It’s the Journey not the Destination

Sometimes the simplest actions create big insights into life.  I had a great few days recently visiting good friends in our beautiful Okanagan wine country.  Since I have lots of time on my hands these days (more on that later) I decided to forgoe the fast highway home and take a back road, quite literally the road less traveled.  The trip became a reflection on my life at present, I have absolutely taken a detour off the well trammeled path and strayed into, for  me, uncharted territory.    

I was on a leave of absence from work since April and am now on a permanent leave  – as in I don’t work there anymore.  The circumstances of that parting means that I have the unexpected and completely unknown luxury of an exended period of time to decide exactly what I want to do next.  Wow.  I have’t not worked since I was 17.   The longest period of time I’ve had off was 2 months in my early twenties.   And the big question is, stay on the career highway or use this as my exit ramp to a totally different life?  

I drove the Summerland – Princeton road, 100km of  well maintained gravel and blacktop Forest Service Road through the South Central interior of British Columbia.  The road goes from the well-tended vineyards of the Okanagan valley through the mountains and plateaus of the interior and ends in Manning Park.  I found some great driving advice on a blog called Don’t Get Any on Ya. 

   
 

I was prepared to be traveling alone, but surrprisingly there were quite a few other people out there also enjoying the backroads.  Another metaphor.  Once I stepped out of my designated box in the tower (the much sought after office with a view) I’m discovering that there is a whole world of people who don’t work in boxes or cubicles and who have an entirely different take on their personal journeys.  They wouldn’t give you a nickel for 12 hour workdays (my standard) chained to a computer screen doing work with little intrinsic value that benefits on the chosen few very high up on the corporate food chain.  I wasn’t making the world, or my world, a better place. And I most certainly wasn’t helping the people I thought I’d be helping when I went into Human Resources.   Looking at those words as I type them, they should have been a clue.  People aren’t “resources”  – human or otherwise.  They are real people with real lives, real famlies and real feelings.  Treating them as just another resource, like a piece of lumber or box of paper, to be utlized to serve “the needs of the company” or used up, burned out and thrown away  – is that really how I want to spend my life?  Emphatically no.

Leaving Summerland wine country behind.   

Into the unknown in my little but sturdy chariot – you don’t need much really.   

Looking ahead – I don’t know what it will bring, but it looks amazing.  Anticipation.  

Choosing a simpler existence, at least for a while?  Try it, keep what works, leave the rest behind.  

And it could be that a long rest in a gentle place will restore the soul.

 
Always remembering that it’s the journey, not the destination that’s important.   

Although I love the roadtrips and adventures LK and I share, traveling alone has a few perks – I get to sing out loud as much as I want and listen to whatever ridiculous nonsense takes my fancy.  This song has never failed to make me sing out loud and get up and dance – which you can do while driving – carefully!!

Earth Wind and Fire – September

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Nepal Earthquake – Everest Climbers

Nepal Earthquake – Everest Climbers

I’ve been following the devastating results of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday.  Latest reports put the death toll over 4,600 souls and climbing with more than 9,000 injured. As this tiny nation struggles to cope with rescue efforts for it’s own citizens, another drama is playing out on Mt Everest, where several hundred foreign climbers, plus their Sherpa Climber guides and camp support staff are effectively stranded.  According to this first hand account from Jon Kedrowski, a mountaineer at Everest Base Camp, the death toll may be as high as 20 with many more seriously injured.  Up to 50% of base camp was completely destroyed.

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Fortunately, many of the climbers were at Base Camps 1 and 2, higher up the mountain and, at least for now, they are unharmed and have provisions for about a week.  Their return route to base camp is, however, cut off as the climbing route through the Khumbu Icefall was destroyed and the fixed ropes and ladders have been swept away.  A team of specialist climbers, the “Icefall Doctors” maintain the route through the Icefall, their camp was destroyed and three members are dead.

In this video from Chris Tomers, you start to get a sense of the complexity and magnitude of the issues to get the stranded climbers out of Nepal.

