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22 Reasons to Love Richmond


1. Because sometimes you want to wait in line ...

While some citizens spend their Sundays in church, dining on salvation, others respond to baser desires: Their pew is at Millie's Diner, their Mary is Bloody, and they are seduced by the Devil's Mess, a plate of eggs and meats that is frightening both in appearance and in damning tastiness.

And yet such things aren't just given out. No, the brunch-bound folk must be made to wait, to put in penance with their handbags and hangovers. And this — the act of waiting, of spending a portion of your Sunday merely in anticipation, either at the bar or right outside — is distinctly Richmond.

There's something almost formal about the wait itself, maybe a remnant of the city's gentrified past, like a seersucker vestigial tail. Whatever the case, people wait in an unhurried way, perhaps because of the glassful of fruit-flavored alcohol, perhaps because it's a way of purging oneself of the rushing and planning and obligation of the week gone by. And it's made all the better by the indulgence after your party is chosen. We order food and drink as if Da Vinci's about to paint the scene, and when we are finished, we are complete. If it's true that restaurants are practically a religion in this city, then the wait before the feast is a necessary 40-day fast.

2. ... and sometimes you don't.

We have nothing to complain about when it comes to traffic delays. Like the whines about the weather, traffic makes an easy target for grousers, but the fact is our daily commutes are a cakewalk compared with those of our neighbors.

Granted, our cakewalk amounts to about 17 hours per driver per year of picking our noses in stop-and-crawl traffic. But that's nothing for poor old Washington, D.C., where drivers rot away about 70 hours of their lives every year behind the wheel.

And what about Virginia Beach, where 25 hours of the average driver's life goes up in a cloud of idle exhaust annually?

Kiss the pavement, Richmond.

3. Because companies still think downtown is the place to do business.

So its new riverfront building near the Federal Reserve purports to look as unsexy as its products (packaging). Really, where did all the great architects go? But hey, Richmond has a new headquarters with the arrival of MeadWestvaco Corp., a Fortune 500 company that promises 400 new and high salaries. And despite all their options and myriad suburban corporate office parks, the company is settling itself downtown.

4. Because our views are breathtaking.

Fit for a postcard, clockwise from top: the view from Church Hill, a river perspective from Forest Hill Park access, downtown beyond the James River.

5. Because it's a great place to become an American.

It's easy to get grumpy around here, especially when a snowstorm forecast sends you into panicked drivers and backed-up Ukrop's lines. Then there's Pascal, an 11-year-old refugee from Congo, who lights up when recalling his first snowfall in America.

Just six years ago, Pascal was living in a refugee camp on the other side of the world. His mother had died, and the United Nations accepted him into its unaccompanied refugee minor program. He got a plane ticket to New York, and at age 6 rode solo to meet someone in America named Ruthie. From there he was destined for Richmond, to be taken in by Commonwealth Catholic Charities.

"I was scared because I didn't know nobody in America or Richmond," says Pascal, who will turn 12 in April.

Today he lives in a group home in Louisa County, hoping to become a permanent part of a family — "a healthy family," he says, "a family that had an education — and wanted me to have an education too."

Until then he's developing the passions of a typical American boy.

There's football (Philadelphia Eagles — especially Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook — not to mention his own stint as a wide receiver for the Louisa Packers). There are cars (yellow Corvette, Viper, Hummer, in that order) and video games (PS2 at his group home — "I wanted to get a PS3, but it was too much"). There are the movies (Jackie Chan, Will Smith, Nicolas Cage). And Dairy Queen Blizzards (Oreo).

"I like to hang out with my friends," he says. "If I had a family in America, I would like to hang around with them."

6. Because Philip Morris USA, which has made billions of dollars manufacturing a product that kills thousands each year, will soon bring some of the world's brightest scientists to downtown Richmond.

The company's $350 million research center on Leigh Street, behind the Richmond Coliseum, is expected to open midyear. It'll be a fortress, no doubt, and we hear security for subcontractors is so tight even Jack Bauer couldn't get through.

