The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Monday, June 30, 2003

The Rapp brothers, the snootiest if not the most prolific of movie palace architects, defended the excesses of their spectacular creations by declaring them “social safety valves”. The idea was that for less than one dollar, Everyman could indulge in the pleasures once reserved only for Bourbons and Habsburgs, and see a picture beside.

This weekend I discovered something that works in reverse, a miraculous thing that humbles the proud and brings the world of the great unwashed to the gilded plates of the haughty.

That something, ladies and gentlemen, is Greyhound.

Thanks to colossal mounds of red tape in the Baltimore board of education, I ended up having to sit for an examination in Petersburg because everything in Maryland was already full. And, because Amtrak has decided to keep the great unwashed away from its trains by raising ticket prices, I decided to side with my pocketbook instead of with my instinct, and got a round-trip bus ticket to Virginia.

When you step into the 1912 glories of the Pennsylvania Station, with its blinding-white Doric columns, Rookwood tile and delicately-traced skylights, you feel Important. You are Going Somewhere. In Washington’s soaring Union Station, you are Travelling. As you step on the train in one of these edifices, you want to turn around, affect a Leyendecker pose and wait for the Sun’s social photographer to capture your smartness for the Metrogravure section.

When you enter the unlit, crumbling ‘60s hall of the Fayette street bus terminal, you mostly want to make sure that you don’t come away with a social disease.

No longer are you the high-toned Baltimorean on his way to gracious Richmond on a mix of business and pleasure. You are now grappling for eight-inch-wide seats with extended families, half the population of the Yucatan, and hard-bitten waitresses trying to get back to Elkins to see their families.

Because it is my lot to end up next to happy, chattery people while travelling, I ended up next to an excited steamfitter from Elizabeth, NJ, who was going down to Richmond to see the races. These are CAR races, mind you, and although it’s a pretty big industry, most Richmonders I know couldn’t even tell you very accurately where the racetrack is. He rattled on happily for two hours about races and Elizabeth and wanted to know everything I knew about Baltimore and Richmond and what should he see there and did I like the races in Richmond, and is that the Washington Monument and isn’t it the most beautiful sight? I was able to commiserate with the guy across the aisle, who was a very tired sailor on his way back to Shreveport. He was looking at another twenty-two hours on this godforsaken conveyance and had negative interest in smoke-belching Pontiacs.

The way back was rather more traumatic, because I missed the connecting bus in Washington and because the way there from Richmond was spent in the company of a child whom I shall call Poopy Pants. You’d think that the mother of a five year old, if she didn’t want to change his soiled clothes, would at least not let him walk up and down the aisle of the bus dripping fecal matter. When, in the Nation’s Capital, I finally did catch a bus back to Baltimore, it insisted upon stopping in Silver Spring. That otherwise pleasant suburb has a bus station that walked right out of a National Geographic special. It is housed in a converted Sunoco station. When the bus pulls up, it is immediately surrounded by a multiethnic swarm, all of whom hail from cultures where lining up is perceived as a tool of demons. The bus station actually employs big burly men to function as bouncers. I was fairly certain that I had somehow space-warped to Mogadiscio.

On my return I didn’t even go inside the station, which is sort of groovy in a ‘60s way despite its overwhelming filth, and beelined over to Charles street to catch an uptown car. Never was I so happy to get on a Baltimore city bus–a nice, clean, uncrowded, poop-free city bus.

I’m sure that I should feel all enlightened for having spent nine hours with the proletariat over the last few days. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect. I’m not travelling again until I can afford to do it in the lounge car of the Palmetto Express.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

This morning I was the recipient of a very weird insult, which was probably the result of somewhat confused road rage.

There are a few streets in Baltimore that one really should not, at any time, try to cross on foot. I, of course, live within a stone’s throw of two of them. I was crossing 25th street this morning (which, as you may have guessed, is one of those streets) when a white Smallmobile (TM) screeched around the corner and nearly turned me into street pizza. Now, in all fairness, we both had the light; so he wasn’t turning illegally, but you ARE supposed to yield to pedestrians. Especially pedestrians who are not morning people, have bad tempers, and know a couple of large humorless men with guns.

