The Blue Raccoon

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Journey Into Richmond
And What I Found There

The story thus far: Philip Gotz, an obstreperous travel writer known for his "What I Found There" pieces detailing his five-day visits to destinations, is in Richmond, Va. The visitors bureau has assigned to him as a guide Tia Chulangong -- who pretty much has his number from the moment she meets him at the Richard Evelyn Byrd International Airport. She provides running color commentary on Richmond sights and history while riding the train to bustling Main Street Station, and from there to Gotz's accommodations. Tia, however, has informed Gotz that Jennifer Royce, his novelist ex-wife, is in town on a book tour and through a scheduling error he's booked into the Jefferson Hotel where she is also staying. The writer and his guide have now gone up to the rooftop terrace of the Jefferson, where Tia is giving Gotz a travelogue explanation of the city's sights. Gotz observes the city's bosky streets and plentiful green and open spaces, lack of automotive traffic or parking lots, the preserved historic architecture and the exile of high rise office and residential towers to the outer edges of the central metro.

Part VI

The unique, quaint and charming boutique

The terrace wended back into the café. The perspective northward was interrupted by the Jefferson’s bellevue towers and the private terraces along Franklin Street.

At the table, Gotz asked a passing waitress for another gin and tonic.

“But, so, I’m glad I have several days here. Because where I kind of like how those high rise buildings are out of the old center district of your beloved town, I wonder about that. I just wonder about it. How does the city function that way? And it seems, to me, a little contrived. Actually, a lot contrived; over-planned. Is this downtown and its satellite neighborhoods just flash frozen in 1900, or is there a street life here, is there an art life, is there some people tearin’ it up and gettin’ er done, as they say in NASCAR.”

“Oh, absolutely, and you'll be seeing plenty of that. And we got the NASCAR. Yes we do. We have a museum and everything. Which I don’t think you chose to go see.”

“Maybe. If I have time. And I won’t have time.”

Tia pursed her lips.

“I think, Tia, that you’re laughing at me.”

“I’m just sitting here.”

“And doing a find job of it, too, if may observe. I mean, I think it’s funny about the NASCAR because Richmond has waged war against internal combustion since it first showed up here.”

Tia's tongue ran along the edge of her front teeth. Gotz sighed.

She said, “Richmond’s all about contradictions.”

“ Yes! It seems so. And that’s key, I think, isn’t it? Most of what happened during the 20th century Richmond batted away. You were ahead on almost every social and civil rights issue, and then there’s the interstate highway system, the no-car downtown." 

“And there’s the car docks.”

Gotz nodded in some vague familiarity about these somewhat legendary Works Project Administration garages at the compass points of the city used for storing visitor vehicles. They served as transit stations, too. The white-shirted, bow-tied drivers for the Richmond car docks attracted the attention of the Maysles brothers who titled their documentary Valet Service.

“So how does that work, Tia? If I’m driving into Richmond from the north -- and plan on staying.”

“You go into the parking tower and nowadays a scanner reads your license plate, and on Virginia licenses there’s indication of your zip code that a machine reads, and depending on how far you’ve come, there’s a discount for your parking there. You leave your car, take the train in, and if you’re planning on leaving in a few days, you can have your vehicle transported to the other side of town and waiting for you. This discourages driving in the city, puts people in transit and on foot. So once you dock your car, and you’re here, and you find so many cool things to do, you might not be so anxious to bounce out. Which is what happens.”

“I’m supposed to see one of these, right?”

“Yes, sir. I think day after tomorrow, something like that,” she looked at her handheld device. “Yes. Actually, Sunday at 3:30, after brunch here.”

“There goes the Gallego Plaza mimes. No, no. I’m kidding. Fine, that’s fine. But -- so basically, you’ve impounded their cars to get a captive audience.”

“They’re not captives if they want to stay.”

“And they want to because of the Charming and Quaint Boutique.”

“Well, Mr. Gotz, some people like the Charming and Quaint Boutique.”

He waved his hand. “No, no, no. I don’t care about them, you don’t really care about them, the CVB has to care about them but wishes it didn’t need to. They come here, and stay their unscheduled two point five days because they see vistas and buildings and street scenes and museums and patterns of light and shadow from magnolia trees cast on brick walls that. they. can’t .get. anywhere. else. They can’t get it anywhere else. That’s what you’re selling here –and that unfortunately gets me to another word that I’ve handed its walking papers, and that is Unique.”

