2013 East Coast Adventures

August 07, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Another fulsome novella: This time recounting our adventures in Roanoke, Charlottesville, DC, Baltimore, Chadd’s Ford and Philadelphia.

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It seems that Venetia and I are becoming quite experienced travelers in the sense that we are learning to fall fast asleep on airplanes and thereby increase the relative speed of our trip and arrive well-rested enough for immediate shenanigans. En route to Atlanta, we awoke at even thirds of our journey for proffered sustenance. The trip from Atlanta to Roanoke was vastly more exciting, what with the whirl around the massive thunderstorm (lightning in the sky every few seconds) and the long crazy sunset where we flew between strata held aloft by pillars of gorgeously backlit thunderheads. Amazing.


After dropping off our luggage (TWO suitcases people, livin’ the Dream!) in the Mill Mountain Atelier beneath its animated neon coffee mug, we were treated to a nighttime tour of downtown Roanoke, culminating at a late night dinner at Macados where I indulged in a decadent mac’n bleu cheese. We stayed as late as was reasonable, catching up with my dear friend and host, Todd Ristau.


Friday morning we awoke at a leisurely hour and set out on the town in search of a print shop. We had been so busy in the weeks leading up to our trip, that we had failed to find the time to get the proper pieces ready for the North American Discworld Convention a weeks hence. Roanoke is a charming city and one of its clever features is permanent stalls lining the sidewalk downtown for a daily market. Venetia spotted a stall with professional photography prints and we inquired after a fine art printer. The man we spoke with consulted a colleague a few stalls at who affirmed that that the best place for prints in Roanoke is Photo USA and moreover, his car was just around the corner and he could take us there. So we hopped in the car with Bruce Muncy and he drove us through town to the print shop. On the way back from our successful mission, Bruce described the business workshop he teaches for photographers – about success brooking no impediments, about living free of resentment and bad habits. All principles I strive to enact in my own life.

Back in town, we sampled frozen yogurt and took advantage of the store’s Internet. Shortly before 5pm, we set out on search of a smaller print shop to get my Small Gods templates printed, for use in coming days. Venetia had scouted ahead online, and even called to confirm that the print shop down the street could indeed print the templates either from an email or her thumb drive. What the woman on the phone failed to mention, however, is that the provincial and Luddite Sir Speedy’s will only print files from thumb drive or emails after an up-front fee of $25. Because apparently technology is hard.

By this time, after a bewildering conversation with the clerk during which she admitting to being the same person on the phone who declared to Venetia that of course they could print from a thumb drive but failed to mention the $25 fee, we discovered that it was now exactly 5pm and all others stores in walking distance were closed. We returned to our home base where I immortalized the poor service with this Small God:


At 7:30pm Todd and his talented (and decidedly non-persnickety) librarian wife Joan took us to dinner at the delicious Rockfish next to the infamous coffee shop Cups. We had a roasted beet salad and pecan-encrusted trout and both the food and the company was splendid. Venetia’s favorite moment came at Pop’s Ice Cream (and gourmet grilled-cheese sandwich) shop around the corner where we went there for desert. After trying the butter pecan, peanut butter, and black raspberry flavors in succession, Venetia decided that the later was the most delicious, only to later renege on her decision and surreptitiously steal bites of my butter pecan half-way through her scoop.

Friday night in Roanoke Virginia is, as it is in many cities across the country, the night of No Shame Theater. I had flown into town a couple days before my presentation and workshop specifically to take part, premiering ‘No Nude Bathing’ – the hair-raising true story about my accidental visit to Black’s Beach with Keith Baker after a long-ago San Diego Comic Con.


(Todd and I: Photo by Chad Runyon)

Peter Ullian’s piece featured 2 puppets: a kindly dragon and a messianic sheep. Todd’s performance as Bertoldt Brecht and his song about Alex Jones’ grotesque influence on American Thought (to the tune of Total Eclipse of the Heart) were clear highlights.

After a mixed group of grad students and teachers headed back downtown for drinking, food and much talking. The horrid screechings from Flanagan’s karaoke night led us back to Macado’s once again. When a nearby drunk skipped out on his bill, we were ineffectively shamed by a clueless passive-aggressive waiter.

Saturday morning was bright and sunny – or rather, the afternoon was. Having stayed up well past 2am the previous night, we felt quite justified in rising late. We finally left our digs around noon and headed downtown in search of something interesting. We found it after only a few blocks: an old car show! The next two and a half hours we walked up and down the blocks, admiring and taking copious pictures of beautiful and well-cared for cars. The details on some of them were amazing and Venetia mourned for the loss of  such fancy features and personal touches in modern cars.