So I yelled something along the lines of “Watch it, jerk”, which got the response of “F*cking nigger!”

Well, that’s a new one. I was more bemused than anything else because...well, I’m not. There is an extremely wide variety of insulting words that DO apply to me, but that one isn’t one of them. I mean, hey, if you’re going to say something like that, get it right.

Anyway, the guy’s lucky he didn’t say that a few blocks further east or he’d have gotten some unplanned facial surgery.

The truly sad thing here is not one person’s ignorance (and apparently poor vision), but that most American cities just aren’t meant for pedestrians anymore. Everybody drives everywhere and so nobody expects someone to actually cross the street on foot. People at JHU are shocked and frequently pitying when they learn I walk to work. Come on now, doesn’t it seem more than a bit foolish to drive eight blocks? One of the major benefits of living in a city is the possibility of reaching a lot of amenities, maybe your workplace, on foot or by public transit. It’s also the most widely ignored benefit of city life.

A friend lately suggested that I should rent a giant yellow Humvee for a couple of days just because it would screw with people’s minds. I think I just might do it, if I can remember how to drive (like foreign languages, driving escapes your mind if you don’t do it for a long time). I have a feeling, though, that if I drove that stupid thing I’d liquefy a hapless pedestrian on 25th street.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Well, let’s just make it Diner Day all around, shall we? (See Lisa and Bill’s blogs for further diner experiences.)

The nice thing about diners is that, within reason, you know what to expect and you get it served with a hefty slice of Grade A Americana. Nobody else has diners really, and most civilized nations congratulate themselves on that fact. It’s nonetheless comforting to sit down in deluxe chrome and formica splendor to a nice plate of eggs, scrapple and grits, and nice hot coffee.

My faves? Surely you’ll expect North Baltimore’s sacred Bel-Loc (also known as the Belch-a-Lot) to top the list, but really I prefer the Double T on Pulaski Highway – not, mind you, the newer, overblown fifties-ized Double T’s in Glen Burnie and Catonsville. Also high on the list are the Triangle in Winchester (good show, Lisa!), the Blue Star in Newport News and the Tastee 29 in...well, whatever municipality it is in Northern Virginia. I have a feeling that it was built on a lonesome stretch of nothing that eventually became haut suburbia.

Which brings us back to Babylon-sur-Hudson. Hands down, the best meal I’ve ever had in New York was not really in New York proper, but in Brooklyn. Never mind that pesky unification back in 1900; I still think of Brooklyn as a separate and infinitely more pleasing city. Brooklyn is normal. It has big buildings but nothing ridiculous; it still has ethnic neighborhoods, it has a big downtown department store that looks almost exactly like Hutzler’s in Baltimore, and it has Junior’s at Flatbush and DeKalb.

Junior’s is the kind of place that still has little jars of pickles and chow-chow on the counter so that you can help yourself before your food arrives. When the food DOES arrive it’s delicious and there’s a hell of a lot of it. Last time I was there I had a tuna melt. Served openface, that sandwich gave Raquel Welch a run for her money. And oh! that cherry pie. You’ll think you’ve died and gone, wherever they make really really good cherry pies.

The people in Brooklyn are also normal. Walking along Flatbush I saw crowds of people of various races; nice little old ladies with shopping bags, school kids, businessmen and telephone linemen. In Manhattan, on the same trip, I saw lots of people wearing Prada. Men and women, all wearing Prada-ish stuff, and all wearing clogs. Men, in my experience, look absolutely foolish in clogs, unless they’re chefs, in which case it’s an occupational standard rather than a Look. The clog wearers were invariably nattering on their cell phones to broadcast their importance to the world. The Brooklynites were mostly shopping and eating, which are rather more normal pastimes.

Anyplace where restaurants still have chow-chow trays, I could call home.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I love hot dogs. Really, I do. They’re delicious, cheap, and have no contents that even resemble natural food products. How can you go wrong? And does anything, except beer, taste better at a ball game or a Fourth of July picnic?