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  1. Will the weather hold and are their sufficient resources (helicopters, fuel, pilots) to rescue all the people stranded at higher camps?
  2. Can a new climbing route be established through the Icefall despite the terrible danger from aftershocks?
  3. Once the climbers can get back to Base Camp, many of them will find themselves homeless, their camps and provisions destroyed.  Everyone will have to pool resources to survive.
  4. Base Camp is extremely remote.  It’s unlikely that all climbers, sherpas and support staff can be airlifted out.  This means trekking out, perhaps all the way to Kathmandu.  No-one knows if the trail still exists and the condition of the small villages, where trekkers and climbers would seek shelter and provisions, along the way.
  5. And when they make it back to Kathmandu, which is all but destroyed, what medical aid, shelter and food will be available to them and when and how will they be able to fly home?

The Nepalese government and people are overwhelmed trying to cope with the devastation to their country, what resources can they dedicate to rescuing and assisting foreigners trapped on Everest and what is the priority?

What can we do to help?  Check out the 3 ways you can help from the Red Cross:

The global Red Cross network, led by the Nepal Red Cross, has mounted an international relief effort to provide emergency humanitarian assistance following the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal.  If you’re wondering how to help Nepal earthquake victims, you have three easy options:

1. Donate online to Nepal earthquake relief on redcross.org.

2. Visit your iTunes store to find a donation link.

3. Spread the word on relief efforts and ways to help online. Find and share information on social channels, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Twitter account and our very own Facebook and Twitter posts.

Kodachrome #1

Getting rid of the detritus that serves no function other than to take up space in my life can be a mind-numbing chore, but it also means unearthing boxes that haven’t been opened in, well, more than a few years.  But detritus is different than memories.  A box full of old photograph albums (remember those – when all photos were printed and carefully pasted into albums  – or thrown into a shoebox depending on their relative importance) opens a window into a past barely remembered and a self scarcely recognized.  Which is regrettable because those old kodachromes of people and places make up the paving stones of our lives.

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As I started flipping through the spine-broken and dust-bedecked albums I wondered what gave me the courage to set out on some of those adventures?  A gypsy soul for sure, along with a healthy dose of bravado.  In the long ago dark ages before the internet, email and full-time, real time connectivity, taking off for several months to the far reaches of South East Asia was a different undertaking.  If family or friends wanted to stay in touch with you they had to mail letters (yes, actual words written on paper, in an envelope, with a stamp) to Poste Restante, or General Delivery at a distant Post Office in Bangkok or Kathmandu.  Strangest of all, however, was that the system worked.  After several weeks and a few countries you could roll off a dusty train, heft your backpack and get into line with an equally bedraggled crew of travelers to find a packet of travel stained but most welcome letters from home.  There were always people sitting on the sidewalk right outside the post office, pack dropped and forgotten, devouring the news from home. It was like stepping back into a world you had to strain to remember, so different from the reality of your present.

Myanmar (or Burma as it was known then) was one of the strangest and most fascinating place I have traveled to – it really is the Land That Time Forgot.   It was (and is) difficult to get a visa into the country and travel is strictly controlled.  Nevertheless, we were in Bangkok and managed to get an elusive travel permit into Burma for 10 days.

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Fascinating doesn’t even begin to cover it.   Imagine a country frozen in the 1950’s – the few vehicles running were of that vintage.  The military junta had broken off diplomatic relations and isolated itself from the rest of the world, maintaining only the most rudimentary diplomatic ties to China.   “Currency control” was a piece of legal size paper that looked like it had been mimeographed and you were supposed to write down how much currency you brought into the country, how much you exchanged legally and where you spent it. Then you handed back the piece of paper when you left.  Not a word of a lie.  Here’s what actually happened.  You got the piece of paper, wrote some imaginary number on it, stuffed it in the bottom of your pack and didn’t bring it out until you were due to leave.  Meanwhile, you brought in as much whisky and cigarettes as you could carry from Bangkok and traded them on the black market for local currency.  The official rate at the time was about US$1 for 3 Burmese Kyat.  On the black market it was about $1:30 kyat – a more realistic valuation.  And yes, I have pondered why cigarettes and whisky were the currency of trade – human nature is remarkably similar no matter where you are.