“So the Unique Charming Quaint Boutique -- ?”

“Yeah, I’m gettin’ me some dynamite and I’m blowin’ that sucker up.”

“H’mm – travel writer and urban terrorist.”

“Everybody needs a hobby, Tia. So, what about you? Lining up your nights, a whole glam-tastic circuit, flouncing from one dimly lit establishment to the next with perfect people making beautiful plans?”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Gotz. That’s all I do. I smoke and drink all night long, and dance on tables and bars.”

“Well, long as you have your youth and agility, I should hope so.”

She sighed. “Mr. Gotz, you’ve watched way too much Sex And The City.”

Gotz winced. “Those girls -- excuse me --  those women, never interested me.  No, really. Never once --  least when I watched it -- did they ever show the least bit of interest in art or history or books. Only if it increased their hipness quotient. Now, you on the other hand.”

Tia straightened her back, balled a fist onto her side and said in mock irritation, “So I’m not hip?”

“This is not what I’m saying.”

She waved him off. “Mr. Gotz –“


“Mr. Gotz, not that I’m not enjoying our time –“

“Oh, you’re leaving me. They always leave me.”

“Courage. Morning comes soon.”

“You going to that Mongoose place?”

“Mongoose Civique. Ah, probably not. Cruel Aztec Gods are at Tantilla Garden tonight, so I’m going with some friends.”

“Cruel Aztec Gods?”

“Uh-huh. They’re local and they’re touring, just got signed, and we love them. I used to watch them in tiny little bars in the Fan. They’re great for dancing.”

Gotz’s brows rose. Tia dancing, he imagined, arms up, elbows bent, hands in her hair, hips swaying. And he snapped back.

“Never heard of them. But the whole collection of syllables and their vibrations: the Cruel Aztec Gods at Tantilla Garden – sounds – extraordinary. Where is it?”

“Oh, west,” she raised an arm, squinted, pointed. “Thattaway. The Broad Street Five takes you right there. Great place, from the ‘30s, a ballroom. Huge. The roof rolls away on good nights. You should go there if you can before you leave. I can score tickets for you. There’s a schedule in your packet. Let me know.”

“Hum. Yes, yes. Cruel Aztec Gods. Are they, what, punk what?”

“Punk? No. They’re pretty, uh, alt rock.”

“OK, dumb question: what do they sound like?”

“That’s tough. They sound like Cruel Aztec Gods.”

“That’s not good marketing.”

“I don’t do their marketing.”

“OK, I’ll let you go. Thanks for the tours and all the stuff.”

“Oh, glad to do it and excited you’re here. I am, don't make that face. I very much apologize for the mix-up on bookings and schedules."

“I don’t blame you. It’s the Infinite Cosmic Jester who uses as punch lines for his party jokes.”

“I should’ve told you at the very beginning. I’m sorry.”

“S’okay, Tia. Truly. You read her book?”

“Um. No.”

“You should. It’s good. Somehow, her latest bad guy character isn’t based on me.”

“Well, I’m going to take my leave now,” and she settled the strap of the slick black purse on her shoulder.

“So, you going to the ‘Goose?”

“That what the hip kids call that place down there?”

“Some of the hip kids.”

“I may, I may. I think I’m going to study some of the material you’ve helpfully given me, too.”

“The CVB DVD has a few shorts, sort of Richmond trailers, with different approaches. You might try that for fun.”

“I will.”

“OK. Have a good evening,” and she shook his hand and he watched her undulant departure with avid interest over his lifted glass.

The pianist played Gershwin.

Notes: The concept of automobile "docks" was proposed in the 1960s when architect Louis I. Kahn attempted to "pedestrianize" midtown Philadlephia. I'm wholesale stealing the idea and putting it 30 years earlier for advanced alternate reality Richmond. If such a system was in place from the mid-1930s on here, it'd be just part of living and viewed as a Richmond eccentricity.

The image of Tantilla Garden comes from and I also wrote about the place in True Richmond Stories.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home