Rain, Rain, Go Away
I traveled a lot in May, which sadly coincided with each Nats home stand. So I was fired up to get back to the park last night. What made the night even more exciting was going with a friend who had never been. Pulling into Lot H, located on Half Street about three blocks from the Centerfield Gate, the skies were cloudy, an ominous sign. By the time we parked, found the elevator, meandered through the office building lobby (Lot H is awkward) and made our way to the street, the skies had opened up. As we stepped outside, it was pouring and the wind was blowing so hard that a girl in a sundress did a Marilyn Monroe "Seven Year Itch" impression.
Convinced it was all going to blow over, our group of four headed to the stadium, stopping at a weird-looking half-golf cart, half-van on Half Street. My buddy Jamie explained they had great turkey chili that you can take into the stadium. The company is called On The Fly, and they have a van/stand set up in Chinatown that I had seen before. Jamie and Andrea each ordered the turkey chili, a generous portion of piping hot chili that tasted better than it looked, with red beans and turkey smothered in chili sauce that provided a spicy flavor (though perhaps a little too dry).
I should have followed their lead; instead, my friend Sarah and I split a veggie empanada. According to the sign, the empanadas are brought fresh from Julia's Empanadas, the Connecticut Avenue staple and a personal favorite. I love Julia's, but the empanada I had was a disservice to them. Maybe I should have gone Jamaican beef, because the veggie was gross. It tasted like three-day old falafel served from Dmitri Young's shoe.
Entering the stadium with a Nats Park neophyte is rewarding. Watching someone take in the view from centerfield and all the nuances the two-month old ballpark offers, Sarah said, "It looks like a theme park." I did a double take; with the Red Loft looming from high above, the kids' play area to the left and the strings of lights cutting across the gray sky, I had to agree with her. And similar to the experience of being at a theme park when it's raining, the fun at the ballpark was constrained last night.
The highlight of my evening came when I got a cheese steak from Steak of the Union. The meat was cooked fresh on the grill in front of me and the staff was happy to go light on the onions and peppers. The best part, in the authentic Philly style, was the massive amounts of Cheez Whiz they slopped on the soft roll. Although the sandwich was beyond messy -- I must have gone through 20 napkins and needed 50 more -- the taste delivered. I have been enjoying the smell coming from the Steak of the Union at every game I attend, and the final product does not disappoint.
What did disappoint was the ordeal I went through trying to get nachos from the Bullpen Burrito stand in section 131. As we got on line, an irate guy was demanding to speak to a manager. I dismissed him as some dude who got beat up in high school. In retrospect, I should have taken a lesson from this guy; it took nearly a half hour to get a plate of nachos.
Although the workers behind the counter were hustling and working hard, the level of inefficiency was jaw-dropping. I think the only food-serving processes with worse results are in the aftermath of natural disasters. If one worker was serving a tray of nachos, the other would meticulously refill the latex gloves while another arduously worked at balancing the ratio of sour cream to guacamole jars on some unseen balance beam. The effort was there, but this isn't field day in kindergarten, just serve some nachos. When we finally got the nachos, they were good but certainly not worth the wait.
As the deluge continued, we explored as much of the covered area in the stadium as possible. Sarah was impressed; I have yet to go to the Red Loft with first-timers and have them leave disappointed. My only complaint up there is the monopoly of Miller products. You really expect me to walk back down three flights of stairs if I prefer Budweiser? The night was getting later, and the PA urged us to stick around; the show would go on. When the time came to decide to stay or go, I was outvoted, and we left.
Although I am never upset on a night when I eat a great cheese steak, I was really looking forward to watching a ballgame. Mother Nature intervened, and I will return another day. Walking out of the stadium the way a teenager begrudgingly comes inside at dinnertime, I heard the song "Hey Ya" by OutKast playing. Perhaps sensing my frustrations, the security guards at the Centerfield Gate broke into some serious dancing that may have even been choreographed. After seeing a few 50 plus folks shake it like a Polaroid picture, I could not help but leave with a smile on my face.
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