Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tuesday on the Number 2 Bus

The number two bus route in Charlottesville includes the "2A" and the "2B" both originating at the downtown transit center but traveling in opposite directions.  Like the number one, it takes an hour to complete its cycle with only one bus running the circuit, meaning each stop is visited just once an hour, bad luck for people who rely on buses in the Locust Ave or Fifth St. extended neighborhoods.

Starting from the Downtown transit center, we rumbled down Water St. which usually has a good display of urban drama for the bus rider to observe.  On this day, utility workers were mauling a tree that looked far too small to interfere with the power lines, and a fussy yuppie couple with a baby gave us a look of deep contempt as we traversed the crosswalk.  Soon we were whizzing down Ridge St. and didn't stop until the Fifth St. Food Lion.  Continuing on Fifth St. Extended, we crossed the I64 overpass and turned left toward the Covenant School, which has its own bus stop.

After the Covenant School, we passed through a neighborhood of modest 1950's ranch houses and then the road became narrow and devoid traffic lines, curb, shoulder, and storm drains.  There were no buildings, just trees and NO DUMPING signs posted every few yards.  It looked like the sort of road that gives up the asphalt altogether and reverts to dirt.  There are still some unpaved streets within the city of Charlottesville--mainly in Belmont.  Anyway, we passed a sign that said WELCOME TO SOUTHWOOD and then we were in a  trailer park.  Trailer parks are fun.  There is always lots to see:  children's toys and grills and old appliances and all the other detritus of living.  These trailers were all very old and mostly in a state of decay but one had a perky picket fence and a yard decorated with painted cast iron animals--hens and roosters.  Another had a brand-new stamped-brick path.   I noticed a fake foundation innovation of pressed aluminum made to look like stone.  Several trailers sported this product, tacked around their bases, but it had been bashed in one one of them, exposing the sad lack of foundation behind the metal.

A group got on the bus, the first girl on pouring a fountain of change into the machine in order to pay for everyone.  They sat behind me and made loud conversation.  One of their group repeatedly opened and then slammed the window.  We crossed a speed bump and the bottom of the bus smacked hard against the ground.  The trailer park group howled in protest.  They made me a little nervous.   They seemed like the sort of people who glare at you belligerently and say, "What're YEW lookin' at?"

Eventually we passed a sign that said THANK YOU FOR VISITING SOUTHWOOD and the bus turned onto a wide, divided highway.  I realized I hadn't the faintest idea where we were.  What was this busy highway?  It turned out to be Fifth St. extended, the bus having traveled in a horseshoe pattern without my being aware of it.  We turned onto Old Lynchburg Rd., then a side street, negotiated a sharp curve on a steep hill and circled uselessly in front of the Region Ten office, where no one got on or off.  Then it was back to Fifth St. for the ride back into town, with a stop at the Albemarle County Office building, south.  I had no idea that there were two county office buildings.

The trailer park group were having what seemed to be an argument.  It was hard to tell, since they had the local accent and I could only understand one word in ten, but their tone was vehement.  The man across the aisle interjected with his own observation.  Stunned silence from the trailer park group.  One of them said, "Beg pardon?"  and the man repeated himself--his accent as unintelligible as theirs but I understood enough to know he was complaining about the quality of the concerts at the downtown pavilion.  This brought a chorus of agreement from the trailer park group and the spent the rest of the ride happily trashing downtown concerts.

Back at the transit center, there was an ambulance in the bus lane, causing consternation among the trailer parkers.   "What happened?" they wailed to the bus at large, as if any of the rest of us could possibly know more than they did.  "I bet someone had a heart attack," one of them guessed and when a stretcher appeared, she said, "Oh shit."  There's a pause at the transit center and the trailer parkers stayed on the bus, as if they thought the presence of the ambulance prevented them from getting off.  Just as the bus was about to pull back out into traffic, they recollected themselves and hurriedly exited.

