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.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Oh, gaaahhh.

Here we go again. The City of Baltimore has now deemed it not only advisable, but necessary, to blow $800,000.00 for a Case Study. (Observe my fluency in Corporate Psychobabble, won't you?) This Case Study is meant to soothe the worried brows of City Council about the yet-again proposed trolleys connecting the waterfront with Johns Hopkins, the Art Museum and the prettier and snobbier neighborhoods of North Baltimore.

Of course, my first reaction was: "Why do we need to study this? There were streetcars on those same streets from 1870 until 1965."

Imagine my horror when I read of the purpose of the Case Study.

You see, I could understand that a Case Study might be vaguely, if bureaucratically, useful if one were to study the Impact upon the Neighborhoods and the People. Or--God save me from starting sentences with prepositions--even their impact upon traffic.

Oh, no, my children. The Case Study is going to decide if the newly-proposed streetcars will interfere with existing power and telephone lines, and if they will be able to scale the hilly topography of downtown Baltimore.

Oh. My. God.

Electric streetcars first hit the scene in Richmond, but the first truly viable electric streetcar system was Baltimore's. (I am very pleased that my home cities share the glory.) Somehow, without case studies, Baltimore's streetcar system was able to traverse the hills of downtown in 1885. If the technology of that long-ago era could handle it, how could our modern version fail? And the utility lines? For Calvert's sake, people! those utility lines were installed when the old streetcars were still plying the streets! This really shouldn't be a difficult question.

Now, here's the thing: Baltimore is, more or less, built in a giant bowl. Its hills all slope down toward the waterfront. Some streets are very steep and therefore didn't have streetcars. (That's why San Francisco has cable cars; their operating system allows them to be pulled up the city's ramrod-steep hills.) Our cars were routed wisely to allow for both heavily-travelled routes and gentle grades. They were also studiously routed away from the houses of the lordly aristocracy on Charles street where it passes through Washington and Mount Vernon Places. (Notably, modern buses--which are much noisier--are routed directly up Charles street.)

In the grand scheme of the City's budget, $800K is a flash in the pan. Honestly, though--one quick look into 1950 will demonstrate that the Case Study is pointless. The two "problem questions" aren't problems at all. If the City wants so badly to blow that much money, it could better do so supplying more chalk and textbooks.

Or maybe the money could be spent on giving every last man, woman and child a lemon stick on the Fourth. That would make me very happy.

Friday, June 01, 2007

I'll try this again. Blogspot seems to have eaten the last attempt. (In the meantime, I took the "What kind of cake are you?" survey posted at Capital City Desk. Unsurprisingly, I'm a Red Velvet cake. Do visit CCD and find out for yourselves--bonus prizes for anyone who turns out to be Lady Baltimore or Prince of Wales cakes.)

Status of the house: in flux. The weather is getting hot, but since I am once again operating on a non-functional ankle, I haven't been able to change the rugs and curtains yet, so it feels even hotter. On the bright side, I have been able to do some organizing of sheet music and records, thus re-discovering a few things I hadn't played since last summer. I am currently drinking a l'Anglaise -- i.e., warm -- because my "new" 1938 refrigerator hasn't yet made ice. It does so much more quickly than my 1994 model did, but putting water in the ice trays is still up to me, which means that ice is still a somewhat erratically available commodity. If the ice in this household were to be traded on the open market, fortunes would be made and broken every few hours.

And now back to what I'd attempted to post last week.

Most modern Americans, I think, believe that rules apply to everyone but themselves. Again, reference Capital City Desk. The lovely hostess of that blog is a librarian in suburban Richmond. Now, if there is anyplace on earth where I expect to find decorum, it's Richmond; although I will allow some slack for the suburbs. It has been my observation that people in the crappiest neighborhoods of Baltimore are much more polite than the denizens of the city's suburbs. I've been physically shoved out of the way by "ladies" at Towson Town Center, but gangsta boiz in Edmondson Village have let me go ahead of them at the local 7-11. Go figure.

CCD's hostess was simply doing librarian duty in asking a patron to discontinue his loud cell-phone conversation. Now, I realize that I am a walking anachronism, but didn't we ALL grow up understanding that one is not supposed to talk loudly--if at all--in a library? The patron then told the person on the other end of the line that he had to hang up because "she's yelling at me." Once again, CCD proves herself of finer mettle than mine; my instinct would be to tell the stupid SOB that if he wanted to hear yelling, I got that, but in the meantime, DO try to have an iota of courtesy for people who don't give a good Goddamn about your phone call.

Let me, at this point, insert a personal observation about Richmond. I'm sure I've mentioned this previously. The nastiest thing that one might say about a Richmonder is that he is rude. Politesse is an ingrained notion in that city. To say to a Richmonder "I think you're very rude" is a much more grievous insult than to say "I think your mother is a two-bit whore from Hopewell who blows sailors for cigarette money."

Therefore, the library patron's behavior saddens me. It seems that even in Richmond, the pattern of courtesy has changed. The patron wasn't too concerned about his own rudeness, but evidently believed that L. was being rude to him--never mind that the transgression was his. The rules didn't apply to him.

The week's poor behavior was not exclusive to Virginia. My parents went to a big outdoor breakfast at Fort Detrick, in Frederick. The event was open to active duty men and veterans, wives and families. While the 'rents were in line for the standard mess hall stuff dear to the hearts of military people and absolutely no one else, a woman marched up to the front of the line and said, "My kids need to go ahead because they've just been in a marathon and they're hungry."

I'm very proud of my mother because she didn't tell the woman to go jump in a lake. I'd have been rather less pleasant about it. Really now--no one made your kids enter the marathon; no one made you come here rather than go to a faster place. Yet, your kids take preference over men who've faced enemy fire? Oh, sure, lady. Go right ahead. You might even have said "Excuse me, might my kids jump ahead? They're very hungry." But no--the rules don't apply to you.

Several months ago I was shopping at the local supermarket and had (I always count) fourteen items, so I could get into the express lane (fifteen items, if you please). I was walking towards the checkout. A middle-aged woman then actually ran, with her cart, to get into the line ahead of me. Just to rub it in, she tossed me a defiant look and said "I'm in a hurry." I was very proud of myself, at the moment, for not saying "You fat-ass ugly bitch, maybe I'm in a hurry, too." Incidentally, she had seventeen items (I always count).

When people deride rules of courtesy and etiquette as silly and outdated, they forget that the point of the rules is to make life more pleasant and bearable for everyone. The point behind the existence of lemon forks, for instance, is to prevent fellow diners from getting squirted when you squeeze a lemon. The lemon fork is not there to stymie you, or make you uncomfortable, but to ensure the comfort of your immediate neighbor. Yes, it gives me a chance to add one more piece to my panoply of shiny objects, but--like "quiet in the library" and "wait your turn in line" --it contributes to general well-being.