Friday, November 11 2022
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, NY
I took the day off work so Gretchen and I could drive to Baltimore today to attend a performance of Randy Rainbow, a YouTube celebrity who rose to fame from his hilarious comic parodies of various showtunes, whose lyrics he uses to roast Donald Trump and various homophobic politicians in elaborately-produced videos. I didn't learn about Randy Rainbow until a couple months ago, but he's apparently well known in the gay community.
Powerful had arrived last night and would be watching the house and the dogs, so we hit the road without them. Our first stop was the restaurant Veganized in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where we stopped for an early 11:00am lunch. I ordered an appetizer of pan-seared mushrooms, and it was one of the most delicious things I've eaten in a long. They were meaty and a little tough, and with a little lemon juice squeezed on them, they were exactly what I wanted my mouth. A mushroom sandwich I'd ordered was a bit more disappointing; it was kind of flavorless aside from notes of soap that seemed to be coming from the charred fennel. Gretchen ordered some sort of reuben, and though she loved it, she couldn't eat more than half of it.
We stopped to charge up at the Electrify America chargers at the Deptford Mall near Philadelphia in New Jersey. As usual, we left our car to charge and went to walk around the mall, hoping to organically stumble upon a Dunkin Donuts. The mall was surprisingly busy and full of young people, probably because there's no school on Veteran's Day. Unfortunately, there is no Dunkin Donuts in that particular mall, so while Gretchen was studying her Spanish, I went in stood in line at the Starbucks in the food court (it was much more popular than any Dunkin Donuts) to get us our favorite coffee drinks containing oat milk. A downpour that had been falling earlier had let up a little when we headed across the parking lot to continue our drive southwestward.
Bands of heavy rain made the drive less pleasant than it normally would've been, but fortunately we weren't stuck in traffic too often.
Once we arrived in Downtown Baltimore, Gretchen did a search of charging places and found that there was a level II charger in a nearby parking garage that was going to charge us $16 for the evening, though the electricity for charging our car would be free. As we left the parking structure, we were a little turned around and soon found ourselves on a desolate street with lots of graffiti and run-down buildings. We're not used to seeing much urban decay in cities, but evidently it's never far away in Baltimore. Things looked more gentrified in the vicinity of the Hippodrome Theatre, where Randy Rainbow would be performing. But then we went to see what the restaurant options were and found only two where a vegan might get something to eat, which is significantly worse than what one would expect in 2022 for a neighborhood near a large entertainment venue. Gretchen's parents would be meeting us in Baltimore tonight and Gretchen's father had already decided we should eat at an Afghan restaurant called Maiwand Grill. There was a Vietnamese place nearby, but in the end we deiced the Afghan place looked better.
Gretchen's father is like me in that he's the kind of guy who prefers to leave early so there's no chance he could possibly be late. Also, like me, he gets anxious if something unforeseen arrises that might delay his travel. He's a tightly-wound guy and can get moody in these circumstances, something Gretchen grew up dreading and which I've seen on occasion. Since he seemed to be running late today, we could only imagine the steam pouring out of his ears. Gretchen left him a messages suggesting he part in the parking structure we'd chosen so he could chage his car (also electric). But of course he'd already made arrangements for where he would be parking. It turned out that the reason for his delay was a partial closure of one of the big highway, which had seen him and his wife sitting in a traffic, unable to move at all, for long periods of time. Despite all that, he made it to Baltimore with time to spare for a fast casual meal at Maiwand. By the time they arrived, Gretchen and I were drinking pomegranate juice and I'd taken a bite of what should've been a potato samosa. One of the ones in our order, though, was actually a meat samosa, and that was the one I'd taken a bite out of. Other than that, though, the food at Maiwand was unexpectedly good. The food we could eat was largely the same as what one might get in an Indian restaurant, though there were also Middle Eastern dishes like humus and pita. Gretchen and I had arrived at Maiwand at around 5:30, and it was pretty empty then. But by the time we left a little after 7:00pm, there weren't any empty tables in its big dining room.
After dinner, we walked across the street into the Hippodrome, which is a classic Beaux-Arts entertainment venue similar to the ones where one sees shows in Broadway. We had VIP tickets, which would allow us to participate in post-show activities with Randy Rainbow. While the others were getting popcorn at the concession counter, I ordered a plastic cup of merlot, which I was allowed to bring into the theatre to sip at my leisure.
There was a considerable period between when we got to our seats (near the front, of course) and when the show began. During this period, Gretchen was having a long conversation with her parents that I couldn't hear and, since Gretchen was facing away from me, I couldn't hear. But when Gretchen went to the bathroom, I showed my in-laws photos of the cabin, including the dock. It always blows people's minds when they learn that I built the dock all by myself.
