UVA: Where College Lives

Thomas Jefferson insisted that his founding of the University of Virginia be etched into his headstone. It took visiting campus to understand why.

University of Virginia

My appointment on campus was scheduled for 9am. I intentionally arrived at 7:30.

The head of the original campus is the rotunda, intended to be the library. A long lawn stretches out in front, flanked by arches and doors of student dorms. Jefferson called this the “Academical village”, a name that makes me snicker. Heh, heh; academical.

UVA’s Academical Village

When I walked onto the lawn I saw sprinklers turn on at one end of the lawn and a student shuffling down the walk wearing a bathrobe and slippers. I am a tourist but students live here. 200 year old dorm rooms housing 20 year old kids.

Studying hard

Spaced out along these single room dorms are larger homes that house the school’s deans. This would appear to be the perfect set up for a juvenile movie, you know, the one where a fraternity uses their evil genius to somehow get a car into the Dean’s living room. Not knowing any of this when I walked through campus, I peeked through the ground level window of what I thought was a historic site. The woman inside saw me and waved me toward the door where she invited me inside her home.

the Dean’s dining room

She was incredibly kind and I doubt anyone would vandalize her living room… except maybe John Belushi or Val Kilmer. Neither of those celebrities ever lived here but an adult Faulkner once did, a fact I doubt was lost on this young man.


GQ magazine listed UVA as America’s most “preppy” college. It is hard to say exactly what this means and as the kids woke up and began walking to class I looked to see if I could “see” it. I couldn’t. I went to the bookstore to buy a pendant, which I do at every school I visit, and then I saw it.

Brooks Bros UVA shirt

There were plaids and pastels, bowties and picnic baskets. I’m not sure if I buy the school’s preppiest title but I’m sure the bookstore’s buyer bought it.

Oooh, sparkley.
The only statue that isn’t Thomas Jefferson
A “Jefferson” chair
In the Rotunda
The Cavalier Inn

My room at the Cavalier Inn had a large picture window facing the band’s practice field. I sat and watched young families and college kids watch the band practice. Here, at this school that was not only founded by, but that celebrates Thomas Jefferson at every turn, the student body was not so caught up in yesterday that it ignored the college now.

This about sums it up

At Harvard the football stadium is an icon of the birth of American football. It can seat, and once did, 50,000 people. UVA’s campus has the history while still filling it’s stadium today.

Vagabonding… but different this time.

The Philadelphia airport opens at 3:30 am. I had no idea the airport ever closed, but it does, and then it opens at 3:30am.

Some things should never be learned, or if they are, they should be learned in theory. I have now experienced the airport opening multiple times and have also learned that even at such an unholy hour, there is still a line. This line is created in large part due to the normal American’s inability to believe that rules apply to them. “No liquids. Take your shoes, jacket and belt off and put them in a bin. Please remove your laptop from your bag and place it in a separate bin. No ma’am you cannot take a gallon of hairspray onto an airplane. Sir, the alarm will continue to go off till you take your belt off. I know you are in a hurry… so take off your shoes faster”.

I have also learned that bags are faster than people. I learned this because my bags and I landed on the same plane at the same time but somehow they made it onto the connecting flight while I did not. I am told this is because they get to take a tug on the tarmac while I take a moving sidewalk through terminals A, B, C, D, skip E and take a shuttle to F.

I have learned that I like airports with rental car counters in the terminal and not at a remote location. I look for the counter and go there rather than getting my bags. Having learned this tip online I grin as keys in hand I pass the worried hordes as the drag wheeled luggage en mass to the counters to wait in line while I saunter over to pick my lonely property off the conveyor and then load it into my Malibu/Taurus/Camry/Prius because I refuse to upgrade for only five dollars.

It only takes a couple of trips like this to get the feel for it and then only takes a couple of days doing it multiple times to lose all feeling whatsoever.

I recall a visit to a castle in Germany where a guide stood in front of a suit of armor and explained that normal people used to be much smaller, hence the undersized metal outfit guarding the doors. I think planes were built in these dark ages, or were at least built for those who lived then and not for me. I do not stow my brief case under the seat in front of me because when seated in a plane I do not have room enough to bend down and get anything from under that seat without squishing my face up against the seat in front of me.

When boarding planes I have a seat and then look down the line of passengers and wait for the other largest passenger to look at the ticket in hand then up at the number on the row right above my head.  Murphy is my travel agent.

I was lucky yesterday as the man carrying the special extender seat belt sat in my row, but not right next to me. we had an open buffer seat. I looked at him and smiled politely. He smiled back innocently, stowed his cowboy hat in the overhead bin, and said, “thank you sir” when I showed him how the arm rest folds up out of the way. I’m not sure where my mind was when he startled me but he had a look of pure excitement when, leaning across me toward the window he said, “I have never been up this high before”.

His wording and his excitement made me think a little. I leaned my seat back so he could get a better view. He wasn’t chatty, he just wanted to appreciate the fact that we were flying.

