Operation Two Birds, One Stone: Part I
Hey gang. Crapitols has returned! My apologies for the delay. Had a supremely busy end to my summer that I'm just now recovering from. It's good to be back. For this triumphant return, I present to you the first installment of my most audacious trip yet.
In 2016, the Great American Beard and Moustache Championships were held here in Denver, Colorado. The inaugural event was a success, and on the final day of that September weekend it was decided the next biennial edition of the GABMC would be held in 2018, in Richmond, Virginia. It was all falling into place.
This was a perfect excuse to finally take my Crapitols quest eastward. Upon doing some preliminary research on Richmond, I discovered that it's quite close to several other state capitals, most notably Annapolis, Maryland and Dover, Delaware, not to mention it's proximity to Washington, D.C. (more on that later). Now, I'm a guy who like to get as much bang for his buck as possible, so my first thought was I CAN DO ALL THREE! I soon realized this was unrealistic for a number of reasons. It would take a lot of time and a lot driving to hit all of these capitals in just a few days, and I didn't want to miss out on all the fun my beardo friends would be having in Richmond. Most practically, however, I realized I couldn't possibly expect to have to shit on such a demanding schedule. I'm just not that regular. I wasn't going to travel all that way and only come away with one more crapitol for the list, however, so I made the decision: I would do Richmond and Annapolis.
I flew into Richmond on a rainy Thursday just a week and a half or so after Hurricane Florence drenched the Carolinas and Virginia. It was grey and dreary, but very green and lush. Very heavily wooded, like I remembered Georgia was from the few years I spent there as a youth. Though I had technically been to Arlington National Cemetery 20 years prior, this was my first proper visit to Virginia, and I was digging the Dixie vibes. My jaw dropped upon seeing a sign that read, "Welcome to Henrico County. Est. 1611." Damn that's old.
My companion, once again, on this bearding/crapitol odyssey was my dear friend Nathan, whom you may remember from the Utah episodeUtah episode. We spent the first night in Richmond on a bar crawl in Scott's Addition with the beardo gang that featured craft beer, mead, and some excellent late night tacos (always good luck for a successful crapitol visit the following day). We do this adorable thing where we swarm bars and breweries and tacos places with dozens of beardos and unsuspecting bystanders have no idea what's going on. One of the things I love about the facial hair world.
We arose in the morning and made our way downtown. I grabbed some coffee at a the lovely little Sefton Coffee Company and we wandered over to the capitol grounds. We entered the Northwest corner of the grounds where there stands the Virginia Washington Monument, a giant statue of George Washington flanked by some of Virginia's other favorite sons. This was the first of many instances of feeling clubbed over the head with how much history there is in this part of the country. It was at this very spot where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the Confederacy in 1862.
Immediately after taking the above photo, Nathan and I ran into Brian, our other friend from Colorado who had journeyed to Richmond for the big competition. Right there on the grounds of the state house! We didn't even plan it. We last saw him at Denver International Airport waiting for his later flight, and here he was. It's like he knew I would be there (I think he knew I would be there). So we three made our way down to the visitors' entrance.
Mercifully, the Virginia State Capitol was free from the dreaded scaffolding and tarps that accompany major renovations. A modernization project was completed in 2007 that added 27,000 square feet of space underground, including the new visitors entrance.
We were greeted by a Capitol Police officer who blew me away with his, "What brings y'all to Richmond," textbook genteel Virginia accent. I absolutely love it when people live up to stereotypes, like, when you meet people who actually use words you've only seen in movies. It's kind of like when you see animals do the thing they're famous for doing, like a rooster crowing, or a rattle snake rattling. I'm also slightly dumbstruck and I think, "Whoa, they actually do that!"t On a related side note, I was also blown away at the absurd number of personalized license plates I saw in Virginia. It's a well-known piece of bar trivia that, due to having the lowest annual fees in the nation for personalized license plates, Virginia has more of these than any other state. But I wasn't expecting evvvvvvverybody to have them. Like half of the plates I saw. Crazy. But I digress. The entire volunteer and security staff were just as charmingly Southern, and quite curious about the three furry fellows who were visiting their fair capitol. As luck would have it, a guided tour was about to begin.
That's when we met Mark, our tour guide extraordinaire, and a small group of British tourists, and a large group of high schoolers, whom the tour was ostensibly intended for, though open to any visitors. Mark is one of those rare people who obviously landed his dream job, as I imagine there is no greater Virginia history geek in the state, and I mean that with the utmost respect as a fellow history geek. His knew his routine by heart, complete with perfectly timed, perfectly corny jokes, and unwavering enthusiasm for the material in the face of the abject indifference of teenagers. Mark led us through the subterranean labyrinth to the original entrance of the capitol, where the tour really got good.
