Beyond the song (Singing Virginia, #29)

We walked over to the karaoke place less than a mile away from where we ate – a Vietnamese restaurant. It was the first time in a while where I’ve been singing in a place where I would trust the ethnic food. The walk was nice after filling my belly with Bún chả; bugs louder than I’ve heard in a long time, the weather perfect. The cobblestones that make up the sidewalk in Alexandria are uneven and I wonder how many women stumble and sprain their ankles thanks to a combination of high heels and cocktails. Even in my sensible sandals, I had a hard time keeping a steady path.

We get to the bar a bit ahead of Stefanie, a friend I hadn’t seen since high school, and bit ahead of the music. The Olympics are on TV; I think about how Molly and I used to watch them together and feel a pang of sadness. Summer or Winter, there was always an open invitation to sit on her couch every night and I often took her up on it. Sometimes there were snacks, sometimes wine, sometimes both, and occasionally neither. But there was always her company and the Olympics. Always the joy of seeing winners light up, and the support of other athletes around them. During the Olympics, everyone seems to support each other. Later that night, I would have my first dream of Molly, us talking about everything and nothing all at once.

Stefanie arrives and we hug. It’s really nice to see her and I love feeling instantly relaxed around those I haven’t seen in decades; one of the benefits of this road trip is the reconnections I’ve experienced and I’m grateful for each one. The bar is large, so it looks empty but by the time the karaoke starts at 9:30, there’s a list of people ready to sing. The song choices focus on classic rock and adult contemporary. For the first time since I’ve started this journey, the singers are racially diverse, which is reflective of where we are – outside our nation’s capital, in one of the larger cities in the US.

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Diversity lives here

I go up to the station to put in a song and introduce myself to Jerry, the KJ, and tell him about my journey: “You’re living the dream,” he says, and then gives me advice on where else to sing including a bar in Hollywood, CA he just came back from (Brass Monkey). He’s right, and not the first person to say this, but I’m never sure what to say when that happens. I feel guilty and embarrassed at the luxury I have to be able to do this.

I sing Walk Like and Egyptian because Dave likes that song and I think I can do it. I lose my place a couple of times during the fast-paced lyrics, but overall not too shabby – I will try again for sure and add it to my repertoire. I get high-fives as I leave the stage; one guy sort of holds my hand a little too long, though, and I need to tug free as I pass by. Stef says people at the bar were clapping along.

There are a lot of strong singers here; one of the best singers I’ve ever heard sang this night, belting out an incredible I Never Loved a Man. The woman on the stage was Aretha; you didn’t even need to close your eyes to believe it. When she was done, I went up to her and told her how amazing her voice was, and she thanked me warmly. I realized it was the first time I’ve ever gone up to someone to compliment their performance; it feels weird to do, but of course it’s appreciated. It happens to me quite often, yet somehow I’m still too shy to do it myself. Something I would like to change.

My final song is Sister Christian and I sing it while the men’s 400 meter freestyle relay is going on. I’m just as interested in the race as the rest of the bar, occasionally stumbling over the lyrics as I watch the wrong television screen as opposed to the monitor. Michael Phelps wins his nineteenth gold medal and people cheer for USA during my song. I smile, finish, and watch the replay, wishing I were on Molly’s couch.

The basics:

  • Location: Rock it Grill, Alexandria, VA
  • Miles traveled: 55
  • Songs sung: Walk Like an Egyptian (the Bangles), Summer of ’69 (Bryan Adams), Sister Christian (Night Ranger)
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Alexandria smells of money, but not for everyone.
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