He was right. I was caught up in schedules, luggage, taking off my shoes, and my magazine that I almost forgot that flying through the air is pretty cool.

Just because it is normal doesn’t make it less awesome. I woke up in Philly, went to North Carolina, slept in Virginia, sat down with a friend in Boston, and got sorta bored in Miami, all in less than a week.

So thank you large man on his way to visit his mom for the first time in fourteen years. Thank you for reminding me that though lines may be annoying and some cheap motels fail to ask you if you want a non-smoking room, flying is pretty cool.

Because it is.

I’ll Say it Twice, Miami is Nice

There is a recurring conversation in my life about my enjoyment of urban life and my having grown weary of the suburbs. The question is always “why?” Why the cramped quarters and lack of parking? Why deal with crime and lack of a nice green yard for the small people to play on? Grit, dirt, danger: why?

Miami demonstrated why.

Sofitel Miami

It began in the hotel. I am normally not impressed with anything hotel related. One star or four it is still just a bed, TV, and normally a small desk and chair. Sometimes small variances but Salt Lake City or Siam, still the same old bed, TV, and maybe some stock art in a frame bolted to the wall.

My room at the Sofitel Miami had a zebra print desk chair and a the lounge chair set at an angle facing the window, not the TV. It got my attention.

Then the city.

Art deco in cinder block and pastel colors may not be my top choice in architecture but when it is everywhere, when it is a theme repeated in everything, it creates atmosphere. It creates what is my biggest answer to those who question city living and wonder why I cringe at strip malls. I like a feeling of place. I like to feel that wherever I am is somewhere.

Miami did that. It felt like somewhere.

Tamiami Trail, Little Havana

A friend of mine learned of my travel plans and suggested, adamantly, that I go visit Tamiami Trail aka Little Havana. He said I would like it. He is a smart guy.

City living

I’m not sure why a place with chickens roaming free appeals to me, but it does. I do not want chickens myself, but I like being where others do. Miami had chickens.

Miami also has cigars. Now realize that not only do I not smoke but my religion forbids it. That being said I found watching people roll cigars by hand fascinating.

Little Havana
Perhaps the crudest blade I have ever seen.

Some places that claim an ethnicity feel forced or fake, normally this happens when history has passed by and lame efforts of retrospective celebration are made. My neighborhood sports many more shamrocks than it does Irishmen, but little Havana worked.

Celia Cruz and Lincoln, a natural pair.

Driving down the Dolphin expressway holding back the urge to curse how everyone was driving ten mph slower than the limit, looking at decor that looked like my 1984 Traper Keeper, and listening to the Miami Vice theme in my head, I decided I like Miami. It feels like somewhere. It is not my style. It is not my favorite. But I would like to go back. I would like to spend more time in a place that is not a Target, not an Olive Garden, not a Wal Mart.

University of Miami

Rest in peace Blanche, Dorothy, and Sophia.

I am One of “Them” and so are “They”

I am not an expert on clothing. The Trad’s fascination with my footwear will tell you as much, yet I would wager I spend more time thinking about clothing than your average man. The level to which I fail in clothing myself properly yet still appear more focused on doing so than normal, says something about the sartorial state of the modern American male, but I don’t think it is completely our own fault.

Take for example a recent experience.

J. Press Cambridge

Much has been said and written about the Ivy style and the traditional brand J. Press. I recently found myself in the neighborhood. I was in town for business at the University and was wearing a charcoal suit, sky blue shirt, and straight fold blue pocket square; nothing groundbreaking but no visible mistakes (cue shoe joke here). I stepped inside.

Fall racks at J. Press

The shop is beautiful. Orderly racks of jackets and coats intermixed with collegiate memorabilia. I would have loved to spend hours just touching the tweeds and checking the dates on old deflated footballs. A grey haired man near the register was roused from his boredom by my entry and giving me a once over asked, “Can I help you?”

I had no money. I would be buying nothing and felt a little ashamed because of it. Not wanting to be too intrusive on a business I replied, “I just wanted to look around and check things out a bit.” He shrugged a “very well” and went about fidgeting with folded sweaters whatever else. He did surprisingly well at lingering around but avoiding anything close to eye contact or, heaven forbid, a smile.

coats and scarves at J. Press

I made a couple rounds of the racks, touching very little, thanked the man and walked out of the store. What fools the two of us were that day. Yes, both of us.

The man showed little to no interest in me or my business, which is fair as I was not likely to be business that day. But that once over and his curt manner did not communicate helpfulness but rather he was the steward of something to be protected from outside intrusion and in our case it felt as if he was more of a security guard at a museum watching to make sure I didn’t cross the velvet rope and touch the paintings.

I didn’t need a security guard I needed a docent, a tour guide.

