Rainmaker in a Nationals Hat

I would just like to publicly apologize for this rain-soaked week the Washington area has borne. My fault. Sorry.

See, I decided to go to a baseball game for the first time since I visited the “new” Comiskey back in its inaugural season in 1991. So you can forgive me for thinking that the baseball gods would offer up good weather for my first game in eighteen years.

Nationals Park on flickr.com by afagen via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license.

Instead, it rained all day and the Nats game against the Cards was eventually postponed, but not until we’d sat there, noshing on half-smokes from a Ben’s Chili Bowl outpost (apparently not as good as the real thing) and drinking not-too-overpriced beers, for two hours. And it has rained pretty much ever since.

Still, the rain sparsened out the crowd (not that the Nats are drawing huge these days anyway), giving me and my compadres run of the house.

The park’s physical dimensions are quite human-scaled, and while it holds over forty thousand, it doesn’t seem that large. For six hundred million in taxpayer dollars, you kind of want imposing, but I digress. Our upper right terrace seats, at $10 each (plus almost that weight in fees), offered very good views of the field, barely even worthy of the nosebleed moniker.

While we were split over the aesthetic merits of the new in-motion statues of former Washington players, and the art in general at the park, it was, on the whole, a decent way to spend a rainy afternoon, even if we didn’t see any baseball. After eighteen years of waiting, another season without won’t kill me.

(Image courtesy of afagen via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license.)

Book Mining: The Evolution of Used Book Stores

Hands gloved against paper cuts and the cold, an employee of Wonder Book flipped quickly through our six bags of paperbacks and hardbacks to assess the value of the unwanted bounty we had brought to his Frederick, Maryland, storefront. He spent perhaps twenty seconds per bag, deftly pushing aside the good books at the top to see the makeweights at the bottom of each bag, before mentally tallying up our reward: $20 in store credit, mostly due to an unopened DVD. Deal.

Wonder Book

I was reminded of this employee’s efficient calculation of words’ worth by Bob Thompson’s article in the Washington Post (“Twice-Sold Tales,” Monday, December 29, 2008) about his employer’s own experience sorting books. Profiling Wonder Books and its owner, Chuck Roberts, Thompson finds Roberts in a 54,000-square-foot warehouse, filled with books:

Dressed in a sweat shirt, sweat pants and funky shoes, he’ll stand for hours at a sorting table in the middle of the warehouse. That’s where he and a longtime employee, Ernest Barrack, determine the fate of the books in the “raw boxes” that come in every day.

“It’s like book mining. You never know what you’re going to get,” Roberts says.

The increasing sophistication of local used book stores like Wonder Book and the constantly moving McKay’s has, I fear, begun to leave me feeling less like a book miner than a book recycler. I don’t mind trading six bags of books and leaving with one in return—books deserve to be read and returned to the world—but anymore, that $20 store credit won’t buy you five tattered paperbacks.

Once upon a pre-Internet time, entering a used book store meant the possibility of finding a pulp science fiction novel for a quarter or a stash of Starlog magazines, the whole pile for a fin. Now, everything is priced according to complicated algorithms that chart the book’s price volatility across three continents for the last four months. As a kid, I could grab handfuls of books and get them all, sampling genres and authors with abandon; last time I was at Wonder Book, a month ago, I heard a mother tell her son, “You can only have one book.”

The New York Times also has an article recently (David Streitfeld, “Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It,” Saturday, December 27, 2008) about the pressures all book sellers are facing, from publishers to people peddling books out of their closets. I respect that used book stores need to turn a profit, and I’m certainly guilty (if that’s the right word) of hunting down book bargains on the Internet, but I can’t help wishing that there were more wonder when I entered Wonder Book.

Hoagie, Not Sub: Taylor Gourmet Deli in DC

A new deli opened recently on the resurgent H Street corridor in Northeast Washington, DC, promising a taste of Philadelphia. No, not cheesesteaks…

9th Street Italian hoagie on proper damn bread.

Taylor Gourmet Deli, run by two Philly ex-pats, offers hoagies and chicken cutlet sandwiches, all on bread from Sarcone’s Bakery in Philadelphia.

No roast pork sandwiches, alas, but they do a fine job indeed with the hoagies, as the meticulously crafted 9th Street Italian pictured above demonstrates. That’s a properly built hoagie—you get everything in every bite.

The ingredients are top notch and in good proportion, with no one ingredient overwhelming another. A sausage sandwich (the Church Street) had hand-made sausage and well-seasoned red peppers, just a little crisp, allowing the textures of the sausage and bread and pepper to stand out, each in their own moment.

In the 9th Street Italian, the oil and vinegar, that often overlooked component of a real hoagie, fulfilled its role nicely, greasing the butcher paper and giving good mouth-feel but not soaking the sub, even after sitting for a bit, because of the sandwich’s construction. These things do matter, and you’re getting them at a price comparable to a lowly “sub” from one of the far-from-distinguished national chains.

The Washington Post write-up of Taylor Gourmet Deli notes that the lines there can be long, but I had the hoagies delivered for a modest surcharge. The person who took the order over the phone was gruff in a pleasant, Philadelphia manner and the delivery driver was good about keeping me apprised of where my hoagies were.

Hopefully they’ll get their website upgraded from the current placeholder soon.

A fine culinary drive up 95 without, you know, driving anywhere.