Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones announced last week that baseball and the Richmond Flying Squirrels are going downtown. The years-long, polemic issue about whether to keep our minor-league team on the Boulevard or move it seemingly has come to an end. We're building a stadium, retail, a hotel, you name it — right in the heart of the city. It's happening.
I think it's fantastic. I love it. Any effort to make Richmond bigger and better is an effort worth undertaking. Now, like with any venture of this magnitude, some people are concerned, as well they should be. Things are going to change, which is scary. Who coined the expression, you have to crack a few eggs and disturb the nation's largest antebellum slave-trade site and burial ground if you want to make an omelet? I believe it was Vladimir Lenin.
We know downtown Richmond will be a construction-debris-ridden, street-detour-mazed, potholed, twisted metal and steel hellhole until about 2016 or whenever this immense project wraps. How do we know? Because downtown Richmond already is a construction-debris-ridden, street-detour-mazed, potholed, twisted metal and steel hellhole. So it's safe to assume a $200 million project will only add to the mess.
We can probably also expect the next biblical flood that hits to swamp the Shockoe Valley flood plain and destroy our new stadium at some point. That isn't news. We'll just build stronger walls and blindly hope for the best. Oh, and God hates a coward.
But what about the outliers? The not-so-obvious affected parties? The butterfly effect that will come with a change in the status quo — or, in this case, a monster, landscape-altering, moon-shot of change?
What about the Boulevard north of Broad — a street and neighborhood that slowly was edging toward respectability with its influx of homegrown, independently owned restaurants and businesses? This area may have a difficult time surviving the loss of minor-league baseball. The fear being that a Detroit-like urban decay would set in while the strip clubs tucked away in Scott's Addition begin to slowly encroach upon the main thoroughfare. This would lead to transients from the Greyhound bus station multiplying. Taco shops would revert back to smut-peddling stores. The white flight of fancy barbecue joints like Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue would encourage the return of beloved, yet sort-of-gross joints — like Bill's. The Diamond might become a husk of its former self. A giant, worn-out shooting gallery for Virginia Commonwealth University kids to paint murals all over. The new Richmond "it spot" to score drugs.
Actually, that all sounds sort of awesome.
And what of Shockoe Bottom as we know it now? Will the area lose its authentic gritty street feel to a wave of chain restaurants and shiny new, soulless, faux-gastropub-taproom monstrosities and big-box retailers? A Willow Lawn East, if you will?
Will little, yet integral things such as my beloved 25-cent taco and 50-cent light beer Tuesday nights at Tiki Bob's Cantina be forced to shutter? We need to consider these things, because getting drunk and fed on the cheap while surrounded by scantily clad, loose-moraled girls from Mechanicville in a faux Polynesian atmosphere is something that I as a Richmonder am damn well entitled to. It's something I've come to expect.
And what about the fate of the Exxon at 17th and Broad streets, aka "that creepy gas station where it feels like you're going to get stabbed at any second"? As money comes in and gentrification takes its inevitable course, you'd hope that we could at least replace it with a Wawa or maybe one of those fancy Uppy's. I beg of you, is upscale gourmet food and coffee in a gas station setting too much to ask?
And the 17th Street Farmers' Market? You know that place with the green roofs in front of Havana '59? You know, where they usually have one or two gypsy vendors selling hand-woven scarves and produce? Does the Bacon Festival ring a bell? No? Anyways, what becomes of the Farmers' Market? Will somebody please think of the children!
This stadium and all that comes with it will be a much-needed shot of life for the 18th Street corridor. I think we can also agree that The Diamond is decrepit and something needed to give. The Giants' Double-A affiliate and our minor-league team, the Flying Squirrels, have brought back pride and joy to Richmond summers. Whether or not you agree with the move to downtown, keeping them around, fat and jolly, should be an absolute priority. And no, "fat and jolly" isn't a cheap shot at the Squirrels' vice president, Todd "Parney" Parnell.
