Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Charm City. (part two)

"Good morning, Baltimore!
Every day's like an open door.
Every night is a fantasy.
Every sound's like a symphony.

"Good morning, Baltimore!
And some day when I take to the floor,
The world's gonna wake up and see...
Baltimore and me!" -- Tracy Turnblad

On Thursday night, Topps held a "Meet-and-Greet" for collectors. This was free to attend and you had to have a ticket, but they were giving them away at their booth for anyone who asked. Best of all, free food and an open bar. After I received my ticket, I started to wonder. Is this really a good idea? Dozens of angry and aggrieved collectors, all hopped up on unlimited booze, asking questions of the Topps Nomenklatura? This had the makings of a disaster. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea.

At around 4:50pm, the room began to fill. All of a sudden, a felt a tap on my shoulder and someone saying, "Hey, your Chris Harris from Stale Gum, right?"

I tried to play it coy with this person. While being a semi-famous internet celebrity has its privilege, sometimes you like to have some privacy. So I turned to face this person, extended my hand, and introduced myself as "Mr. Allen N. Ginter, a friend of Michael Eisner." Then I took a look at his face and realized, it was Tracy Hackler. No use fooling ol' T-Hack.

Looking around the room, I noticed a few familiar faces: The gals from A Cardboard Problem were seated squarely across from me, Greg "a.k.a. Beardy" and Kevin from the 1965 Topps and Orioles Card of the Day blogs were in the back. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a blue-shirted phalanx of a dozen or so taking their seats in the front three rows. The Freedom Card Board posse had made their entrance known.

Thank God for the open bar, because without it I don't think I would have survived the first hour. After about 45 minutes of corporate mumbo-jumbo, and four Sam Adams Boston Lagers, I had had enough. So, I slipped into the mens room and split a bottle of Robitussin with T-Hack.

When we returned, it was time for questions; most of which were predictable. "What is Topps doing to avoid the use of sticker autographs in high-end products?" "What's is like to have an exclusive MLB license?" "How is Stephen Strasburg... blah, blah, blah, Strasburg, blah."

After about 15 minutes of this, I decided to raise my hand. But before I was recognized, Susan of ACP was called on.

"Are you ever going to bring back Topps Total?"

Huh? ... Did... she... just... ask...


No. Stay calm. Show no anger or other emotions. How could she possibly have known that I was about to ask about Topps Total? Strange. Could it be that somehow she was able to establish a one-way telepathic link with my inner thoughts? What else could she know? Maybe I'm putting too much thought into this? Fuck it, I thought, and went back to the bar for another Sam Adams.

After the meet-and-greet, I took some time to press-the-flesh and pass out my "Jefferson Burdick Has A Posse" stickers to my fans. I took the train back to The Republic, got home and fixed myself a John Daly. Then I put a Zappa album on the stereo, popped a Tylenol PM, and watched the trees outside my balcony getting lashed around in the wind.

Wednesday. Day Three. No more time for pussyfooting around, time to buy. I've scoped out the floor for the past two days, and yes, it was now time to strike.

I drove up from the Republic of Fairfax, parked the car in Glen Burnie, and took the light rail into town. Contrary to the stereotype, or what you've seen in The Wire, Baltimore isn't such a bad place. I've seen urban decay, poverty, and blight first hand -- after all, I did go to college in Camden, New Jersey, The Most Dangerous City in America. And yes, there are places in this town you just do not go -- especially after dark.

One thing that Baltimore has in abundance is beggars and street peddlers. I was at the Light Rail station outside the Convention Center, waiting for the train home on Thursday, when a gentleman in an Orioles t-shirt demanded that I "Let me (i.e. him) have fifty cents!"

Excuse me? Let you have fifty cents? No "please" at the end of your sentence? And what would happen if I don't give you fifty cents?

I didn't want to start trouble, so I gave the man a strong "fuck you" stare and barked "No." He never bothered me again.

