Old Dog, New Tricks

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. When I lived there, it was a pretty poor excuse for a major city. Sure, there was all that history, the beautiful old buildings, the James river and the greenery. There was soul food and plenty of places to get pancakes. But if you wanted ethnic food, your choices were Olive Garden or Chi-Chis. The vegetarian option most places was vegetable sides and rolls. If you wanted to see a major band that wasn’t Christian or Country, you usually had to drive to D.C. There were, in fact, 4 country radio stations but no modern rock station. Every other car on the road sported a gun rack, a rebel flag, or both. There was a pretty cool small punk rock scene and that was definitely where I spent my free time. But other than that, it was pretty difficult to locate any culture at all.

I lived in Richmond (well…OK…the suburbs thereof) for 11 years. When I graduated from high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I went to college as far away as I possibly could and still live in the continental U.S. I visited several times a year until I graduated and never really noticed any progress. So once I started living my adult life, I hardly ever had reason to go back. I took my friend Faye as my date to my dad’s wedding in 2002. Our hotel was downtown. When the wedding wrapped up at 11, we weren’t ready for bed so we hit the town. It was a Friday. But the town was empty. We went into a bar where a man was playing acoustic guitar. We were the only people in there besides him and the bartender. We ordered drinks and sat down in the back. We clapped in between songs and then regretted it because he started talking to us. From stage. After every song. Eventually, he asked us for requests. We finished our drinks and left. We wandered around for a bit longer before deciding to see what was on pay per view back in the hotel.

When my friend Frank chose to move there, I thought he was nuts. He insisted it was a cool place. Frank is a pretty hip guy, but I had a hard time believing him.

This past weekend, my dad retired from his company after working there for 22 years. They loved him and threw him a big party. He’s been working, in some capacity, since he was 14 years old. He raised 2 kids, and then, when he finally shuffled them out of the house, he re-married and got 2 more kids. My husband and I went to celebrate his well-deserved break. It was held at the Art Museum. The food was amazing. There were speeches and lots of leaky eyes. There was a D.J., dancing (mostly done by my dad and step mom) and an open bar (mostly utilized by yours truly). It was a terrific party.

My step mother leads the charge on The Electric Slide

But that my dad had touched this many people, that they admired and respected him so much and were sad to see him go, that they could throw such a terrific party in his honor, were not the surprising things. What surprised me, was that Richmond is no longer a lame place to live.

My old man gives a speech…makes everyone cry.

It’s actually really cool there now. REALLY cool. On Friday before the party, B and I wandered around. We had sweet tea and sweet potato fries at Gutenbergs, a cafe with several vegetarian and vegan options. We did the Canal Walk. We checked out the Poe Museum (inside the oldest standing house in Richmond, est. 1737). We had lunch with my dad and aunt at Millie’s Diner, another menu full of vegetarian options. I took pictures of an old train, old buildings and lots of murals. That stuff was all there when I lived there, of course. The preservation of old buildings has long been my favorite thing about the city. They really have a respect for history there. I wish Seattle would take a queue from them sometimes.

On Saturday, we hung with Frank. He took us to yet another cafe full of vegetarian options. Then he rattled off, like, FIVE things going on that day that sounded cool. Unfortunately, they were all outdoors and the weather had other plans for us. It hardly ever rains in RVA but when it does, it pours. And pour it did. We decided to go to the store and get some BBQ ingredients in the hopes that it would let up. If it didn’t, we could still BBQ and eat inside. If it did, we could wander around or maybe hit one of the day’s outdoor events.

When we left the grocery store, it had stopped raining and the sun was out. We dropped off the groceries and went for a walk down Carey street. It was always the coolest street in Richmond, but it wasn’t always so diverse. In addition to the boutiques and movie theatre of old, there are now indie book stores, knick knack shops, gourmet ice cream (chai and mexi-chocolate flavors!) and a huge record store. We spent some time at Chop Suey, a hip bookstore complete with cat. Got some aforementioned ice cream and headed back to the house.

$2 movies at the historic Byrd theatre.

And then it rained again. So much so that we couldn’t make it the remaining 3 blocks without getting drenched. Fortunately, there was a bar right there and they didn’t mind that we had dripping ice cream cones. We had a beer and waited out the rain. Then we returned to Frank’s incredibly cool row house for some porchin’. God, I love porchin’. Our next house absolutely must have a porch on which we can place a couch or a swing. It’s imperative.

Porchin’ it.

After BBQ we headed out to an event that was, thankfully, indoors: the Found! Magazine show at Gallery 5. The founders of Found! were there, reading their favorite found notes, letters and receipts and singing songs inspired by said found words. It was a pretty incredible show. (And guess what! They’re coming to Seattle this summer!).

Indoor BBQ.

Found! Magazine show.

After that, we returned to Frank’s place to shoot pool, listen to music and chat with him and his awesome girlfriend, who had returned home from work at the liquor store. She had some terrific stories about said job. We also dug into my earlier impulse buy of a Carvel’s ice cream cake. Sadly, there was no Cookiepuss, (OR Fudgy, the Whale), but it was delicious nonetheless.

All day long I marveled about how much fun I was having. I mean, when I lived there, I had fun sometimes, but it wasn’t easy. This was effortless fun. Throughout the day, I saw fliers everywhere for things I wanted to do if only I was staying longer. Cure cover bands, 80’s and electro dance nights, readings and art shows. It was like Georgetown had been transplanted to the South. I suppose it had to happen sometime. A city can’t live in the past forever. Cheap rent attracts poor, creative types, some of whom are vegan and many of whom sport sleeve tats. I’m really happy that it happened to RVA. It’s no longer the stagnant, backwards place I grew up in. It’s even somewhere I could see myself living again (if I could get past the unbearable summer heat and mosquitoes).

Perhaps the biggest sign of change (after their blue state showing in the 2008 election) is that, in December, they are banning smoking in public places. It won’t be like in Seattle. You’ll still be able to smoke right in front of doors. Furthermore, “private clubs” will still allow smoking so a lot of bars will probably turn private, using the Utah model of $1-5/year membership fees. I bet elementary school children don’t even go to Philip Morris for field trips anymore.

It’s toasted!

Yes, Virginia is now a blue state with smoking bans and vegan restaurants. Things are looking up for America. And I’m so happy that RVA is doing their part. I was filled with pride this past weekend. Pride for my (current) dad and my (former) home state.


1 Comment

  1. Yeah, you know I’ve been hearing good things about this place…

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