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March 5-In Like a Lion
by Lenny Hughes
The crazy wind storm that greeted us in the new month in Richmond last week has finally died down, and after a slew of shows in the southland, we're seeking refuge in Charleston, South Carolina, for a day off before we head to Asheville.
In Charleston, we met up with our beloved former sound engineer Jeff Costa, who's doing well these days in Myrtle Beach. We traded cat stories, and relived some of our misadventures from years past in the course of Lew and John's show at the palatial Gaillard Center.
Gaillard Center in Charleston SC
Night before that, we were in Roanoke, more mildly buffeted about by that big blow. Parking lot of the hotel where we stayed was jammed with cherry-picker trucks from all over the country to restore power to thousands.
Different story Friday back in Richmond when 60 mph blasts howled through the city. We arrived Thursday night in a rainstorm, then the wind started up as we hunkered down at the glorious old Jefferson Hotel.
That place has lost none of its venerable charm after extensive renovations, and fortunately the alligators are long gone. Reportedly, before the 1940s, tourists who bought baby gators while vacationing in Florida would leave them in a pond that surrounded Jefferson's statue in the lobby, and they grew up.
"There's a story about a woman who thought she was putting her feet up on a stool," a uniformed doorman told me. "The 'stool' moved, and they say they could hear her screams all over the hotel."
Undaunted by the weather-or gator tales- I headed for a five-mile stroll through the town in search of antiques and books. In one old shop on Main, I spotted a decorative cannon that was dredged up from a wreck in the Indian Ocean.
The proprietor, a white-haired pleasant man, with a southern accent like Andrew Duggan's on "Bourbon Street Beat," told me it was used as a signal cannon on the ship, not as a weapon.
"Still," I said, "they probably won't let me take it on the plane."
And with its $20,000 price tag, I wouldn't have the chance to try.
Eventually, I happened on the Confederate White House: the very home occupied by Jefferson Davis during the Civil War. I didn't have time to tour it as I did back in the '80s, but it's nice to see it's still standing, though it's now dwarfed by surrounding high rises of the Virginia Commonwealth University's medical facilities and other developments.
Confederate White House
Next door is the Confederate museum. I checked out the gift shop and passed up acquiring a mini hurdy-gurdy that plays Dixie. I would've gotten a tiny bust of Abraham Lincoln, but it just seemed inappropriate coming from that venue. Instead, I gave them a donation to help preserve the Davis house.
The show at the Dominion Energy Center was fantastic. And we got a rush on bobbleheads after John's perfect onstage debate between one of the bobs and his talking Donald Trump pen.
Dominion Energy Center Marquee
Donald Trump Pen vs Lewis Black Bobblehead
Of course, all the shows are great-some more "eventful" than others.
We started the run last weekend at Princeton University, which we have graced with our presence several times in the past. To me, Princeton is most noted for bone-headedly kicking F. Scott Fitzgerald to the curb for flunking chemistry.
In more modern times, they rejected an application for admission from then-high-school grad Lewis Black.
And last week, they achieved new heights, when a BAT took up residence in the proscenium arch of the McCarter Theatre Center. They had to keep the house closed for a half-hour past curtain time while an exterminator from a nearby village mounted a cherry-picker and tremblingly rose to the occasion.
After one abortive attempt, they got the little fellow in a net and the crowd settled in to hear John open the show with a comment that put the incident in the context of our times.
"Sorry we're late. We had to deal with a bat. I guess the professors at Princeton don't have guns yet."
John's Bat Signal
Leaving Bat Country, we headed up to Binghamton, New York, in the shrouding rain that followed all through that weekend.
Binghamton is most famous as the childhood home of its prominent citizen (and my hero) Rod Serling. The Broome County Forum Theatre lobby has a nice tribute to the Twilight Zone creator. Serling moved to Binghamton at 2, when his family opened Serling's Meat Market on Main Street.
I wish I'd had time to visit the family home, but I snatched an AP photo of the place from the Internet.
Lobby of Broome County Forum Theatre
Rod Serling Tribute
Rod Serling's House
Meanwhile, Lew held court inside the theater, berating the audience for not catching the significance of a news story about an accidental shooting in a Tennessee church.
Next day, we hit Kingston, New York, after another gloomy day through the Catskill Mountains, stomping ground for classic comedians in mid-century. Lewis told me his family used to vacation there when the Black boys were young.
Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston NY
"It wasn't a resort. They had tennis courts. And entertainment, but not known performers," he said. "I had a crush...but it didn't go anywhere."
We ended the weekend at the Ridgefield Playhouse in the tony town of Ridgefield, Connecticut, where I heard Lew misguidedly denounce cats from the stage, though he related a grand theater anecdote about a production of the musical "Cats."
Lewis in Ridgefield
So it goes, as Vonnegut says in his "cats" novel.
And so, on WE go, to Asheville and beyond.