copyright Bill Widener 2000


I think the biggest local response I ever got to anything I've written was the year I introduced the "Real Best of Lexington" with an essay about what I really love about this town - which is the cast of "extras" who've been showing up in my life and neighborhood, ever since I moved here in 1987.

I wrote about shouting/pointing guy and Umbrella Man and a host of others.

Readers emailed for weeks and weeks to give me the "inside stories" on these people - whom I'd seen for years, but never knew anything about. Someone told me Umbrella Man had a thing for Ramen Noodles, for example, and would buy them by the case, every time they went on sale at Kroger.

I don't know if that's true, but I thought it was touching that someone would take time out of their day to share that information with me.

(I'm not being sarcastic.)

There are new characters now maybe I'll find out more about them before I have to introduce this year's Best Of (on September 27) - by all means, I encourage the readers to fill me in.

But I was thinking about all this last week when I had two of the best back-to-back nights of my social life this year - and both of them downtown, both on weeknights. (Next Saturday is shaping up to be just as lively, with both Bela Fleck AND Lucinda Williams in town.)

First: Wednesday night was the one-night-only premiere of Lost at the Pershing Point Hotel, at the Kentucky Theatre (always one of my favorite destinations, on most any evening).

Thanks to a few local ties - and some work on the part of key people involved in the film - Lexington got to be one of the debut cities.

We mustered a crowd, and headed first to the "Venezuelan restaurant" that we all wanted to go to the night of the Lyle Lovett show.

OK. It's not Venezuelan at all (I had that part wrong), but it was like nothing we've ever had here. I believe I ate some plantains (and I'm pretty sure I'm still pronouncing them incorrectly) and some yucca (which I think is a root vegetable that I can't spell or pronounce), some paella, and a vegetarian dish that we now can't find on the menu, but which tastes a lot like ratatouille (which I can both spell and pronounce, after years of practice). Probably our favorite item was a bread that we immediately dubbed "fat balls," because they appear to be little orbs of polenta or cornmeal, with a scoche of cheese, fried in fat (and yet, miraculously, not greasy). We don't know what they're really called, but when we asked for "more fat balls!!" they kept 'em comin'.

It's not that I don't love the meat'n' three tradition this town possesses in such abundance - but nothing thrills me like the opening of something as new and different as this.

Then we went to the movie, and it turned out to be THE place to be for crowd watching. I've never seen so many feather boas in one room - if I'd known, I'd have surely worn mine.

I was especially pleased to note so much diversity in a Lexington crowd - attendees included every age group, gender, occupation, race, economic strata, and sexual orientation that you can think up (please don't think I mean to stereotype that last category - or suggest that I could tell by looking that someone was gay - it's just that when I see two women hold hands and kiss on the mouth, I often infer "lesbian couple").

Everyone mixed and mingled and got along famously - readily crossing lines of income, gender, race, religion, political persuasions, and sexual preferences.

We need more events like that.

The next night wasn't anything half as dramatic. Just dinner and a movie with my friend K, which turned into coffee and a movie, because he and his buddies were working on some intricate football pool that I couldn't possibly understand, even if I wanted to (and I didn't), prior to a Saturday party.

But again, there was just something about downtown that made it a perfect night.

We went to a great café and sat on the sidewalk, sipping Turkish coffee while we watched a large, dramatic storm rolling in over the skyline. We looked at some art, paid our tab, and then hiked another 50 steps back to the Kentucky Theatre where we could catch the last showing of Made.

At the concession stand, he ordered beer (which, I'm assured, improves the quality of even the most mediocre movie - but I'm lobbying for a decent wine list), and then wrapped his arms around me jokingly, adding, "and, oh yeah, anything my baby wants."

I looked up at him and said I should order every Lindt chocolate bar in the case, whereupon he informed the concessions staff that we'd also be needing an empty popcorn bucket, confessing in a loud whisper, "she's bulimic, so she's kind of expensive but I love 'er anyway." (Guess I won't be going back there anytime soon.)

We went in, and enjoyed a GREAT movie, in a tremendous setting. My only real lament of the evening was that we were two of six people in the entire theatre.

Sure, it was a school night. And we know that most people have jobs.

But if we want a city that feels like a city, we have to show up and support the places that are doin' it right.