I was thinking about hot dogs–no, actually, I was desperately craving hot dogs–when I caught up with Lisa’s blog this morning. (I was in fact wondering if the hot dog guy had set up over by Wyman Park and if so, how many people would think I’d gone loopy for eating hot dogs at 9:30 in the morning.) Lisa quoted a Mets fan: “The easiest sports job in the world is to be a Yankee fan”.

I’d have to agree. You have a good team, and part of Yankee-fan territory is the God-given right to be a complete dick while maintaining whiny arrogance.

I’m inordinately fond of John Rocker for two reasons: a) he’s way hot and b) he’s dead on about New York.

Every time I’ve seen the Yankees play in Baltimore, their fans are jerks. Other teams’ fans indulge in good-natured ribbing when they visit. Which is normal and part of being a fan. The New Yorkers take everything personally and are insulted that they have to visit another city to watch their beloved team play. Why, doesn’t everyone know that New York is the capital of the world?

I know no such thing. About three weeks ago I was in a casual conversation–meaning I didn’t know the other people very well but we were trapped at a cocktail party and had to chat–when I ran into New Yorkism at full steam. Somehow, comparisons had arisen between that city and Paris. I pointed out that, for my part, I’d much rather visit Paris. The food is more to my taste and I could probably see a decent operetta. Immediately, two different people said “Oh, once you’ve seen both you’ll know. You’ll like New York better.”

What made these people think I’d never seen New York? Actually, I’ve seen Paris too and I’m fully equipped to declare preference, but why the assumption that everyone who’s seen New York is in love with it? I [heart with slash through it] NY. I [symbol for tolerate but bear no particular affection towards] NY. I do, however, [heart] Paris.

New York is a pleasant enough city; it’s certainly big and has lots of stuff to do. On the other hand, it’s far from beautiful; it has some beautiful buildings but it also has a lot of run down buildings and buildings that are and always have been just plain ugly. It has interesting bars, but they’re terribly expensive, and the whole place has all the gemutlichkeit of a toaster strudel.

Even so, I have nothing particularly against the city, in the same way that I have nothing against, say, Cleveland. It’s just sort of there.

I do have something against Yankee fans, though. Those people are just plain annoying. Then again, perhaps if Oriole fans interfered with play as much as Yankee fans do, we’d actually win a game once in a while.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Interesting sidenote: one of the first Eastern cities to ditch rail transit is warming up to the idea again.

I am now forced twice in a row to admit that I read the Washington Post online, but at least I can claim the excuse that I haven’t much to do at work these days.

Much in the same way that I read every last strip in the comics sections, I feel somehow obliged to read almost all of the columnists’ blurbs in the Sun, Post and Times-Dispatch, regardless of their level of crappiness. (WordPerfect has just subtly informed me that “crappiness” is not a word.) When I was about 13, I thought Bob Levey was pretty cool. Now I tend to find him a little preachy and smarmy.

If there are two constants about that sinkhole of a city–where everything is as transient as the SUVs that fill its streets–they are the fact of the Potomac smelling like a rotting wallaby carcass in the summertime, and Bob Levey’s annual campaign to send poor inner-city kids to camp.

Which is a nice thought, but I’m glad that I was raised in a socioeconomic bracket too high to have piqued Uncle Bob’s interest. I was a city kid early on and an old-school suburban kid later, and I never once went to camp. I was perfectly happy within the confines of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which had plenty of weird dark corners and caves to explore, and is Art Deco, besides.

Growing up in a household where certain parts of the world (the Pines at Rehoboth, Easton, Essex) were derided as “buggy”, I had very little use for a vacation that would put me at great exposure to things with exoskeletons. Also, although I have always been an animal lover and prefer them immensely to humans, I did not and do not feel any need to get THAT close to wildlife. Wildlife is beautiful, but some of it is also very large, and I have no desire to come face to face with a life form that regards me about the same way I regard a bag of cheesy poofs.

