Archive for the 'Assignment 2' Category



Envoy

Envoy of Williamsburg lays on South Mt. Vernon Road, the very street on which I live. Before visiting I did some brief research on Envoy’s webpage. Envoy describes itself as a nursing and rehabilitation center which focuses on hospice care. The webpage makes it very clear that the location runs on Medicare and Medicaid as opposed to private payments. The building contains 130 beds; according to the webpage, 130 beds is above the average of most retirement communities. Envoy tries to spin this as a good thing, however, the page also mentions having realistic expectations for your loved one’s stay. This information leads me to believe that having those extra beds is not actually a good thing. Pure logic leads to the idea that having more beds leads to fewer nurses per bed. After looking over this information, I decided that Envoy is in fact a poorer retirement community regardless of the spin the website tries to put on their situation.

My first visit to Envoy ended rather abruptly. It was Saturday morning and I had to get up the nerve to actually walk into the building. I felt uncomfortable just thinking about it. “The staff there does not need some college kid wandering in and asking for a tour. They have much bigger things to worry about,” I thought to myself. I wasn’t sure if my normal garb would suffice for the visit. I rummaged through my closet and drawers looking for something that would make me fit in just a little more. I assumed that my outfit would give me away as a college student. I thought about putting on a sweater or a collared shirt but quickly realized that no one there would care what I was wearing. I figured I would just walk in and ask for a tour and explain the assignment. If they wanted to give me a tour they would; if not, I would just go home. It was another hour before I actually left. I drank a cup of coffee to help me gather my nerves and stepped outside. I assumed I would feel uncomfortable because I do not enjoy facing my own mortality. Nursing homes have always been something I haven’t enjoyed for this very reason. I do not like watching the end of the human spirit; there is nothing redeeming about it. I was coming over the slight hill on Mount Vernon and was waiting to cross Monticello when I noticed the ambulance in front of the building. I almost turned around right then. I held steady and kept walking. The lights weren’t on; I hoped that was a good sign. As I got closer though, I noticed EMT’s pushing a stretcher into the ambulance and I immediately turned around and went home.  I did not want to be the young guy who walked into a retirement home as someone was being rushed away to the hospital in the hopes of getting a tour. The time was not right for me to enter and so I waited for another opportunity.

I decided to go back Monday morning, I didn’t have class until 1:00 pm and Envoy is on my way to class anyway. I was not as worried about my entry into the retirement home this time. I had thought about my position in the community since my previous trip and realized I belonged there too. Of course, this idea was entirely because this assignment had been assigned; in any other situation, it would have been wildly inappropriate for me to stop in. As I approached, I noticed the care that had been put into the currently sparse garden plot out front of Envoy. While no flowers were growing, the plot had been carefully landscaped and when flowers did bloom, I was sure they would have looked lovely surrounding the Envoy sign. The building is one story. It has windows all around the perimeter and is rectangular. On the front of the building is an overhang that covers the driveway.  I crossed the street to walk on a sidewalk right up against the building and casually looked into some of the windows. The first one had the blinds open and inside was a nurse with three or four residents/patients who were playing a game; it could have been bingo but I’m not entirely sure. The rest of the windows had the blinds closed. I’m assuming these were people’s rooms.

A man entered the building just before me. I waited a second before going inside to read a sign that had been placed on the door. It warned against entering if you had any flu like symptoms. I immediately assumed that the people inside were very ill; I had known before but now it was ingrained in my brain. The reception desk was immediately to the right in a foyer that reminded me of every nursing home I had ever entered. The furniture and décor was plain. The wallpaper was not exciting. There was some reading material on a couple end tables; it focused primarily around Williamsburg. I began to feel uncomfortable, as I had been standing in line behind the aforementioned man for quite awhile. He was filling out some form before he could enter and my heart sank; only relatives of residents could really go inside.

I quickly tried to take in everything I could about the place before I would have to leave. Luckily, the receptionist received a phone call right as I stepped up to desk. I began to scour the surfaces of the room with my eyes. On a wall inside the hallway that went to the right, there were pictures of all the doctors or nurses that worked in the building. I noticed the vast majority of these employees were black. Other employees were walking back and forth through the foyer and I noticed that of the six that had passed though one was white. The receptionist was black as was the man who had entered before me; from the Visitor Check In Sheet, I noticed he was visiting his brother, who I assume is black as well. The people I had seen through the window were not all black but all the patients were. I have never felt so aware of my own whiteness. I hadn’t become uncomfortable but I slowly understood the divide between the nursing home and myself. I was almost the polar opposite of the residents; the few I saw were black, old, and based on the Envoy website probably not from a place of privilege. I am white, young, and my family is middle class. I had previously only really understood the age gap that existed between us.

The receptionist finally hung up the phone and asked if she could help me. I explained my affiliation to William and Mary and the assignment I was working on. She seemed excited that I was there but explained to me that they could not let any nonrelatives enter the premises. I thanked her for her help and asked if there was anything else she could do to help me. She showed me a brochure.

The brochure had pictures and much better descriptions of Envoy than did the website. There is a garden in the center of the building as well as a weight room and various other amenities I had not expected. I did not get to venture to these places but they were described as being quite nice.

Visiting the Unknown: The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store

I was not entirely sure where to go for this assignment. Originally I was going to go to the Williamsburg Outlet Mall, but that was too far away and almost did not seem fitting for this particular assignment. Though it was merely a blip on my mental map of Williamsburg, it was not something that was a part of the Williamsburg that I visit frequently or something that I walk past everyday but never stop in to browse. So, after forcing a friend to walk around the area with me, I came upon The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store on Monticello Avenue. I have heard about the thrift store opportunities in Williamsburg, but had only visited the Goodwill, so I was excited to see a similar store only a few yards away.

I have been to the strip mall in which the thrift store is located, but only to visit Nawab, the Indian restaurant that is located on the other side from the thrift store. Walking further away from the part that I knew, it was interesting to compare the type of shops that surrounded the thrift store. While Nawab seems to be a place that is catered to tourists and students with its ornate decorations and service-centered atmosphere, the other stores seemed more catered to locals and seemed more like places that would be found in a typical strip mall. What they all had in common, however, was a run down look that opened into a more welcoming atmosphere. The shabby brick walls of the exterior of the building did not reflected in any way how the buildings looked inside. Nothing was poorly lit or in need of repair. For example, the Big Lots looked like a typical drug store and I actually thought it was a CVS or Walgreens at first. Many of the other businesses appeared to be the same way. Though each store was not as beautifully decorated as Nawab, they still seemed like places where people could frequent on a regular basis and were designed as such.

