Thursday, October 11, 2007

I had another encounter with a Very Thorough Docent last week. It was at the Thrasher Carriage Museum in Frostburg, Maryland. James Thrasher, who made a fortune in something or other, collected horse-drawn carriages. When he died, he left the collection to Allegany County, which now houses the carriages in a refurbished train depot in Frostburg. It’s a pretty spectacular collection. It never occurred to me how many different kinds of carriages there were: mail wagons, milk wagons, delivery wagons, bus wagons, large family wagons, etc. (Also impressive was the fact that the carriages on the second floor of the museum were carried upstairs by hand.)

Anyway, my docent was Jay, a fifty-something guy with a scraggly gray beard, a baseball cap, and exactly the same plastic aviator frames I wore in eighth grade. Jay knew everything about every carriage in the place. He shared his knowledge with me in excruciating detail, carriage by carriage, complete with carriage jargon: “This one’s got the surrey with the fringe on top.” “This one’s got the elliptical springs instead of the buckboards.” Half the time I didn’t even know what the hell he was talking about, but I kept smiling and nodding.

And, like my Benjamin Harrison House docent back in Indianapolis, Jay didn’t want the moment to end. When I told him I had to get going, he asked me if I’d seen everything. I said I thought I had, but Jay said, “No, I don’t think you saw the Ladies’ Pony Phaeton.” So he showed it to me. And he told me all about it.

*****

Two days ago, here in New York, I went to the River Club. It’s a very exclusive private club on the eastside of midtown Manhattan. Harry and Bess ate there back in ’53. Rather naively, I walked in the front door and asked the guard, a green-uniformed Hispanic gentleman, if he had any pamphlets with some information about the club. Like it was my local Curves. He looked a little confused and said, “No, we don’t have nothin’ like that.” Clearly, the River Club is not hurting for members. Then I asked him if he could tell me a little bit about the club, and he said, “No, we’re not s’posed to talk to nobody ‘bout nothin’.” So all I got to see was the lobby, which was nice enough, with lots of plush carpeting and brass fixtures.

*****

I’m headed back to Philadelphia today. Tomorrow I fly to Ireland to meet Allyson. We’re spending two weeks there, mostly in a rented cottage in Donegal. I can’t wait!

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