I did have some friends who went to camp. Ironically, they were mostly suburban kids; city parents evidently believed (and with good reason) that Druid Hill Park is all the nature anybody needs. Of course, I think most parents probably don’t give a rat’s dingus about nature–they want to be free of the little monsters for a few weeks. Anyway, my friends that were exiled to Camp In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida or whatever always came back displaying handmade leather purses and belts. All well and good, I’m sure, but frankly the ones you get from Hutzler’s look better.

Perhaps most significantly, a childhood spent at the movies taught me everything I really need to know about summer camp, and that is that people at summer camp invariably meet up with monsters, evil Indian ghosts, and people in hockey masks who carry very sharp objects for reasons other than belt-making. And from what I saw onscreen at the Grand, those people in hockey masks cannot be bought off with red bug juice.

Actually, even the last time I went to Patterson Park I met up with a tick the size of an Audi. It apparently believed that my leg strongly resembled cheesy poofs. East Baltimore has just joined the “buggy” list.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Oh, it’s June, why not keep yammering about weddings? I’m very fond of weddings. Unless the parents of the bride are devout Methodists or very tight-fisted, they offer a delightful excuse to get completely tanked on someone else’s buck. And, usually, you can count on all of your best drinkin’ pals dancing attendance.

The Washington paper (yes, I know there are two, but does any sentient life form read the Moonie paper? And don’t any of you come back telling me you caught your pet slime mold reading it) has a great advice columnist, Carolyn Hax. Carolyn is cool because she doesn’t lace anything with saccharine, but her column is mostly funny thanks to the entirely clue-free people that write to her. Since she’s oriented towards twenty-somethings, I don’t know why I’m surprised, but apparently my age discrimination is correct: people under 40 just weren’t brought up right. Having been raised by the Free To Be You ‘N Me generation, they don’t even know that you really ARE supposed to say “please” and “thank you”, much less which fork to use and when. Since, however, they’re of marriageable age, a lot of them are writing to ask about wedding etiquette.

One of Carolyn’s pet terms is “Bridezilla”. We’ve all known a Bridezilla or three. She’s the one that has to have THE fanciest, THE most romantic, THE perfect thing in every way, and if her friends and family don’t cooperate, she eats their heads. The demands of Bridezilla range from the funny (Do I have to wear something blue? I hate blue!) to the plain evil (Why can’t we ask our friends to chip in for a really special honeymoon instead of giving us gifts?).

Problem is that people now believe in the idea that weddings are “Joe and Kim’s Special Day”. True, to a certain extent–but only in that they’re the star attraction of what has been, since time immemorial, something of a variety show. The whole thing is calculated as a celebration, and that means everybody, not just the lead act. You, as Blushing Bride, deserve what you get, which should be nothing if you’re a demanding, whiny little tart. You as Anxious Groom, on the other hand, don’t really have to do much except smile and nod a lot, so just do it politely and do not under any circumstances sleep with a bridesmaid. That urban legend’s been done already.

What Bridezilla does not realize, or is perhaps too dull and unimaginative to realize, is that the Perfect Day will not stand out in people’s minds. It’s the unexpected that will be savored for years. We don’t remember the things that went according to plan; we do remember the groom getting lost after the reception, and the drunk guest talking to the staircase at the Hotel Jefferson. We remember the wedding cake that got eaten as pot munchies after the reception, and the wedding for which six of us were so late that on the way into the church we passed the bride thirty seconds before she walked up the aisle. And we certainly remember the wretched “day after” that we had to buy pillows for the trip home and steal trash cans from the hotel room in case of “discomfort”.

Sexual positions in lunar orbit (I'm still determined to find the pervies.)

These are the stories that make a good wedding. A happy wedding is not prefaced by a bride who has just infuriated her mother, aunt and six closest friends, which is what happens when you decide to stomp Tokyo while wearing white tulle.

Now, where’s the champagne cocktail?

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Frolicking bisexual wallabies.