Having been in Burma quite literally in the month before the military junta took complete control and placed her under house arrest, I became intensely interested in the life and career of Aung San Suu Kyi (phonetically Ang San Sushi) a Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the National League for Democracy.  At the time the streets were full of armed military, but since that was not that unusual in parts of Asia, we didn’t think much of it – the protection of fools.  Ms. Suu Kyi is a nobel laureate who spent 15 years under house arrest – the first 6 of which were spent virtually alone – for her stance on democratic government and freedom of expression in Myanmar.

We stayed at the legendary Strand Hotel in Rangoon, much fallen from it’s colonial splendour.

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It had once been the home of many of Britain’s expatriot literary notables, including Rudyard Kipling, who lived and wrote there.   One of my prized possessions is a rather dog-eared copy of The Jungle Book that I bought at a second hand bookstall in Rangoon. It’s been with me ever since.

We travelled by train to the former hill station of Mandalay and took a riverboat down the Irrawaddy River to the city of Pagan.

Pagan is one of the wonders of the world  – built in 1057 it was sacked by Kublai Khan in 1287 and never rebuilt.   It sits on a desert plain, a ghost city of temples and pagodas.  Astonishing.

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I have had these pictures (below) on the wall in every house I have lived in since then.

Becasue of this personal experience I have keenly following the brutal political conditions in this isolated and strange country all these years.  Although travel restrictions have eased and the military junta has taken some rudimentary steps toward relinquising control, human rights abuses remain rampant.

myan guard

Reading List:  Working my way through Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch 22.   He was one of my favourite writers and this autobiography was published before his death from cancer in December, 2011.   Not an easy read – keep a thesaurus on hand, he was Cambridge educated –  but an incredibly well written book about a fascinating life and person.

In Heavy Rotation:  Alexander’s Million Years is such a visually creative music video. Watch it full screen (and maybe twice) to really get the effect.   I love knowing that there are people this creative out there making our world just a little more interesting.

Coming Home

Made it home late Sunday night after almost two straight weeks on the road.  Managed a 36 hour turnaround the previous weekend, which was a whirlwind, trying to spend time with the important people in my life, tossing in laundry, packing and back to the airport early Sunday.  As tired as I am, it’s not all bad.  I am in the middle of an amazing training course (week 1 done, 2 more to go) and got some great work done last week with a very favourable outcome.

And squeezed in some fun along the way. Didn’t really know what to expect when I got to Kansas City last Sunday, only that it’s a long trip  – there are no direct flights from Vancouver to KC.  What I found was a lovely, gracious and very attractive city on the banks of the Missouri River, a city that was once an important junction for wagon trains heading west, for slaves escaping north and cattle drives heading east.  It was the capital of the heartland.   Out of this came a city with some beautiful buildings and a very interesting culture.  Listened to some amazing blues, ate some great BBQ and found a little bit of New Orleans everywhere I turned.  Amazing.

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And I don’t know if I was just lucky, or if karma said, “girl, you need some lovin’ right about now” but there were so many amazing shows playing while I was in KC.  Had planned to see Lyle Lovett and John Haitt at the Uptown Theatre when I arrived last Sunday, but an unfortunate flight delay scuttled those plans.  KC has so many gorgeous old theatres I lost count.  This is the Mainstreet,  in the Power and Light district.  It shows movies, is a craft beer alehouse and on Fridays is a live music venue.  KC is making the most use I’ve seen anywhere of these cultural treasures.

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Monday night a band from Seattle that I have somehow never managed to catch at home was playing in town.  Ivan and Alyosha are some really talented guys from the Seattle area  and the Riot Room is the sort of dive bar music venue that makes my heart glad. As might be expected on a Monday night it wasn’t sold out, but the band put on a fantastic show anyway.

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I also knew that one of my music heroes, Butch Walker, was going to be playing the Riot Room Saturday night.  Despite having listened to his music for years, I still hadn’t seen Butch live, so although that show sold out immediately, I kept the faith that a ticket would materialize.  Posted a message on Craigslist in KC that I was a Canadian in town looking for a ticket for Butch Walker and just hoped.  And the universe answered.  Monday I got a message from a guy in Chicago who had tickets for the KC show, but his friends had bailed on the road trip and he wanted to sell the tickets.  After a few messages back and forth turns out Jason is an ex-pat Canadian living in Chicago and a huge Butch Walker fan.  Trusting that all would turn out well with these credentials, I sent him the money on PayPal and hoped.  And the next day by FedEx . . .my ticket arrived!  Thanks for paying it forward Jason, you were amazing.