Perhaps he would have been one but when I looked at the crusty old man I froze. My normal bold self retreated. Not only did I refrain from asking my long list of questions but I lost all desire to ask. I had small things like wanting to know if the stripes and colors on the scarves represented schools, which I know they do, but which represents who, I have no idea. I would like to know. I like hats. I also have one of the largest heads on the planet and am conformist enough to not want to look like I’m headed for a costume party. In that store was a long table piled high with head wear options and I didn’t touch a single one.


I should have asked. I could have asked but I didn’t.

I am surely not the only one struggling with personal insecurity and sartorial ignorance. It is a shame, and this is not the only such store where I have experienced this, that those who man the floor of such a menswear legends are repellent rather than receptive.

So what do I do now? Maybe I go to the Gap or some other affordable box where teenagers flirt with each other and expect me to unfold the entire stack of sweaters. I’m sure young Tiffany would be happy to tell me what Sarah thinks is so “way cute” for old guys like me to wear… which means my ignorance, and the ignorance of all like me, will continue.

I Use Pinterest Wrong: Tumblr

You see something you like and in a hybrid of a browser bookmark, tweet, and Tumblr click you have digitally pinned your new favorite recipe or blouse. Yes, I pin on Pinterest. I have one board named “inspiration” on which I stick pictures of stuff I like. Once pinned I can sit back and look at all the stuff I like all here before me. Mrs. Hammas says I do it wrong, and because she never is I have adjusted.

There is a new Tumblr called YesYouShould.

Brohammas is all original, or at least as self created. Yes you should is pure piracy. Beautiful, curated, piracy.

Little Pleasures

On the main street of old town Fredericksburg Virginia is a small storefront. The sign says Taste: Oil, Vinegar, Spice. I assumed it was some pampered chef sort of spot. Bless that 8 year old child for forcing me to go in.

Dark Chocolate Balsamic

Inside are rows and rows of silver kettles filled with oils and balsamics with matching sample cups. Swoon. Go get some CLICK HERE.

This same child on a walk near my Philadelphia home made me check out a new businness opened in a recently vacated warehouse. This newfound gem is a non profit group that breaks down movie sets once shooting is over and sells off all the stuff left behind… very cheaply.

Wood and brass suit caddy for under $20.

I’m not telling anyone where this goldmine is till my office is fully stocked.

The Sun Sets on Summer

If you have friends with children you know summer is over. Facebook feeds now consist of 60% photos of kids on the first day of school and 40% “shares” of how Obama is really an alien from Mars waiting to destroy the United States and eat all those children… who he will be able to easily find since we all posted on Facebook that they are in school.

I have not posted such a picture but only because the event hasn’t happened yet.  The sky is red but the sun hasn’t slipped over the horizon just yet.

Race Street Pier

Seersucker and white shoes are now faux pas and tweed will be here soon. Whatever. I say we go with these guys.

Penn’s Landing

Next week our schedule will be dictated by the district and a teacher, last week it was whatever fun we could glean from the internet. Mrs. Hammas shouted down the stairs, “what about dragon boat races?” I couldn’t hear her as I was sitting in the one square foot of cool space in my house, the spot right in front of the window unit, so I just shouted back, “what?” Which was interpreted as a yes.

Dragon boats out-pacing the U.S.S. Olympia

Her idea was a win.


As is always the case in a large city such as ours, when kids have no summer structure they start to tear down any structures they can find. Twas a shame that when visiting a local museum we found kids had scribbled graffiti in the wet cement, or plaster… or bronze. Whatever.

A friend asked me “who is Podin?”

Eating outdoors will soon be replaced with a cafeteria for the kids and for me… mostly airline food. I think the little ones and I will both pack sack lunches.

But in all this ending there is hope. Football season has begun, which defines hope, and even better, the city has shut off the fire hydrants.

Cooler days are coming

Because He is Good at What He Does: Kala Studios

I didn’t think it was all that long ago that we were sitting in my office watching youtube videos on how to get soda from a keg into a bottle without it foaming over and losing carbonation. We eventually figured it out (the trick is keeping the hoses in the freezer) and since then, he has figured out a few other things as well.

New Showroom in Fredericksburg VA

We drove south on I-95, got off in Fredericksburg, then kept driving off into the trees. Set back in the woods, on a dirt road, is a workshop full of saws and tools and two skilled hands.

Kaleo Kala in the shop

When he left Philly for the woods our beverage venture crumbled. He brewed a good root beer but that was never meant to be his art. Next week his art finds a new home when the Kala Studios open on the main strip in Fredericksburg’s old town. the sneak peak was worth the trip.

raw edge bench
grandfather plank
clockwork table
the “clock works” in the table

Rummaging through the stuff in his shop I barraged him with my ideas of what he could make out of different scraps of wood. He and I both know I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about and he pretends I’m not annoying. I appreciate that.

Dining table in his house

He is winning praise from interior designers in the D.C. area and developing a bit of a following. I’m not in that area but I’m part of his following. He builds a chair I have always loved but never been able to afford. If you have more money than you know what to do with and want to surprise me for Christmas, call Kaleo.

slab in progress