I am not having a bad trip. Bill set up a stats-gathering information on this thing (you didn’t think that I could figure out how to do it, did you?) and I can now see how many people actually read this blather. Even more importantly, to me at least, I can also see what they were googling to have gotten here in the first place. So, I’m going to periodically throw in statements in the wallaby vein to see just how many truly perverted people there are out there.

Today Miss Manners–who is right up there with Clara Bow and Wotan in my personal Pantheon–came back at a young lady who was mystified that she hadn’t been on the receiving end of a baby shower. Showers, I’m afraid, are a lovely idea that has gone hideously wrong.

One of the ancient magazines that I occasionally peruse in order to get the latest decorating schemes for 1917 suggested some nice things one might do for a bridal shower. Baby showers, a friend and I have determined, didn’t really come into vogue until the ‘50s, and they’ve stuck around like Poe’s Raven wearing a stork outfit. The magazine hinted at little party favors like paper roses, and presents directly related to the wedding day. Evidently, you weren’t expected to need household stuff, your trousseau having been already established. Neither was anything supposed to be too elaborate–it was just a pleasant afternoon for the bride’s friends to congratulate her.

Even more importantly, it was supposed to be a surprise. One friend would send a note to the bride-to-be asking her to lunch, and when she got there she’d find her friends lying in wait behind the portieres. (Unless it were summertime in which case the portieres would be decently stored in mothballs, and people would have to hide behind potted plants.)

Every time I hear of an impending bridal shower–which are now co-ed so that confused men who don’t know what to do with blenders and are embarrassed by ladies’ underthings can be drafted into the act–it seems ghastly. Brides now inform their friends when and where they want the shower; they also let it be known what gifts they want. Actually, I never even really approved of registering, but it’s more useful than ever. Since more and more people are marrying later, it’s likely that they’ll have established two separate households, and the last thing anyone wants to do when they come back from the honeymoon is to figure out what to do with three different toasters and six fried-egg servers. Still, bridal registry is just a nice way for the couple to let people know what they need, for those who aren’t quite sure what they’d like to give. That’s a far cry from telling people what kind of presents you want, or in the case of Miss Manners’ correspondent, fuming because your friends haven’t thrown a shower for you.

Showers are like any party; they are an honor to a friend, but not an inalienable right. I’m sure that there are still plenty of people that don’t have a shower at all, wedding, spawn or otherwise. If your friends are nice enough to throw one for you, the real gift should be the realization that you have such kind friends. Demanding anything else will wear away the patina of that more important gift.

If anyone out there was expecting something rude involving wallabies, sorry. That was a come-on to you pervs. I’m sure there’s a bookstore in Amsterdam that can help you out. Just please don’t tell me about it.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Although I usually enjoy James Lileks’ ( outlook on popular culture, his anti-Saddam jingoism is just a bit much. Ever since we declared war on evil, he’s had a periodic rant on Hussein’s general naughtiness, and why it’s good, GOOD that we took up the banner of righteousness and bombed the bejesus out of Iraq. Yesterday’s “Bleat” registered his horror that people are starting to think Bush II lied about the war. Well, maybe he did, but they found mass graves DEVOTED TO CHILDREN!!!! And therefore, how can we say this war was unjustified?

I can say that very easily, because I read an account via BBC of something considerably more horrific. (Oh–guess that doesn’t count; the BBC is evidently the tool of Satan because it doesn’t toe the US line.) The report told the story of a woman who escaped the marauding local militia–which seems to be killing anybody in its path regardless of politics–with her two daughters. She was separated from the children, who were both under ten. Returning to find them, she discovered from her hiding place that several people–including her two-year old daughter–had been hacked to pieces. The militiamen were roasting her daughter’s limbs over a fire while the girl, now arm and legless, was still gasping in agony.

I have never heard of anything so hideous. Does this illustrate why we must fight for Iraqi freedom? No, it does not, because it happened in Uganda. The UN is still dithering over whether or not a peacekeeping force should be sent. The one nation that wants to do something? France.

Stupid Ugandans. Don’t they know that they could save themselves, if only they lived on top of a vast oil field?

