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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I think we're all in trouble. From my vantage point, it seems that God has finally caught up with Noah, and realized that He got snowed. Noah wasn't supposed to get to build an Ark at all. Or, maybe he was, but he was only supposed to put the animals on it and then get washed away himself. Either way, God has decided that the East Coast needs to be thoroughly cleansed.

It has been raining more or less incessantly for three days, and it's most irritating. Although my basement remains above the water table, there are definite signs of mildew down there that have never existed before. Walking through the house is like a tour in a velvet-furnished aquarium. I fully expect to see the cats wearing little snorkels. Those houses that have air conditioning are suffering from strained electric power, as the a/c labors desperately to dehumidify.

Out in the garden? far from respite, it's even worse out there; the clothes I hung out to dry (naturally, right before the deluge) are still there and of course have no chance to dry. If I run the dryer, that will only increase heat in the basement and encourage the uninvited mildew. The roses are, to their eternal credit, throwing off a nice second showing of blooms, but I'm figuring on a nasty crop of blackspot from the insane moisture in the air. A neighbor's nifty li'l digital weather station showed 91% humidity today. To top it all off, last night when I turned in, my bedsheets were actually damp. This isn't just summer weather, this is the Second Coming of the Flood.

Yet, I'm forced to giggle at my friends who have moved here from Somewhere Else. Specifically, I'm laughing at the expense of my friends from California and the Southwest. I do love my people, but those folks are always telling us Easterners how much bigger, better and badder their world is. (In all fairness, we've been doing the same to them since the day that we shipped all of our undesirables out there to settle the place.)

Whenever I complain of the heat, the Westerners immediately point out that in San Diego, Phoenix et al, the summer temperatures routinely hit 110.

Groovy. You don't have humidity out there either, now do you? A day like the past three we've had here sends all of them fleeing for the nearest air-conditioned picture palace, if not the ticket counter for Southwest Airlines. I can't say that I blame them.

To every seven-hundred-mile-long raincloud though, there is a silver lining. This is mine: While Baltimore and Richmond sweat it out, and the Eastern shore is washing away, Washington is filling up with its own sewage. Many of the Federal buildings closed today because their basements were, um, wet.

For over a century now, Baltimoreans all, from the grimy dockworkers of Highlandtown to the dainty ladies of Guilford, have wiped the sweat from their brows and thanked God that despite all they do not live in the cesspool that is Washington. The Patapsco stinks every summer, but it doesn't invade our basements usually, while the Potomac seems to have a mission to spread pestilence through the Nation's Capital, and the mosquitoes that swarm in Washington give the Air Force itself a run for its money. God is looking out for us in one way or another, I suppose; there may be mildew forming on my forehead, but at least I'm not floating on a sea of runoff water and poop.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Since I'm still in the early-summer stage of I Do Not Want to do Anything, I accomplished absolutely nothing today. I did make it to the gym, but that has more to do with the ridiculous little orange bathing suit I got over the winter (which I will probably never really wear, being inherently prudish) than it does with any real motivation.

And, since it was a pretty day and not oppressively humid, I decided to take a nice long walk. Very little new under the sun of North Baltimore; the early crop of roses has petered out and only the perpetual-bloomers are still doing their thing. Wildflowers are doing nicely. Oh, and the Borg--er, I mean JHU--has finally gotten around to tearing down a row of pretty '20s rowhouses on St. Paul street to allow construction of some ugly, under-designed new megalith.

I swear, I don't get that university. Even W&M and UVa, which have plenty of reason to do so, never act so consistently and overwhelmingly impressed with themselves as does Hopkins. And, certainly not in this part of the country is there any other university so hell-bent on taking over its host city. I suppose it's a symbiotic sort of parasite; without Hopkins, Baltimore would lose a hell of a lot of jobs. That aside, the university seems bent on molding the city to its will. It appears that the place has a yen for the ugly. When it was founded it inhabited a clutch of spectacularly ugly buildings (even by Victorian standards) downtown; when it moved up to North Charles street it promptly constructed a clutch of singularly forgettable and nondescript neo-Georgian edifices, and ever since has been gobbling up space with never-ending bland institutional architecture.

Enough of that business. Hopkins has absolutely no interest in my opinion and is hardly going to go out and build something pretty just because I think that it should. Which was more or less my opinion when, after surveying the ruin of a block of houses I rather liked, I decided that it was time for a cup of coffee.