When I first entered the thrift store, I was struck by the differences between it and the Goodwill. The major difference is that The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store is much homier looking than its counterpart just a few feet away. First, it is much smaller, but the more cramped space makes it seem more inviting. There are not that many sections of clothing racks, and they are all close together. Also, the lighting did not seem as florescent and sterile which makes it seem more like a typical thrift store that you would find in a hole-in-the-wall strip mall instead of a more chain-like institution like Goodwill. It also reflects the smaller charitable nature of the thrift store. Since it is only present in the Williamsburg area instead of all over the country, it has more of a local feel. The way that the store is set up with its smaller selection and shelves of knickknacks and VHS tapes for sale makes it more approachable for locals looking for cheap clothing. The atmosphere seems like a place where people can be remembered and treated like family instead of a place that is the same all over the country.

I believe that my discomfort with both this thrift store and thrift stores in general stems from my upbringing in an upper-middle-class family. The option of wearing clothing that was not newly bought from a department store at one of the local malls never appealed to me since it was not something anyone in my family did. As a result, I mostly spend time in thrift stores looking at clothing and admiring some pieces, but not ever trying them on or buying them, because the stigma of it being used still sticks with me. Thinking of myself wearing used clothing does not fit with the way that I was brought up and I have always been wary towards thrift stores. This belief is also generated by the fact that I have only been to a thrift store a couple of times and only in the last couple of years. Therefore, I have spent most of my childhood, a very defining period of one’s life, believing that all clothing should be bought new and at a mall or boutique. It was okay for me to donate my used clothing since I no longer needed it and I was taught that it was good to be charitable, but I never thought of the people that would buy it, because I was not one myself. On top of that, I have found that most thrift store clothing is for women much bigger than I am and I have never had the patience to search for something that would actually fit me. As a result, the idea that thrift stores are more for bigger women always kept me from visiting them.

As I went into this thrift store, the comfortable atmosphere that the store provided immediately made me feel less uncomfortable. There were very few people in the store, but those that were there were content to go about their business and did not try to judge us as college students that were out of place in a store that they probably visited on a regular basis. It was fun to go through the clothes and see what kind of brands that they had. I was particularly amused to find an Abercrombie miniskirt that I liked and might have even bought if it had been in my size. I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the shirts and skirts that were more geared toward teenagers and young adults and less toward the older, bigger women to whom thrift store clothing usually caters. However, this type of clothing was in the minority and there was still plenty of larger, frumpier clothing especially in the dress section. Though I was disappointed about this particular fact, I was still pleased and made more comfortable by finding clothing that would fit someone with my body type.

The type of people that I saw shopping in this thrift store were very different from the people that I typically see around Williamsburg. Being a college student with no car, I usually only see people of my own age group, tourists, or the lower-class African Americans that I see on the bus. However, most of the thrift store customers were middle-aged white people that were from the area, though there were a few African Americans as well. This experience reinforced the idea that Williamsburg is a very diverse community, which is something that I easily forget in the College’s isolated environment. In a way, I almost felt like I was at a store in Harrisonburg, where my grandparents live, since the people in the thrift store seemed like people that I see in that community. It was a refreshing feeling being among the locals since I usually am not fortunate enough to be in such an environment. However, their lack of judgement toward my friend and me was helpful in ending any discomfort since there was no need for creating any type of equality that Portelli describes in his article. It felt like being a part of the community and being accepted as members of Williamsburg, not just as college students from out of town.

My only regret with going to The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store was that I chose to go at a time where very few people were shopping. My friend and I only stopped in for a brief period on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, which is not such a big shopping day. It would have been interesting to see what the thrift store looked like when it was busy as well as the other types of people that make up the thrift store’s clientele. I did not get the opportunity to see any families or younger people visiting the store. This difference would have been interesting since I do not typically see those types of people in a thrift store. Regardless, I still enjoyed my visit to the thrift store and I look forward to using it as a possibly cheaper alternative to the well-known Goodwill.

Searching for the Elusive Hispanic Community

As a student family, my husband and I really have visited a lot of places in the Williamsburg area.  In fact, even though we live down the street from Colonial Williamsburg, we are probably less familiar with what goes on there than we are with what is available to us in the surrounding area.  This is certainly a generalization, but I think there is something about being married with a child that leads you to become more acquainted with the more practical side of a community, from day care services to church services to options for shopping. The typical student, on the other hand, will probably know less about these kind of practical things and more about the social benefits—i.e. local hangouts (if any ; ), outdoor recreation, and so forth. That said, there is plenty that is unfamiliar to us, apart from the more everyday student activities, such as eating at the College Deli, Paul’s, and so on (since we haven’t done any of those things and would feel slightly uncomfortable doing them with our 2 year old). At any rate, what we did was simply drive North on Richmond Road towards Toano until we found something “unfamiliar”.

What we found was a self-proclaimed authentic Mexican restaurant called Tequila Rose located in the middle of completely empty parking lot alongside a bunch of obscure (at least to me) small businesses.  I had driven on Richmond Road several times and I never noticed this restaurant or even the surrounding stores.  This is actually surprising because I love Mexican food (at least the kind I’m able to find out West) and am constantly on the lookout for something other than La Tolteca. And I’ve driven on this road many times before but never really noticed what was here.  At the same time, I was a little curious, because, in comparison to where I am from, Williamsburg does not seem to have a very robust Hispanic community. So, I was very excited to try a new Mexican restaurant that was outside the more popular touristy areas since, in my mind, that would create a better chance for that food to be “authentic” and directed at the Hispanic community.

Pulling up to the restaurant, we could see through the glass windows, and only one family was eating inside.  When we walked through doors, Hispanic employees greeted us in accented English, which raised my hopes a little with respect to the food. However, the server who appeared at our table after we were seated was a blonde Caucasian with no Spanish accent at all.  Quelling my disappointment, I ordered a Diet Coke and a chocolate milk for my daughter. In retrospect, it’s interesting to reflect on why I was so disappointed in having a Caucasian server since who serves the food does not a necessarily have anything to do with the quality or authenticity of the food.  Basically, I can only conclude that I am biased without any real evidence to support my beliefs.   In fact, my favorite place to eat Mexican food back home was a chain restaurant called Café Rio that was not exclusively staffed by Hispanic workers. Yet, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that restaurants where the employees’ nationalities match the food’s serve superior food.

