After the overnight drive from Manhattan we have half a day to kill here before the business of the day starts. The presence of a golf cart in a glazed porch lined with famous arrest mug shots of musicians—Elvis Presley, Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash—is unsettling and at a first glance the surrounding streets do not look promising for places to hang out. But a proper reccy from the back lot of the Birchmere makes it apparent that we are in a very cool part of town. We are in a little bit of El Salvador. Everyone speaks Spanish. There is fruit for sale on the street. The convenience stores are stocked pretty much exclusively with Latin American produce and in the bakery on Mount Vernon Avenue the woman behind the counter calls someone from the back to deal with me when I speak to her in English. In El Pulgarcito there are half-a-dozen people in the kitchen prepping the days menu. The streets here are full of life. It all makes me nostalgic for the years Madeline and I spent living in Madrid. This is such a relief from the mind numbing banality of strip mall America and a side of US culture that we are rarely lucky enough to see—the absolute opposite of the middle-class college towns that we usually visit when tours have taken us south of the Mason-Dixon.
When the business of the day finally gets underway and we convene in the venue for sound check The Birchmere reveals itself to be a gigantic supper club. The tv in the dressing room is promoting a forthcoming show by Three Dog Night with footage on a loop from a recent show of theirs . We had doubts about the legitimacy of going on the road to play clubs the US at our age but these guys are at least twenty years older than us (and they look it) and do a fine job of coming across like complete assholes even with the sound muted (thankfully). This is equal parts depressing and hilarious and not likely to be good for anyone’s digestion when Three Dog Night play here.
Whether a Del Amitri set would be easier on the stomach after supper at the Birchmere is hard to fathom, but unexpectedly this turns out to be the a sold out show which is never to be sniffed at. And sure enough the people of Alexandria, fueled on the Birchmere’s redoubtable menu are raucous in a way that is somehow different from the Manhattanites. (Not in any way better or worse or less cool, just different.) They make this another night to remember.
After the show Justin returns to the bus bearing Carne Asado with all the trimmings—papusas, rice, refried beans and sala—from El Pulgarcito. It is one of the best meals of the tour.
Not what we expected on a Tuesday night in Virginia.