retail news in context, analysis with attitude

There are few things finer in life than an afternoon baseball game.

That’s what Michael Sansolo and I did yesterday - played a little hooky down in Washington, DC, and saw the Washington Nationals take on the Colorado Rockies in a crisp pitchers duel that lasted just over 2.5 hours. The Rockies won 2-0, but that wasn’t the point - the air was warm, the sky was blue and the beer was cold. All was right with the world.

I won’t say that Nationals Park is one of my favorite stadiums. It is expansive, but lacks some of the character and charm of my favorite new ballparks, like Camden Yards in Baltimore, Safeco in Seattle, AT&T Park in San Francisco and Petco Park in San Diego. And, needless to say, it doesn’t have the history of Boston and Chicago shrines like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. But there are good sight lines, roomy seats, and a nearby Metro station that gets you where you want to go. And the beer was cold.

Another advantage - they have Ben’s Chili Bowl stands at Nationals Park, serving what they call “half smokes” - enormous and spicy sausages served with raw onions, cheese and chili. They went down easy...especially because the beer was cold.

Summertime, and the living is easy.

A company called B-Cycle is launching a bicycle rental service in Denver, with eyes to rolling it out to other major metropolitan areas around the US. Modeled on successful systems being used in places like Paris and Barcelona, B-Cycle allows you to set up a membership for anything ranging from 24 hours to 12 months and receive a swipe card (like Zipcar’s) that permits you to unlock a bicycle at strategically located stations.The bikes are by Trek, come with GPS, and even allow you to create an account page that tracks your miles, times, carbon offset and even how many calories you’ve burned.

The lesson is a good one. In today’s climate, it isn’t just enough to rent a bike. Rather, it is critical to create a broader based service that provides all sorts of relevant information.

I have a Zipcar account that I use whenever I’m in a city and need a short-term car rental, and I can easily imagine getting a B-Cycle account once the service begins to roll out. It’s all about options.

I’ve become a fan recently of Evol frozen burritos, which come in a variety of favors and that I keep stocked in my freezer as emergency food. Not sure if you’ve ever had one, but they are worth checking out - my favorites are the breakfast and chicken, bean and rice varieties. So delicious that you won’t even think of them as frozen food. And may not wait for an emergency to eat one.

Here’s what I don’t get about the almost 30 percent of the country’s households that have not yet returned their US Census forms.

D’ya think these households will be the first ones to whine and say they are not being properly represented in Washington, DC?

I don’t even like “South Park” very much, but as of now I am a fan of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who have prompted the ire of a group called Revolution Muslim, which objected to the way in which the Prophet Muhammad was portrayed in a recent episode.

“We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid, and they will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them,” the group said in a blog post.

Theo van Gogh is the Dutch filmmaker murdered by an Islamic militant six years ago.

Sounds pretty much like a threat to me.

This isn’t to say that Parker and Stone aren’t offensive. They are. Often. But they are equal opportunity offenders, best I can tell, with little regard for any cultural, governmental or religious institution. But if you don’t like ‘em, don’t watch ‘em.

Jon Stewart’s response to Revolution Muslim last night seems pretty on target to me.

Speaking of Jon Stewart....the best news this week was that the host of “The Daily Show” and Stephen Colbert have extended their contracts on Comedy Central through the 2012 elections. In a sea of insanity, Stewart and Colbert provide an island of humor, irreverence and even canny analysis.

While I was anxious to see it, I actually was surprised by how much I liked Roman Polanski’s new film, The Ghost Writer.

(We spent some time debating whether or not we ought to be spending any money on a Polanski film, with Mrs. Content Guy highly resistant. I’m no fan of Polanski’s personal behavior, but his Chinatown is one of my favorite movies, and The Ghost Writer had gotten solid reviews. We’d skipped the new Mel Gibson movie because she was appalled by his antics and anti-Semitism, so I was able to persuade her to give in on this one. But to be sure, one has to separate the man from the artist. The man is a sleaze. The artist is quite something.)

The Ghost Writer is a classical thriller in the Hitchcock tradition, focusing on a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) hired to help a former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan) complete his memoirs. The job is complicated by the fact that Brosnan’s character is being charged with war crimes because of actions he took in concert with the US during the Iraq war; as the ghost writer probes the man and his motives, it is as if he is peeling an onion or assembling a puzzle slowly before our eyes. The movie is cool and steady, with terrific performances by McGregor and Brosnan, and a wounded and mysterious turn by Olivia Williams as the prime minister’s wife. There are also sharp portraits in smaller roles by actors such as Kim Catrall, Timothy Hutton, James Belushi (amazing but true), Tom Wilkinson and Eli Wallach, who at 85 knows how to make the screen sizzle.

The Ghost Writer, based on the novel by Robert Harris, is well worth your time.

My wine of the week is the 2009 Mar de Vinas Albarino, a crisp white from Spain’s Galicia region. This wine is delicious when served cold, especially with a spicy seafood dish. It is one of my favorites, and I cannot recommend it enough.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

KC's View: