06 October 2010

An Autumn Saturday at Eastern Market

The bright patch of sky at the top of the escalator warms my skin as I rise out of the Eastern Market Metro station into the crisp autumn air. There is a slight, cool breeze. It is a Saturday in October, and I am looking to buy a wallet.

Picture by Callie Leuck. Eastern Market is a really awesome old building.
Catty-corner from the metro station on Pennsylvania Avenue SE and 7th St SE is a bakery: Le Pain Quotidien. I make my way across the intersection and cram my entire 6-foot self into a wood-slatted chair behind one of the small tables dotting the patio. I buy a sweet bun called brioche, and a bowl of coffee. The black coffee spills over pale wood when I try to fit my legs under the table, but I eat the brioche with hazelnut-chocolate spread.

Picture by Callie Leuck. It was delicious. I took this picture before I spilled coffee everywhere.

A conversation drifts from a table nearby.

“But she’s got a ring on her finger, so she’s ball-and-chained down,” says a young female.

“She can’t run anywhere,” her male companion says.

At the coffee shop next door, a little girl in a yellow Cinderella dress leans back on her heels to pull open the door for a man holding a baby.

I extricate myself from the table and stroll further down the brick sidewalk. There are a lot of bikers out. Two men ride by chatting, each hauling a blue covered baby trailer.

Picture by Callie Leuck. A parked bike. Most of them were neat like this one.
A trailer advertising Maine Lobster Rolls is parked by the sidewalk. “Oh, look at the line!” a woman exclaims to her companion as they cross the street. There must be twenty people in the line. It isn’t moving quickly, but nobody looks upset.

The sound of classical guitar comes from the corner of 7th St SE and C St SE. Two grey-haired black men in leather jackets and dark hats are playing music, one on the sidewalk, the other on a chair, their guitars plugged into an amp. A guitar case is open before them, a small pile of crumpled bills piled in it.

Across 7th, a chain link fence encloses the Flea Market. A young-looking black boy by the entrance perches on a folding chair, carefully painting on a white girl’s face. Inside the fence, there are paths lined by stalls, many selling the same goods as their neighbors. There are jewelry and mirrors, rugs and mittens, purses made of felted balls and little fleece booties and all manner of knit hats too warm for this sunny Saturday. One hat looks like a sock monkey and I run my fingers over the sturdy wool, imagining the sight I would make wearing it into the office in the winter.

The Flea Market is oddly quiet compared to the street I came from, so I head back. On my way there is a booth with a table bearing giant bowls of half-frozen fruit. The smell of fresh lemons hangs in the air from a man there rapidly juicing a huge bowl of lemon halves with a giant steel juicer. I get a smoothie with strawberry, mango, and honey, but I can only taste the strawberry.

Picture by Callie Leuck. Bowls of half-frozen fruit for smoothies

I’m not out on 7th more than two minutes before a couple of teenage girls exclaim, “Where did you get that smoothie!” I can only point them in the right direction. I took too quick a drink and have a brain freeze.

I sip more slowly as I wander further up 7th. There are more booths here, north of C St., surrounding the long brick building of Eastern Market. In the street up 7th are artists selling sculptures made of out aluminum cans, paintings, photographs of D.C. The strong smell of peppermint and patchouli comes from a large display of homemade soaps. A young woman with a bob lingers over the table as the soap-seller tells her that yes, he did make these all himself.

Picture by Callie Leuck. The homemade soaps table.

“I like the smell, but I don’t like the name,” she explains, pulling away from the basket of soaps labeled Sexy. The soap-seller laughs.

I find what I’m looking for on the concrete behind Eastern Market: a couple of booths selling leather goods. I pick over a table of plain leather wallets imprinted with “Genuine Leather.” I hand over my cash and tuck a wallet into my bag.

Mission accomplished, I mosey back toward the metro station. The booths on the sidewalk alongside Eastern Market are stocked with piles of fresh produce, buckets of bright yellow sunflowers, and tables of herbs. I pass through different scent realms as I walk by: first, basil; then flowers; then peaches.

The two older gentlemen are still playing their guitars on the corner of 7th and C. There is still a line at the Maine Lobster Rolls truck: although it is made of different people than before, they have the same nonrushed attitude. And people on the patio at Le Pain Quotidien are eating lunches instead of coffee and bread.