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, December 08, 2011

It is my lot in life... Oh, damn. I appear to have many lots in my life, but most of them are irritating. This is one of my favorite lots, for sheer amusement factor.

It is my lot in life to be asked for directions. Do I simply look as though I know where I'm going? Or do I look non-threatening? I've been told that I do look somewhat threatening, or at least crazy. For reasons known only to Atlas (who, I suppose, would be the god of mapmakers), people ask me for directions. A lot.

I am often asked for directions in Baltimore. This makes sense. I am from Baltimore and probably have a pretty fair idea how to get where you're going. I also get asked for directions in Richmond. This also makes sense. I am not really from Richmond, but I might as well be, and I can get you anyplace in town north of the river. I don't go South of the James and neither should you.

I get asked for directions in Washington. This almost makes sense. Since I grew up in Baltimore and have spent most of my life either there or somewhere in Virginia, I probably have a fighting chance of knowing where you need to go. There's no guarantee, though. Still, if you're asking for a major street or landmark, I can get you there.

I get asked for directions in Allentown. This does not make sense. I am not from Allentown. I like it, but I don't live there and never have. It is far away from my base of operations. Fortunately, it's laid out very much like Richmond, and after several visits, I know the street grid. Still, what makes the average visitor to Allentown pick me, when there are hundreds of other people on Hamilton street and they are actually from Allentown?

I get asked for directions in New York. This does not make sense for two principal reasons. The first is that I am not from New York, nor have I visited it frequently. I don't even LIKE New York. The other reason is that New York, of all the world's cities, probably has the most simple, comprehensible street plan known to Mankind. Also, the streets are conveniently numbered. Other than the really ancient part of the city, which does have some old oddball streets, I don't think it's even possible to get lost in Manhattan. You're at 6th and 50th and you want to get to 5th and 55th? The Hotel St. Regis? Sure. Go a block that way, turn left and walk five blocks. Just in case, you know, you can't read numerals and all.

The last time I visited New York, I was standing in Herald Square for no specific reason. I had a lot of time to kill, and was wandering around looking for remnants of long-dead movie palaces, trying to convince myself that one o'clock in the afternoon was a perfectly acceptable time to begin happy hour. (It was.) Now, Herald Square has not been as Disney-ized as Times Square, but it's still full of tourists, mostly because of Macy's. I also discovered on this visit that no one actually shops at the big central Macy's anymore. When I went in there to pee, feeling nostalgic for Hutzler's, I realized that the place was mobbed but that no one was buying anything. They were just taking pictures. I almost asked someone if they didn't have a department store in their own damn town, but then I remembered that there are very few department stores left and so no, they probably didn't. As I stood wishing that the Hotel McAlpin were still open so I could have a drink at its bar, I was approached by a man who had three family members and five cameras in tow. This was a clearly foreign gentleman, who very politely asked how to find the Empire State Building.

The Empire State Building is approximately two blocks away from Herald Square. It is also really obvious because...well, it's very tall and IT LOOKS LIKE THE GODDAMNED EMPIRE STATE BUILDING. Still, I didn't want to be rude (Richmond did a good job with me), so I just pointed at it and said "There it is. Right there." For a second or two, I think he didn't believe me, but then gathered the family and their AV equipment and trudged off towards New York's favorite phallic symbol.

On a recent trip to Washington, I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue when a man (who looked like he'd just slept on the train) asked me how to find the Capitol. Much like the Empire State Building, the Capitol building is extremely obvious, or at least it is from Pennsylvania Avenue. Again, I pointed at the end goal and said "Its right there." This time, I failed. The man told me that no, he was looking for the STATE capitol. I was floored. I thought more or less everyone knew that Washington is not IN a state. I pointed this out. The man looked horror-struck. "But isn't it the capital of Virginia?" Trying not to become indignant, I told him that no, it isn't; that would be Richmond, which is ninety-eight miles south. He walked off, evidently torn between not believing me and trying to figure out how to get to Richmond. I hope he had trainfare.

None of these, though, can quite top yesterday's directional interlude. I had some errands to run downtown and, much to my chagrin, had to go to the Gallery. This is a Gawdawful 80s "downtown mall" kind of thing that has four levels and a variety of overpriced shops designed to part visitors from their money. After leaving the bank office there, I was headed outside when I was stopped by an angry-looking woman.
"Can you tell me where the Harbor is?" I could; it's right across the street. I told her this. She said "No, I mean the Inner Harbor." I told her that, indeed, that water she could see was the Inner Harbor. (We used to call it the Basin, but that sounded too much like a toilet, so in the 70s it became the Inner Harbor.) "No, that's just the water, I need to find the Inner Harbor." OK, lady, now you're pissing me off. I am from here. I know where the harbor is. Also, unlike you, I evidently know WHAT a harbor is. But no, I didn't want to be I calmly explained that that really WAS the harbor. It turned out that she wanted to find Harborplace. Which, shockingly enough, is right there. Alongside the Inner Harbor.

I'm thinking of starting a map concession downtown somewhere. If I'm going to be asked for directions to places that don't exist or are painfully obvious, I might as well get paid for it. Until then, if you ask me for directions, I may forget my English.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Directional it!! WPK

9:07 AM  

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