If France is the enemy of freedom, why does she support humanitarian interests? If the United States is the champion of good and right, why do we depose one somewhat nasty dictator (without being asked, mind you) while children are being roasted alive while their mothers watch on the same side of the globe?

Sorry, can’t talk now. Gotta fire up the SUV and run out to Hagerstown for some milk.

Monday, June 02, 2003

A brief observation, today, on the ways in which Madison Avenue controls our lives.

(Brief aside: does anyone know if Madison Avenue, New York that is, is still the epicentre of advertising? It’s become a cliché like Detroit—even though very few cars are actually made in the city of Detroit itself, Detroit and the American automobile are still eponymous.)

I was discussing (via email, natch, does anyone ever really talk over coffee anymore?) concepts of cleanliness with a few friends today. It reminded me of the old Southern putdown—calling someone a “scrubber”. A scrubber is someone who keeps his or her house obsessively clean, and in the South this is considered laughable. The implication is that you have no breeding and don’t have “nice things” (read: pretty old family silver and china and furniture) and make up for the lack with insane cleanliness.

In the North and Midwest, cleanliness is a matter of great pride. In the South, we don’t mind six inches of cat hair under the sofa as long as the family silver is kept to what the USMC would call a “high degree of shine”. Many years ago my mother was entertaining at lunch and, since it was summertime and I was home from college, I got pressed into unofficial butler service. One of the ladies at Mother’s levee was a recent arrival to Maryland; she’d just gotten off the turnip truck from Kansas or some such place a few months before and was a little fluttery at going to lunch in what must have looked like a roomful of Hollywood “Old Southern Biddy” typecasts. I heard the poor woman attempting to praise someone who was not in attendance: “Oh, and Jane, you could just eat off her floors!” My mother raised her eyebrows. “I’m sure you could, Marietta”, she replied, “but why on earth would you want to?”

As our nation devolves further and further away from the gentility of its origins, we measure our worth in cleanliness instead of class. Women that once obsessed over the proper way to set a table now couldn’t care less about matching patterns as long as everything has been properly fumigated.

Enter the ad boys. When the scrubbing frenzy entered in the 1920s, along with nattering public health officials, sanitation specialists and their ilk, the odor of clean was chemical. Hence Lysol—if the chemical smell was enough to knock out a prize bull at thirty paces, it must be clean. Eventually, people grew tired of equating cleanliness with singed nostril hair, and the ‘50s gave us Pine-Sol and its brethren. Problem with Pine-Sol is that it doesn’t make me feel clean, it makes me want to have a drink, because it smells like bad gin. Wonder if the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s ever thought about THAT one.
Since the nice DuPont and Dow people never quite got the piney smell just right, and a lot of people hated it anyway, the next Clean Smell down the line was lemon. All through my childhood and early adulthood, Lemon=Clean. Seventies ad moms drew a pretty red fingernail over a blond wood surface to show how Lemon Pledge didn’t streak; Eighties yuppie wives exclaimed over the Lemon Cascade’s effect on their Waterford crystal. Everyone, it seems, likes the smell of lemon, so that one worked out.

Unfortunately, this left the Clean Industry with nothing new to spring on people, and it hit a rut. Last year or so, they’ve decided to tell us that another citrus fruit is really clean. Now the odor of purity is orange.

Orange??? Makes me think of the acres of melted Dreamsicles in the balcony of the Town Theatre in Fayette street. Worse, it makes me think of urinal candy in sleazy bars all over the place. All the same, the admen have done their job, and in the five ‘n tens and supermarkets, I see more and more people buying “Fresh Orange” dish soap and “Orange Sparkle” window cleaner. If the Moslem terrorists really knew what they were doing, they’d surreptitiously get us all hooked on honeysuckle-scented cleaning fluid and watch as the killer bees destroyed us all.

Should anyone ever (this is highly unlikely, mind you) tells me that my floor is clean enough to eat from, I am going to throw his sandwich on the floor and tell him to go for it.