The "A" portion of the route turns north from downtown and travels a loop through the la-di-da neighborhood of Park St. and Locust Ave.  Lots of beautiful houses to gawk at and I realized we were going to drive by our old house, the one we rented when we first moved to Charlottesville.  It's a sweet house and we were extraordinarily lucky to get it.
The house we rented when we first moved to Cville

A little further north, we passed a yellow stucco house that resembles the one we live in now.  I always liked that house, and it was the subject of angry neighborhood gossip when a "couple from California" paid over $180,000 dollars for it--an outrageous price in 1999.  The anger centered on the fact that these California people, accustomed to California prices were going to change the dynamic of the neighborhood.  Not too long after they moved in, our landlord put our house on the market for $185,000 and not too long after that you couldn't find a house on Locust Ave. for less than half a million dollars.

Back at the transit center, I hoped to catch the number three bus home and thus kill two bus routes on one day, but it wasn't due for over half an hour.  I resigned myself to walking home, reflecting that I'd probably had enough excitement for one day.  Halfway home, I heard the loudspeaker of the number 1 bus behind me, announcing "Route 1 downtown and PVCC" which had been waiting at the transit center when I got off the number 2,  and as it roared past me, and toward my house, I said, "DOH!" once again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In which I am a bus geek

The number 1 bus's ridership constitutes 1% of the city's total bus ridership, a very neat symmetry.  I felt silly, riding a bus just for the sake of riding it--I almost felt like I was doing something illegal.  I'm sorry to report that nothing very amusing happened on the ride. No one was crazy, no one harassed me for three dollars.  Starting from the downtown transit center, we trundled through Belmont and then went up to Piedmont Community College.  I've always liked the view of a city from a bus.  You're elevated, you're not responsible for driving, you can see more.  There's always something interesting to see in Belmont, my own neighborhood, where few people have driveways or garages, so much of life is out on the front porch.  The houses run the gamut from shacks to places that could be featured in Architectural Digest.  There are interesting bits of garden, and much creative use of space because lots are small and the area is hilly. 

It's a good thing there's a bus that goes to PVCC because it's totally inaccessible to pedestrians.  Who thought it was a good idea to put a community college at the summit of a huge hill, outside of town, and with only one road leading up to it?  Not very convenient to people who are trying to better their lives and don't have cars.  Of course, most students do have cars, and I drove myself when I was a student there, but a few times I had to take the bus, and Ian did every day.  It's unfortunate that the bus runs only once an hour, leaving students stranded whose classes end two minutes after the bus leaves, which seemed to always be the case with Ian.  Twice he tried to walk home from PVCC, once by going off road and hiking down the far side of the hill, striking out for Avon St. and the other, taking the road and nearly getting killed crossing the on and off ramps to the interstate. 

Anyway, it was fun to revisit PVCC, drive past the new science building, and be fervently glad that I am no longer a nursing student.  We dropped off and picked up a few students--proof that the number 1 bus is important to the community--and then began the long descent down the hill and back up route 20 into town.

Back at the transit center, I was afraid I'd be questioned for not getting off the bus but no one said anything and soon we began the other segment of the number one's route, into Woolen Mills.  Woolen Mills is my second favorite neighborhood in Charlottesville, after Belmont.  It's separated from Belmont by only the CSX tracks, but the geography is different.  Where Belmont is steep hills and grand views, Woolen Mills is low and oriented to the Rivanna River.  It has a similar mix of houses--a few are really spectacular.  When we were shopping for a house, we looked at plenty in Woolen Mills, but the houses in our price range were of the shack variety.   Our bus negotiated the impossibly sharp curve (for a bus) at the Woolen Mills chapel, and headed down Chesapeake Ave, with an agreeable view to Market St.
Woolen Mills

The number 1 ends with a little trip through the streets south of Martha Jefferson Hospital, with one last stop at the hospital itself.  It's typical of Charlottesville's inefficient public transportation system to have the last stop be Martha Jefferson, which is only a couple of blocks from the transit center.  If you really wanted to take a bus to MJH, from some distant neighborhood, you'd have to take a bus downtown, wait for the number 1, and then stay on it while you wandered all through Woolen Mills before finally getting to your destination.  It would be quicker to walk there from the transit center. 

