The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

After The Big Bash

The above image of the scene in front of the Byrd Theatre came via the West of the Boulevard Community Blog.

Though the wry Tobacco Avenue humor blog expressed its unique take on the event, the Carytown New Year's Eve celebration was 90 percent everything great about Richmond, with the sour last 10 percent that left a bad taste. Most of what transpired was caused by agitated and inebriated tourists who show up at these kind of things. And by tourists I mean people who wouldn't have otherwise been there if there wasn't proximity to alky-hall and an excuse to drink said stuff in great quantities.

Right up front, I want to compliment workers who made Cary Street presentable by morning. In my New Year's Day tour I was impressed that little trace was visible of the thousands who crammed and jammed into Cary Street to watch the ball go up. I observed some between- building narrows that were cluttered by messy post-party detritus--these crannies just collect Carytown trash. And one broken window--at Ruth Joffre's, displaying an assortment of mirrors. The mirrors weren't damaged -- that would've been a bad omen for New Year's.

Last year Amie, her mom Sue and me got on a bus and went down town to take in a bit of Art6's festivities which was enjoyable -- and this year there was Rattlemouth and bellydancers. But we didn't repeat our excursion. Instead, we chose to stay close to home and accepted the invitation of our up the street neighbors, Heidi and Patrick, to drop by their house. From their adorable back yard with its fire and comfortable seats it was possible, between two buildings facing Cary, to see the Byrd tower where the ball was to ascend.

We had a few drinks and visited with friends then ambled over to Cary--it was about 10:30 or so--to check out the Deli. The crowd was already quite numerous and there was a line to get into the Deli, and we were on the list--which the doorman was either not cognizant of or he didn't have the "K's" and this annoyed me, I don't know what was going on. Jason sitting cozy in the window put his hand against the window like Spock in Star Trek II, he dying of radiation poisoning and giving Kirk the "Live Long and Prosper" hand symbol. Amie actually got in past the guy. Anyway, I was given permission to enter.

And we sat or stood there by the front window's table shelf and Amie said it was like reality television. All mixes and hues were in the throngs. We could see bands, but not hear them, but the uptempo party DJ stuff suited me, too.

We idled there, watching the crowd outside get more dense and also physical. About 15 minutes or less before the ball rise, we witnessed a rather larger woman who must've perceived that her personal space was in some way compromised and began slapping and hitting anybody she could reach. In this way, we watched various fisticuffs erupt and get carried down the street like eddies of turbulence in a river. Amie and I weighed leaving our safe haven to see the ball go up against wading into that huge crowd.

We chose to step out, and stand in front of the window, and listen to Black Cash which--we learned later-would be able to perform just four songs before the evening's festivities were switched off. The organizing sponsors spent 35 minutes in a self-congratulating ramble while the spectators wanted to hear music. To his credit, Demetrius, wearing his Mandarin robes, cranked up the Deli's awnings to give a better view for those of us stranded on the slender portion of empty sidewalk, then he made his appropriate and brief remarks from the stage. We were told this by neighbors, since I didn't hear any of what he had to say because we were dodging a fracas.

One of the Deli's door protectors got head over the head with a bottle. Another guy started hitting on somebody and in that confusion, the metal stanchions holding up the Deli's line rope fell--one went thwacking against the glass and the other fell hard on my foot, but neither the window nor my foot was damaged.

All of this could've been avoided, as D. remarked later, if the organizers had arranged for a pedestrian zone with barriers and posted police officers, and maybe signs stating, "WALK DON'T STAND" which would've given people a way to get up the street without shoving and elbowing their way into the throbbing mass of humanity.

My solution, too, is a Carytown skytram, like they used to have at the State Fair, similar to a ski lift but for getting from one end of the retail corridor to the other. An "aerial tram" like they have in Portland, Ore.

D. said that from the stage, far as he could see, and estimating how some 7,500 people looked like in two blocks last year, this had to be upward of 25,000. We'll see what the papers say.

Amie and I had our first kiss of the new year without getting knocked down or cursed. We chose not to linger, clinging to each other, managed to get over to where Urban Artifacts was having its vacating the premises party and young women were dancing in the display windows.

