Durham/DBAP—The first pitch for yesterday’s game between the Durham Bulls and the Norfolk Tides was scheduled for 5:05pm. On my way to the game I stopped by a friend’s house in Old West Durham. At 4:30 I left for the game and made it only two blocks toward DBAP before buckets of rain came washing down. Sitting at a stop sign near Locopops on Hillsborough Road, I emailed Bull’s Media Relations Coordinator, Zach Weber, and asked him if he had an estimate on a new first pitch time (Bulls’ groundskeeper Scott Strickland is by necessity a functional meteorologist). Zach responded immediately, saying, “It’s going to be a while, this storm is big.” He promised to email me and other members of the media when there was news of a first pitch.
I texted my friend two blocks behind me and asked if I could return and bide some time at her house (I live in Chapel Hill) while I waited out the rain delay. But we decided to go to Geer Street Garden instead. The restaurant was celebrating its one-year anniversary yesterday, as well as Cinco de Mayo. Regular customers were given cards to redeem for a free plate of barbecue and one-cent draft beers.
Owner Andy Magowan opened Geer Street on the corner of Geer and Foster streets, one block from the legendary Durham Athletic Park, which opened in 1926 and, of course, stands preserved. In only a year Geer Street has become an old favorite for a variety of patrons.
Sitting at the bar, I turned my tape recorder (normally aimed at Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo and players on game day) asked Andy to reflect on the restaurant’s first year.
AM: It’s been a wonderful first year. I appreciate how everyone has responded. My goal was create a convivial place where everybody could feel normal. I think a lot of restaurants are trying to make customers feel special. I like places that make me feel relaxed and normal, where you don’t feel like you have to measure up to any kind of standard, but where the food and drink is of a high quality. I had a suspicion that other people wanted that, too. This place fits me exactly. It’s nice to have an idea that others seem to appreciate very much. With today’s offer of free barbecue and beer to regular customers, I wanted to show my appreciation.
I asked Andy how he found this spot.
AM: It was a filling station, Fletcher’s Gulf, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After they stopped selling gas they sold beer. There were some guys washing cars in the back. Around 2010 I would drive by here and I’d think, “That building would make a really cool café or beer garden. It worked out.”
We then asked Andy about his background before he entered the restaurant business:
AM: I came down here from Buffalo, New York to go to college at UNC in 1991. I majored in film production, beer, and rock and roll. I played bass in a band called June. Now I play keyboards in a band called D-Town Brass, which is my mid-life crisis band. We play – I might call it - psychedelic jungle jazz funk. I don’t know; it’s weird mix of whatever. It’s very dissonant, but very rhythmic. It’s a lot of fun.
Andy returned to work and my friend and I resumed our conversation at the bar, which was tended by the restaurant’s regular staff, at least two of whom moved to Durham from Portland, Oregon. At a corner table, a couple sat quietly together, reading. The man had “City of Quartz” by the urban theorist and activist, Mike Davis, and the woman, “The Portable Atheist” by Christopher Hitchens. It was unclear whether they brought the books into Geer Street or picked them off the public bookshelves near their table.
Around 7:30pm Zach Weber’s email indicated that the new first pitch would be at 8pm. The rain had only slowed, not stopped, but the field would be playable. Last August, Scott Strickland had described to me the state-of-the-art drainage system underneath the DBAP playing surface. Rain had fallen hard for three hours, and it was still raining, but the field could sustain more than that.
The first pitch by Bulls’ right-handed starter Matt Torra to Tides’ centerfielder Xavier Avery was at 8:01pm. It was a called strike. Avery hit Torra’s second pitch six rows deep into the rightfield stands for a solo home run. The next three Tides also reached base capped by DH Bill Hall’s two-run double off the wall in left-centerfield. With rain still falling, the Bulls were down 3-0 at the end of a half inning.
An inning and a half later the rain poured down harder than it had all afternoon and evening. The game was suspended. I jogged from the DBAP to my car in the parking lot behind Whiskey and Toast on Main Street. I was drenched. By the time I made it back to Chapel Hill my car seat was soaked. Memo to self: Next time you cover a rain-delayed game, don’t leave your umbrella in the car.
The game will be resumed today at 4:05 pm at DBAP, followed by a second game.