Back at the transit center, I exited the bus and began my walk home.  I had walked a fair way down Avon St. and was passed by the number 1 bus, headed back into Belmont.  DOH!  I could have stayed on it and been dropped off a couple of blocks from my house.

This concludes my review of the number 1 bus.  Only ten more bus routes with which to bore you!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The $8.39 Dog Treat, or, Coming to Terms with the Alice Waters Boiled Dinner

Despite being as Irish as Paddy's Pig, I'm not a big fan of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's day.  Last year I did Alice Waters' Boiled Dinner from her cookbook The Art of Simple Food.  It was good, but since I didn't decide to make it until the last minute, I had to do an abbreviated version.

This year, with several days to plan, I decided to go whole hog.  Or, as it happens, whole cow.  The full version of this recipe involves brining and cooking a tongue.  A beef tongue, to be exact.  First I had to procure one, and after no luck at the supermarket, I walked into the Organic Butcher, and asked "Do you sell tongue?"  This was embarrassing as I felt like I was asking for something slightly obscene. And yet how many Victorian novels refer to elegant ladies enjoying sandwiches of cold tongue?  The guy at the Organic Butcher did not act at all surprised or shocked, but rummaged for a bit in the game freezer and found a package in the very back.  "I think this is it," he said, "but let me check if it's beef."  A red sticker on the package clearly said "Buffalo," but who am I to question?  He walked away, leaving me with the package.

He was gone for several minutes, indeed, appeared to have left the building, while I pretended an absorbing interest in the contents of the game freezer which was well stocked with rabbits.  I suppose a woman buying a tongue can't pretend any nicety about not eating gross things, but I will say that after having had a bunny for a pet, I could never, ever eat a rabbit.  Poor sweet Georgie!  The one-year anniversary of his death is approaching.

I felt ridiculous standing there, and wondered, not for the first time, why I can't be a normal person and buy normal food and not make a project out of everything.  At least the market in which the Organic Butcher is housed, was emptied of the usual haughty lunch crowd.  Usually I can't walk into the Main St. Market without getting a supercilious up-and-down look from someone. At last the butcher returned from wherever he had been--I suspect he popped out for a quick coffee--and confirmed that the package was indeed beef tongue.  Beef/buffalo; there can't be much difference.

The tongue had to be soaked in brine overnight and when it came time to unwrap the package, I was curiously apprehensive.  Curious, because as a nurse I practically have a PhD in gross.  As a student, I spent weeks dissecting a cat--my nose practically buried in its abdominal cavity as my group and I tried to figure out if it was male or female, a question I think we never did resolve.  I got dead cat juices in my hair and splashed on a cashmere sweater.  I've dissected a cow's eyeball and have packed horrifying human wounds with enough gauze to cover a city block, scrubbed dead skin off severe burns, suctioned gobs of mucus straight from people's lungs, closely eyeballed and measured buckets full of vomit, digestive juices, and literally gallons of urine but nothing I have ever seen was as gross as that disembodied tongue.


It looked like it would jump out of the package and start licking things, independently. Taste buds were discernible and possibly some small hairs but I couldn't bear to look closely.   I tipped it into the brine and covered it and tried not to think about the final steps in its preparation.

St. Patrick's Day, I set my alarm for noon, having worked night shift the night before. I didn't get to bed until nearly 9:00am and managed to achieve verticality by 12:49pm.  Still plenty of time to allow the tongue to simmer for five hours before dinner, plus prepare the meal's other components.

The boiled tongue.

Taking off the skin made it look slightly less revolting, but I was distressed to note that the taste buds extend below the skin.  I sliced off some bits and gave them to the dogs, who, after a few experimental sniffs, seemed to think that tongue was an agreeable snack.  As for myself, I was not prepared for the nauseating smell.   

Sliced and made to look less tongue-like.