This was not an isolated incident, as it happened at least three times during the course of The National. A more honest way to hustle for a buck are the small armies of bottled water salesmen that seem to occupy every street corner. "ICE COLD WATTTTAH!.... ONLY A DOLLLLLLAH!" Judging by the size of some of the bankrolls, selling bottled water (and soft drinks, and Gatorade, et al) on the streets of Baltimore on a hot Summer day can be a very lucrative endeavor. There isn't much overhead -- just a cooler, some ice, and a couple of cases of bottled water that you can buy in bulk at BJ's, Sam's Club and the like. If this whole graduate school/gonzo journalism thing doesn't work out for me, I think I've found my calling: Baltimore Bottled Water Salesman.

Wednesday was my designated "wax day" and I started out with a retail box of the new Allen & Ginter for $45. Retail is the same as Hobby, just two less "hits" per box. Why pay $35 extra for something you don't really want anyway?

Indeed. Just at that moment, I noticed a sign: "TOPPS STRASBURG LINE FORMS HERE AT 1:00." Hmmm... I checked the time and it was 12:45. Maybe I can wait 15 minutes, open this box at the Topps booth & get the Stephen Strasburg card I missed out on Wednesday!

Why not? But first, Mother Nature called.

Five minutes later, where there had been no line at all, all of a sudden the line was already starting to form! Holy shit! Where did all these people come from? Fortunately, I was able to get in line at a place that guaranteed me (provided I could wait) a Strasburg.

About 90 minutes later, I got to the Topps booth, dutifully opened ten packs out of my Allen & Ginter box, and received my $100 bill with Stephen Strasburg's face on it. It wasn't until after I walked away from the Topps booth that I flipped the card over and noticed the serial number.


One away from his jersey number! What are the chances?

Now with my prize in-hand, off to buy more wax. I wasn't in the mood for any new stuff, older wax from the 90s and early 2000s mostly. One waxbox on my "bucket list" is 1993 Finest, but I only saw one dealer with any, and at $295 it seemed a price too steep. Hardly anything from the late-90s or early-00s was to be found, so I settled for a box of 2003 Flair for $40.

I ran into T-Hack again, this time just outside the Beckett booth, chatting with Chris Olds and the ACP gals. I don't know why everyone hates on Hackler. Check that, I do know why: jealousy. Tracy Hackler is just living the dream. He's got the greatest job in the world: writing for Beckett -- and gets paid to do it! No wonder there's so much hate.

After this improptu gathering, I decided to wander around some more. Card shows like this are great for people watching. Big crowds around the Blowout and Dave & Adam's tables.

Who are these people? Where do they come from? Sweet Jesus, there are a hell of a lot of them -- still screaming around the tables at four-thirty in the afternoon on a Friday. Still dry-humping the American Dream, that vision of a Big Mojo Hit!!! somehow emerging from an overpriced pack in the chaos of a stale convention hall.

Big Strike in the Charm City. Get the case hit and go home rich. Why not? I stopped by the Atlanta Sports Cards table and picked up a rack box of 2004 Fleer Platinum (four autographs per box), thinking as always that some idle instinct might carry the whole thing off.

But no. Angel Berroa, Chris Bootcheck, Dan Haren and Eric Gagne were my four autographs. Just another forty-eight bucks down the tube. Bastards! No. Calm down. Learn to enjoy busting shit packs. There's still two more days to go. Who knows what might happen?

The National concludes with Part Three, coming soon...


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say I'm loving the hell out of this series and eagerly await the conclusion. Big tip of the cap :)

Joe S. said...

Thank you for bringing up the jealousy aspect about Hackler, Beckett, et al.

I've made this argument a million times (OK, once or twice) to other certain, generally negative bloggers and have ALWAYS been shot down. People hate Beckett because those writers get paid to do what we do for free. Is their pricing a bit off? Sure. But people talk about it constantly. Love them or hate them, they get attention, and that's the name of the journalism game! Would you rather have a million readers, and 600,000 of them hate your guts, or 100,000 readers but they all worship you?

The haters pay the bills.

Anyhow, just wanted to agree wholeheartedly about the Beckett jealousy. There's not a single blogger out there who wouldn't jump at the chance to write for Beckett.

dayf said...

That was my fault: I asked Sooz to ask the Topps Total question. I didn't think gonzo journalists took requests.

Joe S.: I wouldn't.

PunkRockPaint said...

Let me have a Jefferson Burdick Has A Posse sticker!

(Yeah, that's right... No please!)