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.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Why streetcars are the best form of urban transit: Installment 56.

If the double-decker tourist buses are a little goofy, they seem to stay out of my way for the most part. Not so the city buses themselves, which have long made a practice of finding new ways to annoy me.

I like public transit, really, I do. While walking around town is entertaining, it's not always practical. I hate driving and really only enjoy my own car as a passenger when someone else is driving it. Sadly, our current state of public transportation leaves much to be desired.

My usual complaints run along the lines that buses are: smoky, inefficient, ugly, hard-to-control, and never on time.

This afternoon's experience led to a new low in my perpetual saga with the Baltimore Transit.

I was driving back from school (yes, I would ride the cars if it were practical--but it's not, given the route schedules and the crappy neighborhood where I'd have to change, so don't start with me) and was on my way up Fulton avenue. Now, Fulton avenue spends the majority of its considerable length as a nice (albeit decrepit) boulevard that runs arrow-straight north and south. For reasons lost to antiquity it veers wildly east for its last four blocks. This creates a nightmarish intersection at Pennsylvania avenue. It is particularly nightmarish when under construction which, of course, it currently is.

Now, if there were streetcars, they would happily trundle through the intersection on their tracks, unless the tracks were torn up and then they'd just have to suspend that line's service until the tracks were back in place.

Not buses. This is what buses do. First, they attempt to negotiate the curve around the construction. They then discover that this is impossible, without reversing and trying again. In this process, they come within four inches of sideswiping innocent vehicular bystanders. This was, of course, me. Having narrowly avoided minor disaster, they attempt the curve again. They will then miss in the other direction, and drop their left front wheels into the excavation, causing much panic amongst their own passengers and extreme frustration amongst surrounding motorists and pedestrians. Finally, they will burn their engines out in a vain attempt to extricate themselves, ensuring that they are stuck in the middle of a busy intersection for a very long time and causing all traffic to take a circuitous route through a grimy neighborhood.

Streetcars are just better.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Argh. Double decker buses are back. Not that, in London at least, they ever left. They did leave here though in the late '30s and I'm not sure why we needed them in the first place or why we particularly need them back. They seem interesting but a little silly; if you're on the open upper tier you are also open to every foible of local weather. You are also open to low-hanging tree branches and the occasional garbage lobbed out of upper windows. I assume that in London the upper tier isn't usually open, since the weather there tends to be just wet. One of our local writin' boys, Fitzgerald, included Baltimore's open double-deckers in a short story, but for the life of me I can't warm up to the things. Streetcars would have all of the novelty appeal these days, and considerably more practicality. (Nota bene: Fitzgerald wasn't born here, but in Minnesota. He did, however, have some dim Maryland family connections which he spent his entire life milking for all they were worth. )

I mustn't complain because I should know perfectly well that absolutely nothing is done in Baltimore for the Baltimoreans. The only reason we still have running water is that the tourists would get bitchy without it. After all it's not as if the silly things were running on the main car lines; they're doing a little tourist circuit all their own. Which, in fact, is what brings me to mention them at all.

On the way home from school today, I saw one of the double-deckers rounding Druid Hill Park Lake. This is significant. For the past twenty years the city has been merrily herding tourons around the Inner Harbor which is honestly just a small and very overpriced shopping mall on a grubby waterfront. It's captured the national imagination though, and it's famous. See New York, see the skyscrapers. See Paris, see the Louvre. See Muenchen, see the beer hall floor after you've had many many beers. See Baltimore, see an '80s shopping center.

During the same time frame, we've been steering tourists away from the actually NICE things to see in town. We've even spent a lot of time terrorizing our own population; eight out of ten Baltimoreans will gaspingly tell you how Dangerous is Druid Hill Park. It's not at all; I can't think of a single "incident" there. (Back in the '70s a body was found in the fountain, but it seemed to have put itself there.) It is an incredibly beautiful park with a nice if tired botanic garden and a very modern zoo. There are swell Victorian park structures, hundreds of acres to explore, and the incredibly amusing Safety City which is set up like a little tiny Baltimore with tiny rowhouses and tiny skyscrapers but full sized intersections so little tiny rowhouse dwellers can learn how not to get run over on their way to school. And now the silly tourist buses are taking visitors to see the Park. I'm happy that the city's more interesting features are being touted. Maybe now people won't be terrorized to visit perfectly pleasant locales.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that I will now have to share my park bench with Canon-wielding idiots asking for directions to Ruby Tuesday's. After four years in Williamsburg, I've long since done my time as a stand-in Fremdenfuhrer.