More relevantly, places that match my biased definition of ‘authentic’ food by employing workers of the same ethnicity make me feel a little uncomfortable and out of place. One obvious reason for this is that it is always slightly uncomfortable to not understand what people are saying, which is compounded by different music and television programs. In Tequila Rose, the music was definitely Latin and the ambience was similarly themed.  The colors, music, and food were all what I considered to be ‘authentic’, but the patrons were clearly local customers like us, which may be the reason why I felt comfortable as we ordered our food. Before we left two other families came in, both of which appeared to be locals, or at least their vehicles had Virginia license plates and local bumper stickers. And, based on its outlying location, it makes sense that locals would dominate this restaurant’s customer base. But this also meant that my hope of finding a hidden Hispanic community would likely not be satisfied.  Sadly, this turned out to be the case—the food we ordered (burritos, tacos and enchiladas) was completely average according to my biased tastes.

After the leaving Tequila Rose, I still wanted to pursue this hidden Hispanic community idea.  So, we stopped at a store with a Spanish name that we had driven by several times but never entered, located across from the DMV.  It was formerly a 7 Eleven, but it is now called Bodega (which translates to store in Spanish). Due to its name, I assumed it would be full of Hispanic products—and it was.  But this store also served normal convenient store type stuff, and the workers were both Caucasian, even pretending to speak Spanish in a joking manner at times. We purchased mango suckers coated in chili powder—yum!

Interestingly, the store’s clientele were culturally diverse, with higher proportions of Blacks and Hispanics in comparison to Whites.  For my part, the store had a completely different feel than any store I’ve entered in Williamsburg.  I didn’t really feel uncomfortable, but I felt different in a way I can’t really articulate. Reflecting on why I never visited this store, it became clear that the name itself (Bodega) was a barrier.  I simply assumed that this store did not really desire my business, which makes me wonder what makes me feel comfortable in the first place.  How much is due to my own mistaken preconceptions?  Another piece is how each of these businesses were clearly presenting themselves in a certain way that was not necessarily all inclusive.  Both were targeting those who enjoy Mexican food. The difference is that it is common for Mexican restaurants to target non-Hispanics, whereas stores do not usually do this, at least in my experience.  This could explain why I felt different in the Bodega. Even so, my preconceptions were also faulty.  The Bodega did not exclusively serve Hispanics, and Tequila Rose was not anything special, even with its out of the way location.

The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store

I knew almost immediately where I wanted to go for this assignment. The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Thrift Store is on Monticello, roughly three minutes from where I live and I had never been, nor ever visited the shopping center in which it exists. Surrounded by a Big Lots, a small nail salon, a fabric store, among several other small businesses, the shopping center looks as if its one of the older ones in the Williamsburg area. The building looks fairly run-down and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of nostalgia, wondering what the building looked like in its prime.

No, it’s not as old as the buildings of Colonial Williamsburg and the at times stunning architecture of Duke of Gloucester Street, but rather, a brick strip mall, with storefront windows that seemed yellowed with age. I’ve passed by it whenever I’m on my way to Newtown, or headed farther down Monticello. As a student at the College, I’ve spent most of my time on the campus, or just outside within Colonial Williamsburg. When I drive by this particular shopping center, there is a stop light entering it and when I have to stop, I turn my head and see the scattered cars, the old building, the birds walking in the parking lot. For some unknown reason, I was drawn to the strip mall and pushed away at the same time.

The buzzing of the fluorescent lights when I walked in was the first thing I noticed. The room was sensory overload. Rows of clothing in front of me and a fair number of people walking around me to get to a faded concert T-shirt, an old corduroy blazer, those sparkle nylons. I was momentarily disoriented, trying to soak in my surroundings. Most businesses I had entered in Williamsburg were busy, as it is a touristy area, but this was different. The room wasn’t lit as nicely as the Williams Sonoma on DoG St. nor had the warmth of the other shops in Merchants Square. But people knew each other in a way I hadn’t seen before in Williamsburg. I heard a woman ask a man about his son. I heard two elderly ladies discuss a church group. I watched a little girl giggle as she twirled in a too-big gown. I suddenly felt completely at ease as I browsed the shoes and trinkets in the rear corner of the store and observed what was around me.

I had been in Goodwill before, I had been in other thrift stores before, but this was new to me. People knew each other here. It was different from the families at the Outlets, or in Colonial Williamsburg. It was different from the students on campus at the Grind, or Aromas. These people were locals. This was there home. What did that mean to me? I briefly felt like an outsider. “Ma’am, would you like to try that on?” I was gripping a cream colored blazer from Talbots that I couldn’t believe was priced at $5.

“Sure.”

One light flickered above me as I moved to the changing room – a small corner about the size of a closet with a swinging door and with a tiny, silver sliding lock. I listened to the conversation around me. Why had I never been here before? Was it because I had never heard of my friends talk of this place? Was it because I did not like the way the buildings looked compared to those of Newtown, or Colonial Williamsburg? Was it because of my personal bias, and the relatively affluent area I was raised? I shuddered at the thought. I am so open-minded, I thought!

And yet.

I exited the dressing room to continue walking around the store. After several loops around the mens trousers, I figured I should check out. The people working couldn’t have been nicer. The people around me in the store were completely comfortable with each other and their surroundings. I should be too, right? I realized I was sweating when I gave my five dollars to the gentleman behind the counter.

I asked about their charity, and how much of the proceeds go to it. Usually a little more skeptic than is probably good for me, I was expecting a response like: “Oh, we work hard to get as much as we can to charity, but some goes to here, or there…”

“100%.”

To my relief, the cashier did not laugh at my jaw, which most definitely on the floor. With locations in Virginia, North and South Carolina, CHKD (Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters) are a project of the Norfolk City Union of The King’s Daughters, the founding organization of Children’s Hospital. The stores provide a much needed, inexpensive opportunity for shopping.

I came home and did a little more research after my experience. I found out that their stores bring in more than $2.5 million to CHKD in a single year. Community support helps CHKD provide quality health care to our community children, who made more than 600,000 visits to CHKD Health System providers last year.   I was so impressed with this organization, and can’t believe it took me three years to venture over to a wonderful store, only three minutes from my front doorstep.

For more information visit:  http://www.chkd.org/giving/thrift/

Cultural awakening in the Highland Park Community

When two friends and I decided to search for off-campus housing over the summer, we quickly became familiar with the surrounding neighborhoods. Within a 10-15 minute walking distance to campus there are generally two options: The posh, near-Colonial Williamsburg neighborhoods where the grass is always freshly cut and parking decals are required and enforced or the areas my friends affectionately refer to as simply the less desirable places to live.  Off-campus housing for most students is found at the Lawson Enterprise apartments and Highland Park, Williamsburg oldest African-American community.  This year, my friends, Anna and Meghana, and I decided to live in the Highland Park Community for its close proximity to campus and affordable rent.  We are aware of three other homes that are being rented by William and Mary students, yet besides us, the majority of the homes belong to predominately African-American families who’ve been living in Williamsburg for generations.