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It was a long week of work and I had at least one day where I woke up before dawn in a strange hotel room and had absolutely no idea where I was.  Lost my rental car in the parking garage one day . . . walked all six levels trying to remember where I parked the damn thing.  And spent a lot of time in the gym making up for the restaurant meals.  But knew I had been in that hotel too long when I found myself riding down the elevator, walking through the lobby and across to the parking tower to fetch something I’d left in the car . . in my pyjamas.  Note to self, it’s time to go home when you are in the lobby in your PJ’s!

But all work weeks do come to an end and Saturday I had a chance to explore more of Kansas City.   Had a wonderful morning in the warm sunshine (it was 65F) walking around the River District and City Market.   Spent a lot of time in a vintage musical instrument store.  Fabulous find.

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After all that walking and shopping it was time for an authentic Cafe du Monde beignet at Beignet.  So delicious.

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Had a late BBQ lunch and headed back downtown to Kansas City Live to see the Heroes Show.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but as it turned out, I got to be part of a moving and authentic slice of real life in the heartland of America.

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The show was a tribute and celebration for the local veterans, and no matter what people’s philosophy on the US military might be it, it was clear that a great deal of respect and honour is paid to all veterans.  And it wasn’t just the Marines in full dress uniform getting attention, although I saw a lot of people lined up to have pictures taken with them.  There was also the guys in jeans and patch vests from the annual Veterans Ride.  Must have been 50 Harley’s parked out front.  There were older vet’s from WWII and guys wandering around who looked like they had never really made it back from some of the overseas conflicts.  And there were families everywhere, either with veterans or current serving members.  Or, sadly, paying tribute to loved ones they had lost.

A clip from a documentary called The Invisible Ones, about homeless combat veterans, went up on the big screens, it showed incredibly moving photos of injured veterans; it was so powerful it silenced that big, rowdy, country music loving, beer drenched outdoor venue.   There was a mom with her arms around her 10 year old son, both of them crying, and I’m guessing mourning their husband and dad.  There was a young dad, a big, very fit guy, who looked like a marine sitting next to me with his two baby girls and he had them both in his arms with tears running down his face. What was he remembering I wonder?

Saturday night it was back to the Riot Room for my long-awaited Butch Walker show.  It was fantastic.  Epic.  Couldn’t have asked for more.  And I’m so glad that fate, or the universe, or whoever, saw to it that I was in the right place at the right time.

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Here’s an acoustic version of Coming Home from Butch’s new record, Peachtree Battle – it’s a different version from the one I saw Saturday night, but I’m all about the new look!

And just because I can, some older Butch from Sycamore Meadows  “Here Comes The . . ”  And check out the gorgeous Gibson he’s playing . . . I’d love to own that baby, but an Epiphone Hummingbird will have to do for me. If I can ever play as well as Butch I’m getting me one of those.

Dog Days

Where did Autumn go this year?  The dog days of summer rolled on into September, the weather stayed warm and sunny and evenings at the beach were magic.  And there was more than one that had a special magic, when it was still really hot, the sort of hot that leads to drinking all the beers in your cooler and then waiting for the beer vendor guy to come around so you can buy a couple of tall, cold Stellas.  As the light and warmth lingered on you might find yourself later in the evening renewing friendships and celebrating the sunset to the sound of bongo drums with all the other sun-worshippers.   The sort of nights that make you re-think why you ever have wanted to leave paradise on the West Coast.

Then it was Thanksgiving (Canadian – in October) and we started a new tradition of spending Thanksgiving on the beach.  Hard to believe this is Vancouver in October.