Just what the hell is going to go on in there? It's a pretty sure bet that one primary intent is the pursuit of less-harmful tobacco products, a noble cause that may need some willing test subjects. Note to scientists: Richmond has more than 1,100 homeless people wandering the streets in search of a smoke right now.

7. Because VCU Rams Coach Anthony Grant made us forget about Jeff Capel — quickly.

The former assistant to Billy Donavan and head coach of the Florida Gators Anthony Grant came to Richmond and whipped the Rams into shape almost overnight. His full-court-pressing, fast-breaking club plays an up-tempo style of basketball for 40 minutes and has rolled to a 20-4 record and a possible NCAA berth.

The team is so good that it may not even have to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament to get into the big dance. Capel, who left to coach Oklahoma, had the Duke pedigree, but Grant had the experience coaching on a top-flight Florida team for 12 years before coming to Richmond. We bestowed a lot of love on Capel, but he never had Rams running and gunning like this.

8. Because we're so hard even our churches have gangs.

It was 2,040 years ago — give or take a few decades — that Judas Iscariot gave a famous smooch to a peace-minded Jewish carpenter with a heavenly gift for winemaking, thus handing him over to the hordes for an ugly beating. Lord knows, in the intervening years, plenty of violent acts have been perpetrated in the name of religion.

But leave it to Richmond to one-up the other acts.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in December on the "World War Crew," a group of "well-heeled" West End teenagers, all friends through a local church youth group, who'd been arrested for taking a unique brand of godly justice to the streets. Word is, the gang targeted suspected drug dealers, giving them a taste of divine justice, smiting them in the name of the holiest of holies.

A Richmond Police sting busted up their prayer circle and prosecutors are considering prosecuting the holier-than-thou crew under anti-gang laws.

That's how we holy roll.

9. Because you know everyone.

Dirtwoman to Elliott Yamin
Richmond celebrity Dirtwoman was host of the Ham-aganza benefit, led by former T-D reporter now WTVR-TV 6 reporter Mark Holmberg, who invited special guest and former City Council President Manoli Loupassi to sing, who butted heads with City Hall colleague Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who gave a key to the city to Richmond "American Idol" finalist Elliott Yamin.

Alexander Nyerges to Randy Blythe
New VMFA Executive Director Alexander Nyerges was chosen after a search committee led by Wachovia Bank's Jim Cherry, who is an executive committee member of Renaissance Partners, which co-produces the National Folk Festival, for which PSAs featured Susan Greenbaum, who sang a duet on her Christmas CD with Lamb of God's Randy Blythe.

Jim Ukrop to Oderus Urungus
Jim Ukrop is a supporter of Gov. Tim Kaine, who played harmonica on the new CD by Steve Bassett, who co-wrote "Sweet Virginia Breeze" (once a candidate for state song) with Robbin Thompson, who co-founded In Your Ear Music and Recording Corp., which counts as a client the Richmond band GWAR, one of whose members is Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie).

10. Because we can beat ourselves up off the beaten path.

At more than eight miles and counting, the XTERRA bike trail, crossing through parks, across an island, over 18 bridges and, ominously, right near a cemetery, is a ring of potential spleen-bruising cinching up the city.

Finished in May '05, it ties up the cunning North Trail and the South Side's sinister Buttermilk, a combination of technical and rugged terrain right in the middle of Richmond.

"From what I understand, there's nothing like it," says Bill Swann, XTERRA racer and one of the organizers of the North Trail. He's heard from pros that our city's studded belt is one of the favorites on the worldwide tour. Plus, it's pretty. So if you're going to smash your head on a rock, at least there's a lovely view as the lights go out.

Swann, a member of the Richmond chapter of Mid Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (, has put in his time connecting the trails, and says that most of the support comes from donations of time and labor.