I've tasted tongue once before, in a Mexican restaurant where we were eating with a friend of ours from Poland.  "Tongue!" he boomed, "is great delicacy of Polack!" and he urged Jon to order it, although I noticed he didn't order any for himself.  I couldn't resist trying a bite and found it to be dense and not altogether something I wanted to taste again.  But for this dinner, I had placed my trust in the great Alice Waters and it looked like for once she had failed me, because I could not imagine eating this without immediately vomiting.

And I still had to prepare the rest of the meal, which is no small undertaking.  I grated the shit out of my thumb making homemade breadcrumbs, which meant dealing with copious amounts of my own blood.  I had to prepare a homemade meatball mixture of ground chicken and chicken livers and stuff it into individual cabbage leaves, not to mention the actual corned beef and assorted vegetables.

Stuffed cabbage leaves.

Then Jon got distracted by a neighbor's keg party and didn't get home for dinner until 9:00pm, at which point I was half asleep on the couch, watching reruns of That Seventies Show.

I rounded out the meal with a loaf of Irish soda bread--homemade, but which didn't turn out well because I was too tired at that point, to put in much effort-- and a $6.00 jar of mustard.  I did finally taste the tongue--a lentil-sized bite--in the interests of science, and it tasted like beef.  Curiously dense beef.  I will never cook tongue again and the leftovers--except for a small piece that Jon took over to display to the neighbors-- went to the dogs, who after their first taste of tongue seemed to be addicted to it. Luna, who is elderly, began to frisk like a puppy and both dogs followed me all over the house as if they expected me to drop tongue out of my pockets.

Why, exactly, did I go to all this trouble?  Because I don't like corned beef and cabbage?  I also don't like slaving for hours over revolting animal bits.  And washing the 10 million dirty dishes this process creates.  As Madhousewife points out, St. Patrick's Day is the one day when we don't have to ask ourselves what to make for dinner.  You can put three ingredients in a pot, boil them for a while, and your husband will treat you like a goddess for doing so.  There's nothing wrong with that, so next year we are back to traditional corned beef & cabbage for St. Paddy's Day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Home Again

American Girl Place in Chicago was slightly creepy.  There were no y-chromosomes in the store.  None.   There weren't very many children either, although that's probably not unusual on a Thursday morning.  Almost all the customers were women about my own age and many of them were photographing the dolls.  I wanted Brigid to take some pictures for me--it was her turn to have the big expensive school camera from her photography class-- but she refused. 

We went to many other shops along the Magnificent Mile where everyone was super friendly.  The store clerks all wanted to know where we were from, what were we doing in Chicago, and to tell me how gorgeous Brigid is.  It was a nice change from Charlottesville, where in some stores, they give you the haughty up-and-down if your boots don't go with your skirt. I bought myself a cherry pitter at Crate & Barrel.  At first I thought, "But we have Crate & Barrel in Virginia and I can just order one online," but then I realized that this would not be just any old cherry pitter, but The Cherry Pitter I Bought In Chicago and thus infused with Importance.

We  amused ourselves playing "spot the art student" of which there weren't many along the Magnificent Mile, but were in abundance in the Loop.  The hallmark signs of the art student:  Asian, clunky black-rimmed glasses, scarves tied into the hair (girls), skinny legs squeezed into skinny  jeans that have had their seams taken in to make them even more skinny.

Then, a brief rest watching the skaters in Grant Park and on to the Art Institute.  The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the best art schools in the country.  The only undergrad program that ranks ahead of it is at the Rhode Island School of Design.  There's no campus, just classroom space stuffed into the basement and utility areas of the Art Institute. Art spaces tend to be very utilitarian anyway and require  industrial accoutrements.  the Art Institute has its own foundry,  kilns, woodworking shop, sewing machines and other heavy equipment.   Dorms are in high rises a few blocks away.  The dorm we toured had a studio on the top floor with skylights and huge windows and views to die for.  The problem is that it's so far away.  And expensive, despite the scholarship.