This assignment awakened some thoughts my housemates and I have felt and shared ever since we moved-in: as non-black women, new to the community, would we ever fit in?  Would our differences (class, race) cause tensions in the community? Would we be treated with hostility or welcomed by our neighbors?  After living here for six months these questions still enter conversation at dinnertime.  I took this assignment prompt as an opportunity to learn more about my neighborhood, talk to some neighbors and visit a place I pass by every day but have never entered, the Union Baptist Church on Dunning Street.

The first thing I did on Thursday was go talk to my next-door neighbors to find out more about the functions at the Church and if I would be welcomed to attend a service on Sunday.  They encouraged me to attend the service, although none of them personally were members, and directed me to a home a few doors down from mine to speak to the Highland Park Community representative, Estereen. When I arrived at Estereen’s home, she answered the door in a hurry and announced she was heading to a community meeting at the Union Baptist Church.  When I stated my purpose, she invited me to join her at the meeting since she said I was a part of the community and that she likes the energy of young people.  I agreed and walked over with the surprisingly energetic, elderly woman, I had just met, yet who talked to me as if she was my own grandmother.   On our short walk over, I learned the Church not only serves as a place for bible service and choir practice, but also as a gathering place for homeowner association meetings and general community concerns on select Thursdays.  I was lucky enough to have met the community organizer right before a meeting attended by concerned residents of the Highland Park Community and what seemed like a city councilman (I unfortunately didn’t get his name) about the issue of parking passes required on Virginia Ave specifically, and other streets around the college.  Some of the community members complained that they couldn’t afford to pay $35-40 for the parking pass required by the city to park in areas around the college and Colonial Williamsburg.   One man said that the parking issue inhibited his ability to attend sporting events at the college.  Estreen chimed in that people in her community could afford the pass if they chose to spend their money more wisely and learn to save.  The representative said money for the parking pass was effective in containing the number of cars parked on those streets.

The room was filled entirely with African-American residents of Highland Park, reflecting the demographics of the neighborhood.  I felt like I stood out, as an outsider, in the position of the observer, yet didn’t feel uncomfortable, at least not yet.  The people I met were very friendly and asked me what I was studying in school and where I was from – essentially “othering” me from their community and placing distance between us, which Portelli suggests can create a “condition for a more effective and conscious participation” (37).  A few suggested I come back for service on Sunday and come to a cookout at the Highland Park picnic tables.  After the meeting, Estereen went around and collected money to buy flowers for a recently deceased member of the community, suggesting a close-knit and supportive atmosphere. For the most part, I felt welcomed and felt people were very approachable and amicable.

However, there was one incident where I felt very uncomfortable and was reminded of how distant and different I was from some members of my temporary community. After the meeting, I went back to Estereen’s home to ask her more about the community and her experience as a previous member of the church.  I wanted to know why she chose to go to a Baptist church further away than the one conveniently located down her street. Her response caught me off-guard.  She said the member of the church learned that “the pastor was a faggot” and loved gay people, and that made her feel like he wasn’t doing the Lord’s work.  Herself and other members of the church decided to leave and attend other Baptist churches in the area like St. John’s on Penniman Road. until the recent replacement of pastors which has attracted some members back. As a native-Washingtonian where same-sex marriage is legal, where my neighbors are a happily married gay couple, and as a member of the W&M Lambda Alliance with close gay friends, her homophobic remarks were highly offensive, and yet I took a hard gulp and kept my mouth shut remembering that I have to play the role of an objective historian.  Was it appropriate to challenge my interviewee? Could I have said that I felt offended by that statement? I thought against it because then I would lose the trust that I’d been working to build for the past two hours and perhaps create some degree of tension with a neighbor.  Encountering unapologetic homophobia is something I expect to encounter as I research the issues the LGBTIQ community faces in retirement in Williamsburg, especially after this incident.

Sited Research-Williamsburg Antique Mall

It took me a little while to decide where to visit in Williamsburg for my sited research assignment.  I first considered an outdoor space I’d been curious about visiting for many years, but I found out when I did a preliminary internet search that it had closed – permanently.  Enter Plan B.  I Googled: “Places to visit in Williamsburg” and came across the Williamsburg Antique Mall in Lightfoot, Virginia.  Ah, ha! I thought to myself, that would be a perfect spot for me to visit since I like antiques, and it has a tearoom!  So, after viewing their short video online, off I went on the 24 mile, 36 minute drive from my house in Yorktown.

Built in 1997 expressly as an antique mall, the location of the building at 500 Lightfoot Road is not easy to find.  As a matter of fact it is situated out-of-sight behind other businesses in Lightfoot Crossing II.  Despite a good sized Williamsburg Antiques Mall roadside sign, it is easy to overshoot the entrance.  I missed it and turned into the parking lot in front of the other stores before I saw the way to the mall marked with numerous small signs stuck in the grass ways directing customers to the rear of the roadside businesses.  I had never noticed
the place or any signage when driving by in the past, which is the reason I had never been there before.  But, no mind about that, I soon discovered a well-hidden treasure at the end of a short black-topped road!

Upon approaching the building across the well kept medium sized parking area, it’s easy to notice that the mall building is a very large, immaculately kept, one-story prefab structure painted in a honey beige color with dark red trim.  The landscaping is neat including the trees, now bare in January, that provide ample shade to the parking lot.  The signage over the door is legible and well maintained.  Smaller signs indicate that the business welcomes well-behaved pets!  They also let people know that the facility is handicap accessible.  A sign beside the door indicates that backpacks and bags are not allowed inside the building.

More than a few thoughts crossed my mind as I read the signs and considered the business owners’ commitment to customer service and the culture of their business as a whole.  First, they understand the importance of “curb appeal” and seem sensitive to people’s perception that antique malls are “junky” places.  Also, when I checked their website before my visit it indicated that the facility was well lit and organized, and had call buttons for customer assistance.  Second, they are aware that since the area is popular with tourists some people will have their pets with them when travelling.  Third, the issue of the mall being handicap accessible was abundantly reinforced by the signage before entering the building and once inside by the folded wheelchair clearly visible right by the entry door under a sign indicating the chair is available for customer convenience.  Finally, the sign requesting no backpacks or bags suggests that they’ve had trouble in the past with theft and want to make it difficult for people to steal items undetected.  Since they welcome bus tours which are frequently taken by either school age or older people, they most likely have experience with the shopping habits of a wide range of ages.  They most likely are attuned to issues of crowd control and theft, as well as, the comfort needs of older customers.  By all appearances the business is focused on meeting the needs of its customers and selling quality antique merchandise in a clean and comfortable atmosphere.