I've been dismayed lately by the number of Starbucks that are cropping up around Baltimore. I don't particularly have anything against Starbucks; though I'm amused at its fad/obsession place in the culture du jour. It's just that, really, we already had some very nice coffee places of our own and I don't see why we need Starbucks. Foremost among the local coffee contenders is Donna's. Thus: I stopped at Donna's, where I uncharacteristically opted for one of those creamy sugary icy coffee thingies that do not resemble real coffee in the slightest, but which are rather tasty nonetheless.

While one of the counter folk was creating my whatever-the-hell-it-was, a fortyish man walked in and ordered a regular old coffee. Since pouring a cup of coffee takes considerably less time to prepare than the frothy creations, he had his coffee before I had my thingy, so I got to witness the rather bizarre follow-up.

Once he had his coffee, he went to the cream/sugar/napkin area, surveyed it briefly, then walked back to the counter. "Do you have any Splenda(TM)?" he asked. The girl at the counter said that no, unfortunately they didn't. "Are you sure?" he asked. At this point, I thought No, dude, she's not sure. She only works here. She's just saying that to annoy you.

So, Spenda-man decides that if he can't have the yellow packets of the gods, he doesn't want the coffee, and demands a refund. I wanted to see how this played out, but by this time my sugary mess was ready and I didn't want to stare.

I think that some people aren't happy unless they're making somebody else miserable. I mean, come on. You're already drinking supercharged coffee, which probably isn't the best thing for you anyway. You have two other options of chemically enhanced sweetness, which are--like Splenda--probably a lot worse for you than real live sugar. (For the record, Donna's has pure cane sugar in addition to the refined stuff.) Besides, if you're hell-bent on having the least common of the three standard non-sugar sweeteners, don't you think you might check on its availability before ordering? And, having already ordered and put the counter staff to the trouble to fill your order, couldn't you accept the harsh reality of the situation, heart-rending though it must be, and suck up and deal with Equal? Really now, demanding your money back over an issue like Splenda is a bit much.

And I'm sure that guy is now sitting at home making a blog entry lambasting Donna's and the provincial Baltimoreans for their insensitivity towards the non-Splenda-enabled.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Not with a bang, but a whimper...

That's usually how the school year ends for teachers, I've found. Once the kids are out of the building, it just turns into a gigantic unlovely edifice (oh, yes, there are some beautiful school buildings out there, but I've not taught in any of them yet).

It's nothing but dusty books being reshelved, grimy ick being removed from lockers, and chalk dust being swept out of rooms.

Today, I spent about twenty minutes boxing up the material that actually belongs to me and not to the school, an hour searching for the administrators who needed to sign off on a silly little checkout list, and two hours wandering in disbelief.

I'm really and truly leaving Carver.

The school is losing a lot of very good teachers. I don't know that I may count myself among them, but an awful lot of good people are fleeing. The City's new curriculum is miserable, and shows no signs of improvement. I'll address "How Can We Do This To Our Kids?" another time. This is about me, damnit.

I spent most of the day thinking of August, 2003, when I first wandered into the once-hallowed and now-roach-infested halls of George Washington Carver Vocational and Technical High School. It was my first teaching job. I had a very dim idea, really, of what I was doing. Oh, sure, I knew my BritLit, and I can conjugate verbs twenty ways for Sunday. I'd never stood in front of thirty kids while doing so, though, so I was a bit daunted.

In three years, I'd come to love and hate Carver. I hated what had happened to the once-proud school--really, to the once-proud City of Baltimore. I loved the feeling of family that we had. I loved the whiskey sours in the lounge on the day before Christmas break, and I loved the amazing fried chicken that the school's Tea Room turned out weekly. I hated the fact that my ninth graders didn't know the meaning of the word "noun" (and no, I'm not being facetious), but I loved it when a kid said "I liked that story. It reminds me of my grandma." I really loved when one of the kids in my drama class, after I'd held forth on the movie palaces of Baltimore, came in and told me that her grandmother was ecstatic about my lesson. Grandmother, it seems, remembered going to pictures at the Regent and the Royal, and remembered a time when she wasn't allowed into the Century or the Hippodrome.

You know, for all of my nostalgia for the Baltimore in the days before my own birth, I'm forced to wonder now and then what the city would have meant to me had I not been allowed into certain places. The Hipp is my favorite picture palace, but what if I'd never been allowed into it? How would it have felt if Hochschild's didn't let me try on a bathing suit? Maybe my view of the city would be a little bit different.