Brigid has been accepted at Chicago, the Savannah College of Art and Design, VCU Art, and is waiting to hear from Pratt.  VCU is an excellent art school (ranked #4 overall) and is cheaper and closer, but it's in Richmond which is not as culturally forward as New York or Chicago.  Savannah--well Brigid is mad at Savannah for only giving her a scholarship for her grades and not her portfolio, so I guess Savannah is out.  Pratt has a cozy brownstone campus in Brooklyn and New York is a more convenient location than Chicago, but it's not ranked as high--and she hasn't been officially accepted anyway.

Our business concluded at the Art Institute, and tired of the Loop, we took the subway to the Wicker Park neighborhood, wandered about and ate dinner in a pretentious wine bar that, among other esoteric offerings, served fried risotto balls in a sauce of wild boar. The Chicago metro system is most satisfactory, if you, like me, prefer gritty urban cars that rattle like tin cans and scream when going around curves.  It has the advantage of being elevated, with the interesting views that provides.  I could ride it like it was an amusement park attraction. 

Trying to get out of Chicago the next morning,  I lost my parking garage ticket.  Twice. It was only through the intercession of St. Anthony that I found it the second time.  Then the GPS wanted to send me to Charlottesville, Indiana so I had to program in my exact street address and then it was calculating the route for a good five minutes while I huffed about it taking so long.  I was like one of those people that Louis CK ranted about when he was a guest on Conan O'Brian:

Give it a second! It's going to space.  Can you give it a SECOND to get back from SPACE? Is the speed of light too slow for you?  

I was too impatient to stay in the parking garage and decided that if I headed south on Michigan Avenue I would eventually blunder into I 90, and I was right, but we had to program the GPS for Indianapolis to make it stop whirring.

At the first toll booth, I found an extra quarter in the change slot, presumably abandoned by a limb-impaired person such as myself.  At the next one, hampered by the inadequate clothes pegs that serve as my arms, I dropped an unknown quantity of coin into the road. The rest of the toll booths were manned by actual people, thank goodness.

The sun was sinking as we hit Charleston, WV, which is about four hours from Charlottesville.  Soon it was dark and driving through those mountains in the dark is not fun.  There was one hill in particular--a curvy five mile, 7%, downhill grade with two runaway truck ramps--and a requirement for ALL trucks to exit and have their brakes checked before beginning the descent.  I saw the sign for the trucks, I saw the sign warning us of the extra steep grade and suddenly we were plunging down an abyss in pitch darkness.  Hey West Virginia!  A few reflectors along the scary bits of the interstate would be NICE

So Chicago is a wonderful city. This was my second visit, but the first time was long ago and only for half a day.  I felt at home, probably because it is similar to Buffalo:  it sits on a Great Lake, the climate is similar,  the architecture is similar, there are the same Polish and Irish faces.  We did, at times, have difficulty finding places to eat, which probably seems crazy to those of you who know the city well.  Our first night, I was hell bent on a nice dinner and a glass of wine and we trudged for blocks along State St. and saw no places that fit my requirements and finally settled for a sandwich shop.   The next day, I craved a hot dog for lunch--isn't Chicago famous for its hot dogs?--but I could not find a hot dog anywhere.  I assumed there'd be carts on every corner but there wasn't a single one.  Maybe I am just blind, or chose the wrong streets, but Chicago, at least in the Loop, seemed to lack restaurants.  Wicker Park, where we ate dinner the second night, and which reminds me of the Elmwood Ave. neighborhood in Buffalo, had more restaurants (but no hot dogs that I could see).  I did see some popcorn places but I was ignorant, alas, of Chicago's famous caramel corn.  Oh well.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chicago or Bust

Here I am, comfortably installed in a luxurious hotel (Chicago has curiously low hotel rates) with an hour to spare because I haven't adjusted to central time zone.  Brigid and I are visiting the School of the Art Institute of Chicago because she has declared that she won't attend a school that she has never seen.  And frankly, I am always glad of an excuse to travel.