Pick up on it from a variety of spots — near the 42nd Street overpass, Forest Hill Park and Brown's Island, among them. Should you encounter bikers traversing this mighty course, you'll notice the look of intensity across their brows, a look that says: "We are prepared to die in the pursuit of what we love. Which is why we aren't afraid to wear these tight pantaloons."

11. Because this is the place for the indecisive groupie.

Fertile yet fickle, Richmond's music scene breeds many a band. But like the noble sea turtle, so many musicians drag themselves desperately down the beach never to reach the sea. The threats are many: They might get eaten by the Seagull of Infighting, or die from the Overexposure of Overexposure, get snatched by the Raccoon of Swapped Girlfriends, or be pulled apart by the dreaded Ghost Crabs of Blown-Out Van Transmissions.

But they can't all get devoured, and this city has plenty of moist, leathery eggs charging a reasonable cover. Bands are hatching all the time, and even as some fade away, there's always a variety of new music to consider.

While operatic synth-rock mainstays the Rah Bras played their last show at WRIR-FM 97.3's second birthday party Feb. 2, later that same weekend relative hatchlings Horsehead (born from veterans of Dragstrip Syndicate, Cracker and Gutterball) doused Poe's Pub in whiskey-soaked rock.

In a similar fit of reconstitution, screamo outfits The SetUp and Wow, Owls! broke up, then the scattered bits came back together as Mouthbreather. The urge for survival is strong with these boys.

Heard of Aircraft? At the Stars? David Shultz & The Skylines? Prabir & The Substitutes? (These last just put out an album — and are heading out on tour, in fact. Mind the Ghost Crabs, fellas.) Chances are you might have heard of them, have seen them or be them.

Yes, there's strength in numbers, as is proven by the newborn Richmond Afrobeat Movement, which somehow packs about a dozen musicians onto the stage at Bogart's Back Room for a Wednesday-night residency. They huddle together and protect themselves on that march to the sea with flailing trombones, Latin percussion and political commentary. And we hope they make it, they and all the rest, because if not, the beach will be a lonely place.

12. Because we don't need couture to look good.

In May models helped show off Virginia Commonwealth University's fashion students' work like designer Ashley Dickerson's convertible cocktail dress.

13. Because when living at home is no longer an option, we take care of our senior citizens and elect them to run the city of Richmond.

But, oh my, the daily chores: Want the deed to The Diamond? (Oops — the nurse dropped off the wrong pill packets!) No, silly, the escalators are out again, and Carol Wolf is waiting in the lobby to drop off her fresh-baked oatmeal cookies. Sponge bath at 11:30, Mr. Harrell. No, wait, a press conference with Patricia Cornwell. Fire up the helicopter, Paul, we're going to visit the Kluges!

14. Because we're the picture of health ...

Tough push: Former Navy SEAL John McGuire's pay-to-get-tough program, SEAL Team PT, draws devoted followers, even at 5:45 a.m.

15. ... but we still enjoy our excess.

Former attorney Carey Friedman found his calling in barbecue with Grandpa Eddie's Alabama Ribs & BBQ, off Route 250 in Goochland County.

16. Because we don't need the queen to enjoy a royal visit.

When the queen's in Virginia to celebrate the 400th, she may not make it out of Jamestown for a stopover in Richmond. But that's cool, because there's word that kin of Sir Francis Drake is coming. Thanks to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and its upcoming "Rule Britannia!" exhibit, a descendant of the famous English explorer is crossing the pond for the opening April 28.

William Tyrwhitt-Drake is loaning the famous Armada portrait, a mammoth, 44«-by-50-inch likeness of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen for whom Virginia was named. The painting's never been to the States, much like the original Queen Elizabeth herself. The exhibit will also feature works from QEII's collection, which normally hang in her various palaces.

17. Because Chesterfield Supervisor Dickie King is part of the solution, not the problem.

He may have been outraged that the county school system was educating the children of illegal immigrants, but he's not exactly against immigration. The 60-year-old former high-school teacher married a 22-year-old Russian immigrant in November. She was here on a work visa. At least some politicians are willing to give back. Thanks, Dickie.

