Saturday, May 06, 2006

Rich Literature, Sour Grapes

Last night, after falling into a food coma from over-eating a (delicious) Korean seafood pancake from Towson's best-kept secret (and most deceptively-named) Korean restaurant Tokyo Express, I attempted to revive myself by walking down to the St. Pius Community Carnival on York Road with my girlfriend. I hate carnivals, but there was nothing else to do - it was halftime during the Wizards-Cavaliers game and the Wizards hadn't lost, heartbreakingly, in overtime yet. And Amy likes carnivals. Even ones like this, where all the kids on the rides have cell phones and alternate their screams with checking for new messages.

I may not like carnivals, but I do like books and I remembered that years ago I got a great set of medical atrocities and gruesome disease books (profusely illustrated!) there that still shock visitors to Casa Warner to this day, so I made my way into the Used Book room inside the main St. Pius School building, hoping to find some more scores. There wasn't much there, and Amy quickly pointed out that all the books representing the "Religion" section were for one religion: Catholicism (hardly surprisng for a place that has a life-size statue of St. Pius X in the main lobby!). Anyway, while there we overheard the following conversation between a Carnival staff clerk and a book-browsing customer:

Clerk: "Are you looking for anything on particular? What kinds of books do you like?"

Customer: "Oh, I like rich literature. You know, like The DaVinci Code. You know the one they made a movie out of?."

A real bibliophile, I thought. One into rich literature. Like that obscure only to People Living In Caves #1 Bestseller The DaVinci Code. Way to not jump on the bandwagon, populist nitwit lady! I love Middle Class Suburban pretension. No, really.

The lady had Tom Clancy and John Grisham titles in her book pile. The classics, indeed.

"Yeah, that's rich literature!" I thought to myself. "Only if she's going by book sales and author incomes." But then maybe literature is now measured by the same standards as blockbuster movies, which garner more gravitas for their opening weekend ticket sales than whether they're actually good movies.


And speaking of Middle Class Suburban Pretention, the next night as we went up to Trader Joe's in Towson, we found out that our favorite parking spot - The Only Free Parking Lot Left in Towson, the municipality known for parking meters and parking tickets, was no longer. I'm talking about the lot behind the Towson Circle building (also known as the the Barnes & Noble building - or the old Hutzler's for any of you relics who can remember that far back), the lot off Virginia Avenue between Shealey Avenue and Joppa Road. I noticed a sign saying "$5.00 Parking" and two attendants standing next to a closed gate. "Is this because of today's Towson Spring Festival?" I asked the parking attendant. "No," he replied, "It's for the new restaurant across the street there."


That would be the new upscale wine bar VIN - which, in true wine snob spirit, is pretentiously pronounced "Vine." (Why not just spell it "VINE"? I guess for the same reason people name mundane little stores "Shoppe" - they think it looks classier.) I mispronouced it, of course, thinking it stood for Vehicle Identification Number, until the attendant corrected me (come to think of it, why isn't there a bar called VIN in Glen Burnie near the Motor Vehicle Administration?). And from the look of the place as we walked by it - everyone inside was middle-aged and dressed like our parents - it lived up to its pretensions. I mean, this is Towson, College Town, with the Recher Theater across the street, with skateboarding punks and idle teens hanging outside the Towson Commons just a block away.

But according to a an article in the Baltimore Business Journal (March 31, 2006), that's the point. Putting a wine bar in the last remaining retail space in Towson Circle is an attempt to create a new restaurant concept in College Town and appeal to the well-heeled Towsonites in their late 20s and 30s, a demographic that might otherwise hang out at The Grand Cru in Belvedere Square or at Kali's Court in Fells Point. In fact, VIN represents a partnership between the former executive chef of Kali's Court and the Cordish Co., a Baltimore developer, who poured close to $3 million into the "new concept" wine bar. The move completes the makeover of the $35 million redevelopment of Towson Circle (begun in 2001 on the site of the former Hutzler's department store) led by Cordish and Heritage Properties Inc. of Towson. Like Cyndi Lauper sang, money changes everything. Freakin' elitist wine snob corporate whores! I want my Free Parking lot back! Even the capitalist board game Monopoly has a Free Parking space!

Of course, as the parking attendant explained, you can park there for free if you're a patron of one of the businesses in the Towson Circle building (Trader Joe's, the gym, the furniture and mattress stores whose names escape me), but you still have to get a receipt from them. That doesn't sound too bad on the surface, but it's still a hassle and it also means that when those businesses aren't open, ya gotta pay. Like if you wanted to go to a show at the Recher Theater or walk across the street to the Towson Mall (which is usually a parking nightmare, much like the lower level parking outside of Trader Joe's), you're screwed.

And why the change? For a new restaurant with attitude, one that wants to corner the market on available parking by ensuring that its exclusive clientele get preferred spots. Well, here's hoping they go under, like so many other ill-conceived Towson restaurants before them (anyone remember the short-lived Gadgets, the Warner Brothers family restaurant in the old Towson Mall?). Wine bars are just the latest "Next Big Thing" libations fad like microbreweries and martini bars in the 90s. Don't be fooled by the buzzwords VIN uses to describe itself like "upscale," "high end" and "posh eatery." This is a place for snobs to hobnob, the elite to meet and greet, and for Towson Toffs to toast and boff.

I knew there were no free lunches in life. And now there is no free parking in Towson. A stupid clinging VIN(E) has taken over my little Garden of Parking Paradise. VIN, where the Snob Set dins and forks over the fins, is a sin. (Apologies to Ogden Nash.) And here's a poke at you, you're gonna choke on it, too. (Apologies to Pete Townshend.)

Related Links:
Vin Comes to Towson Circle (Baltimore Business Journal article)


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I particularly like this comment: "Even the capitalist board game Monopoly has a Free Parking space!"

-the Mighty Hammer

4:00 PM  

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