We had to drive because plane tickets are ridiculous right now.  It is a long drive from Charlottesville, Virginia to Chicago, Illinois.  As soon as we exited onto I64, in Lexington, VA--not even an hour from my house--we were in unknown territory.  That section of 64 is virtually deserted, but very beautiful and mountainous.  Things got more bustling around Covington.  We could see the destination of the coal trains that rumble through Charlottesville and an exit sign announced the WESTVACO TRAILER LOT.  It wasn't so pretty anymore and it began to rain, a sad drizzle at first that turned into a steady shower, with each car and truck trailing a stream of water that hampered my ability to see.  It was cold and at one point, I noticed with horror that the shoulder of the road was coated with fresh ice. 

The mountains got ever more muscular until just outside Charleston, WV, sheer mountain walls surrounded us on all sides.  It seemed like the sort of place that is always dark.  Even on a sunny day, I didn't see how any light could penetrate to the deep defile between the mountains that we followed.  I once read a novel that describes Charleston, WV as a mildly interesting place--you wouldn't want to live there, but it's not without its charms, so I was keen to see it.   Maybe it was the rain, or the coal refineries, the blocks of shacks and then the view of the capitol building with its ridiculous gold dome--like something you'd see on a used car showroom--or the bill boards that proclaim DON'T LET EPA BEAUROCRATS TAKE OUR COAL JOBS, but I didn't see much in Charleston to recommend itself.  Indeed, it is so grindingly poor and sad and dirty it was like we'd made a wrong turn and ended up in some blasted industrial city in Bosnia or Uzbekistan.

The mountains calmed down, not too far outside of Charleston and soon we were in Ohio, which was pretty, bucolic and non-threatening.  It was also empty and we drove for nearly two hours without seeing a gas station or much of anything.  Finally, approaching Dayton, OH, we found a gas station and a McDonald's.  I was feeling a little flustered and had difficulty ordering a sandwich.

Me:  I would like the grilled chicken sandwich meal.

Cashier:  Do you want eight, nine, or ten?

Me:  No, I want a SANDWICH.

Cashier:  I know, but do you want eight, nine, or ten?

Me:  (flabbergasted and slightly alarmed)  Eight, nine or ten what?

Cashier: (gesturing to the menu)  Do you want the  NUMBER EIGHT sandwich or the NINE or the TEN?
I got the nine, or maybe the eight.  It doesn't matter, it was shite.

Civilization did not fully return until Indianapolis, when I saw the first Starbucks.  Too bad I was in the left lane and couldn't exit.  Brigid and I mourned the missed Starbucks like it was a death in the family.  And alas, there were no more Starbucks to be seen until we got to downtown Chicago.

But first we had to get through Gary, Indiana, which, if you can believe it, appears prosperous, if not exactly cheerful, compared to Charleston, WV.  Then came a string of toll booths.  I HATE the ones that don't have an attendent because my arms are not long enough.  Correction.  There is nothing wrong with my arms, but there is something wrong with whoever designed these booths.  At any rate, I managed to insert a dollar into the slot, but dropped my forty cents change all over the interstate.  The next toll booth was manned by a tiny old lady with a wig that all but filled the interior of her booth.  "What was that?" gasped Brigid.  "That," I said, "was a Polish-American woman." 

The rest of the trip was uneventful except for the GPS telling us to get off an an exit that was closed.  But that was OK because it calculated another route and we were fine.  Speaking of GPS, this was my first experience with it.  It is certainly convenient and probably prevents accidents but it makes me wonder if this is another stop on the steep slope of the dumbing down of America.  I had printed a set of directions from Google maps, plus had a traditional road map.  At one point, the google maps directions conflicted with what the GPS was telling me.  OH MY GOD!  WHAT DO WE DO?  Talk about first world problems!  I decided I would do what I have always done up to this point:  use my EYES and my BRAIN and figure it out.