When I arrived at about 11:00 a.m. on Monday morning the mall had been open for an hour and there were eighteen cars in the parking lot.  Inside there were three “walkers”, booth owners/clerks who walk the mall to assist you if you need it, and two cashiers at the main counter who also helped with jewelry sales from the cases which surround them.  Upon entering the building I was immediately greeted with a friendly “hello” and asked if I’d ever visited the mall before.  I took that moment to say that I had not and then introduced myself to the two female clerks behind counter.  I indicated that I am a William and Mary student working on a project and would be walking around and writing down my observations of the mall.  They responded positively and one remembered having had another student visit in the past for a similar reason. The store had been open for about an hour and besides me and the sales staff had mostly female customers over sixty years old browsing around.

I stood by the entrance for awhile and listened to the background music playing in the store and the conversations around me.  The music was a mix of classical and big band pieces; nothing with lyrics or later than the 50s.  This “oldies” mix fit the antique theme of the items on display, but also fit the age of most of the clientele.  I recognized some of the tunes as “swing” pieces.  A couple of the sales women discussed how much they liked having a birdfeeder and liked birdfeeders in general.  Another woman commented after catching a whiff of someone’s smoky-smelling clothing that she never realized how much second-hand smoke offended her until she quit smoking.  I passed the next two hours strolling through the building, making observations, chatting with a few people and browsing and felt very comfortable.

As I started browsing more people arrived, mostly female, a couple of men with their wives, and a couple of teenage boys with their mothers.  A couple of middle-aged women and a middle-aged man were there with their mothers as well as a family visiting Williamsburg together from the Harrisonburg and Lynchburg areas of Virginia.   One man there with his wife spent about fifteen minutes talking on his cell phone to someone who must be a colleague.  He was discussing some kind of project they were working on a Newport News Shipbuilding and glad that whatever it was they were doing didn’t require them on-site to do the job.  A short time later I spoke to the family visiting from Harrisonburg and Lynchburg because they noticed me taking notes.  I told them about my project.  Before that I overheard the women discussing a painting they saw and one saying she was looking for a print with two bluebirds in it.  The men in the group were sort of strolling around not as engaged as the women in browsing.  A couple of people browsed around by themselves.  One woman got into a tiff with her adult son about him not letting her take time to look around.   She was determined to get in a good visit!

Most people worked the space in order beginning on the left side of the building then went up and down the rows, which I did as well.  I noticed that people who had been there before started somewhere more in the middle rows.

The color scheme inside the building is neutral with the exception of the tearoom which is a wallpapered in a colored toile pattern of bright green. The space is accented with cheerful touches of yellow and blue.  The floors in the mall are a mixture; the aisles are painted concrete in a soft mauve color and the side areas where displays are set up are mostly carpeted with short-napped commercial carpeting.  Every area is immaculately maintained.  Beyond the entrance area where the displays begin in five long rows of eleven tall glass and metal locked display cases full of memorabilia standing side-by-side in rows, are more rows of displays set up off the main aisle that runs parallel to the checkout counter.  The areas along the outer walls are hung with painted peg holed wall board for hanging merchandise on hooks.  The place is huge; boasting 400 dealer spaces in forty-five thousand square feet.  Some
displays are in cases like I described; others are simple bookcases set-up around open floor space.  Nearly every booth is full of merchandise; I saw only two empty booth spots in the areas where I walked.

I was disappointed to learn that the tea room I was so excited to visit was closed on Mondays.  It is located to the right of the checkout near the exit area which is adjacent to the entrance area.  As a matter of fact the checkout stretches out across the width of entrance and exit doors on the other side of a wall from the doors so that the beginning of the display areas is opposite the tea room to the right of the checkout.  The tea room is also located near the restrooms which are located down a short hallway.

I loved strolling down the aisles.  In two hours I only saw half of what was there.  The array of items is amazing!  There is jewelry, china and crystal as might be expected, but there are also antique toys of every description.  There are train sets, and Western dolls of cowboys, cowgirls and Indians, and vinyl headed hand puppets, also fine Victorian sewing notions, and souvenirs of every description.  I saw lots of vintage clothing as well as vintage fabrics all carefully washed, cut, bagged and ready for sewing projects.  Vintage furs are also available.  There are sports trading cards, antique magnifying glasses and antique bottles of “cures” and toiletries.  There is also a great deal of wooden furniture.  Antique prints and photographs are abundant going back to the Civil War as is war memorabilia.

It is overwhelming to see so many items in one place marking the rising tide of consumerism that washed over the United States since industrialization began.  I am happy that some people experience the value of recycling things when they buy antiques and vintage items at places like the Williamsburg Antique Mall.  One vendor even has a sign hanging in her booth that says, “Support recycling, buy antiques.”  I have to agree!

Walking Down Richmond Road

I thought that since I couldn’t post on the blog right away it would be easier if I just caught up on every post at about the same time.

I have to be honest, I have been here before, almost innumerable times during my time in the city of Williamsburg, so there is a part of me that suspects I’m not handling this assignment correctly. It’s different this time, however, because I don’t have four wheels and a metal framework surrounding me during the trip, and this excursion isn’t about the destination for me, but the pathway. Richmond Road has always been my favorite road in Williamsburg, to drive on. Down Richmond you can basically observe the spectrum of Williamsburg life from Colonial Williamsburg, to the College, and then you can enter into ACTUAL Williamsburg as well, from the safety and security of a 400 pound vehicle. For this trip, however, I have decided to forego the traditional tank of my Mercury Mariner and instead don the traditional garb of my people, jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers. I decided to start the trek from an all too familiar location, the College Apartments, where I could conveniently park my car and ensure I don’t give into the temptation to drive and pretend that I walked, and turn around when I arrived at the Sno-to-Go, chiefly because after the Sno-to-Go there is no walking space.

The early parts of my quest were uneventful, a brief pit-stop at Wawa for a snack was the chief excitement of the early travels, and there was nothing new about that. Beyond that I’ve walked this much of Richmond Road probably hundreds of times, I could probably do it blindfolded were it not for the construction taking place on the right hand side, and my severe allergic reactions to being hit by a car. It wasn’t until my feet brought me beyond the aptly named Hospitality House that I ventured into a Williamsburg that I was unfamiliar with, although this was not the Williamsburg I was looking for yet. Down the right hand side of Richmond Road I was greeted with a sight that I’ve grown sickeningly familiar with over the last two decades, suburbs. I have almost nothing to say about suburbs that has not already been said hundreds and hundreds of times before, they are very boring. Every house looks the exact same down this stretch, and while I will be the first to admit that there are far worse places to be than the suburbs, I feel lethargic just looking at them by this point in my life.