My own special place in The Kingdom, thanks R!
And without really remarking the change, suddenly it was November.  The Kingdom retained it’s magical beauty, even as the seasons belatedly turned.  The weather remained warm, but brought with it a blanket of marine fog, blocking the sunshine, making it cool and damp, but with an eerie spell.
It feels like I’ve traveled about a bazillion miles since August, mostly for work but some for fun.  Exhausting, but I’ve got to see a lot of amazing places.  Went back to Toronto and caught up with S, my very first friend in Canada.  We haven’t seen each other in a long time, but as her husband put it, thanks to Facebook it’s like we saw each other yesterday.  I miss her, but not Toronto.  Work takes me regularly to Kentucky, a place that was so completely different from my expectations and that I’ve grown to love.  In August I went to the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, hands down the most impeccably curated music festival of the summer.  I’m usually in Lexington (work), it’s a stunningly beautiful part of the world, but I also learned to love Louisville, a quintessential “Main Street America” town.
The Amazing Grace Potter.
Some down home boys from Virginia, Old Crow Medicine Show (stole my heart!).  Thanks R for the amazing shot.

It wouldn’t be Kentucky if we didn’t drink some moonshine . . .well actually a whole lot of ‘shine!

Louisville is also home to the Louisville slugger factory, where all Major League Baseball bats are produced, a must-see.   It’s only short coming as a city – a shocking shortage of places to find breakfast of any kind, never mind the sort of hangover breakfasts the South is famous for – waffles, fried chicken, red eye gravy, grits and pails of Pimm’s or Bloody’s.  New Orleans has that s*&# totally covered, and despite Hillbilly Tea, a gem, needs to up it brunch game!
And who knew that the quintessentially Canadian game of curling would make me a pretty darn fine shot at Cornhole!  For Canadians who, like me, are somewhat askance at the name, check out this blog, an Ode to Cornhole.  It looks sort of like this (well at least from what I can remember . . .see note above regarding ‘shine).
Every so often I managed to gather a few days in Vancouver, where I basked in the total west coastness of The Kingdom and caught up with the music scene at the Vancouver Folk Festival at Jericho Beach.
And was front row for Blue Rodeo at the Roots and Blues Festival at Deer Lake Park.  Some love for Jim Cuddy, although clearly taken at the end of my long day!

What else has this Autumn meant for me?  It’s been a time of reflection and considerable thought.  I FINALLY got my US work permit, something I’ve been waiting for a long time.  This Canuck is now legal to live and work in the USA for at minimum the next 3 years.  Richmond, VA was where I was headed, but in a somewhat unbelieveable turn of events, I’ve been unable to sell my house in Vancouver, one of the hottest real estate markets in North America.  So the house is off the market until circumstances become clearer.  And I’ve always believed that life will work out as it’s meant to, but that sometimes we just can’t see what that’s going to be, a valuable lesson learned last year.  A friend said to me that when things are meant to be, they will be easy, that the pieces will fall into place, but when they are difficult, pay attention to the message.  And there has been nothing easy about this proposed move to Virginia.  It’s been one stumbling block after another and now there are some compelling reasons for me to stay in Vancouver.   Life is funny that way, you are walking down one road and then when you least expect it (or without really knowing it at the time) you get caught completely off-guard.  I might have to be home for more than a day or two at a time though, patience with my crazy schedule might start to wear thin.  I’m home for 8 whole days in 6 weeks.  Sitting in a hotel in Kansas City, MO tonight, got to finish writing and head out to see John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett at the Uptown Theatre. When in Rome . . . .

There has been so much absolutely great music come out this Autumn, I just can’t decide.  Saw the Avett Brothers again in Vancouver, they are touring their new record “Magpie and the Dandelion”.  By luck caught this amazing shot at the Orphpeum Theatre.
Seth was singing Morning Song . . .   http://youtu.be/09ljktjxHpI
And I’ve been completely obsessing over the new Amos Lee record, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song and this amazing song, Chill in the Air.
Enjoy y’all, hope to write more soon, time and travel permitting.

 

I blog with BE Write

Living in hotels, on the road in strange cities, I try to get out of the business traveler mode of work, happy hour and too big and rich dinners (with the occasional visit to the hotel gym thrown in).  I’ve been in Richmond, Virginia, since Sunday, so tonight it was time I made like a local and have a sort of normal night.  I’ve got a way cool Fiat for my rental car (!!), so being mobile it was only up to me to figure out what to do.