And then the show began. Gretchen and I had been wondering how Randy Rainbow would adopt his painstakingly-edited YouTube videos for a live performance. The solution he came up with was to have a small band (a drummer, a bassists, a horn player, and a keyboardist) perform with him live while he voiced the lead vocal track of the videos. Otherwise, they played on the screen behind pretty much the way they would on YouTube. Of course, this is a bit of a simplification, since there were issues of timing to be dealt with. He interrupted at least one song to engage in some comedic banter with the audience, and somehow someone knew just where to start the video when he jumped back into the song.
Randy Rainbow's humor is delightfully dense and full of clever asides and turns of phrase. Donald J. Trump becomes Donald Jessica Trump and Attorney General Garland is assumed to have the first name "Judy," for examples, and everyone is referred to a "gurl." Something about the high-quality production values of this material and the straightforward, no-shit statements makes it feel like something really is being done about this "jiz stain on our democracy." (Randy Rainbow didn't actually perform "Lock Him Up Yesterday!" tonight, but it's especially dense with what makes his videos amazing.)
In addition to showing us his videos, Randy Rainbow also gave us a synopsis of how he came to start making YouTube videos, which began modestly. He'd use audio clips of celebrities (such as Mel Gibson) behaving badly, and edit them into phone conversations that Rainbow acted like he was having with them. This is a primitive version of the faux CNN-style video interviews that form parts of many of his videos to this day.
I mentioned that Randy Rainbow also stopped occasionally to interact with the audience, and it was while doing this that he demonstrated how fast and clever his mind is in extemporaneous settings. He kept playfully flirting with a couple men in the front row, eventually referring to them as "boyfriends" and asking the audience for ideas of what to do in Baltimore (they shouted out that he should go to Leon's). Someone also mentioned that Baltimore has a high murder rate, which Randy Rainbow quickly turned into "murder capital of the world." Later, when Rainbow was performing a song and referred to the OJ Simpson murder case as though it wasn't clear who the murderer was, the audience shouted out that of course OJ was guilty. Rainbow stopped singing at that point and said, "It's just a song! Jeez! You take your murder way too seriously in the murder capital of the world!"
Overall, it was a great a thoroughly entertaining show. Afterwards, those of us with VIP tickets were encouraged to stay in the theatre so Randy Rainbow could answer our questions. But before he came out, a cameraman on Rainbow's staff came out to tell us how the official meet & greet would go. To keep Rainbow from getting covid, it would have to be socially-distanced, which meant we wouldn't go anywhere near Rainbow. We would instead be asked to step on a spot on the carpet and Rainbow would be ten feet behind us, posing in a position where a photo taken by the cameraman would make it seem like we were close together. As the photographer explained all this, he made us give verbal acknowledgement en en masse of our agreement to abide by the various rules.
Among the things we learned during the meet & greet was that Randy Rainbow has a seven year old superfan. She was in the audience tonight and she looked and acted much older than seven. Randy was so touched by her superfandom that he asked his handlers to find him something to give her. Others in the audience had brought gifts for Randy Rainbow, some of which were offered duing the various audience participation sequences.
After waiting in line to do the awkward socially-distanced photo thing, we posed for our pictures with Randy Rainbow some distance away. At that point, for whatever reason, Gretchen's mother decided to ask Randy about his song about karens. Gretchen's mother is named Karen, and she has apparently been under a social media rock all this time, because tonight was apparently the first time she'd ever encountered the term "karen" used to mean an obnoxiously entitled white woman. While waiting in line, Gretchen and I had patiently explained to her that "karen" is just a generic name meant to refer to any entitled white woman, perhaps selected from among all the common female first names because there are very few Black Karens. Randy Rainbows intention, obviously, was not to offend people with the name Karen. Despite all that, Gretchen's mother felt it necessary to discuss this with Randy Rainbow himself, and she'd apparently been plotting to bring it up while we'd been waiting in line. Rainbow seemed a little surprised to be asked about the term "karen" by someone named Karen, and Gretchen did her best to explain that her mother wasn't actually offended and understood (though perhaps she didn't) that the term refers to a type of person, not any specific person, and that the intention was to be funny. Later, I joked to Gretchen that somehow her mother (named Karen) had managed to be something of a karen on the subject of karens. How meta-karen!
Out on the street in front of the Hippodrome, Gretchen and I hugged her parents goodbye and drove to our hotel, some distance to the north. We were staying at the Biddle Street Inn, a small hotel that seems to operate entirely via bookings through AirBnB. The staff had been so bad at a communicating, repeatedly promising to send essential information that they never sent, that I was wondering if we were going to find an actual inn at the end of our drive. But there was indeed an inn at the end of our drive that even came with free parking. Our room was from a different era and uncommonly nice, featuring very high ceilings and elaborate crown moulding.
Gretchen in the mostly-empty and strangely-decorated upstairs dining room at Veganized in New Brunswick, NJ.
Gretchen and me just before the Randy Rainbow show in our seats in the Hippodrome Theatre.
The ornate ceiling above the Hippodrome Theatre' stage. Various lamps and supports are installed in the holes drilled into the artwork.
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