To be perfectly honest I have no idea how far I’ve walked by this point, I’m a notoriously bad judge of distance, and timing, and as such I’ve never had any success in the fields of geographic research. I would probably be willing to bet that I’m close to mile number two at this point in my journey, however, and I have reached the glorious bastion of nourishment that is Bloom. Finally, a new look into Williamsburg has been thrust upon me, in the form of a bus stop. I know what you might be thinking here “But Jeff, we use the bus all of the time here at William and Mary, I take the bus to class, and I use it to go to that very same Bloom.” In a way you’re right about that, but take a minute to ponder what lines you go on for your trips on the Williamsburg Area Transportation (WAT) bus, if you live on campus you’re probably not going to say red, blue, orange, or purple (especially since there isn’t even a purple line in Williamsburg). William and Mary students only experience the Green and Gold lines when it comes to WAT, and as such they don’t understand the Williamsburg busing experience. While I didn’t go so far as to wait for the bus to come and ride it for a while during my trek, waiting at a bus that wasn’t transporting students seemed oddly foreign to me, even more so when I was met with a familiar face. I suppose it makes W&M students feel better to think that the employees of the College stop existing after we leave the dining halls, however that is not the case, as I can attest from experience. College employees are real people, as it turns out, and they ride buses just like the rest of us. While I was out of place and alien, standing by a bench and observing the world, this woman who I’ve seen almost every day at the Marketplace (the only place I eat on campus) was going about business as usual, nothing unusual in her day.

Flash forward another half mile(ish) and I’ve passed my apartment complex, resisting the temptation to take a snack break in order to fix up some spaghetti. I’m now passing by one of my personal favorite spots in the world, Five Guys. A small haven of burgers in a town that can at times be so very devoid of flavor, “it’s alright to stop in” I tell myself, “you’re still WALKING there.” I resist the urge, however, as I could never feel out of place in a Five Guys. At this point I’ve come upon a Michelin store, I hate, loathe and despise this building, they overcharged me to fix a flat tire a while back and I’m the sort of man who will hold a grudge until the day I die. After some continued walking I’ve found myself by Wendy’s and I decide to try something out, going in. I’ve been to this Wendy’s before, but that was the drive-through (thru?). Today I shall explore the dark secrets of the Wendy’s empire, and see the beast for what it truly is. In truth this is a perfectly normal Wendy’s, however I cannot pretend to have been completely comfortable inside of the fast food giant’s gaping maw. It’s one of those feelings I can’t quite explain, not fitting in with the people around you, similar to how I felt when I lived in Hilton Head, but on the other direction. Here, I felt overly rich, as if everyone here was looking at me and thinking that I should be somewhere else. Being an astute observer of the human character, it is more likely that none of these people could have cared less about whether I was in Wendy’s or Ruth’s Chris (a restaurant that I have a moral opposition to eating at, incidentally), yet somehow my weak, feeble mind perceived hostility.

Following my trip to Wendy’s I decided that I didn’t really feel like walking further, and that I’d seen enough of Williamsburg on foot for the day, maybe it would’ve been a better idea to start at my apartment after all, it wouldn’t have involved so much walking. After an uneventful walk back to the College Apartments I found myself questioning my decision making process for the daily on-goings while driving to my apartment, and as I headed back onto campus for club practice. I don’t know if I can honestly say that I learned anything about Williamsburg that I didn’t suspect already, however I certainly managed to expose myself to a side of the town that I hadn’t been fully acquainted with before.

Gridiron Grille

My clothes have an unfamiliar smell of smoke after a night spent at the Gridiron Grille on Palace Lane off of Bypass.  As a matter of fact, I couldn’t have told you where Palace Lane was until last night and I think that is exactly the way they’d like to keep it.  Hidden in a remote shopping mall spotted with a few odd restaurants, the Gridiron Grille seems like a refuge from the more busy Williamsburg area of Richmond Road.  Their website even reads, “Tucked away behind the hustle of “The Strip” lies…The Gridiron Sports Grille.” Before I give a description of this locale, I must say that even before entering the bar, I was very conscious of my appearance.  While I am normally aware of  my dress, disposition, etc.  I was particularly so this evening.  This is most likely because I was aware that I may be out of place in this new territory. I’m not sure if that is a positive thing for fieldwork/interviews.  I suppose it is helpful to be conscious of your presence, but I think too much self-awareness can be detrimental.  Luckily for me, there was beer on the premises.

I entered Gridiron on a Monday at 10 pm (it’s open until 1:30) to see a very homey sports bar.  The large dive had the full spectrum of random bar signs and decorations.  From old boxing posters to a chalkboard which still read “Happy New Year” it seems like change isn’t of upmost importance to this establishment.  The place also has pool and air hockey tables as well as a space for karaoke and live entertainment.   Gridiron is also divided into two sides, a smoking and non smoking section, immediately segregating the customers.  Apparently, they are immune to such trivial things as state laws (my friend informed me that it had been “grandfathered” in, whatever that is supposed to mean).   Needless to say, the non smoking section was almost entirely uninhabited, save two girls  getting in a late dinner.  The place seems unabashedly out of touch, in an almost endearing way. 

My friend and I walked into the smoking section to see a decently full bar with no one sitting at the numerous tables.  While there were the obligatory sports games on the televisions, the dozen or so people seemed very much wrapped in conversation amongst each other.  We immediately received a “Hey guys, how you doing?” from the bartender and grabbed two stools next to the locals.  Upon fumbling over their selection of draft beers, a woman sitting next to us made a recommendation and seemed genuinely friendly.  I almost couldn’t believe the hospitality two kids from the College received.  Yet, while we were certainly welcome and attempted some small talk throughout the night, it was clear we weren’t “part of the club”.  If there is a club, it undoubtedly consists of a few locals who work in the area. The crowd was probably around 25-40.  The men dressed in blue jeans and baseball caps mostly, while the women seemed a little more dressed up.  While I attempted to eavesdrop without giving myself up entirely, I could hear a very interesting mix of conversation.  Without exploiting the Gridiron patrons too much, I can say that the talk was extremely candid and personal.  For instance, the women who made the beer recommendation and the bartender discussed their families, work problems, and the guy who “comes in here five days a week and asks to carry over his tab three of them”.  The bartender also seemed to chat with his partner, whom I presumed to be his wife, who would join him behind the bar from time to time.  The atmosphere was very personal and intimate.  I learned that one of the guys pounding beers next to me, for instance was also a bartender after he matter-of-factly took a break from his conversation to serve someone later in the night.  Among his group of friends I heard one exclaim that he comes here “to talk about fun shit” and take a break from his home and family life where he has to listen to his daughter “talk about which flats to wear to the wedding”.  I think that captures the attitudes of the people that night. Many of them probably frequent Gridiron to take a break from their hectic jobs and home life.  They like to have a few beers on a Monday and let the buzz and good conversation lull them into relaxation.