I commend the mayor and his team for taking action and I look forward to all the speed bumps and petty fights and construction halts and money issues and tax hikes and unseen catastrophic dilemmas and City Council obstructionist muscle-flexing that will come along with it. This is a move that will indefinitely redefine our great little city, and I can be the biggest, sarcastic, cynical asshole, but I'm dead serious when I say that it really is an exciting time to be a Richmonder.
Lou Reed died last week at 71. He was a cantankerous, revolutionary, avant-garde, proto-punk-rock legend who stood by his principles and blazed a unique path. He will be missed. But don't worry, this isn't going to be some B.S., elegiac, verbose obituary. Everyone and their mother will already have done that by the time this column goes to press.
Instead I'm going to tell you a story.
It had been about seven or eight years since I'd listened to Lou Reed or his long-defunct yet completely seminal band, the Velvet Underground. His death and a subsequent listen to some of my favorite tracks took me right back to those halcyon immediate-post-college days.
One night — I think I was 22 — I was hanging out in the basement of a bar with some Asian guy that I met God only knows where. Guy was straight out of a John Woo movie, a slick-operator type who drove a black Mercedes. Seemed to always be blowing wads of cash, the procurement of which was a mystery to everyone, although we of course had our theories. Really nice guy though. I can't give too many more details because this human Dyson vac is probably still around town somewhere. Or he might be dead or in prison. The story isn't about him anyways.
So flash-forward about eight hours and the next thing I remember is the sun being up and I'm walking from downtown back up the hill to this fleabag apartment I was renting in the Fan right next to Buddy's. By the time I get home it's 11 a.m. and blazing hot. My one window unit is broken, I'm sweating my face off, freaking wired and tired at the same time, and I put on Velvet Underground and stare at the ceiling, just being completely depressed and devoid of hope. Lou's was beautiful, gritty and honest music, but it's never gotten accused of being uplifting — especially when you're coming down.
It's easy to rehash and even glamorize memories like this now, but at the time it was pretty awful. Maybe the worst morning ever — and I've had some really bad ones.
Strangely enough, I hadn't thought of that night and morning in a long time, but the news of Lou Reed's passing took me right back to that twitchy sauna of a hellhole on Stuart Avenue.
Lou was one of those artists you heard and maybe didn't get or even enjoy. But for whatever reason you just knew you were listening to something important. His death really brought back some amusing and some less than amusing memories from the years when I returned to Richmond after finishing college.
Memories, like this last one, that are probably best left in my early 20s.
It seems that most people associate the memories of certain periods and days of their lives with the music they were into at the time — or at the very least, have certain songs trigger long-dormant memories — good and bad.
Scientists have actually found that the region of the brain where memories of our past reside and are retrieved also serves as a hub that links familiar music, memories and emotions, which could explain the memory flood you experience when a certain song or artist comes on.
And don't you just love it when that happens?
Like when a well-timed Cranberries song comes on and I'm magically whisked away to ninth grade. The acne, the lack of cool friends, the agony of trying to talk to girls, the raging hormones, the sudden presence of uncontrollable erections during class and having to stay seated after the bell rang while you pretended to look busy because you couldn't stand up.
Man, those years were fun and not at all awkward.
"Zombie" comes on the radio and Boom — I'm right back there at James River High School!
That I actually listened to and enjoyed the Cranberries obviously was doing me no favors in the cool and girl departments, but what did it matter? I could barely form coherent sentences around women at the time anyways. I spent most weekends playing video games or making backyard wrestling videos with friends who were in the same boat.
Eventually I got on some high-powered medication that cleared up the acne, and not to brag, but at 30 years old, if I'm drunk enough, I'm actually able to have coherent conversations with women. Hell, I even had sex with one of them. Most importantly though, I still listen to the Cranberries and that isn't changing.
Just like ol' Lou, I won't compromise who I am (or my horrible taste in music) just because something is uncool or unaccepted (or overly accepted) by society at large. *
The second you compromise your principles is the second that your life becomes somebody else's.
* Unless money is involved. Then I'll compromise absolutely everything.