I am going to cheat. I will freely, unabashedly, and totally say so up front. There is no way I can list only five items, so I’m listing five generalities so I can get particular in the list! Yay for cheating!
First, your history lesson. Richmond City is the capital of Virginia. Richmond County is about 50 miles outside of town and no relation whatsoever. Virginia is unique in that its cities are not part of a surrounding county. With the exception of Baltimore, Carson City, and St. Louis, the remaining 39 independent cities found in the US are in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Like many urban areas, the city itself has either a high income or low income population, with very little in between. Most of those that work in the city live in surrounding counties. Yet we all call ourselves part of the RVA.
Home to four colleges–VCU, UR, VUU, and VC, two seminaries, and two more colleges within 20 miles (Randolph Macon and Virginia State), the city has a large loyalty factor. Former seat of the Confederacy, it’s proud of its Southern heritage, but also recognizes its role in the founding of the country during the Revolution as well. All elementary school children have field trips an hour east to see the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria in Jamestown, to Williamsburg, and downtown to see reenactments of Patrick Henry saying “Give me liberty, or give me death!”. Located at the fall of the James River, it’s also 75 miles from Charlottesville and the Appalachian Trail and two hours (give or take) from both Virginia Beach and from Washington, DC.
And y’all? When it comes to the people here? We’re all crazy. Just ask native Shirley MacLaine. Other natives by birth (or those that we claim anyway due to proximity)? Warren Beatty. Arthur Ashe. Blair Underwood (well, Petersburg. Close enough). Patricia Cornwell. David Baldacci. Leslie Bibb. GWAR. Corey Reynolds (used to play poker in my costume shop after his show finished for the day at a nearby theme park, long before his days on The Closer). D’Angelo. Robert Lanham (or Robbie, as I knew him from the youth group days before he wrote The Hipster Handbook). Jason Mraz. Emily Skinner. Aimee Mann. Edgar Allen Poe (maybe not born, but certainly bred. Has the museum in town to prove it. We share him with Baltimore). Eric Cantor (though many of us try to forget). Ray Easterling (may he rest in peace at last). Tons of good people that we love to claim at every turn.
On the rare occasion I get out to actually enjoy my hometown it’s a whole lotta fun. So here’s my cheater’s version of Tuesday Topics!
Five things to do in RVA:
- Enjoy the history. It’s not just the trips to DC, Jamestown, and Williamsburg; Mount Vernon, Monticello, or Ash Lawn. We have a ton of history right here. Hollywood Cemetery has two presidents (three, if you count Jefferson Davis), a wonderful gothic architecture, and plenty of tours and ghost stories to share.
We also have Monument Avenue. Home to more Civil War heroes as well as Arthur Ashe. And more beautiful architecture. The Avenue itself is on the register of historic places. (more on that later)
In case you’re not a history buff and are more into the arts, we have that too. In a historical fashion, of course. My favorite is the Byrd Theater, a $2 movie theater that is in a 1928 movie house with a chandelier that had to be assembled inside the theater itself. On Saturday nights, before the show, the Wurlitzer organ rises from the floor and you get a concert. There are no previews, just the anti-litter PSA that was filmed in the 1980s, and that’s our own cult favorite. My brother came home from the army and went to the theater for the first time in a decade on a Friday night. Sold out crowd, and we’re all quoting along with our favorite part of the clip. He was blown away.
I think I’m there at least twice a month. Great way to see movies, and it’s in a part of town that is about six blocks long full of great restaurants and shops. http://www.byrdtheater.com.
- Go to the Festivals. Y’all, we’re all about the festival. Find a Saturday on the calendar, and we’ve got something going on. Especially if it has something to do with food. Watermelon Festival. Kite Festival. Arts in the Park. Dragon Boat Festival. Greek Festival. Lebanese Food Festival. Chili Cookoff. Strawberry Festival. Not to be confused with the Strawberry Street Festival. Hanover Tomato Festival. French Film Festival. Brunswick Stew Festival. Vegetarian Festival. The now defunct World Beer Festival. The Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Festival. Italian Food Festival. 2nd Street Festival. Yes, that’s right, we close down and celebrate a street. Why not. Better yet, there is the Easter Parade when they close down Monument Avenue and we all parade in our homemade hats. The parade is the people. And oh, what people. Young. Old. Tall. Small. Drag Queens. Costumed. Activists. And the homemade hats. Best part. These in the photo are slightly tame by comparison. I may or may not have one I made almost 20 years ago hiding in an Ariat boot box in the closet of my living room.
- Experience nature. We’re at the falls of the James River, so you can either ride the rapids or lay out on river rocks. Pocahontas State Park is beautiful. And yes, it’s named for that Pocahontas. She’s from here too, you know. If you prefer your nature more refined, there’s the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Developed to show the best of all four seasons, it also has a phenomenal light show at Christmas.
- Become one of the best of. Thankfully, we’re no longer the murder capital of the USA. The mid-90s were not a good time for us. But in the last few years we’ve become known for other things. We’re the third most tattooed city in the US. LOTS of people watching opportunity there. We’re the 2nd most obese city in the country. Might have something to do with all those food festivals. We also have the Monument Avenue 10K. If you have to be athletic, might as well make it on one of the most beautiful streets in town in the 4th largest 10K in the country and one of the top ten most beautiful races in the US. We’re also the town to go to for minor league sports. Baseball. Football. Arena Racing. We have it all.
- The sanctioned voyeurism. I never knew it wasn’t okay to just walk into people’s houses and look around until I lived somewhere else. There are at least a half-dozen tours that I can think of each year. The Fan (historic district). People just randomly throw open the doors and let others walk in. From the centuries old row houses downtown at Christmas, the museum district at Mothers Day, Garden Week twice a year to admire the green thumb that I’ll never have from those with more money than I’ll ever earn, and even those stuck in ordinary neighborhoods, like the Virginia House and Agecroft Hall–which was built in England in the 1400s, dismantled in the 1920’s, reassembled on our side of the ocean and is now open to visitors and Shakespeare in the Garden during the summer.
So that’s my cheaters list! Next time you’re in the neighborhood (loosely defined as within a hundred miles or so) come on in! Have some sweet tea and sit a spell.
And if that’s not good enough for you? There’s always the people watching when NASCAR is over at RIR. . . .