After a touch of frozen yogurt and a nap – both to combat the heatstroke – my old colleague Matt Hulan picked us up and drove us out to his charming house in Grandin Village. We greeted Nancy and Luke while befriending their delightful rescue dogs and Matt grilled us up delicious chicken. Venetia was thrilled to discover our host’s proximity to last nights treat: ice cream at Pop’s. We strolled over and this time Venetia correctly chose the butter pecan, despite other tasted temptations.

On the way back, I engaged in a new weight program: small boy-lifting and spinning. Luke then proved he was not in the least tired out by all the jumping and screams of laughter by challenging Venetia to a game of first Forbidden Island – a game much like Galen Ciscell’s Atlantis Rising and then a long game of Catan. Venetia, a life-long lover of all things Catan, was overjoyed. And while she roundly defeated both Matt and Luke, I drew up the Small God of the night, that of Meglomanical Boy Geniuses:


Sunday started off right with brunch with Todd and Joan and then a tour of the historic and sophisticated Hollins College. Venetia had serious academic jealousy seeing all the beautiful brick buildings and I admit to being sorely tempted by Todd’s description of his graduate playwriting class (The ‘First Drafts’ class alone)! Maybe in a few years when I can take some time off to write….

My workshop was in the stately new library in an airy 3rd floor room devoted to books by alumni and overlooking the campus. I brought lots of examples of posters and designs  and had a good solid two hours of show and tell. Afterward, we dined on soul food which Venetia found as scrumptious as its origins were alarming. After such a huge meal more ice cream at Pop’s was sadly counter-indicated. The rest of the night was spent looking over all the pictures in my portfolio and planning how to present 35 years of my life and work into 35 minutes of talking.

Todd picked us up Monday morning and took us to the TV station where I was totally wrong-footed. The local station is rightly spotlighting the amazing people Todd is bringing to Roanoke, but my interview was… well, not my finest moment.


We did the all-important check to make sure my fancy slide-show would indeed show that night and had a fortifying and delicious dinner. My talk on “My life in the arts” aka “35 years in 35 minutes!” went quite well and Venetia assures me that it was indeed both entertaining and informative. I was later informed that I was “on fire”. I was not put out in the slightest to hear it….


(Photo by Chad Runyon)

We blew town first thing in the morning and enjoyed a nice overcast drive to Charlottesville where I toured Venetia around to various sites in my history before lunch with genius playwright and director Clinton Johnston. I also showed her a statue which illustrates quite clearly why I prefer the West Coast to the East. In Portland we have a state of Sacagawea. Can you spot her in Charlottesville’s version? Oh my white brother…..


When we reached Arlington VA later in the afternoon, I gave Venetia a similar tour, though this time many of the landmarks I meant to point out no longer exist: the house my parents lived in having been bulldozed under in favor of a vasty McMansion™ and Yorktown High School? Unrecognizable in every particular (not that that’s a bad thing per se).

Our hosts for our far-too-brief stay in DC were the splendid Barker and we joined them along with FB friend Grig Larson at a confusingly-named fish ‘n chips restaurant in Falls Church called “Clarendons” (well, Clara and Don’s… but some homophones are best left alone).

Venetia received her third tour of the day when I took her into DC proper and we drove first up to the National Cathedral – which was under repair due to earthquakes! The testing of the scales for the bells was shocking and I can only imagine the distress of the neighbors. Just glad we weren’t there for the quakes themselves. After my near-miss on September 11, people might have started to talk….

This was Venetia’s first time in DC, and she was treated to a special Capitol red, white, and blue sunset. There was some upset at the White House so we were unable to see it closely due to the police car barricade. Later, I joined Mark and my beloved Della at their dart competition and had a wonderful night catching up.


THE DAY arrived. Because of the curious confluences of scheduling this would be our single day in DC!

First, we met up with my old Smithsonian “supervisor” Helene at the elephant in Natural History at 10. From there it was a whirlwind tour of skeletons and gemstones for two hours. We ate lunch with my cousin Rachel at the Native American Museum – easily the best meal on the Mall. We dined on baked salmon, roasted golden beets, wild rice and cranberries salad, and were appalled by the people at every table around ours eating fries and breaded chicken that looked as though it could be purchased at any KFC. We took some precious time to explore the top two floors of the museum which were absolutely stunning. Then we said good-bye to Helene and literally ran (or at least power walked quickly) through Air and Space with Rachel. Then it was off to the National Gallery! Venetia’s two favorite pieces were John Martin’s “Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gideon” and the Dutch masters, though we also saw an amazing collection of icons and pre-Raphaelite books. It was an especial treat to introduce my classically beautiful cousin Rachel to Ginevra, one of the Da Vinci paintings that had inspired me to paint her some years previous.