And so we are here.  Other than a 1:00pm appointment at SCAIC, our day is free.  I am planning--dying actually--to visit American Girl Place.  Scoff if you want.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Bus Project

My bus adventure the other day has made me curious about the character of the various bus routes around Charlottesville. I am going to ride each of Charlottesville's bus routes, start to finish to see if there's anything behind my theory that a bus route can have a personality.  This isn't just a blog stunt.  I really am curious.  It might all be a waste of time, but if there's anything amusing to share, I will put it here.

I Express Therefore I Am.

I heard the cell phone receiving a text at 06:45 the other day.  "Wow, it's early," I thought, "This might be important," so I got out of bed and wandered all over the house to find the phone and discovered that one of Jon's friends felt the urgent need to communicate to us that

Expression is.


Because it was There.

Seamus, for reasons that even he can not explain, used a glue gun to thoroughly seal the nozzle to my bottle of dishwashing soap.

I (Hate) "Veggies"

At Whole Foods, the cashier threw away one of my excessively tattered reusable bags and told  I could just take another one to replace it on my way out.  These bags aren't free so I felt a little funny helping myself, but no one said anything.  I realized that the new bag had a Whole Foods logo on it, so at least I was providing them with free advertising, and I felt less guilty.  But when really looked at the bag, I saw with horror that in huge letters it says, "I (HEART) VEGGIES."  The two most irritating words in the English language are "panties" and "veggies."  I can see why some people might need to construct a coy nickname for underpants, but why do we do the same for vegetables?   If we can say "artichoke," "cauliflower," "habanero," "chimichanga," and "Chateauneuf du pape," can't we say "vegetable?" 

In Which My Coat Closet Creates a Moral Dilemma

We started gutting the coat closet this weekend.  It had a low ceiling of unfinished drywall, concealing the real ceiling, that also is the underside of our stair landing. By poking into the space with sticks, we determined that there was quite a significant difference between the heights of the false ceiling and the real one.  I thought, "I can suspend charming wire baskets from that ceiling and from now on, all our mittens will be organized.  How wonderful!"  So Jon duly yanked down the drywall and we discovered--wait for it--that our house had once been on fire.  The underside of the stair landing and the beam that supports it are charred to shit, the beam in particular.  A previous owner nailed a new support beam alongside the charred one and covered the whole thing up with drywall. The total burned area includes the risers and stair treads for the first few steps and extends down the walls on either side.  It is only the beam, I think, that is structurally compromised.  When I think of all the heavy furniture that we muscled up those stairs and pivoted on the landing, right over that beam! 

The most likely cause of the fire is the closet light bulb which must have been left on and ignited the coats.  I'm guessing the fire happened thirty years ago, based on the aged appearance of the drywall and despite it's remote occurrence, it's disconcerting.  Also,  we are now faced with the choice of either covering it up for the sake of preserving our chances of ever selling this house, or to leave the ceiling exposed.  I suppose the most satisfactory ( but also most expensive) solution is to put in a new stair landing.  This house has so many eccentricities, it is already a tough sell, but history of a fire is a serious flaw that makes even my problem of the ten-ton machine blocking the basement doorway seem small in comparison. 

Not to mention that I can't hang charming metal baskets in which to organize my mittens from floor boards that have been burnt to a crisp.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Wheels of the Bus

Today was one of the most ridiculous days of my entire life.  Grace was sent home from school yesterday with pink eye.  Charlottesville City public schools have a zero tolerance policy for pink eye.  If your kid is spotted with a red eye, she CAN'T COME BACK TO SCHOOL without a doctor's note.  Period.

My car has been producing a worrisome cloud of smoke every time I start it.  Today was the day I'd arranged to have it looked at.  But Jon had booked an appointment with the pediatrician for 1:40.  I know that in typical American families, mom and dad each have a car but we are not a typical American family and we make do with just one car, which is fine, 99% of the time.

