Richmond, Virginia, May 30, 2020. I drove with Meg to her latest travel gig then planned on a flight home on Sunday. She’d found a beautiful studio in the historic district of downtown Richmond, second floor of a building circa 1870 with 12′ ceilings and tall windows, hardwood floors and updated everything. I loved it for her! She was actually born in Richmond, though she left at only three months old. Still, we joked about her coming back to her birthplace and learning all about the area.
We had the landlords for dinner Friday night and had a great time. Later that evening, we found ourselves with front row seats to the first night of protests after the killing of George Floyd (*Note, this Wiki article on Mr. Floyd has interestingly removed any previous mention of him holding a pistol to the belly of a pregnant woman he assaulted.) At first I was rather impressed with how organized and peaceful it all seemed. Meg and I were hanging out our windows listening to the cadence of chants and watching history being made. People were shouting, cars were honking, but it was peaceful. The next night, though, what began peacefully in the evening hours, became something entirely different as midnight approached. There was a palpable change in the atmosphere. An ugly mood seemed to take over where the peaceful protesting left off. Suddenly I was nervous about having our windows open, and I proceeded to darken our room so we couldn’t be seen.
Police in SWAT gear quietly moved in and blocked a cross street between Broad and Grace, mostly watching and waiting as if alerted to something we weren’t aware of yet. Helicopters hovered over the city, and there was an eerie almost movie-set quality to the scene. A GRTC bus had been set ablaze along with a RiteAid store. A block over, dumpsters were ignited and tear gas was deployed. The pawn shop below us became a target, and thugs attempted to break in from both the front where it was caged and the back where it had a steel vault-type door. I saw several cops come running after them, one had his rifle drawn. They were chased away, but only temporarily.
The tension was ridiculous. When you hear the words, ‘things are fluid,’ you think you know what that means. But when you’re on the front line of a near riot, it’s the perfect description. The quiet becomes ominous. The adrenaline starts pumping, and fear, at least for me, outweighs curiosity. Meg was bolder, brasher … and angry. Around 3:00 a.m., via OnStar, she had discovered they’d gone through the parking lot behind our building and trashed and looted every vehicle, including her new GMC Terrain. She’d taken a video, which meant she could see them, and they could see her. Desperately trying to make her see sense, I reminded her it was just a car. It was just a car.
I was scheduled to fly out the next evening. Hating to leaving her there, I was grateful to the landlords who took her under their wing. They boarded up the first floors of their downtown buildings, and they had Meg and Luna stay with them a couple nights while she started her new job. The hospital, just a few blocks away on the same historic street, let her leave work early that first week to avoid any danger. Poor Luna, her anxiety apparent, has slowly begun to adjust to her location with the help of new friends and a wonderful doggie daycare just across the street from the apartment. Things have calmed down, but Meg hasn’t. She can’t sleep. Even though her building is quite secure, she doesn’t feel safe. Every night or weekend holds the the quiet threat of the unknown. This is an historic area with lots of reminders of the Confederacy and all it stood for. There continues to be organized, peaceful gatherings nearby, but thankfully her street has remained relatively quiet. Three weeks later her car is still being repaired. The landlord has put an extra lock on her door, and she bought security cameras for inside her place. She had been so looking forward to her time there. She’s met some great people and made several new friends right in her building. But it has certainly not been at all what she expected.
We’re going up to visit her in July. Maybe that’ll add some normalcy and fun to her time there. I hope so. It’s still a beautiful area, but I’ll be glad when she’s back in Florida again.