles though. Unfortunately, the monologue was too much of a monotone that in telling a valuable, underappreciated story had only a few memorable lines in 30 minutes. As dramatic as the elements of Gabriel’s life and death are, as many ties there are that bind his life to the contradiction at the heart of our nation’s beginnings, wordiness worked against the piece. Gabriel grew up enslaved in Henrico County, became a blacksmith, and hearing the stirrings of revolution in France and Haiti, planned a slave rebellion in1800 that included thousands, only to be foiled by a freak storm and snitches.

Think about how hard it is to get a thousand people to do something really hard. Even with the storm–I think of it as a Gaston-style storm from the descriptions of flooding–1000 people gathered in Henrico County, ready to storm the city, set fire to Rockett’s as a diversion, take over the armory, kidnap Governor Monroe, and raise a flag that was to say Death or Liberty. Sound familiar, no? And they were going to kill any whites along the way who weren’t abolitionists, French, Quaker, or Methodist to preserve the element of surprise.  Now that’s a plan.

More people know about Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831 than Gabriel’s, perhaps because Turner’s killed white people and of course, William Styron wrote the book, but Gabriel’s story can more than hold a candle to Nat Turner’s. I appreciate the attempt at dramatizing the story for a wider audience. Perhaps future performances will show improvement.

The monologue will be performed again Friday evenings in Bryan Park, Oct. 1st, 8th, and 15th at 6:30 p.m., so see for yourself what you think of the script and production. It’s an important story that more people in Richmond  and beyond should know.

Yes, in the scheme of things it’s a little hard to get worked up about the travails of writing a guidebook, so I won’t whine here too long. But after cruising through several Chesterfield County parks this past weekend and hitting some historical sites and then trying to garner some actual facts off of certain websites that will remain nameless, and not getting responses from various county folks in various counties, I’ve come to the realization that my preface might very well say, if you can read between the lines,  something like: Who cares? Find it yourself. Why bother?

Hmmm, I’m sure I’ll get a better attitude soon.  Oddly it does perk me up to come across misinformation while I’m trolling Richmond-related websites. The Richmond Marriott’s site blames the Union army for burning Richmond!!! Not true!!! And don’t get me started about my current least favorite website that my tax dollars are funding.  No parks are listed in the downtown area. Um, that’s so wrong I can hardly stand it.

Traipsing through actual parks is as frustrating sometimes as winding my way  through websites.  Chesterfield County doesn’t admit on its website that Mid-lothian Mines Park is a county park, though it is and there’s a sign pointing it out. When my husband and I pulled in to see if it was worth featuring, there was no map or markings to indicate where any of the supposed interesting features might be.  We walked up and down the path both ways for a ways and saw nothing but the backs of houses and some condoms on the ground. Didn’t exactly entice us onward, so we left.  I have since seen photos from a friend that would seem to indicate it’s a worthwhile place to go. The information age has a lot of growing up to do.

It’s official: I am losing my mind. For too long this week I was stuck in the 1600’s writing my Insiders’ Guide chapter on Richmond history. Hey, I grew up in Maryland and I swear they didn’t mention one word about Jamestown in my schooling, so it’s a lot to get my head around…only to have to slog through the 1700’s etc. etc.

As far as I can tell, Richmond history is one long painful and traumatic episode after another–Indian annihilation, slavery, war, segregation, and on and on. And according to my instructions, I’m supposed to “keep it light.”  That’s almost funny. Yes, Seinfeld did have some laughs at the expense of the Holocaust, but I’m not willing to go there.

I’ve actually choked up at my computer more than once writing about Richmond, and I daresay it’s not because my writing is so heartbreakingly beautiful. I suppose it could be due to the thought that I have something like 25 more chapters to write, 100 restaurants to review and Richmond nightlife to discover. Hmm, could be a problem. There’s just been so much stupid pain here–not all of it Richmond’s fault–as the world, country, and state all had a hand in the sweep of history, but I usually choke up writing about the people who stuck it out, who stood up or walked out or sat-in to prove their point. And more people know the name of the punk who beat up his girlfriend and did community service here in Richmond (I know his name, too, but I’m not going to put it here.) than any of these worthy people.  That’s just the way it is, to quote another Virginian.

I’m back!