What would I be doing at home after work?  Well, just regular things;  run a few errands, pick something up for dinner, walk my pooch or go for a run, maybe catch up on one of my favourite shows.  Usually I try to find a Whole Foods market whereever I am, but I had already googled that and discovered there were none in downtown Richmond.  Then I remembered a market I had seen on my last trip here and set out to find it.  Ellwood Thompson’s is a funky market in Carytown that’s been working the Whole Foods model for 23 years.   Picked up a fabulous Chesapeake Blue ash washed goat cheese, roasted brussel sprouts and cold fried chicken.  Mmmm.  And then I spotted . . .wait . . what’s that . . .a craft beer tasting . . .in a grocery store!! Oh my, never in Canada.  Had the chance to try the Hardywood Belgium blonde, among others.  Delish.  How civilized,  a couple of those came home with me too.

After toiling in a wood manufacturing mill all day (how I earn the bread and butter), I needed some fresh air, so decided to try out the Canal Walk along the James River I had been hearing about.  Fantastic!  One block from my hotel is not only a fabulous urban oasis along the river, but also the site, and memorial, for one of the pivotal battles of the Civil War.  When I headed out in the the 90 degree heat and face washing humidity I was only hoping to get in a run.  Instead I got to spend an hour or so walking through four centuries of history.

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The fall of Richmond was a turning point in the Civil War.  When the city fell it represented many different things to the citizens.  But only one thing to the newly freed slaves and their champion, Abraham Lincoln.

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It was a wonderful evening walking through history, taking some great pictures.  I can’t wait to explore some of the other Civil War memorials and battlefield sites.

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After that bit of history geekiness, I came back to enjoy my feast at the hotel and ended up watching an NPR documentary about the Lewis and Clark expedition (which set out from Virginia) – history nerd reputation fully revived.  I’ll have to work extra hard at my party girl rep this weekend!!

Had Drew Holcomb in heavy rotation – getting ready for the weekend in Kentucky – “I Like To Be Me When I’m With You”.

http://youtu.be/gZ2mFxc-Fl4

9 Days; 4 Cities; 1200 Miles and No BackUp Plan

Part 1: Richmond and Baltimore

Nine whirlwind days; four cities; 1,200 miles by air and road  And no back up plan.   Just got back from a fabulous visit to what may soon be my new home, Richmond, Virginia and I’ve fallen totally and completely in love with the idea of living there.  Only hitch – I’m still waiting for my US work visa to come through.  And I don’t have a back up plan if that doesn’t happen.  Crushed won’t begin to describe it.  This trip was a way of getting a feel for what it would be like to actually be living in Virginia, so I not only spent time working and touring neighbourhoods and properties with a real estate agent, I also took the time to catch up with friends in that part of the world. Did my best to stop thinking like someone passing through on business and more like this is what my life might be like if I lived here.  Well damn it, that worked too well, now I can’t imagine what I’m going to do if the US government turns me down.  Could I move myself all the way across the continent and into a new country and a completely different culture?  Leave my home, family and friends behind and start to build a new life for myself? Absolutely.  I am up for this adventure.

Richmond is not one of those gracious, antebellum Southern cities like Atlanta;  “gritty” is one of the words I’d use to describe it.  It also has some fabulous, historic neighbourhoods, but it’s seen hard times.  It’s one of the oldest cities in North America, first claimed  by the English in 1607.  The Christopher Newport Cross was erected to commemorate the date on the exact spot in what is now downtown Richmond.  It took about 200 years for a settlement to start to grow, but Richmond has been there ever since.  That’s old.

NewportCross

Richmond has suffered economically and seen its downtown core boarded up and empty. The middle class fled to planned communities in suburbs like Short Pump. The 2008 recession was hard on it.  But the downtown is going through a major revitalization, people are coming back to live there, industrial and commercial neighbourhoods are being turned into arts districts with warehouse lofts. And the beautiful old mansions and row homes in historic residential areas like Church Hill and Carytown are being bought up for a song and renovated to create diverse, interesting communities and the people who live in them are passionate about living there. The real estate agent tried really hard to sell me on the benefits of moving into a planned community of “brownstones” and apartments in Glen Allen, but that sort of pre-fabricated lifestyle is just not me. And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t find a lot in common, or friends among, the folks that live there.