The Virginia State Capitol was designed by none other than Thomas F. Jefferson, one of the many cool things the great man did in his life that didn't make the final cut on his epitaph. He designed the capitol from abroad as he was serving as the US Minister to France, and the Classical Revival building was finished in 1788. That's the 18th century, again, absurdly old. Mark explained Jefferson's intent with the grandiose design was to show the old powers of Europe that these upstart United States meant business, and we could hold our own in the splendor and majesty department. He was really into the Roman temple thing (a bit more on that later). It is the current home of the Virginia General Assembly, the oldest continuous lawmaking body in the New World, established in 1619.
The centerpiece of the rotunda is another statue of George Washington, but this one is quite special. It is one of the only statues the Washington actually posed for in his life. Jean-Antoine Houdon traveled to Mt. Vernon in 1785 to take Washington's measurements, study and sketch him, and he even getting him to consent to a plaster life mask. The result is the most realistic portrait of George Washington in existence, standing six feet, two inches tall, just like the man himself, three inches shorter than me. His sword hung up on a pillar by his side, representing the retired soldier, and looking as regal as any of the monarchs of Europe, it cannot be overstated what this man did in founding this country. Instead of crowning himself king, as every other victorious general in history had, he retired to his farm. When called upon again to serve as our first President, and once again, instead of installing himself as President for life, he retired to his farm after two terms. Much respect.
We were lead into the old Senate Chamber and the Jefferson Room, both of which were full of fascinating stories about the centuries-old history of Virginia. Mark would tell us the story of a painting recounting a great victory in the Revolutionary War, or how British ravaged Virginia in the War of 1812 and the whole room awkwardly turn to the few British tourists in our group and would either silently gloat or give the evil eye. A funny reminder of who kicked whose asses.
The old House Chamber was even cooler, as the very room where the Bill of Rights was ratified into the Constitution, and where the murderous Aaron Burr was tried for treason. It also holds the Mace of the Virginia House of Delegates. A mace was first given to the House of Burgesses of the Colony of Virginia in 1700 as a symbol of royal power. The giant-glimmering-jewelry-weapon was a powerful reminder to the Colonials of who was really in charge. This isn't the original mace of Virginia, however. They bought this in 1974. Still cool, though.
Our tour finished in the modern House of Delegates chamber, where they shot the scene where Kevin Kline, as a Presidential lookalike, addresses a joint session of Congress in the 1993 film Dave. In 1906 East and West wings were added to the original Jefferson-designed building to house the newer, larger chambers for the House and Senate. Somewhere along the way they added the microphones and electronic voting buttons and all the usual accoutrements of modern lawmaking facilities, possibly using the money they earned from the Dave deal. Maybe.
Speaking of modern facilities (see what I did there?), it was then time to complete my mission. I made my way upstairs to the public gallery area, and immediately found a perfect bathroom: immaculately clean, with that capitol hallmark marble. I feel like I'm developing a sort of sixth sense for bathroom navigation in government buildings, like some sort of toilet diviner. I must admit, this one was a bit of a struggle. Despite the late night tacos, the coffee, and all the walking I'd done that morning, I couldn't muster much, but I did muster. It counted, dammit. I wouldn't lie to you, dear reader. This was crapitol number 10. Officially into double-digits. One fifth of the way towards completing this absurd journey.
Having completed my task, I located my companions and we headed back out the way we came. Before we left we ran into Mark, now freed from his tour duties to chat with us. I thanked him for his excellent work and said I was pleased that Virginia was my tenth state capitol. He was kind enough to pose for a picture with me and do my signature Elvis-and-Nixon pose, which was great, because he was at once dressed like Richard Nixon but had a slightly Elvis-like hairstyle. Really loved this guy.
Leaving the capitol victorious, Brian and Nathan agreed to accompany me on another pilgrimage. We departed the capitol for Charlottesville, and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.
Again with that Roman-revival fetish. Monticello was stunning. Italian for "little mountain," one immediately sees why the richest man in Albemarle County would build his dream house on this gorgeous mountaintop. It was truly inspiring to walk in the footsteps of the great man, and to get the warts-and-all truth from the dedicated staff and curators. A man of many great achievements, and many failures of character. I will not attempt to do him justice with one brief paragraph in this childish blog. However, let me just say how badass it is that he didn't consider being the President of the United States among his top three lifetime achievements. I mean, you only get so much room for an epitaph, so just include the highlights:
The rest of my time in Richmond was a blur of walking, Presidential graves, beards, and beers. All the praise in the world is due to the fine men and women of the RVA Beard League, the club who hosted the Great American Championships. Over 300 competitors gathered at the National in Richmond for one of the greatest beard bashes I've witnessed. In the weeks following the event it was revealed that over $25,000 was raised for charity, a record beyond anyone's imagination, and that's all thanks to the RVA Beard League and NACBMA. Some truly fine people doing amazing things. Many, many thanks for a superb weekend.
The GABMC was epic, and I was sad to have to leave my friends so soon, but I had much more to accomplish on this trip. I departed Richmond at 9:30 AM the following on the Amtrak bound for Washington D.C. I had the most jam-packed agenda ever conceived for the 30 hours I would spend there, and I wasn't sure if I would be able to pull it off.
Stay tuned to find out what happened in Annapolis.