18. Because our cathedrals are built tough. Catholic tough.

Proving that Catholicism is here to stay, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond's primary consumer of holy water, is celebrating its centennial year.

Perched at the edge of the Fan, the cathedral in its time has seen the rise of the horseless carriage, nuclear power and (for better or worse) the birth-control pill. It's also seen the collapse of the economy, the mysteries of Hypercolor, Al Gore and the Internet (the one a result of the other), the invention of iced tea, the marriage of Red Bull and vodka, the evolution of the mullet and the birth of that most beatific food, the corn dog.

And of course Virginia Commonwealth University grew up around it, replacing the seasonal color of trees with the seasonal blooming of busted couches on the curbs all around. And as the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart looks forward to a year of musical and artistic events to mark a hallmark year, it stands distinguished in that part of the city, rather like a dignified grand dame surrounded by people in cutoff jeans and the aforementioned mullet.

But the cathedral changed, too. With the recent enforcement of kneeling during masses, the tones of the organ were joined by a choir of popping knees, a sure sign that the cathedral was aging much better than certain members of the congregation.

19. Because we can produce socialites with the best of them.

Mrs. Tinsley Mercer Mortimer is living the good life, and we can't help but take some credit. She may not be of Paris Hilton proportions yet, but Tinsley's risen to the top of New York's social elite with an Upper East Side apartment, old-money husband, front-row seats for fashion week and even her own handbag line.

We just know it had something to do with her Southern gentility and grace, undoubtedly learned from her perch on Cary Street or during her days at St. Catherine's, before she was shipped off to boarding school, where she eventually snagged Standard Oil heir Topper Mortimer. That's something else she no doubt learned in Richmond: how to marry well.

20. Because while Richmond may have its faults, it beats living in ...

Virginia Beach: Has, well, the beach. We just have a river. But the James is lined with trees, not shops selling "Sotally Tober" T-shirts and expired hermit crabs. Winner: Richmond.

Norfolk: Has Ghent. It's just like the Fan, except one-tenth the size and without all the corner bars. Winner: Richmond.

Roanoke: Has a giant neon star. We have a giant, crazy-eyed neon chef. Roanoke almost takes this one — except that ever since Mini Graceland fell to pieces, we really haven't felt like visiting. Winner: Richmond.

or Northern Virginia: Eww. Enough said.

21. Because you can kick back with Page Wilson's groove anytime and still enjoy renowned throat-singing from the other side of the world.

A member of AltaiKai, from the mountains of central Asia, said he felt like a "rock star" performing at Richmond's National Folk Festival in October.

22. Because we offer a good benefits package.

We may complain about a $5 cover charge at a nightclub, but send us a glossy invitation to your next $100-a-ticket shindig, and we'll come running.

Yes, give Richmond a cause and we'll find something to celebrate. Lately we barely got the tux back from the cleaners before we had to take off the plastic wrapping again.

There's something for everyone. Benefits that test the market price and bring out the big spenders ($250-plus for September's Kugel Ball to benefit the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation).

There's the sweaty, crowded and popular (18th Annual SCAN Christmas Party at Plant Zero, which raised $20,000 for Greater Richmond Stop Child Abuse Now).

And of course, one for the Vegas in us all (Children's Hospital's 12th Annual Casino Night & Silent Auction last month, bringing out 450 people who paid anywhere from $75-$125).

Of course there's a benefit next week.

The Richmond Symphony Orchestra League's Mardi Gras at "Creek View," to benefit the Richmond Symphony, is Tuesday, Feb. 20, 7-10 p.m., at the home of J. Lynn and Ann Parsons off River Road. The $85 tickets include entry for two and a pair of tickets to a Richmond Symphony concert. Call 364-5120.

Make a run for the dry cleaners. We'll see you there. S

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