My car repair people couldn't give me a loaner car, since I hadn't asked for one, since I usually don't need one.  I usually take the city bus home, but after leaving the mechanic's, I noticed that all the city bus stops on my side of the street had mysteriously disappeared.  I was able to hop on a university shuttle, but when I got off, near the UVA Grounds, with a crowd of students, I realized construction was blocking the sidewalk I needed and I was forced into a labyrinthian section of grounds and I got lost.  Lost!  Freaking lost at the university that employs me, on my way home from the car repair place.  I could see where I needed to be, but I couldn't get there because there were all these buildings and walls and hills in the way.  The University of Virginia is very beautiful and the grounds are full of inviting paths that you think will take you where you need to go, but then dead end at a locked door.

After wandering for a bit and then scuttling across a utility area full of dumpsters and trucks backing up, I got free of the maze.  Free, but not home.  I needed to catch another bus to get home.

Then it was time to decide what to do about the doctor's appointment.  Jon would have called a friend and asked for a ride or the loan of a car, but I pride myself on being self-reliant.  Our pediatrician's office is out in the suburban hinterlands, but I realized we could take a bus there.  Well, not exactly there, but to a shopping mall near there from which we could walk.  This involved walking nearly a mile to the downtown transit center to catch the right bus.  Charlottesville's public transportation network is generally slow and late, but our bus was exceptionally slow and late.  There is a stop approximately every thirty feet, downtown, and people got off (or on) at every one.  I thought things would pick up once we got out of town, but that's when we had to do the rounds of every shopping center between town and the big shopping mall.  At the edge of town, a crowd of ruffians got on the bus.  They were led by a girl who tried to get on the bus for free, and failing that, gave a little jump and planted her bottom in the luggage rack near the door, where she proceeded to eat her lunch, a smelly concoction in a take out box.  When she finished eating, she roamed the bus, asking people to give her three dollars.  I tried to compose my face into an expression that said, "If you ask me for three dollars, I will FUCKING KILL you," but I probably just looked constipated.  I decided I didn't like the Route 7 bus crowd.  My neighborhood bus is the number 3, and it is full of crazy people, but they are gentle crazy people who are so zoned out on zyprexa they can hardly stay awake to get off at their stops.  They're not rowdy and bouncing around the bus asking for three dollars.

It took forty-five minutes to get to the shopping mall on the number seven bus.  We had to walk across a vast parking lot and up a ramp with no sidewalk and then cross a busy street with no crosswalk.  The busy street was an inhospitable place occupied by low-rent apartments, a self-storage business, and a Putt Putt golf course presided over by a giant giraffe.  The pediatrician's office is back in a sort of office complex and its parking lot was loaded with lacquer-haired moms unloading their kids from Chevy Suburbans, while we came trooping across the grass like we'd been on an urban safari.  Business at the doctor's completed we had to trudge back to the shopping mall for the bus back to town.

But the day wasn't over because I still needed to retrieve my car.  The number 7 bus deposited us downtown and I called my mechanic who said my car was ready, so we had to take the trolley to pick it up.  The Charlottesville free trolley was created as a way to help tourists shuttle themselves between the university and downtown. It's all cutesy and made up to look like an old-timey trolley with wooden slatted seats and brass poles that remind me of merry-go-round horses, and a clanging bell.  In reality, it is a homeless shelter on wheels.  Sometimes there are tourists.  You can tell they are tourists because they are always wondering aloud about where to eat lunch and then asking for restaurant recommendations.  It's amusing to watch the homeless people frighten the tourists.  It was a nice day, so there weren't many homeless people on the trolley but two skateboarding dudes sat across from us and had a conversation that I suspect they were hoping we would hear.  "I gave a BAD ASS performance," the one guy said, and then, "We took a taxi back to my place but then Joel came in and was being all agro and shit so she had to leave."  I interpreted "being all agro and shit" to mean "prevented me from getting laid." 

At long last, my car was restored to me.  I know I'm less car dependent than a lot of people and while I'm pleased that I was able to meet the demands of this day without a car, it's still a bit mind boggling to realize that I spent nearly 1.5 hours in buses plus the long walks through pedestrian unfriendly territory and the harassment just to get a note that said, "Grace was seen in the office today for the treatment of pink eye and may return to school."  I hope the Charlottesville public schools are satisfied.