The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Journey Into Richmond...And What I Found There Part IX

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 savvy and sharp Tia Chulangong provided to Gotz as a guide from the city's hospitality bureau provides running color commentary on Richmond sights and history. Tia, however, informs Gotz that Jennifer Royce, his novelist ex-wife, is in town on a book tour and through a scheduling error booked into the Jefferson Hotel where he is, too. The writer and his guide enjoyed a travelogue experience from the rooftop terrace of the Jefferson. 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. Tia leaves him to enjoy his first evening on the town. At the chic boho estabishment of Monrovia, in Monroe Park, he's intoxicatcd by not just liquor but the sounds of the house band, Deadly Nightshade. He's descending the spiral stair from the upper club into the lower bar.

The Metaphorical Implications


At the second turn of the stair Gotz was observing the activity of the bar below him when he turned to see what he'd almost forgotten to anticipate.


She was upswept auburn hair and a sharp, tailored black suit and long white lapels and cuffs. Next to her, some big dark square-jawed guy who looked vaguely familiar.

She said, "In a city of three million people..."

"Out of all the gin joints in all the world," Gotz replied.

For a few moments the two blinked at each other, suspended there on the spiral stair within Monrovia's congenial atmosphere suddenly turned cold.

Then she said, "Well, Phil, looks like you have to come down for me to get up."

Gotz managed to remark, "Spiral stairmakers must've enjoyed long marriages." This sounded so oblique not even he knew quite what he'd meant.

"Phil, this is Kendall Reilly, my agent."

"Ah, yes," and Gotz saluted him with two fingers at his temple. "Your name. She mentioned you in the dedication of the latest."

"Phil? You've read it? I'm touched."

"I feel like a partial investor."

Kendall thankfully spoke up. "I enjoy your travel writing. And the show on TLC is fun. Are you here for that or which?"

"Glomar Explorer, the site, right now, maybe other things later. "

Jennifer tried moving up a few steps but Gotz, paralyzed, hadn't moved.

"Phil, we need to get by."


"We have to negotiate this."

"Um, well, yes." His hands remained resolute on the rails.

Jennifer inhaled, sharp, deep, looking around. "H'mmm. I don't smell a fire. Do you, Kendall?"

"Um, I don't."

"Guess Gotz hasn't tried burning the place down. Like in Barcelona. At a flamenco bar he believed the time was right to demonstrate his skills. Until he knocked over a table with a lit candle on it."

"Why were they using paper table cloths?"

"Phil is the international war criminal of travel writers. There's some countries he can't go to because the police will meet him at the airport."

She faced him and laughed with some sarcasm.

Gotz tried to equal with her but his was a forced reaction. Kendall made a face that reminded Gotz of having a gas attack.

"So we're staying at the Jefferson," Gotz said, for some reason prolonging the agony. "Mix-up."

"Phil, it's a big hotel in a big town. So. A distinct displeasure to have gotten this out of the way. Now, we'll get up..."

"Deadly Nightshade," he blurted. "The band. You'll like them," and he at last began to move around them.

Uvilla Peyton's voice wafted down.

"Ah. She's quite something, I bet."

Another knowing smile.

"See you around, Phil," Kendall said.

Gotz got down the stairs and passed through the stained glass vestibule hall, nodding at the hostess, and into the warm night air without getting sick. Outside, he held hands to hips and paced around like a runner trying to cool down after a sprint. He kicked a tree a few times.

Did you hear that? he muttered to the air. 'Distinct displeasure! Damnit. She got it over me.

The prospect of returning to the Jefferson seemed suddenly fraught with dim possibilities even though this random encounter here precluded a similar occurrence in the cool calm halls of the hotel.

Now, I really need a drink. At least that's what he told himself.

He meandered along the gas-lit radial path to Belivdere and Main where he took in the imposing window festooned walls of Ginter University dorms and class buildings, the turret-and-finial capped townhouses and the Jefferson looming above all, like some great Spanish galleon come to port. (Image: Library of Virginia)

Gotz had an idea.

He looked around for a call button pole for one of the pedestrian pods he'd read of. These were intermediary personal transports that filled the space between trams or trains, and, controversially, taxis.

A push of a green button and within a few moments one of the glowing transparent distended beach ball pulled up with a comforting sigh. The things ran on underground magnets.

The door slid open and exposed the small, three seater interior and a curving dash for a few controls, speaker and a slot for his transit card. He pushed his temporary passport into the reader.

A warm female voice said, "Welcome aboard Richmond Transit's PedPod. Where may I take you this evening?"

"Mongoose Civique."

"Do you mean Mongoose Civique Bar and Lounge, eight sixteen East Main Street?"


A slight pause as the robot brain considered his response.

"I can get you to within a two-block distance. Is this OK?"

"Fine. I'm not crippled."

"I'm sorry I didn't quite get that."

"Yes, yes, yes."

"Very good! Click your safety belt and we'll be at 9th and Cary streets at Gallego Plaza in about two and..a...half minutes."

The pod eased along Belvidere and then down the hill of Cary past splendid antique buildings bulging with Romanesque flourishes and sculptural details, and others simple, elegant and workmanlike. The pod seemed like a bead of water from a summer rain sliding down a window pane.

"Ninth and Cary streets at Gallego Plaza," the pod voice said and the tinted roof slid away. "Please check the seat from any personal belongings."

Gotz emerged and the pod, responding to another request, hummed away. He stood, pausing next to the Great Turning Basin and Gallego Plaza, and music from an unseen street jazz combo echoed among the grand arcades, terraces and loggias adorning the Basin. Spectral globe lamps lit the architecture giving an expectation of romance or song. A break in the plaza's girding structures was sufficiently wide where he could see sail boats riding at anchor, and some other small craft, one illuminated with Japanese lanterns. People meandered at the waterside. The invisible band received applause and cheers from an invisible audience. He'd be seeing plenty of this later.

He turned left, trudging uphill on Ninth to Main.

Note on image: These are derived from the mid-1960s Richmond Esthetic Survey & Historical Building Survey archived at the Library of Virginia's web site. The first is at Belvidere and Main; in our version of Richmond the right hand side of the image would be occupied by variant Union Theological style campus buildings. Note the Jefferson at left center; the bad International style high rise at far left wouldn't exist.

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