Back at the far less crowded house party, we checked in with those who'd also been out there and toasted the new year. All were in good spirits.


Whither Carytown?

It occurs to me that Carytown is in a transition as it attempts to hold its own against two giant--and competing--malls, Stony Point and the starship Short Pump Towne Center. Both are idealized replications of old downtowns--Stony Point is reminiscent of a themed amusement park. But they are both new and trendy and there aren't cracks in the sidewalks, nor panhandlers. Or anything authentic.

There 's also the matter that out of 200 shops in Carytown, a mere handful are owner occupied. Landlords are charging confiscatory rents, 22 bucks a square foot in some cases, making entrepreneurial effort tough in a town that makes it difficult enough -- I refer you to Je Depew's Back Page essay in Style the past week. The pull quote: "I’ve opened other people’s restaurants in nine other places around the world, and this is the most cumbersome place of all to do it."

Those in the RVA blogosphere who champion paradigm shifts in Richmond's culture, need to start with advocating a change at the building inspection, permits and economic development offices. If you choke the life out of small owner-operators, you kill the city's vitality. Thing is, would-be and actual entrepreneurs have been making the same complaints to me for closing in on 20 years. Why is this situation getting worse, and not better?

The primary reasons in Carytown that we're seeing a proliferation of name brands American Apparel and Ben & Jerry's, Subway, Smoothie King, and Starbuck's too, is that they can afford the cost of conducting business there.

Some 15 storefronts are empty in Carytown as 2008 opens. An assortment of activities, incentives, and innovation must reinvigorate the neighborhood. New Year's demonstrates a way forward. How can this translate in a permanent way is what confronts Carytown's future.

What Carytown could use, actually seems to me, is a small hotel. The establishment could gear for the French Film Festival, Watermelon and New Year's. Perhaps a boutique kind of place, with an attached amenity like a jazz club or entertainment venue. If the grotty and awful home for the addled at Parkwood and Sheppard were ever, through some miracle of actual statuory enforcement and failure-to-comply, broken up that would be a location for a Carytown Inn of sorts. The Colonial Revival buildings perhaps could be remodeled, using historic tax credits, but a developer would probably just want to rip the place down. And I for one wouldn't shed too many tears at the loss. There's enough room for parking on the acreage.

My own personal doomsday scenario for C-town is this: there is no old and historic designation for the commercial portion, nor in "West of Boulevard South of Cary" or WoBSoC. There is just one building landmarked, the Byrd Theatre, and another should be but has managed to survive anyway, and that's Carytown Burgers and Fries which was the toll keeper's house for the Westham Road, and was built sometime after 1810.

But all those Monopoly houses up by Kroger, along Parkwood and Grayland--some of which have undergone quite wonderful rehabilitations--are for the most part rental property. What if a developer swept in--and this is far-fetched, but we're talking doomsday--and started buying up parcels to, I don't know, install a Target?

There's a Gap in the middle of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury--kinda looks like Carytown, doesn't it? [Wikipedia informs that as of Januaruy 2007 Gap isn't there, but Ben & Jerry's moved in]

"Gap store at the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco, California. Sic transit gloria hippie." Via photographer Philip Greenspun,

2008 is underway, as are my continuing efforts in the home office. I'm trying to figure out what of the Vanity Fairs, Esquires and GQs are going to the attic, and reorganizing the shelving of my journals.


Differing takes on New Year's greetings, this from the The New Coven of Louise Brooks, whose fabulous smile and lithe figure are displayed below. This is a publicity image taken by Eugene Richee and associated with the now-lost 1927 film Now We're In The Air. This scene isn't in the movie, but the "G" on her dress stands for the dual rolls she played; that of twins Griselle and Grisette, one German and the other French, who are both objects of affection for U.S. Flying Corps World War I buddies Wallace Beery and Raymond Hatton.

Then, for a more contemporary spin, from RVA artist Rob Ullman, who wrote on his Atom Bomb Bikini blog post of this delicious undertaking: "Doodled this afternoon while watching that fantastic Penguins/Sabres outdoor hockey game in the snow up in Buffalo."

The Double Aughts never looked so good.

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