Just before leaving a group of approximately ten students came in and took seats at two tables away from the bar.  The bartender came over to take orders and took pictures of them.  While the mood was certainly not hostile, I could see a few heads turn at the bar.  As soon as I was feeling a little more comfortable, I was once again made aware of my status as an outsider.

I think Gridiron Grille is a very welcoming place where one can relax, but because it is a refuge for many, they like to keep the company small.  Anything like loud, picture-taking groups can immediately upset that environment.  I think I felt a little uncomfortable last night because I was unfamiliar in a very familiar place.  That is to say the place is primarily for loyal locals who keep the bar afloat.  I am also not of the same economic class as most of the people at the bar.  My clothes and hands did not show signs of wear.  I was most likely younger than anyone else and further, I did not grow up in the Williamsburg area (I immediately felt a little ashamed when I pulled out my Yankee license as ID).  I also get the feeling that Gridiron is a place where locals go for years, where one can receive tenure if they put in their time.  The idea of a student stopping by briefly on his way to new people and new places after graduating from top college made me feel uneasy.  While I could certainly hold my own at the bar, I definitely stuck out.

As a final note, I was very conscious of town/gown relations throughout night.  I think partially because I thought many of the people at the bar rarely interact with people from the College, I believed my impression was particularly important.  I kept thinking about the William and Mary stereotype of a privileged, nerdy student who tries to avoid eye contact with anyone not carrying a backpack full of textbooks.  I felt that if I maintained an appropriate volume, made small talk, left a good tip and didn’t take a picture or discuss my “fieldwork” I could make a dent in that reputation.  I also hoped that my friend and I were slowly, almost incrementally, gaining a morsel of respect from the locals around us, although that may be wishful thinking.

I certainly enjoyed my time at the Gridiron Grille and will most likely be back, probably on a Monday, during exam week or some other godforsaken period at William and Mary to grab a cold beer and escape the “hustle of the strip”.

What brought us to Grove

Our first stop was “The Stuff Store,” a quaintly cluttered and dingy store that sold, as best as I could tell, stuff. The store resembled a storage unit turned inside out, and though we couldn’t go inside because it was closed on Sunday we walked up to the door to look around. The stalagmites of stacked tables, antique-looking tape recorders, patterned umbrellas, dolls, electrical cords of various lengths in brown and white, wooden chairs, and brown cardboard boxes containing mysterious other-things seemed to have no organizational coherence. They were piled up high, brushing the roof of the porch and leaving a gap only as a walkway to the front door.

Oddly enough, “The Stuff Store” reminded me of a tienda I saw last spring in Granada while I was doing a semester abroad. My friends and I had stumbled upon a small store on a street of stores that caught our eye with its chaos. Inside were several large wooden tables all the same height strewn with looked like many silver, porcelain, wooden, tin, and plastic glints. We poured over the bric-a-brac, picking up a metal nutcracker here, a beaten tin wall-hanging there, and looking at our smudged reflections in the mirror of the old-fashioned wash-table with a large ceramic bowl for morning ablutions. I remember thinking how “Spanish” the store was, how eclectic, vibrant, mysterious, and chaotic, and how everything was infused with a deep sense of history. Standing on the sagging porch of The Stuff Store, I was struck with a similar longing to explore the unknown, to see the physical pasts of so many people consolidated into one place. What can you tell about a place from its material culture? From the way it recycles its possessions? Unfortunately my urges for an anthropological exploration of the store were cut short at the locked door, and Toby and I turned around to continue our drive.

As we were leaving, we noticed the sign in front of our car. “Carters Grove,” it said. Toby thought that sounded familiar. The sign advertised the site as something like a campground, with “RV hookups” and “vacant lots.” If I hadn’t seen the sign, I would have thought it was a trailer court for permanent residents. Beside many RVs were fixed outdoor apparatuses that looked to me like water tanks or gas tanks, it’s hard to say for sure. The lawns had a lived-in feeling, with toys and tarps lying outside like they would in the front of any permanent residence. Their presence on the lawn suggests that they might be picked up and used the next day and many days after that, so putting them away seems redundant. People keep their possessions close and orderly when they don’t plan to stay in one place very long. In America sometimes I think we put down our roots with our possessions, accumulating more and spreading out when we’re ready to stop moving, to anchor ourselves to one place and give up the possibility of moving to another.

We drove further, looking for a place where we might stop to experience something “new.” We drove past a church, the Grove community center, and a new-looking subdivision painted in pastel colors sandwiched between another trailer court and a long stretch of industrial-looking boxy buildings. We spotted a bar, neon “Open” sign aglow, and made one final loop through what turned out to be storage units and some kind of office complex before we decided that the sports bar was the best place to stop and observe for a while. We went in, unsure of what to expect. The place was dimly lit with one room that had several pool tables and a larger room with tables, chairs, and a bar. The room was empty except for one man at the bar and a small woman behind it, who greeted us and asked us what we’d like as if handing us a menu would be a formality. And I felt strangely formal asking for it, but I wasn’t sure what an appropriate thing to order would be without it. After a short deliberation, we ordered nachos and a few beers, and settled in to our conversation.

A few people came in and out as we were there, and they all knew each other. I felt extremely out of place, almost as if I had stumbled in to someone’s living room on a Saturday afternoon where a group of friends was gathering to shoot the breeze. A woman and a man came in and greeted us boisterously. “Hi ladies,” the woman said, before going behind the bar and grabbing a beer for herself and one for the man she walked in with, opening them, and then starting to chat with the other woman that was there. When we were getting ready to leave, this second woman addressed Toby and I. “I’ve never seen you before,” she said, and asked us what brought us to the bar. I told her we went to William and Mary and were trying to get off campus, do something different. She said she had been working there for about 15 years and that we should come back again. It was clear that not a lot of newcomers frequented the bar; we stood out.