After this mad dash through the National Gallery we now said farewell to Rachel and continued on to conquer the Freer. Around 5pm we decided we simply could not go on and returned to Arlington to prepare for dinner at the Carlyle (no longer grand.) We discovered upon arrival that the tables were bolted to the floor and therefore we could not combine forces as our group was too large for one table. The solution: to have dinner with one table and dessert with the second!


There is only one place to spend the 4th of July in DC and that is at the Bungalow.

John and Kathi did not disappoint with a house and lawn full of friends, lots of meat and liquid nitrogen ice cream. Amazing to see that Kathi and Jim appeared utterly unchanged.

Glorious to see Kate (even if she resembles her Uncle Walter more than I’d have guessed) and so many others. My conversation with Bill K produced a surprising present upon my return home, but that’s another story altogether.


Eventually we were forced by necessity to depart that lively company to drive to Baltimore, passing through the typically-charming Ellicott City on our way.

Baltimore was all turned out for the 4th and we enjoyed a slow long drive full of people-watching to the hotel for the North American Discworld Convention. The convention staff was having a cozy meet and greet and afterward we hurried up to the pool deck to watch the fireworks over Baltimore with ace Daily Bugle shutterbug Kevin Hollenbeck, whose marvelous lens lit the night after the fact.


(Photo by Kevin Hollenbeck)

After the first Discworld party thrown by Emily (who I hope will one day embody my version of Pratchett and Gaiman’s Polution [and yes, that is a compliment]), we stayed up late to witness the creation of the Small God of Terminal Hunger who had recently been vexing Kevin.


Friday was the first day of Discworld and we started by hunting down frames for my prints. Walt Carter met us for lunch amid the glamour of IKEA in White Marsh. He too looked exactly as he is fixed in my memory. It’s been too long since we’ve gotten to work closely. The art show took two hours to put up but when it was up, it was indeed a thing of Ankh-Morporkian beauty. Opening ceremonies were highly entertaining as the chair, Richard, taught us Americans how to pronounce some of the guests’ names. For example Bernard Pearson, co-founder of the Discworld Emporium and my favorite raconteur, is properly pronounced “brrrrr” + “nerd”. Though one suspects he’s been called a great many other things in his long and storied life….

At dinner I indulged in gluten and dairy, two things we rarely eat at home and had a delicious lobster mac’n cheese. Afterwards we were joined in our room by Doug and Lisa who demonstrated important apps we needed to have – including Find My iPhone. So good to see them, and so invaluable to learn a trick or two into the bargain!

Saturday was such a whirlwind day I scarcely can recall all the details. We got up early enough for breakfast at the scandalous hour of 9am. My first panel was “Illustrating Discworld” and I lost my “moderator” badge in the first seconds to that rapscallion Bernhard. But I got a little of my own back midway through through the event when he got his back up at my assertion that “You can absolutely do art on a little digital drawing pad”. “No no no!” he thundered (and really, thunder should be half so effective or interesting). But when I asked if I might emend my errantry, he demurred. After a brief pause, I replied “When I said you can absolutely do art thus, what I should have said was…” another slight pause here for effect “that I can do art thus.” The crowd roared, and I think Bernhard forgave my insolence. I do hope so ;) The panel was a wonderful success in large part because of the cooler (and saner?) heads between us – those of the Discworld Emporium’s brilliant Ian and Ray Friesen, designer of the astonishing Discworld “Hawaiian” shirts. I’m not sure that they prevailed exactly, but overall, I think the crowd enjoyed the heck out of it.

I later gave a portfolio critique to several young artists (and met a sly gnome of Zurich who, as gnomes are won’t to do, snuck in without portfolio. He was apparently curious to see what words I might have for the artistic youth of Ankh-Morpork). I then went straight to judge the art show, where I gave the 3 awards. Best in Class went to an amazing carved-wood unicorn. A unicorn I tell you! A first (and probably a last) for me. They’ll drum me out of the Union should I lapse again, but you can’t beat craftsmanship, even in the service of such (uni)corny subject matter.

My dear friend Sally had come up from DC and we ventured into Little Italy for dinner before I was called upon to be a judge for the Masquerade. While seeing Marty Gear is always a pleasure, I’d never before gotten to work with him on a Masquerade (my presence there a kind gift from Bernhard. Like Sir Terry himself, Bernhard was a force even in his absence). Venetia and I both chatted with Marty at length outside the confines of the Judging Room too. And I thank my lucky stars for the time. Marty is (and will be) much missed.

Although she didn’t enter into the Masquerade as a contestant, one of my favorite costumes of the whole convention (and a splendid person to know as well) was the bold and fierce Angua of the Night Watch.