But this is not about segregation or movies or stores; it's about me and my last day at Carver. I'm damned glad to be shut of the place, but it will always loom large in my mental book of memories. Apparently, my list of things I loved does outweigh the list of things I hated. It's time for me to move on, but I'm pretty elephantine in my memories. Cheers, and thanks, to Carver High, her students, alumni and faculty, for a great three years.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Although most ad campaigns change pretty regularly over the years, or even months, some have persisted ad infinitum, or ad nauseam, depending upon your perspective and tolerance. Locally, the Naron Candy people have been using the same jingle for their Mary Sue candies since Christ was a corporal. There's no one who grew up in Baltimore who doesn't know that "Mary Sue Easter Eggs, They're the Best Easter Eggs" goes to the tune of "Poor Little Buttercup" from The Pirates of Penzance. I loathe Gilbert and Sullivan, but I do love Mary Sue coconut eggs, so I'm willing to bite the bullet. Or the egg, as it were.

As far as I know, the nice people at Peter Paul Candy are still using the old "sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't" shtick to promote their Almond Joy and Mounds bars. I love both, and I hate change, so I'm all about the repetition of one jingle for forty years.

Thanks to Pam (over at MotherReader), who spoke recently on chronic lateness, I've decided to adopt a new motto: Sometimes I'm late, sometimes I'm not.

There are times at which I believe in being insanely early. Though I'm known to favor a wake-up time somewhere after ten o'clock, if the day's work involves travel I want to be on the road as soon as possible. This annoys my usual travel companions to no end. Despite the considerable improvements in Maryland's roads, I apparently harbor a subconscious belief that it still takes twelve hours, two streetcars, one Bay steamer and one railroad to get me to the ocean. Thus, it is vital that I leave the city before six in the morning. I don't mind operating on two hours of sleep if needed, but damnit, I will leave town early.

I also believe in being on time, reasonably, for dinner parties. Naturally, there's going to be a buffer in there when the host serves cocktails and all, but you can probably assume that he wants to serve food at some specific time, and it's a bit rude to show up an hour late.

I do not believe in being "on time" for non-dinner parties. I despise being the first person to arrive. It is no fun to sit there while the host rummages around getting ready; and it is even less fun to have no chance to make an Arrival. If anyone really expects me to arrive at the time specified by the invitation, they'd telephone me and ask for help setting up. I can do that.

I believe in being on time, sort of, for work. As a teacher, I generally need to be a bit early to set up my blackboards, make dittos, etc. On the other hand, my previous careers didn't involve any early morning setup, so there wasn't much reason to be early. Yet, employers seem to expect it. Um, if you're not planning to pay me overtime, don't expect me to show up half an hour ahead of time. So, precisely on time will be just fine.

I do not believe in being on time for meetings. Meetings, in ANY professional setting, are worthless annoyances, and if you arrive early or even on time, you can guarantee being the first one there and that you will have to cut bagels or some sort of foolishness.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

My time at Carver High is winding down, and not just for the summer.

Tomorrow will be the last day of final exams. Friday is exam makeup day. Tuesday is officially the last day of school, not that we'll have any kids since exams will have been finished. And, after a few maudlin moments and some of my typically-lousy picture taking, I'll shake off the dust of the city school system for good.

I'm moving to the County.

When most people in Baltimore say that, they mean that they're shifting their residential zip code into the vast reaches of Baltimore County, or possibly Anne Arundel, Carroll or Howard. Since nothing short of an Act of Congress could get me to live outside city limits (barring, of course, a move back to Richmond in which case I'd still live within that city's limits), I refer to my employment.

Come September, I'll be teaching in one of the older suburban high schools. Am I selling out? Well, just maybe. I'm leaving eighty-one years of history behind; I suppose that I'm abandoning a school that needs me, too. I love the city and I'm glad to have had a chance to work at Carver.

But: After three years, I don't think I can take any more kids who, at eighteen, use "in" when they mean "and." I know that I can't take school administrators who say "He have..." And, I certainly can't take a "curriculum specialist" who, at the esteemed age of twenty-six, has no teaching experience but who feels qualified to select reading material for the children of a city that he's never really seen. I'm not sure what to make of a person who is ostensibly an expert in the English language, yet believes that this sentence is correct: "We need to give the kids stuff they can get into." The same person created a city-wide final examination that includes a reading selection involving "pimps and hos."

If the grass is greener in Baltimore County, it's probably only because there are more lawns out there. When I embarked upon my teaching career, with the City, I held no illusions that involved saving the world; thus, I cherish no new illusions about the Promised Land of Suburbia. (In this case, the suburban enclave is rather ancient; most of the houses were built between 1920 and 1960.) I know that I won't save the world--but, just as it was in the city, there might be that one kid who will "get into" Shakespeare. If I can do that, I'll feel that I've really done something.

Unfortunately, for the students of Baltimore City, the current operating powers won't allow Shakespeare in the classroom.