Dan and Hannah Experience Richmond at its Fall Best

V richmond mapTo many New Englanders (well, really just me), Richmond is known for two things: Coach Shaka Smart of VCU basketball and Civil War history.  Now that our son Will and his fiancée Laurel live in nearby Bon Air and work at Virginia Commonwealth University, we can easily fly from Boston to the River City on Delta or JetBlue to experience the South and its warmth.

Retirement is great if…

if  you have your good health and if you have enough money.  Currently we can check off yes and yes, so we are on the move.

Stuart Siegel Center with its 2M big screen TV

Stuart Siegel Center with its 2M big screen TV

Flying Tuesday afternoon from Logan Airport, we arrive two hours later at Richmond International Airport. Curbside, Will whisks us off to the Stuart Siegel Center for tonight’s 6P game, VCU v Toledo University.

Tommy J West Club at the Stuart Siegel Center

Tommy J West Club at the Stuart Siegel Center

Arriving a little after five, Will arranges for us to dine at the buffet for the big shots at the Tommy J West club high above the hardwood. Overlooking the court, we feast on sweet potatoes, green beans in mushroom sauce, and tossed salad; honey baked ham is there for the taking for the meat eaters. As we sit in luxury, we think how this club would be a fantastic venue for a rockin’ family party.

Will, Laurel, and her future in-laws

Will, Laurel, and her future in-laws

Kenyon College grad, Shaka Smart

Kenyon College grad, Shaka Smart

Shaka Smart has made VCU basketball the “what’s happening” place to be in Richmond on game nights.  Tonight will be the 51st straight sell out in this nearly 8000 fan arena.  A graduate of Kenyon College in Ohio like my Brother Richard and Uncle Bill, Shaka is named after a Zulu warrior.  Always entertaining, his team’s style is to press for 40 minutes and fast break on every possession.

Tip off of VCU v Toledo

Tip off of VCU v Toledo

With not a bad seat in the house, we sit 15 rows up from the foul line for the tonight’s game televised by ESPN against Toledo, a team that won 27 games last year and returns 7 of its 8 top players.  The crowd is electric and plugs into the high paced offense and defense of the VCU Rams.  Smart has branded their style of play as “Havoc,” which when rocking, truly befuddles opposing teams.

VCU's Melvin Johnson driving to the basket

VCU’s Melvin Johnson driving to the basket

Early on, the game is tight and tense.  Last year VCU went undefeated on its home court, but tonight they are meeting their match as the Rockets shoot well and break the press without much trouble.

Last year's NCAA leader in steals, Briante Weber, floating one above the Toledo defender

Last year’s NCAA leader in steals, Briante Weber, floating one above the Toledo defender

At halftime VCU is lucky to be down only three points, as Toledo shoots 90% from the foul line. “Havoc” defense is meant to eventually wear teams down; and on schedule in the second half, it starts to take its toll on the Rockets. They turn the ball over for an easy two at the rim and three more from downtown.

Victoire!

Victoire!

The 87-78 VCU victory reflects the team’s #15 ranking in the country. This close game is all a fan could want: fast-paced action, drama, and ultimately a W.

After a 430A wakeup call this morning in Maine, we sleep well in Virginia after a VCU victory.

The All Access Man with his Sweet Mama

The All Access Man with his Sweet Mama

With a layover day Wednesday before another VCU game Thursday night, Hannah and I plan to take in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Dropped off in the downtown by Laurel, we easily find it and talk to the museum guide about what lies within.  At $13 for seniors, we want multi-media and interactive exhibits. We get neither and decide to invest our $26 of disposable income in another way.

Let’s be fair. The museum didn’t really have much of a chance. You wouldn’t call us museum people. We like doing rather than looking.  It’s just in our DNA.  But not going to the museum today is win/win. The museum is not subjected to our feigned interest and we can walk and hike in Richmond this mid-November day.

Along the Canal Walk in Richmond, Virginia

Along the Canal Walk in Richmond, Virginia

Just down the hill to the James River, Richmond’s Canal Walk meanders along the shoreline for a mile and a quarter. It’s a winter coat and mittens day here in the South, but our steady pace keeps us warm. Normally in warmer weather the bistros and restaurants along the canal are buzzing while the park on Brown’s Island is filled with families, joggers, and Frisbee players.

The walking suspension bridge beneath the Robert E Lee Highway into Richmond

The walking suspension bridge beneath the Robert E Lee Highway into Richmond

Soon finding our way to the suspension bridge across the James River to Belle Isle, we enter a network of trails. Belle Isle was first explored by the Captain John Smith in 1607.  Later the island served as a prison for 30,000 Union soldiers during the American Civil War.

Bundled up for Belle Isle hiking

Bundled up for Belle Isle hiking

In warmer weather, Belle Isle is a great place for trail walking, swimming and kayaking in the James River, rock jumping, sunbathing, and boulder-top picnicking, just feet away from white water rapids.

Another victory for the Rams!

Another victory for the Rams!

Exercise-satisfied, we await Thursday’s VCU game at the Siegel Center.

Thursday, the Rams hit their first 8 shots and lead 18-0 over University of Maryland Eastern Shore. With the game well in hand from the outset, Shaka substitutes liberally and gets his freshman some valuable collegiate playing time.

Richmond in November is just the antidote for the coming deep freeze in New England.

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