Last night after I got back from Grove, I sat down to read the article by Brown & DeSamper from our course-pack. There was “Carter’s Grove,” right there on one of the first pages. The reason Toby had thought it sounded familiar: it was the name of a large plantation that had stood in current-day Grove near the James River that had been passed down to many owners over the years and was eventually sold to Colonial Williamsburg. The irony of an RV park in an area known for its poverty in Williamsburg being named after a once-powerful Southern Plantation that’s now owned by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation struck me, and I realized how hard it would be to write this post.

I began to feel strange about my trip through Grove. While I was there, I was actually surprised to feel less uncomfortable than I’d expected. My interactions with the people in the bar had been friendly, and I felt welcomed by them, if a little bit out of the ordinary in the course of their day. But upon reflection, I feel like a spectator. It’s hard to explain what going somewhere totally outside of your normal routine and witnessing poverty there feels like. I feel and have always felt that it’s important to understand other people’s realities, to know what it’s like to live in different ways and to experience things through different lenses. But in Grove I felt like such an outsider, without any specific purpose or definitive goal, I felt like an imposter, like I needed to justify my presence there to the woman who rang up our checks and asked what brought us to Grove. I guess now I’m trying to justify it to myself.

This assignment brought up some big questions for me, questions that I’ve certainly thought about before in working with social justice organizations that place emphasis on working with people who have traditionally had little say in the governmental system that affect their lives. I’ve thought a lot about what it means to have privilege and work with people who are relatively less privileged. I’ve worked to understand my own discomfort with that dynamic, and am still working on it. But approaching poverty from an academic standpoint feels very different. What is the role of Academia in fighting poverty? How can I use my position as an intellectual and someone who cares about social justice to best affect change? I think academia plays a vital role in social justice through building a greater understanding of why inequality happens, what its affects are, and how we can stop it. But that abstract statement doesn’t feel very satisfying as I embark on an academic research project about what the education system looks like from the point of view of non-college-bound students. I hope that as a college student, working on a project that necessitates a deep look at the interaction between poverty and education will help me to wrestle with these questions.

Mama Steve’s

It’s hard to pick Mama Steve’s out from the long line of pancake houses that line Richmond Road.  The only thing that separates it from the bunch is its name which makes you do a double take.  It’s the sort of name that you might not think twice about if you have lived in Williamsburg your entire life.  It wasn’t until I was 18 that I realized that the video store down the street from my house in Silver Spring, Bigg Wolf Video, was a hardcore porn store.  I just never really made the connection.   Everything is innocent when you’re young, and I’m sure that a native of Williamsburg has never really thought about how ungodly the name Mama Steve’s is.  If the name is any indication of the character of the restaurant, it’s the absurdity of it.  When I walked in, I was overwhelmed by the booming silence of the place, as if I had just entered a church during prayer.  But, as I scanned the customers’ faces through the windows of the foyer, I noticed that their mouths were moving yet no sound was coming out, as if sound didn’t carry in this vacuum of a place.  The inside of Mama Steve’s is as strange as its name is; light Spanish guitar serenades a scene of Sunday churchgoers sitting in chairs that seem to be hybridizations of a king’s high-backed dining chair and a punctured inner-tube, as if they were all members of a deeply warped Americana version of a royal family sitting down to feast.

A woman who looked recently embalmed greeted me with a face that was stretched to its limit, and sat me at a table at the far end of the restaurant next to the one painting in the room – an oil painting of lighthouses.  The painting was surrounded by flowers and lights as if it was some kind of memorial.  Like a memorial to a bygone era when a place like Mama Steve’s belonged.  It was when I was finally sitting down at my table that I got my first good look at the wait staff.  They were all women ranging from their mid-forties to late-seventies dressed in what looked like maid uniforms from the 19th century, complete with bonnets and frills.  I think they are ordered to dress like that so that they look matronly, as if to instill a feeling that you’re sitting down to a nice, country meal made by your grandmother.  But to me, it looked like they were wearing the maid outfits that you buy from naughty costume stores, which instead made me think of a horrific and unholy mix of eroticism and grandmothers.  My waitress in particular was a woman in her seventies with a hunchback so severe that she had trouble walking…all the while wearing this milkmaid outfit.  Looking around, I noticed a catholic priest bowing his head in prayer as a small army of elderly maids scurried around the restaurant, refilling coffees and taking orders.  Again, a weird, weird porno with a Stepford charm.  A single chandelier hung from the middle of the ceiling, reflecting the same Civil War Americana charm that the rest of Mama Steve’s seemed modeled after.  Wooden tulips seemed to spring from every corner and crevice, and the coffee mugs looked like porcelain goblets, like the 19th century version of a pimp cup.  I asked my hunchbacked waitress in the most sympathetic voice I could muster if the barbeque was tomato-based or vinegar-based.  She told me that she didn’t know and didn’t care.  I ordered the barbeque sandwich, picking that over the “bacon yummies” and sausage blankets, all the while feeling bad for my poor waitress, who by now I felt like I had some grandson-grandmama relationship with.  I just wanted to tell her, “You sit down, let me take care of this.”  Mama Steve’s is the kind of place where you want to have a conversation that you can say “Bless your heart” to the person afterwards.  Guess their strange marketing campaign works to some extent.

Someone once told me that when you go to a steakhouse you order a steak, when you go to a barbeque place you order the barbeque, and when you go to a pancake house you order the pancakes.  You order a restaurant’s specialty because it’s their specialty for a reason.  I broke this cardinal rule when I ordered the barbeque sandwich, and I was punished as a sinner should be.  The meat was melded together with paste-like substance, a new line of edible Elmer’s Glue perhaps, and it tasted like what I imagine the essence of linoleum tastes like.  It tasted like wood laminate smells, so I settled by eating my fries instead.  I left the coleslaw alone.  Instead, I stared it down like a fighter might do to his opponent.  “I will defeat you,” I said to both the coleslaw and the restaurant.  The waitress, at this point noticing that I was just talking to my food and sporadically writing in a notebook, hobbled over, her bonnet off-kilter and her frilly dress swaying with every struggled step, and took my plate.  I thanked her, and she smiled a toothy smile and left me with the check.  Two dollars for a cup of coffee.  I was not a happy man.  As I made my way to the exit I couldn’t help but wonder if my waitress faked her enormous hunchback in order to get more tips.  I know I tipped a few extra percent.  Well, even if she was faking, I thought, the sheer effort she put into doing so merited a few extra quarters.  That’s probably how I feel about Mama Steve’s as a whole.  It could all be an intricate façade put on to attract people looking for a novelty restaurant, but frankly I didn’t care.  It still merited a few extra quarters.

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About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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