West Broad

I adored Church Hill, but fell completely in love with Carytown. It reminds of the Main Street/Commercial Drive areas of my current hometown, Vancouver. Families, single people, art galleries, coffee shops, bakeries, music venues and restaurants all crowded in together in untidy and unplanned glory along Main St and Cary St.

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And the surrounding streets are all filled with fabulous, historic row homes, some gorgeously renovated, others still dilapidated and in need of some TLC. But the streets are busy with tradesmen’s vans and there are houses in various stages of renovation all over. I can see me living in a row home in Carytown.  Maybe not right away, but soon.

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It’s probably biting off a bit much right away;  I hope to lease an industrial loft in Shockoe Bottom for a few months, until I understand the real estate market in Richmond. What I learned is that buying is cheaper than renting; so many people were financially devastated in the 2008 recession and many of them can’t get back into the housing market. So rent prices are high compared to what it costs to buy. $150,000 buys you a lot of home in Virginia. A lot.

I saw a lot of rentals, but my favourite is what was the former smoking warehouse of the American Tobacco Company.  The original site.

american tobacco company

Today.

ATC lofts

It has been turned into industrial lofts and the architects have done a fantastic job of retaining those features, including the brick walls, old heart pine flooring, huge exposed beams and the original “Lucky Brand” smoking stack of the warehouse. Best of all, it has a rooftop deck with a pool that has fabulous views of downtown Richmond, Church Hill and Shockoe Bottom.

ATC roof deck

It’s a three block walk to the farmer’s market and two blocks to the train station (should I want to head north for a weekend in DC or Baltimore). And surrounded by an active street life and arts community. Perfect!

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One of Richmond’s stellar virtues is its location in the US Southeast and direct access to the main north/south artery, the 95 freeway.

Richmond Baltimore

I decided I should test the theory of how easy it would be to go to Washington, DC or Baltimore for the weekend, so I headed up 95 on Saturday afternoon to visit with friends in Baltimore and take in my very first major league baseball game.  I got to see the Orioles play at Camden Yards, an amazing ball park. Answer to the question = it’s ridiculously easy. Two hours of fast freeway driving put me right in Baltimore. The traffic on the beltway around DC got a bit dicey, but really no big thing. I got a huge kick out driving right past the Quantico Marine Base (having seen it in about a zillion movies and TV shows) and I can’t wait to go exploring in DC itself. I could spend a lot of weekends just at the Smithsonian.

Camden Yards

We walked down to Camden Yards, stopping at pubs along with way to visit with people I hadn’t seen in a while and they all made me so welcome. After the game I just had to have the cold smoked, fried chicken at Blue Grass and the a drop in at the local on the way home. Americans are a warm and welcoming bunch of people. We Canadians could learn a few things about gracious hospitality from them. It was a long and fabulous evening. Sunday afternoon was an easy drive back to Richmond. Theory proven, done and done. This I could live with!

I also went to Lexington, KY and Atlanta, GA on this trip – Part II coming soon.  But now it’s just a waiting game.  My home in Vancouver is listed for sale, open houses start this week.  I had planned to sell, downsize and move to a different neighbourhood anyway, this just got me really motivated.  And if the work visa doesn’t come through . . . well . . .on to Plan B.  Not really sure what that is . . .I can only hope and believe and enjoy the adventure.  And wherever I end up, I will always have a couch (and maybe even a spare room!) for my friends to come visit me.  Don’t think of it as losing a friend, think of it as having a whole new part of the world to come visit.  There will be a lounger on the roof deck by the pool for all of y’all!!

Was lucky enough to catch Billy Bragg at the old Neptune Theatre in the university district of Seattle a few weeks ago.   What a fabulous old theatre.

Mark Lanegan Jeff Feilder - Neptune Theater - Opening Night

I’ve  loved Billy’s work for so long, I was expecting a great show but this just knocked me over.   Here’s Swallow My Pride from Tooth And Nail.