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.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

After a lovely weekend spent in the only place that I actually like, I was somewhat taken aback to see an article in that city's paper, today. According to the Times-Dispatch, "our downtown is notoriously pedestrian-unfriendly."

This is news to me, because as long as I've been alive, I've enjoyed walking around downtown Richmond. As a matter of fact, I spent most of the weekend's daytime hours by myself, just walking around the city. Generally, when I think of places that are "pedestrian-unfriendly" I think of those endless suburbs that now surround every city, where there are no sidewalks. Why would anyone WALK anywhere? OMG, you could like serial get blisters, and it's like HOT!!! This is emphatically not true in downtown Richmond where, while I *did* get blisters from walking in new shoes and it *does* get hot, there are sidewalks and a friendly, non-threatening street grid pattern. There are also pretty buildings to see.

Admittedly, there aren't as many interesting little shops downtown as there were years ago, and the two great department stores are closed. One--my former employer--has been torn down. (I needed about six gin and tonics to recover from that unpleasant sight.) Yet, I don't understand the idea that downtown is unfriendly to pedestrians. If anything, it's unfriendly to drivers; the network of one-way streets tends to confuse people, and finding a parking place isn't always easy.

Having just made that statement, I intend to refute it: A)finding a parking place is really easy now that the big stores are gone. There's nobody down there anymore, so parking is plentiful, and even when they WERE there, we have plenty of parking decks--notably, a really cool '30s parking deck with bas-reliefs of wheels and wing-ed car radiators. Richmond loves bas-relief. B)One-way streets are idiotically simple. When you have a basic grid pattern of streets, as Richmond does, the one-ways alternate. It's not rocket science, folks: If you want to go THAT way but the street goes THIS way, simply go around the block, PARK, and walk to the store. Sheesh.

It does break my heart to see downtown so deserted, but then I took great delight when a couple of years ago one of my Baltimore friends visited Richmond. He'd never seen the Queen of the James. After I'd spent a couple of hours pointing out the highlights of our faded downtown, I took him to see Cary street. Even the ungodly Washington paper has called it the "mile of style." My friend took one look at the fashionable shops and restaurants all clustered at the feet of the Byrd Theatre and said "Downtown Richmond isn't dead. It just moved two miles west."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Today, while we were contemplating another atrocity in the world of high school--a big fight broke out in which one student ripped a locker door off and beat another student with it--my colleagues and I discussed the perpetually bizarre world that is children's television.
While I loathe the live stage and favor the Silver Screen, where people don't clomp around self-importantly and where everyone is by necessity hot, I question the ability of those behind the camera (or really, those who pay for the camera) to really have any idea of what children want.
As a child, I was evidently already behind the times. I was born in late 1969--I made it into the Soaring Sixties by one month. Nonetheless, my brain must have come into being in about 1904 and sat around in a storage box somewhere. When all of the kids my age were peeing themselves over Sesame Street (admittedly, in 1973 most of us were peeing ourselves occasionally, anyhow) I had no use for it. The puppets didn't LOOK like anything; they were a little smart-assy for me even then, and they tried to teach me things that I already knew. I could count, I knew letters of the alphabet, and despite their best Smiley Face Generation efforts, I already knew when I did or did not hate someone. My dislike of Sesame Street has carried forth and is now manifest in my vision of art. I like art that involves flowers and naked people, preferably all in one painting, and I like them to actually LOOK like flowers and naked people and not like morning-after-puke on canvas. A typical conversation between me and an artsy friend:

Dan: This is idiotic. Please tell me that the Baltimore Museum didn't seriously PAY for this.
Artsy Friend: This is very significant, even if you don't like it. It has color harmonies.
D: It can have the Spanish Crown Jewels for all I care. It looks like cat puke. I know this because my cat puked on the parlor rug this morning and it's remarkably similar.
AF: You just don't understand art.
D: Evidently not, if art is cat puke. So, what about that? It's a piece of roofing copper that someone took a leak on.
AF: I feel sorry for you, you just don't have an open mind.
D: I feel sorry for you, because you can't read. That's exactly what it is. Some asshole peed on a sheet of roofing copper. The little sign SAYS that's what it is.
AF: Not all art has to be flowers and naked people.
D: It does if my tax dollars are paying for it.
AF: I'm just sorry you don't understand it.
D: I'm sorry that you have translated piss into art. Wait, here, I'm going to make art!!! (hocks a loogie into a Taco Bell napkin) Voila! Je suis artiste!!!
AF: That's just disgusting.
D: Whereas pissing on something is the ultimate form of self expression.
....etc., ad nauseam.

So, yeah, I didn't exactly dig Sesame Street. I did like Captain Kangaroo. It was unbearably cute, but then I was four, for Christ's sake. I liked the silly moose and the silent but irascible bunny. I'm kind of sad that I don't really remember when Captain Kangaroo stopped existing, either for me or for everyone. He just sort of faded out of my existence.

And of course every city had local kids' shows; I loved Captain Chesapeake and his friends Mondy the Sea Monster and Andro Claws the Lion. Imagine my surprise when a few years later I started getting interested in '20s music and... wait, that record is Captain Chesapeake's theme song!!! He'd used one of the minor hits of '23, "Stumbling," for his show.

If my artsy friend feels sorry for me that I don't appreciate artistically applied piss, I feel sorry for the kids of the present that they don't get to see anything as guileless as the Captains. They're either fed with streams of politically-correct oog, or things that are even more mindless than the things I saw nearly forty years ago. One of the freakiest shows must be "Boombah," in which every one of the amorphous blobs has a name that rhymes with "Boombah." It's the visual equivalent of several tabs of acid and one too many Xanax.

The two kids' shows that I must admit to liking are "Thomas the Tank Engine" and "Bob the Builder." As a tiny little Baltimorean I loved everything that involved railroads. My parents took me on train trips to nearby Washington and to visit relatives in the South and the Midwest. Most of these left from the Pennsylvania station, but Dad also made sure that I saw the ancient Camden Station and Mount Royal station, and took me to watch the freight yards of the mighty B&O, Pennsylvania and Western Maryland lines. I've always been a frustrated construction worker, too, and still think it's really cool to watch new buildings going up--especially when they're accompanied by frantic headlines: "Baltimore's New World Trade Center--Our City's Newest Skyscraper--Will Be World's Tallest Five-Sided Building!" (If you can't be the best, at least be weird.) Thomas and Bob appeal to my nostalgic and practical sensibilities.

But then, there are the Teletubbies. I think that they're probably passe now, with the drooler set. I wanted to hate them; God knows I wanted to hate them. Yet there's something entrancing about that horrid show. The sun with a live baby's face...the vacuum cleaner that takes care of the Teletubbies...the ten-foot tall live rabbits... No, it has nothing to do with Tinky Winky. He isn't gay because he isn't even real. If he were, he surely looks nothing like my ideal man. I prefer dudes who aren't pear-shaped and who don't carry purses, much less who have a TV in their abs.

You know what's freaky, though? When you're surfing daytime TV, you flip across the Teletubbies, and you laugh and feel all superior, reminding yourself of Captain Kangaroo, or "Kukla, Fran and Ollie." Then you realize that twenty minutes have elapsed and you're still glued to the fargin' Teletubbies.