On Sunday I woke up far too early with a piercing pain in my ear, necessitating a trip to the ER. While waiting for doctors and medication I drew two small gods. Venetia slept in a chair beside me and missed the great people watching that can take place in the ER on a Sunday morning; the gang banger with the two teardrop tattoos, the man carrying on into his cell phone about how some woman had absconded with one of his two Maseratis “The one that was ONE payment from paid OFF”, the firemen talking about Game of Thrones, financing and world travel. Nothing like it for ambiance!


After finally getting the required antibiotics, we drove back to the hotel in time for breakfast. Venetia went back to sleep while I got a quick massage and then went to my panel: The Dictionary of Eye-Watering Words. Crivens! The crowd was so vast that we were relocated (with the audience trailing) to the back of the vast auditorium. John Singer and Bernard held down the left flank. The good doctor and I took the right. There may have been some Welshmen with burning ears, but no other harm was done, save to the language.


(Photo by Tim Van Holder)

My koffee-klatsch was next and was filled with interesting people including Monica Welham, the clever librarian I had suggested to Discworld to write an article for the program book. They had liked her article so much, they invited her to be a panelist at the convention. Brava! Concurrently, the charity auction was a huge success, and I drew the “Death of Crabs” at the urging of the members of my koffee-klatsch as a last minute entrant. I wish I’d been there to see the bidding!

After the charity auction came the art auction and then Venetia and I dismantled the sparse remains of the art show. Then it was time for my nap, after which came the Grand Gala. The first lady of the 2013 North American Discworld had really outdone herself. Not only was she splendidly arrayed in a most beautiful and clever gown, but each table was specially themed to a different Discworld book. I sat at the Wee Free Men table (quite apropos as I’d just finished the audio book just before the wild journey) and feasted on the sweeties from the iron pan in the center of the table. Venetia joined me after her second nap of the day (waking to an emergency really wears one out!) and we spent a lovely evening talking to four sisters of Discworld. Venetia was especially taken with the sly gnome of Zurich, whose CV held many secrets of forgery (and much else).

On Monday morning we braved the sun and heat to journey around the harbor to the Baltimore Aquarium! The multitude of turtles and tortoises we saw seemed to fit quite well with our Discworld theme. Our hosts, Yvonne and Dirk, were wonderful fonts of sealife knowledge, however we enjoyed introducing them to the magical delights of the Mantis Shrimp.


A delicious luncheon with my old friend Dan and Noel-Marie followed. Then we hurried back for the closing ceremonies. Immediately follow by more napping. There was a late evening party for the guests and we slept right until its start. Venetia was first sad to see that there was nothing in the munchables that she could eat, until she discovered the secret meat skewers that had been set aside especially for the gluten-free request and soon had other guests coming up to her asking for the secret password to share such treats.

After some time we adjourned to my room where I worked on another Small God during an interview by the vivacious Emily which lasted until quite late. Who would imagine how loquacious we would manage to be? We made the final rounds down at the bar to bid adieu to our hosts and fellow guests and thus ended our Discworld convention, though the Discworld adventure currently sits in the “to be continued” category!

Venetia’s highlights of the convention included having her hand kissed by so many charming (and wicked) English men and sharing a long conversation with Marty Gear.

Tuesday morning we were up surprisingly early  off to Philadelphia. We stopped for lunch at a fancy garden shop, that turned into a 3 hour conversation with Charlie Thomas. Best lamb burger ever. And amazing (but expensive) raspberry lemonade. After such an epic discussion, we had only an hour to spend at the NC Wyeth museum but we made the most of our time there. I love studying the masters and seeing how fearless and free their brush strokes are. There is always so much to learn. We wound our way through west Philly to the home of photographer athlete Kyle Cassidy and haunting actress Trillian Stars.


The first thing I did upon entering their home was start up the pin-ball machine. Unfortunately it loses the third ball and so I was unable to complete a game. On my next visit, Venetia and I will clearly need to do some repairs. On this visit to their fine home, I satisfied my philanthropic and creative urges by turning Kyle and Trillian’s bathroom into a mini library. Kyle sums up our visit quite eloquently and took a beautiful photograph with one of his amazing lens of the new “library”.


Venetia got to read multiple books during our stay and got her second haircut, this one even shorter than the last. After walking slowly and sedately around Philadelphia in the summer, I am even more impressed with Kyle’s running stories, having experienced just a little of the running conditions. (Hint: muggy, hot, and hard to move in. Like treacle, but less tasty).

There was much to inspire and bring forth Small Gods in Kyle and Trillian’s house and accordingly, I made my homage to Roswell, Small God of Cats on the Internet:


We made it safely back home on Thursday but found our busy 4 days between trips too brief to finish posting up this blog before…
San Diego Comic Con!


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